Golden Ears

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Charlie Whitehouse, Sep 3, 2002.

  1. Charlie Whitehouse

    Charlie Whitehouse
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    One of the most common pieces of advice given here is to go and listen for yourself and make your own mind up. But let's face it, how many of us are qualified to do this?

    Fine if you're a magazine hardware reviewer who spends every waking hour contemplating the minutiae of 'grain', 'stage width & depth', 'mid-band nasality' and any other of the weird and wonderful descriptions of colourations which bear striking similarity and just as much unhelpfulness with some of the descriptions of wine tastes.

    Let's restrict ourselves to to CD/DVD players, processors & amplifiers, and speakers, ignoring the visual side of things and subwoofers for now. We've created our shortlist of equipment we're going to audition. But how should we be going about this? I'm interested to hear from some of our more 'Golden-Eared' contributors - what do they advise?

    What specific CD/DVD tracks should we use?
    What should we be listening for?
    Where should we audition? At home / dealer?
    etc, etc...

    And what the hell does 'grain' sound like anyway???? :confused:
     
  2. Gambit

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    The grain is the direct along which it's easiest to cut.

    I all ways advise customers to use a track that they know really, really well. Our dem room (like any good dealers) is made to listen in, and has feature to reflect this. But if your spending a lot of money, most dealers will then let you take the kit home for a demo there- thats where it's going to be used, right? I use (personally) a couple of my favorites that I know inside out, and there not all good recordings but I know what happens when, what instrument/ voice is emphasised at a given point, where everthing is on the soundstage, etc... A different system may bring something to the forefront of my attention that normally takes effort to pick out, or visa versa. "Better" is a overused word in mid-high end (and I do use it, so I'm guilty too), really "different" cuts it better.
     
  3. karkus30

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    Yep, I agree 10% with that.
    No one needs Golden ears, its like looking for a book or a painting, you look at it, compare it with previous experience and use your own judgement.

    Gambits demo room would no doubt be extremely spacious without any hint of cooking equipment;)
     
  4. karkus30

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    sorry 100% lost my 0 ohhh
     
  5. Gambit

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    Your right, it's quite big and devoid of any cuttlery.

    Karkus is spot on, golden ears are not a requirement. When you stop hearing a difference between more expensive kit and your own, it's time to stop. Just make sure when you go for a dem, you listen instead of just sitting there whilst the music happens.
     
  6. dts_boy

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    i will only buy if i am WOWED. this cannot be explained, but only when my jaw has to be picked up off the floor am i intereted. there is no point (IMO) in buying a product that makes you think - "yeah its better, but not much better". i hate it when a shop will try and make me listen to a well recorded bit of music, if it can't play what i listen to well, whats the point?
     
  7. karkus30

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    Thats mostly when they tell me the price, with that approach I would have a Hi Fi mountain by now:eek: :eek:

    Gambit , you were right about the shocked thread, that also made my jaw drop.
     
  8. ads1

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  9. Gambit

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    Any shop should let, nay, encourage you to play you own musis. They might have a couple of their own dem pieced but yours take priority. The "jaw drop" for me comes when I get one of my records that I know so well and I hear something that I've never heard before, that's just been hidden is crappy systems.

    Told you. Now you owe me so be on the look out for any small kitchen related threads.
     
  10. Charlie Whitehouse

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    Thanks for the contributions so far. In view of the link provided by ads1, the suggestion seems to be to use a wide selection of music outside one's normal experience and preference. Russ Andrews' suggestion is to use some of your least favourite recordings. I can't say I totally go along with this; having some recordings along that you know well makes it easier to concentrate on specific aspects of the equipment performance, but perhaps that shouldn't be the point? :rolleyes:

    Maybe some of you guys could be a bit more specific about the CDs, DVDs (titles and tracks) that you use as test material. I'm sure all our musical tastes differ widely, but we might get a decent cross-section if everyone chips in details of their own test recordings. Perhaps you could also say what aspect of a specific performance actually swayed your decision in favour of the component you bought over its rival?

    Branxx published details of my own selection of test disks under the "High End Comparison: HTPC using RME DIGI96/8 PAD Sound Card vs. Theta David II" thread. Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure!. I'll try and provide some more specifics on which bits I particularly listen to a bit later.

    The danger is that the law of diminishing returns is at work and the sonic differences between two very expensive bits of kit may not be huge. If you only buy based on the 'jaw-dropping' test, this may restrict how far up the tree you're prepared to go. Come to think of it, this may be no bad thing... :p
     
  11. ads1

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    Another problem with the jaw drop thing is that it will usually work in most cases when you are stepping up in quality e.g. from £300 products to £1000 products (with exceptions of course!) but it doesn't help in distinguishing between several products at the same quality level, which are better but different.

    Edit
    Sorry this is similar to what Charlie said. Didn't refresh.

    Andy
     
  12. fastedd

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    I remember as a 15yr old going to visit a friend whose older brother had about £2k of stereo (this was 16 years ago) and they started playing different albums. "oh no I say, I don't like those albums" After my jaw had dropped :) , I was trying out all sorts of stuff that I never even dreamed I would like.

    I find the better my stereo gets the wider my taste in music becomes and groups and albums that I thought I never liked become favs because I hear so much more of them and probably start to understand what the original mixer/artist is trying to get at.

    It may me worth taking along at least one of your less played CDs just incase you get a pleasant supprise :)
     
  13. karkus30

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    I wonder if this will work for The Stripes and S G;)

    It shall be so !
     
  14. Gambit

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    I think surjury may be needed for this one, not just new kit.
     
  15. gringottsdirect

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    I have cloth ears more than golden ears but I know what I like, too many live concerts over the years have attenuated my upper frequencies I'm sure........anyway I always use these for demos because I know them so well and what to listen out for.

    Moonage Daydream..........David Bowie
    Day At The Dog Races..........Little Feat
    I'm Not In Love..........10c.c.
    Like A Hurricane.............Neil Young
    New Rose..........The Damned
    Police And Thieves...........The Clash
    Los Endos.............Genesis
    Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting..........Elton John
    Already Gone...........The Eagles
    Positively 4th Street ...................Bob Dylan

    Although I like lots of other musical genres these are what I rely on to decide on purchases.
     
  16. juboy

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    Interesting discussion but one that, ultimately, all comes down to personal preference... just as with 'good' taste in anything, there is really just your taste, my taste and everyone else's.

    I have had demos of hi fi kit where the guy demoing has said 'You see, that sounds excellent'. Now, ignoring the 'You see' bit for a minute, most people in a reasonably unconfrontational frame of mind will simply nod/agree and carry on listening. They know this from experience. Anyone that disgrees is usually met with a cursory 'Really? You don't like it?' to again undermine your confidence in your own ears.

    I now like to take along a CD copy of The Misfits 'Collection'. This is 100% guaranteed to sound bloody appalling (sound quality wise) on any system as most of it is culled directly from 4 track cassette tape masters! It never ceases to amaze me when the demoing guy says 'Yes, that sounds much better' after substituting in his favoured (aka biggest profit margin) item of kit.

    I always try and listen out for kit that makes me want to keep listening, rather than say 'Sounds great, quick stop that track, put on something else'. If you're not drawn into the music for the duration of one tune, how is that kit going to enthrall you for an entire album's length when you get it home?
     
  17. browellm

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    I'd generally agree with the "there's no such thing as Golden Ears" piece, with some provisos:

    1. Our HF sensitivity reduces with age.
    2. Women have more acute hearing than men (they just pretend not to be interested :devil: )
    3. There are a few "oddities" e.g some ashmatic children can hear tones up to 30kHz :eek:

    The above are broad generalisations, of course.

    What I am certain of is the the more you "train" yourself or be "trained" to listen critically, with a wide range of equipment, the more expert you become. Hence I agree with the post about Hi-Fi reviewers.
    I have found this to be *not* like riding a bike - I got out of hi-fi professionally about 7 years ago, my exposure to lots of different equipment reduced massively, and I now find myself less able to spot and articulate differences quickly.

    To use an analogy, if someone gave me two photographs of the same subject taken under the same conditions, one taken with a Nikon, the other with a Leica, I would probably only pick out one or two differences. An expert however, would immediately be able to point out numerous points. Does he have "Golden Eyes" - unlikely, it's more down to exposure (no pun) and training with the equipment.

    As to CD's I'll just post one: Vivaldi, Concerti con multi instrumenti - The English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock on the Arkiv label

    Fantastic for checking on tonal colour and instrument separation, and a fine bit of music too (sorry about the descriptions Charlie
    :eek: )

    And of course listen at home, since room acoustics play a massive role as to what you hear.

    PS As to grain, I'd define it as a nasty colouration in the upper-midband that leaves you feeling that there is a haze over the music :p :p

    No, I will not define haze :D
     
  18. Gambit

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  19. juboy

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    And they only have a 1%, as opposed to 10% in males, chance of colourblindness.

    Makes you wonder why they weren't the hunters in our ancestral days!
     
  20. stranger

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    a favourite bit for seperation and treble is the instrumental part on eva cassidys songbird track. by the way charlie some reviewers descriptions remind me more of coughs and colds than wine:)
     
  21. Dubbing Mixer

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    I use Kate Bush 'Wuthering heights' and Kilburn and the Highroads 'Pam's Moods' plus Radio 4 speech recordings. Why? Speech is generally more revealing of overall eccentricities than music and the tracks I've listed have very well recorded acoustic piano sections. Piano is one of the hardest instruments to reproduce and the most revealing.
     
  22. karkus30

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    Originally posted by browellm
    2. Women have more acute hearing than men (they just pretend not to be interested


    I always trust my wifes hearing.........she can hear a sparrow fart from 5 miles away. Its amazing :eek: she has no technical interest at all.....just knows what she likes. If I bring something home on dem, within about 5 mins of listening she will give a thumbs up or down, its like a scene from gladiator.

    If its a thumbs up, its quickly followed by ............oh no how much..............followed by...............OK, cant let this one go back...find the money somewhere etc.

    Lucky me :D :D :D
     
  23. Gambit

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    And yet you let that precious hearing be exposed to QOTSA? :D
    It's true though, 9 times out of 10 the lady of the house is the deciding factor on whether or not a system gets through the door. :rolleyes: :D
     
  24. Nic Rhodes

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    Interesting topic that I think Ian J touched on a while ago.

    Personally I have never been convinced by the suggestion to go and listen. Look how many buying mistakes there are on these boards when people have done this. It doesn't seem to work very well, most just don't know what they are doing and have NO comparisons to make to know whether it is good or bad. Look to Rels small stuff, many have assumed they are great performers with 18 Hz abilities. Show them true 18 Hz and suddenly they know what they are missing (most of the LF effects channel!).

    I think there are many similarities with wine tasting here. We all like to have a go, very few of us know what we are doing but we like to have a go anyway. It is fun. The professional may have been trained and are much more successful at it, then there are few with a silver spoon in their mouth who are just naturals at it. These guys are rare. How does that holiday wine you once loved now taste over here?

    I am also not convinced it is a personal preferences thing either. I can recognise a great example of a Beaujolais but that doesn't mean I want to drink it. As I a profesional wine taster I had to learn to separate out my own personal preferences / preduces from a professional / trained view on a wine. I don't see AV / Hi-Fi as being any different. Kit is good or bad in my book. Whether it satisfies your requirements is something completely different IMHO.

    I think the best way to get good kit is to find someone who you trust and take a steer from them once they know what YOU are after. Look how many Uncle Eric / Gordon groupies we have out there who are REALLY happy with their kit. I think this is far better advice.

    If I lined up all the 2000 vintage ports cask samples for you all to try how many would be able to pick the great ones? Most of you would like to have a go I am sure but how good would you be at it? Is AV any different?
     
  25. fastedd

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    I probably wouldn't be able to spot a great port, but I bet you I could find one I liked above all the others and that I could drink again and again.

    I think its the same with Hifi. I know the purists would argue that getting the most faithfull reproduction is the number one thing, however I'm content to find equipment that really brings the music to life to my ears and that I'm content to listen to for long periods of time. I couldn't care less if its exactly how the original recording sounds- for that matter how do you know? My interpretation of the colour blue may be different to sombody else and I imagine my hearing is different to other peoples as well.

    As a proffessional wine taster its your job to identify and categorise. Me, I'm in it for the fun and If I find a £3.50 bottle of plonk at safeways that I realy enjoyed I'll go back and buy it again! :)
     
  26. Nic Rhodes

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    £3.50 at Safeways, think of all the experiences you have missed because you have limited yourself to 'what you know'. What about those who were willing to try something a bit different as well, might they have had more fun having experienced both sides of the fence? They might also be better informed about what is available for their money.
     
  27. fastedd

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    I quite agree. I think you may have got the wrong impression from the point I was trying (poorly) to make :) I wasn't advocating always buying cheap or not experimenting. I was making the point that people should try the full range but the aim is to find something they like and not just settle for the "best" as defined by the "experts" or the "masses". It all about the confidence to make your own mind up about what you like and try not to be influenced by other peoples opinions. If you've tried out every bottle in the shop up to some daft value and after all that, you prefer the £3.50 bottle then what the hell and who cares if the "connoisseurs" (appologise for dodgy spelling :) ) would be horrified.

    Peeps should try a demo of the £3000 component as well as the £300 bt of kit. There is always the law of diminishing returns and when you stop noticing the difference, or the difference is so small as to be meaningless to you then you have found the compromise between quality and cost. Settling for something always leads to dissapointment however and if you really can't afford the High end stuff, maybe you shouldn't listen to it because you will then never be happy :)
     
  28. Jeff

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    I agree with you Nic, AV equipment is either good, bad or average, taste doesn't come into it. There is very little you can learn doing an short demo in a shop, it takes me at least a few days to learn enough about a product to decide if I like it or not. I do virtually all my AV research via the net, its a good a method as any. Many of my best AV buys weren't generally available for demo anyway.

    PS I have a couple of Erics balls on order, I didn't feel the need to demo them first. If Nic, Gordon and Eric say they are good, they are good.
     
  29. fastedd

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    Oh well looks like I'm in a minority and no one believes trying before buying to be worth while. However I'm willing to stand up against peer pressure and agree to disagree on this one. I like to try out most things that I buy. I like to test drive my cars, try on those shoes first to see if they fit, see the tv working before I pay for it and if I could taste the wine before hand I would :D
     
  30. dts_boy

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    NO!!! Your not allowed to sell those, its illegal!:D anyway, back to the thread, i too have made my best buys without listening first, i still prefer to listen/look first given the chance - just a general looking over to say "yeah thats the one, wrap it up!"
     

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