Critical Listening Training Document

In 1980, Peter Cuddy, a salesperson at HIFI Haven in New Brunswick NJ, gave me an education in how to listen as an audiophile. He also gave me a one page, manually typed (on a typewriter!) document full of questions to ask myself while listening to music and gear, as well as to remind me of his lessons for years to come.

It's now 22 years later, and I still have it... somewhere. Luckily, I scanned it a few years back. And now I can share it with you.

After you read it, try the techniques on a piece of good classic jazz, which I find easiest. And please post any guidance you would give to newbie audiophiles that is not covered.

Download the pdf by clicking on this link:

Wherever you are, Peter Cuddy, thanks!

Have fun.
The link is a bad link an it won't open. Try again please. I'm interested in reading it.
Here is the link in working order:
I read the link. Thank you for sharing. Very interesting. After reading all his points, I have concluded that I am a critical listener and that I have a system that allows me to be one. And it's far from high-end. One of my emphasis has always been bass and percussion. esp tympani i.e. do you hear the NOTES, not just a boom boom. Wanna hear great voices get Robert Shaw's SONGS OF ANGELS robert shaw chamber singers. Christmas music. The best I have heard.
That is interesting. Copied it for future reference.
Cmalak, I don't know how you did it, but thanks for fixing the link! Is there a way that I can edit my original post?
Unfortunately, editing is not an option here.
Thanks for posting that guide.
Interesting page, good as far as it goes. I have posted this before, but another great book as far as learning to listen to music better in general is the famous composer Aaron Copland's "How to Listen to Music." This classic is still perhaps the best thing out there, and one could apply it to critical listening for your components, as well. And it applies to listening to any type of music, not just classical, by the way.
Alonski...I just right clicked on your original link and clicked on Properties. Within the Properties window, I checked out the URL address and it had everything up to the "." and you had mentioned that it was a pdf file. So I tried the web address in your link and added the "pdf" extension after the "." and it worked. So I used the full address and placed it in the link I posted.

You cannot edit your post once you submit it as someone else mentioned.
I just bought that Aaron Copland book on Amazon. Looks like a good read. Thanks for this post and the book recommendation.
I just ordered the book as well. This will be the first book I'll read on my iPad. How times are changing...
I came across a downloadable program or something like that (maybe it was just a recording) that also tries to teach good listening. It is on my old had drive but I will try to dig it up and post a link here once I figure out what it was...
Thanks for sharing, Alonski, and way to honor Mr. Cuddy's positive influence on your listening.

As a gigging bass player, these are the things that are always on my mind when I listen, either live or at home: Find all of the individual pieces, and assess how they're fitting together.

I know what you mean. I was a drummer for many years, and always looked first to the bass line for integration. I found that when I was in sync with the bassist, the rest fell into place easily and then no one had to think anymore, as the music played us!

I remember being amazed to find out that in high-end audio, the lowest bass octaves, when reproduced accurately, added so much air around instruments and conveyed so much spatial information (often inaudible) about the recording venue or studio, especially with acoustic performances. Having twin REL subs in my system has made this phenomenon really apparent and very enjoyable!
That is a fantastic document. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it.
You're very welcome, Anonymoustao. Here's an update on this document's history and future:

For 22 years, it was in a file with all my old owner's manuals, but I had not found it until recently, when I was looking for the original manual and brochure for my Thiel CS2s, which I put up for sale via an email to music-loving friends in our community.

Surprisingly, a 15 year old son of dear friends of ours responded, and came over for a demo of the speakers a few days ago. He had never seen an LP or turntable up close before and his jaw dropped when the first seconds of analogue, tube-driven music came to life in the room. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. We played LP after LP, until he was saturated with a new sense of what music can sound like. He is quite excited.

I did tell him that the Thiels would not sound quite like this in his house, but that I would come voice his room with him and over time, help him pick out components through Audiogon that would sound great with these wonderful speakers.

He's coming over tomorrow with his Mom to pick them up. She said to me after he got home from the demo, "I hope you know he'll never be the same again... and that sounds expensive!" Yup, right on both counts, my friend.

He doesn't know it yet, but he's getting a copy of this Critical Listening document. Peter Cuddy's legacy will live on in this young man until one day, he passes it on to another wide-eyed kid who is ready to discover the wonders of music through high-end audio.
That is a wonderful story, Alonski. And that is one lucky kid. A 15 year old with Thiels! He is certainly off to an auspicious start. :)
Mom says "He'll never be the same again".
He's gonna turn into one like us??
OH, the humanity!!!!
I know, Isochronism, it was a tough call... should there be an "age of consent" for underage audiophiles?

I like Anonymoustao's take on it: that is, indeed, one auspicious beginning for a 15 year old.

As for me, it's totally selfish – I feel good that my beloved Thiels will be appreciated for years to come, and that as his knowledge (and expenses) grow, he will remember his first audiophile epiphany fondly.
Agreed. You likely passed on a gift in boosting a musical appreciation in him which will grow throughout his years! Very nice!!
In my case, as in Alonski's (thanks for the great thread), being a musician has greatly aided my critical listening as an audiophile. Though currently not a pro, I started real young (in high school and college) by helping support myself by playing in bands up and down the colleges and clubs in Central NY. As a guitarist, I vividly remember the "dance" I did, along with the bass player and the drummer while we were playing; we would each lock into a part of that drum kit; I'd eyeball the snare, the bass player the kick drum, and we'd all be intertwined, each accenting different portions of the measure and different parts of the drum kit, but all gelling into one mean groove machine. It was hypnotic.

I also played percussion in orchestras, had classical training on piano, guitar, as well as my favorite style of electric guitar: fusion with an r and b twinge.

I strongly believe that having all of this experience really helps me pick apart a lot of the stuff that I hear. And reading that Peter Cuddy document confirmed that. Because pretty much most of those questions roll around my brain when I'm in critical listening mode.

Thanks for sharing that document, Alonski, and also for all your great replies.

Have a good one!
Excellent article. Thank you. Folks should stop "upgrading" when the answer to #25 is YES (to the enjoying part).
Judsauce, Thanks! A great post from a kindred spirit. That hypnotic groove machine zone is an indescribable state of musical nirvana for musicians. How lucky are we to have experienced that in this life, huh?

Dpac996, #25 is the punch-line to this crazy audiophile life we lead. Last night, my wife and I were casually listening to all kinds of vinyl as my new KT88 tubes were burning in on my amp (only have 4 hours on them so far, and I won't do any critical listening until they hit 100). The music sounded wonderful, even at low volume. We were enjoying ourselves thoroughly, both reading (she's reading a novel on her iPad and I was absorbed in the latest issue of TAS) and completely relaxed, exempt from the rigors of critical listening until the tubes are cooked.

I have a lot of LPs. One record that I haven't heard since before my major system upgrade is the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack from "The Mission" by Ennio Morricone. I forgot how much I love this piece, especially side two. It has everything, sweeping orchestral arrangements punctuated with masterful drumming, both classical and indigenous, and soaring sopranos warning the missionaries of their upcoming trouble.

I'm telling you all this because we were in #25 land for hours, completely open, relaxed and not listening to the gear (which had disappeared anyway) but allowing the music to wash over us. Then, in the latter part of side two, in the midst of a quiet, contemplative passage, a tympanist showed up in our living room and practically blasted us off the couch with a single beat of that enormous drum. Like I said, I hadn't played this for a long time.

I believe that not being in Critical Listening mode allowed us to be surprised by the sheer power of that experience, both noting how we felt the music reaching us and having its way with us... and delaying, albeit not for very long, my need to comment, compare and analyze the reproduction. In that delay lies the magic of musical appreciation... when you're not trying to capture the experience with thoughts and words (to be shared on A'gon, maybe?).

And yes, even at low, WAF approved volume, that first single beat of the tympani (I believe he was using soft mallets. Judsauce, Question #8 is all you, feel free to chime in) was the most life-like, "it's in the living room with us" experience I can remember! The attack and subsequent long, gorgeous decay of that strike transported us to the hall where this magnificent recording was made.

If I was in CL mode, I don't believe my active mind would have allowed me to experience that moment so fully. For me, the main objective of being an audiophile is to be present and open to those moments when we are surprised by music.
Alonski wrote:

"That hypnotic groove machine zone is an indescribable state of musical nirvana for musicians. How lucky are we to have experienced that in this life, huh?"

Yes, very lucky indeed. I miss those Nirvana moments. Sometimes during a guitar solo, I'd tip my head back, close my eyes, and literally hop into another universe. And I'm talking sober as a church mouse, just pure music magic.

Alonski, Regarding your well written description of your listening session when you described tympani blasting you and your wife off of the couch (I hope it was a soft landing), I had a similar experience when I was new to this hobby. A friend handed me a cd of Bela Fleck and the Flectones. On it there is a playful meandering track called "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo". Like you and your wife, I was half zoned out sitting on the couch reading a magazine. About three-quarters of the way through the song I heard this blasting that shook an old window, rattled the floors, and made me hop up quick and look to see if someone was trying to break down my door. Well, it was Victor Wooten's bass melody making its way through my sub-woofer and into the floors and beams of my house! I could not believe it. He was playing at least a full octave lower and it sounded as if he was right smack in front of me. It had the same transporting effect that the tympani and the orchestra had on you.

Moments like that are fun and magical and sure make this hobby worth all of the trouble we go through to finally "get there".
Judsauce, well... it's critical listening night at our house (I just decided). Our first selection was.... you guessed it, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo! Your anecdote was so compelling I had to get that track and hear it for myself.

Wooten is just a magician with the bass. I love how he can keep his time and groove going seamlessly while casually dropping down what sure sounded like a full octave! I don't think I've ever heard bass quite that far down on my system, except maybe a few sub-terrerian notes played by that Swedish Pipe Organ dude on Cantata Domino, the reference LP of choral Christmas music.

Putting on my Gear Guy hat, I'm happy to report that the twins (a pair of REL Sub-Bass units) shook the house without compromising Wooten's superb line. No boom, no flab... just great.

Because you prepared me for it, I wasn't launched off the couch... but I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to duplicate your experience. Thanks!
Anyone else have a cool Critical Listening moment to share?