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Why not a listening test?


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We have eye charts for a very basic measure of how well we see and we even have audiology exams to determine our ability to hear tones at different frequencies. Here again, this is a very basic test. So why not some sort of test to determine how well our systems resolve the music we listen to?


An example?


I've listened to (and loved, by the way) Ray Brown's "Live at the Loa". It's an absolutely wonderful album. Specifically, I'm referring to the second track, "The Real Blues". Early on in that song, a phone in the club is clearly heard to ring, eliciting a laugh from the audience. However, at least two other times later on during that track I've heard the phone ring again. Those two times are very subtle. But I started thinking that this would be an interesting and possibly even useful way in which to determine at least one aspect of system performance.


I know this post comes dangerously close to treading into the double blind listening test controversy. I'm not intentionally trying to go there although I recognize I may be going there anyway.


And I realize it might also sound like I'm suggesting that my system is wonderful and other people's systems might not be. Again, this is not the primary point of my post.


My only intention here is to explore using certain music as a more standardized means of knowing better what our systems are doing for us. Perfect science? Of course not. Better than no standards at all? Could be.




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Good idea you have there. I do think it will be more problematic in practice. (Like Charles Brown myself, though I don't have that recording I don't think. Will need to look for it)


For one thing you have loudness. I might listen at 80 dB average level, you at 75 and someone else at 85. Anything close to the edge of being audible will possibly be audible at one level and not another. Will everyone turn it up to 95 dB to try and hear the little test track you propose? Something like that might work if you agree on a listening level.


Then you also have background noise levels. One fellow might be in a city or near a busy highway and have several decibels higher background noise than someone else. Or you have listening in daytime or night which just about always has very different background noise levels.


Not saying your idea doesn't have merit, just those couple of issues popped in my mind as being problematic to deal with for different locations.


One recording with lots of the things similar to what you mention is Roger Water's Amused to Death.


He recorded it with I think something called Q-sound. Was supposed to allow something like surround sound capabilities in two channel playback. Works after a fashion. Can't say I was all that Amused by the album for music. It does offer high quality sound recording and many multi-layered artifacts both in whether you hear them or not and where they image. It has been revealing to listen to imaging over various speakers over the years. Many get it right in general, but a few with unusual crossover design and 3 or 4 drivers per channel sometimes make a mess of it. Of course those multi-way designs that do it as well as good 2 way or single driver electrostats are impressive for apparently having good meshing between the drivers. Often 1st order cross-overs do very well if you aren't too close to the speaker and the room too small. (Thiels being one good example).


They do such things at the hydrogen audio forums all the time though. Usually for testing the transparency of various codecs. Often done double blind as well.


I also have one live recording of blues done in a bar where at one point with good systems you hear someone paying for a drink. Some of the change rolls on the bar surface and falls. Some systems you hear it between songs and know immediately what it is. Is an odd sensation really well done. You almost feel you could look to your right and pick up the change. Other systems it only sounds like something undefinable and just part of the din in the background you would never pay attention to at all.


And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Thanks for the reply.


You're right about the volume issue of course. Volume should be similar although if someone can't hear certain sounds which are known to be on a recording, even at higher volumes, that of course will tell the owner something.


And if background noise prevents subtler sounds from being heard, well then that's a point worth knowing as well.





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