Etiquette for a listening session?


Every now and then when my friends have nothing better to do, they'll acquiesce to my standing invite to come over to listen to some tunes on the main system downstairs. Over the years I've learned to choose my invites wisely, based on whether or not the invitee seems to evince any leaning towards or sympathy for audiophilia.

A few times I've been incredibly lucky and chanced upon a friend who doubles as an audiophile and we while away a happy evening and night spinning cd's and lp's and talking about the tracks and artists - and the drinks we have. We do talk, but between tracks or artists, not during. But a few times I've had people over, usually as part of a small group, who insist on talking over the track, much in the same way I constantly annoy my wife by talking during a movie.

The other weekend I invited over a couple, the husband with whom I play in a band; the wife whom I've never met. And while my wife and I and they nursed drinks and listened to tunes, his wife insisted on talking about whatever, bringing up pictures on her phone, and evincing every sign that she had never seriously considered the idea of a listening session to be something worthwhile.

Okay, I get it. It's not for everyone; analogous to if a friend who was into home theater had just gotten a new, hi-end projector had invited me over to watch a movie. Yes, I would have appreciated the clarity, etc. But it's still just a movie, no matter how much resolution there may be on a screen (actually, if there were indeed such a friend, I'd try to get into the video aspect as much as I'd like her or him to enjoy the audio, if only out of respect).

But it's also happened before, like with another (former) band member, another guitarist, who kept talking through the tracks while the rest of us tried (or pretended to try - I can only speak for myself) to listen.

So what's proper etiquette? Do I play the good host and let come what may? Do I lay down ground rules? I know that most people don't actively listen to music, nor appreciate the nuances of a good system, and usually don't care too much, either -- gearheads are gearheads, no matter the passion, and are appreciated only by other gearheads. Just as I remember, in retrospect, a few audiophiles when I was younger who obviously had good systems, but back then I neither knew nor cared about stuff like that, and so was much the same kind of person I'm complaining about now.

But how would you address that kind of behavior or reaction during a listening session?

Most people are uncomfortable remaining silent.  My boss rocks out in his company truck and even will play tunes over the company radio.  He was at the house in my stereo room with tunes playing and was like meh... He did comment that he bet the thing jammed, to which I said yes but I am no longer a "crank it" dude.  
Much like George Thorogood's system of drinking alone, I listen alone, yeah, with nobody else.

You know when I listen alone, I prefer to be by myself. ;^)
I have had the same experience.  I think there is a fine line between politely asking the offending conversationalist to keep quiet and letting it be.  If you think they would appreciate it, perhaps try the former, if you think you will offend, perhaps lean to the latter.

I was having a full-on listening session with two friends, and one was glued to his phone the entire time.  While he was not making any noise, he certainly was not focusing on the music, nuances or otherwise, and I knew he was not getting out of the experience what my other friend and I were.  I suggested that he put the phone in the other room, sit back, close the eyes, and get lost in the music.  He protested at first, but he did this, and enjoyed it.

I often explain my hi-fi kit to the uninitiated as more than a fancy expensive stereo, but actually as high resolution equipment to recreate the reality of the recording, live or studio, to put the listener right there, in that room, to connect our ears to the musician's song.  This is obvious to anyone on audiogon, but explaining it this way kind of sets the scene that this is not the same as the ceiling speakers in the rest of the house that we can chat and play cards to.
You know what they say: "there are a million and one uses for duck tape".
When I have my listening parties I make sure I set up a nice spread in the kitchen and a small bar outside. I then casually say to anyone that enters the house "welcome, the systems for listening, the kitchen and patio are for chatting."

And...absolutely no woman are invited ever. I put my wife up in a hotel. 
To expect your guests to "abide by ground rules for critical listening" is hilarious...I couldn't envision myself ever doing something like that. I listen mostly by myself especially critical listening. Why would you expect your guests, many of whom probably aren't into cymbal decay, timbre and thwap, to sit there in what they probably thought was a social setting and only talk in between tracks? 

if my friend invites me over to specifically listen to his rig, fine I'll be quiet and listen intently. If my wife and I are invited over I highly doubt the two of us are going to sit mute on the couch and only talk in between tracks to the others. To pull off what you are looking to do I would limit and target your invite/s to those you know are into it.

Now if you want to lay down ground rules in the hopes of these people never wanting to come over again then I could see doing so...
@marktomaras "the offending conversationalist." guys are too much. And then you tell your friend who probably grew tired and bored of your listening session to put his phone in the other have some very understanding friends Mark..
And then we all scratch our heads and wonder why others aren't running to hifi and why the hobby is dying...
I agree with jmcgrogan2, best to real listening alone. Even amongst audiophiles, your system is fine tuned to you and may not be the "be all and end all" for someone else. When I rode a motorcycle, while it was fun to have a girlfriend on board, I could never really open it up and ride like the wind because the way I did it was dangerous and I had to be responsible. I live in a pretty small apartment and when we have guests over I don't spin vinyl, I don't fire up the tube amps, I don't expect people to stop talking. Decent computer speakers creating some pleasant background noise, that's what most folks seem to able to handle. When I have a few hours on my own... :)
I have 20-30 people at my house every other month. Good food, drinks and conversation out side the music room. Everything is perfect and everyone's respectful. 

People come in, grab a record and put it in the listening cue. No one touches the record player except me. 

Asp307, to my defense, the 2 friends were all about the intense listening session.  Having not been involved in one before, they were curious.  My friend with the phone was just not being a good little zen grasshopper, and I encouraged him that if he would not distract himself, he would enjoy it more.  He did!  But that is a specific situation.  I would not behave that way to anyone anytime.
I don't expect every one in the world "outside" of our thing to get it, but a surprising number do--they could care less about the gear, but love to hear music presented in a way that is lively and visceral. For those who aren't interested, I don't impose my interest on them. I do far more listening alone than I do with others, but when guests who are interested come, they seem to know how to behave without any set of "rules." I have a dedicated room, and usually just ask what kind of music they like. Perhaps they realize that the experience is unusual, it's a novelty for many who aren't exposed to "serious" playback set-ups.  If this lady wasn't interested, and demonstrated that by talking over the music and playing with her phone, easy answer- don't invite her to listen next time. Life is too short- and sometimes too long-- to spend your time in a way that makes you dissatisfied. I understand that in marriage, or relationships, there is a certain amount of socializing that is necessary if only to keep your mate happy. But, if there is something I don't want to do, or people I'm not really that interested in spending time with, I don't. 
In my ersatz defense, @asp307  and others, I had invited my friend over to listen to some tunes - specifically - and he texted, "Can I bring my wife?"  Which turned it into a dinner invitation. So should I have abandoned the original invite and just made it a dinner get-together?
And again - this is not a gender thing at all. A few male friends have also, as @gshepardbuster mentioned, shown themselves to be afraid of silence.

I hadn't considered that a factor before but it makes sense. I'm perfectly happy being alone for hours (or days) in a forest, desert, or in front of speakers or a book. Many are not.
not sure why OP opened this thread w/ "sup" ???

Vernacular (c. mid- '90's urban slang) contraction of "What's up?" Denoting a greeting among peers, indicating the speaker's upbringing, level of outdated pop-culture references, and comfort in addressing an online forum in an attempt to seem culturally relevant, even while extolling the beauty of vinyl and cd playback.
I think this goes to the nature of the listening session. If people are gathered around to share conversation then music should be for the background. If on the other hand, the intent is to listen to music then I don't want anyone talking while the music is playing. If they can't sit and listen then they can go join others for conversation elsewhere. My thought is, why should those that really want to listen have to accommodate some one who doesn't? Isn't the person talking just as rude to the listeners as the listeners appear to someone that wants the talker to be quiet?  

I don’t want anyone listening with me, intently or otherwise. Is that sad? I want to become one with the music, it totally inhabiting my soul. If there is anyone else in the room (which has only a single chair anyway---for me), that’s not gonna happen. It’s kinda like that scene in the great Coen Brothers movie The Man Who Wasn’t There, where Billy Bob Thornton’s character’s attorney is talking about the theory that the act of observing something changes the nature of that thing. Listening, I mean REALLY listening, requires undistracted, focused attention; if I’m not alone, I’m distracted, just by the presence of someone else. And it trivializes the experience. Oh, it’s selfish. To me, listening to music is no different than reading a book (except that music is a much deeper experience, of course); I need complete silence to be able to read---no distractions. I sometimes put in my molded ear plugs to block out the world.

That’s the "solo" system---the video system is for guests.

I am speechless, it's safe to invite me over.

I find it sad that people cannot remain quite for more than a few minutes.
Even plays/concerts are interrupted by cell phones to the chagrin of the performers. Europeans tend to be more sympathetic- I remember, years ago, a live recording of the Mahler 6th by Horenstein in Stockholm, not even one cough or sneeze was to be heard. I doubt an audience could do the same at Lincoln Center.
As far as etiquette goes, if they behave badly, just accept the interruption with dignity, then don't invite them over again. 
The exclusion of women is now considered civilized?

To the OP, if your guests are acting within reason, then the proper thing for the host is to make them feel comfortable, even when you are not.  For instance, if the use the wrong fork, then you use the wrong fork.  You may never invite them back, but you don't try to chide or humiliate them.
Today I only play my system for certain audiophile friends, that have similar musical tastes to me. Sometime these rare listening sessions go on for hours!

I tell non audiophiles my system is only for concert type listening, simulating a dimly lit club atmosphere, for two listeners only. I do not play audio, for more than one guest. A few will listen, but I have almost never converted anyone into buying into the hobby.  I have tried over the years but I have given up.

Most everyone thinks audiophiles are wackos, and to a large extent, that is true!

For everyone else, I have a home theater set up, with high end grade audio, that also plays music.

99% of my serious playback time is for me.

Almost nobody "gets" serious audio Today! Many did (including women) during the 60’s and 70’s (before the CD), but that period has passed.
@bdp24 , +1, I am right there with you pal.

I am not a big socialite, but I do have gatherings and friends over from time to time. Though most of them are aware of my 'audio addiction' problem, as it is visible, I've never fired up the rig when company is over.
Mostly because when people are over it's about catching up on each others lives, not my personal obsession. The other reason would be that my wife would insist on the level being so low that turning the system on would be pointless. She likes to be able to talk comfortably and easily, which means that guests voices have to be easily heard over the music.

Who's going to notice the quality of the music in a noisy environment with the audio level around 55-60 dB? What's the point? Save the tube hours for my greedy self.

It's only when I'm alone that I can close my eyes and melt into the music, and my system becomes all worthwhile, as the rest of the world disappears.
You are right don_c55, nobody gets it!  My mom who always loved music and still does was over with step dad.  She did nothing but yap and was in and out of the room after they initiated the listening.  My step dad OTOH was mesmerized!  Go figure. In a nutshell my rig is an effing time machine, a portal to another world, no drug could ever touch it, and if no one gets it I feel sorry for them cuz they're missing out!!
It is like a drug, one that induces euphoria for those susceptible to its effects, but few are. I find a friend or three who enjoy listening and they're fun to listen with....but most people don't get it.
As mentioned I find most people too impatient to sit and listen to music.  It's a lost skill to just listen.  I mostly listen by myself and on occasion my wife will poke into my listening room for a song or two.  I don't mind the solitary listening, but I think a lot of people don't value the art of music and are missing out on one of the great joys of life.  They have become occupied with social media and their phones.   

Throughout the years I've found that the only ones that truly enjoy a listening session and know how it works are people that have the same interests. These people are usually audiophiles, like those that read these forms. Other friends and/or their spouses are into other interests and view music and stereo equipment differently.

I think you have to gauge the situation and the people. Don't forget that there are lots of folks who simply can't hear what you hear and so they can't be immersed in listening. Even if you sat them down, told them to be quiet and listen they won't get it because they simply can't! My taste buds aren't that great, my nose isn't either (chicken or egg - I know) so someone can talk about the undertones of this flavor or not and I say, "Pass the salt."

I've had folks over and pretty soon realize they want something else other than a "listening session" and/or can't experience what I do. It's then I remember that my Mom used to say, "Company is always right."

It doesn't take long to figure out where they are. I've had some other folks over (particularly young folks - college age) and they were like, "Wow! I can't believe this!" When you get that reaction you know they have ears and are ready to listen and you can point out stuff to listen to or you can just listen. 
There are no written rules when it comes to etiquette during a listening session but they are implied and common sense does apply here. If you invite non audiophiles over, find out what kind of music they enjoy and mix it up with yours, expect to keep the volume low enough to converse. Example Caroline (non-audiophile) was kind enough to listen quietly to a the whole cd before making any comment because she knew I was seeking an opinion. Her response was, your system sounds good but I don't know what to listen for, I rest my case. However when I went to Dwayne's house to hear his new speakers, my wife and I didn't  say a word until he was done demonstrating them then I gave my opinion. No I don't think that audiophiles are wacked but they are passionate about their hobby and everyone knows that people that have no interest in any hobbies are boring people. By the way, listening alone is not a bad thing because who would know better what sound you seek then yourself but sometimes getting others opinions can be fun especially if they are audiophiles.
jmc, I love you! I was slightly exaggerating to make my point; I will of course have another person in my music room to play something for---a person I know, or even think, will appreciate the greatness of. Usually another musician, or at least musically appreciative sort. I remember playing "Oh Marcella", a Brian Wilson song on The Beach Boys Carl & The Passions album, for a great songwriter I knew (R.I.P.). The chords and melody are so majestic, I just had to make sure he heard it. And the superior sound provided by a high end system is just the way to make great music more effortlessly appreciated, a means to an end. That’s why I don’t like to think of Hi-Fi as a "hobby". That’s like calling breathing a hobby. Wait, where are you going? ;-). No music, no life.
I have expienced this many times its no different when your a musician and want to jam . I do have a ht room if i have company i keep it dark and loud lol .. Im fortunate enough to have a dedicated 2:1 setup in a separate room . My wife knows when im in there its my batcave I rarely fire up the tubes with company unless there is another music nut , we close the door and spin music .. Generally pretty healthy volume shakes off the uninterested 
I tend to do what my guests enjoy when I entertain, and mostly they want to have conversations. 

Regarding the rules of behavior, I think most would lean toward being a gracious host and putting your guest's wishes before your own.

I generally listen to music alone. 

Another idea. You need to play music that your guest likes. I've found with my children that the starting place is their music (even if I don't like it), but I have to have a way to get uncompressed files of their music (or the session is useless). Yeah, I know, simple stuff, but I've been guilty of trying to show folks stuff with music they don't know and/or may not like. First you make a connection, then you determine their ears, lastly you can take them on a journey (OK that's for new folks - my Bro and I can just LISTEN). 
Listening rules are easy;

I play a cut, you play a cut and so on.  There is no talking during playback. 

@simao to answer your question, I would assess the situation. If the dynamic changes because significant others are coming then go with the flow. I like what some of the others on here have said with regards to catering to your guests and being a good host. 
It's already been mentioned by jmc & bdp - it's fundamentally a solitary experience. 
And as also previously mentioned your system is tuned to your ears.
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It's OK to listen alone or when you're alone, what else to do?
It really sucks, foolish and naive to get upset when someone else you're listening with does not want to follow your instructions or simply can't.

critical listening alone and sometimes with my wife. if we have people over especially someone your meeting for the first time I would just not expect them to listen like you. on the other hand you and your male friend could get a session in while the wives are in another room.
wow the removed posts will soon reach posted haha! 
please remember that heavy censorship has killed Hollywood!

czarivey"wow the removed posts will soon reach posted haha!"

This is an audio forum. Because this is the Internet, I'm sure there are places to go when you want to talk about sex. But this forum isn't the place. I think that's why the posts were deleted.

Yep. That's why Hollywood doesn't talk about sex anymore. It perhaps isn't a place to talk about it. I think that's why Hollywood is so bad.
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252 posts
06-07-2016 3:29pm
czarivey"wow the removed posts will soon reach posted haha!"

"This is an audio forum. Because this is the Internet, I'm sure there are places to go when you want to talk about sex. But this forum isn't the place. I think that's why the posts were deleted."

And could we pul-eeze dispense with the humor. 


Geoff Kait
Machina Dramatica
Looks like the remnants of a rowdy day....