How to Be a Better Listener

Part of putting together a good sound system is picking the right components and properly installing them. The other part is listening to the system. Critical listening is a skill, a learned ability that enables you to get the most out of your music system. By ‘get the most’ I mean listening to a system that sounds natural, live and pleasing to your ears. It’s all about music reproduction and how closely the system reproduces an original performance. Here are a few simple things to do to become a better listener.

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Attend Live, Acoustic Music Concerts

The best way to know if your system sounds accurate is to know what live music sounds like. Try attending a few concerts with acoustic or un-amplified musical instruments. Listen to the low, full bass sound of a cello or a stand-up bass or the sound of a bow on the strings of a violin. Make a mental note of the acoustic characteristics of those instruments and others and the next time you listen to a stereo system, compare your experiences with live acoustic music.

Find the ‘sweet spot’ in your listening room. The listening position is as important as correct speaker placement. Sometimes referred to as the ‘sweet spot’, it is the best listening position relative to the left and right speakers. In general, the sweet spot forms a triangle with the speakers, though slightly farther away than the separation distance between the speakers. If you want to be precise, use this formula for finding the best listening position. More »
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Listen in a Quiet Environment

Listen in a quiet environment. Ambient noise, such as from an air conditioner, heater or refrigerator interferes with listening, particularly quiet musical passages and the ability to hear subtle details in the music.
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Heighten Your Sense of Hearing

Listen in a low-light environment. Lowering the light level heightens the sense of hearing while reducing the use of the visual senses enabling you to concentrate on the details and nuances in the music. It also helps to listen with eyes closed, which enable the ears and the mind to imagine and visualize the placement of instruments and vocalists in the soundstage.
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Focus on Music, Not Equipment

When you listen, focus on the music, not the equipment. Recall the sounds of the acoustic instruments you heard and use them as a reference.