AN INTRODUCTION TO CRITICAL LISTENING
These are just some simple ideas aimed at beginners to the hobby of critical listening, headphones, evaluation, and other aspects of the audiophile world. Most people hear music, but only a few actually listen to it. Deciding to focus on the more integrated aspects of what makes a song or artist great can be highly rewarding. Observing such things as the mastering techniques, structures, presentations, and sound placement can bring a greater appreciation for all genres, but it might not be easy at first. Like anything else, listening will take practice, but here are some simple tips to get you started.
INCREASE YOUR MUSIC’S FILE QUALITY
People will protest the benefits of Flac vs. X… till the end of time, but the fact of the matter is that very few people will ever bother to do blind AB testing. As with most things audiophile, there is a law of diminishing returns that you will reach some point, and that for us comes in the form of space vs. sound quality improvements. Space in the simple term that the larger the format, the more space each track will take up your drive/player.
The sweet spot comes at 320kbps, and it is tough to tell any discernible difference between it and FLAC. If you are using below 320kbps, you can certainly improve your listening experience theoretically by moving up. To get you started, this is a list of some of the best audio formats.
EXPERIMENT WITH LISTENING TO A NEW GENRE
No, seriously, hold on a second. You might think of classical and have one particular image of what it is but inside that, there are all different types, and the same goes for Jazz, etc. By starting to listen outside your comfort zone, you will notice subtle changes in your perception of sound and space through your Audio gear.
I particularly encourage people to really try and get into classical as it covers almost every audible frequency with its wide range of instruments. Check out our list of 9 songs in 9 different genres to get you started.
TRY THE GOLDEN EARS LISTENING CHALLENGE
Phillips has put a challenge online that aims at increasing your understanding of sound and listening. Don’t think of it as a bragging right as many folks will inevitably do, think of it as a learning experience. It is one of the simplest ways to understand the basic concepts of critically listening to and evaluating music. Most people do not understand that listening, believe it or not, takes time and practice.
LEARN A PIECE CLASSICAL MUSIC INSIDE AND OUT
There’s probably a lot of songs you know very well. You can sing along with or shred a sick air guitar too, but what I am talking about is taking one piece of highly complex music and breaking it down. Listen to it multiple times, each time focusing on one particular quality. You might want to start listening for the lows, mids, and highs individually. Then start listening for particular instrument sections (strings, percussion, etc.) before breaking it down to identify individual instruments.
Try guessing the frequencies at which sounds are being played back, pay attention to decay, and be mindful of the use of tempo. My choice is to use 1812 Overture as it has the full range of orchestral instruments and its overall complexity, but you may want to start with something smaller so you can listen to it a lot in a short space of time.
CRITICAL LISTENING | CONCLUSION
It’s the simple steps that can lead to your enjoyment, and not everything is about getting the nicest gear for the job. In fact, quite the contrary, you can have the listening greatest set of headphones in the world, but if you do not know how they work, you are not getting the full enjoyment out of this hobby. Think of it as owning a Ferrari but not knowing how to drive.
Just like anything else, becoming good at listening, in the critical sense, takes practice and time, but the rewards can be huge as you further grow your appreciation and understanding. If you are still bent on jumping down the rabbit hole and getting some new gear check out our audiophile gear reviews but remember to keep practicing and getting better.