Got Ears?

I'm wondering how quickly you develope your listening. I'm sure my ears are more in tune to pick up the little nuances in a high fidelity system than when I started this madness 9 months ago. Thanks to alot of you on this site I learned what to listen for, but I know that I still have alot to learn when it comes to picking up on certain things. Do you guys (and Elizabeth ;-) think that having an ear for audio is something that just continues to develope and develope? I feel that it's an important part to fully enjoying this hobby as it allows you to enjoy a well thought out rig and your music collection to the fullest. I'm fully enjoying cd's that just this time last year I would have only used as coasters or made fun of you for listening to that "crap". I can't help but think half is my rig, the other half are my somewhat trained ears. If I tell my girlfriend, who by the way grew up in a musical family (dad was a music director for years at a major university) and plays violin, guitar, sings and has perfect pitch, about how an improvement to my rig deepend the soundstage, brought out shimmering highs with faster attack and longer decay she cocks her head a bit and says "huh?". Anyways, have y'all noticed your ears getting more in tune with picking up all the things that make an audiophile an audiophile and if so how and when has that happened?
Your relationship with your girlfriend is doomed, unless you immediately crease involvement in trying to be an audiophile. She has told you that better sound is 'huh', so listen. Seeking her 'approval' of your sonic betterment is forever hopeless and I am sure will lead to depression, coupled with a sad relationship. So, the choices are obvious, better sound or a better girlfriend. Sadly, many decades ago, I had the same problem. What did I do? Dumped the girlfriend. Music and listening were just too important not having a person in my life that wanted to enjoy that part of my existence.
I am surprised at your girlfriend's response.
If you want to make an effort in encouraging her to
participate in making fine distinctions, just ask her opinion!
Play a dirty cd, for example, and then clean/treat it, and
play it again. There are other scenarios that may lead to a
different appreciation of recorded music.

As for you... Make sure your ears are clean (beyond normal q-tips).
Go listen to live music, especially things that aren't your natural
choices. Visit audio stores, go to trade shows, read audio
magazines and past discussions on this site.

You can have a lot of fun, while maintaining the belief that your
girlfriend's participation is her choice. And you are "OK"
either way!!!
Of course its all mental. My aural acuity has not improved -- probably deteriorated a bit with age.

I didn't want to get too immersed in my audio perceptions. I feared that I would lose track of enjoying the music thinking about the sound all the time. So I stopped trying to hear finer differences after I became able to tell the difference between interconnect cables. That was enough for most of my system decisions. (I can't hear the difference between power cords, but I did buy some designer aftermarket cords just on general principles.)

But it would be a choice to make, since there is always some enjoyment in developing any ability. And hearing more would be a good match with an equipment upgrading cycle syndrome, should you find that an appealing fetish.
For me any improvement in my 'listening' or aquiring 'golden ears' has happened by accident.
It seems to be the accumilation of experiences, rather than some trick technique.
For example I tried a few different powercords like designs from Jon Risch and nothing. Seemed like powercords just did not make any difference (for me) and I tended to 'believe' they could not make much of a difference.
Then I bought one Panges two meter AC9 when they first came out. It was as cheap as making a simple cord! and i was suprised I really could hear a difference with it.

Other things seem to take a lot of muddlingaround to find a good result for oneself. Like power conditioners. I started with an Adcom ACE, then a meduim Monster.. etc to where now i own two great ones I am really happy with.

Stuff like aquiring some Sennheiser HD800 earphone and a Rudistor RPX33mk2 and discovering new amazing information on CDs I thought I knew well.

Mostly it is just listening to music and finding those goosebump raising recordings.. Learning about music I never knew was so great.

As for the girlfriend. I read your post as just mentioning her response. The guys here are funny campers, and seem to lack girlfriends.. So I would ignore their 'sage' advice!!
Anyway, glad you like your experience so far.
My only advice is if you want to interest your girlfriend in your music. Ignore explaining the stuff or the music. Just put on some tunes and snuggle. Long listening/ petting sessions can go a long way toward her apprciation of you and your musical tastes.
(If you do not own a five disc changer.. perhaps you should get one :) less interruptions...)
B, forget the "critical listening" crap now. You will find yourself jumping on the never ending, money sucking "upgrade train" and eventually lose all interest in listening for pleasure. Not to mention, people will start to think you've lost it and shy away from you (no one wants to be around a nut job), You will end up a bitter old man with nothing but a bunch of expensive audio gear that you won't listen to because it doesn't meet your "trained" ears expectations. :)
+ 1 for the boom box crowd.

I think it just happens very gradually as you become used to your system and very familiar with your music. Something happens, upgrade bug or a piece of equipment needs replacement, and you get something that bumps things up a level and you notice all these details that you didn't notice before......for me, I've always had pretty nice systems and the fun and excitement has been gradually upgrading and enjoying the music more. Adding a good DAC, adding power cords, dedicated outlets etc. have all made noticeable and worthwhile (to me) differences. Recent change of integrated amp made a huge difference to what I was hearing which led to even more enjoyment of the same music.....and on it goes. I think your ears grow with your system if, as the wise ones here say, you make good choices that serve your musical preferences.
Lol Tpreaves! Too funny!
Thanks Elizabeth, it's always nice to have a perspective from the better half :-)
Buconero, that was funny, bro! I like my current girlfriend though, and she actually sounds better than any of my stereo gear so I think I'll keep her .

Alot of good responses here, thanks guys! I think what I've learned is to not get too caught up in $1,000 power cords to gain a few inches in soundstage, but instead to buy some new music and take my girl some flowers or something. By the way, I do hear live music at least once a week, if not more. My girlfriend plays the violin and guitar beautifully, and also has a great voice. We have very very talented musicians at my church, and even my local Mi Mi's restaurant has awesome local jazz players performing inside the restaurant on Thursday nights!
Anyways, thanks for all the responses! Itsas good for a few smiles and laughs this morning! Cheers!
The obvious analogy is symphony conductors , many of the great ones continues into their eighties as good or better than ever, with MUCH diminished physical hearing for which the brain fully compensates.
Don't let her get away with 'huh?'. I keep asking my wife how it sounds to her after I change something. I have always explained that the music is for both of us to enjoy and I need her to tell me when it sounds best to her. Now, she has started to ask what I changed and listens for sound staging cues. Because most women hear better (not always more often) there are frequencies that, if exaggerated, really bother her. I now get honest input and listening together is more frequent.
Liz, there's another OP running about the benefits of cryo treatment. I was wondering out loud if cryo treating the wifey or significant other might change their feelings about our hobby. Any thoughts??
I've found that my listening acuity improved the more I replaced things. Granted, it was a very slow process but every swap, be it cable, amp, CDP, footers, gave an immediate, if not huge, difference. To my ears, no two things sounded the same.

With that came the deliberation as to what sounded better. No two people will hear the same thing so trust your ears. Too many differences, appreciations and rankings of importance vary from one individual to another. What is obvious to you will have others shaking their heads in disbelief, or worse, dismay.

Keep in mind that some, if not most people, can't hear or don't give a damn about subtle differences. Their interests don't go as far as yours and there is at play here a deliberate refusal to acknowledge what is obvious simply out of a lack of interest or what's rarely discussed, jealousy. They covet.

Your girlfriends lack of understanding is from not having a need to appreciate how you do it since she's been immersed in music all her life. She's had no need to approach it from your perspective. All music sounds good to her, even that which may not be as refined sounding as you'd like since it's at least, music. Hold her close: her ears will eventually come in handy!

All the best,
What you refer to as a 'developing ear', I refer to as training an ear. It basically only comes from experience. Learning what to listen for and how to listen. It's not rocket science, it just takes experience: time, patience and money to try many varied pieces of gear.

I do believe that the ear is continuosly being trained, or developed, just as any other skill (say driving), until you finally reach the point when your skills begin to deteriorate.
bifwynne: plenty of husbbands have a wife who has been 'cryo'ed'.
Ever read about all those 'frigid' wives.. Well there ya' go.
Seems it is more of a problem than a benefit.
Speaking as a musician who has helped many people train their ears, ear training is like any other kind of training. It takes regular practice. The more you work at it, the better you will become. Almost anyone can improve their listening ability, no matter whether it is learning to detect slight differences between two different tubes, or systems, or whatever, or the more complicated listening musicians themselves have to do.

Rather than make ear training specific to trying to hear differences between pieces of equipment though, I always like to encourage audiophiles to train their musical ears in general. Working on this greatly improves all types of listening. Learning more about music in general will also greatly increase your enjoyment in listening to whatever kind of music you like to listen to. It is easier to pick out what type of equipment you want when you know much more about what it is you are trying to listen for. Many audiophiles know a very great deal about the science of music playback, but shockingly little about music itself and how it is put together. It is especially shocking and saddening to me when I encounter someone who has spent six figures on their system yet knows almost nothing about what they are actually using the system for.

I always recommend a great little book the famous composer Aaron Copland wrote, entitled What To Listen For In Music. It is an excellent book written in layman's terms, and will increase your enjoyment in listening to whatever kind of music you like to listen to (it is not just for classical music, though it does focus on that, since it is generally much more complex - if you only listen to say rock, then what the book will teach you will be that much easier to apply).
Many colleges and universities that have good music programs offer classes in music listening skills. Well worth attendance, especially since you will get to interact with other classes members that can help you understand different approaches. Julliard in New York City has an excellent course.
1) Get quiet, get centered, and listen in the dark with your eyes closed.
2) Consider it your job to identify every single instrument and effect on a track. Are there 1 or 2 or 3 guitars? Can you tell a single-coil from a humbucker? (or better yet, a Stratocaster from a Telecaster? How many horns? What keyboard sounds are present? Is that a Rhodes or a Hammond? Can you differentiate the kick drum from the bass notes?
3) After you're able to pick apart all the individual instruments, you realize that your next job is to appreciate how all these parts are put together. It's quite the zen trick to register the components and the whole (like figure and ground) at once. But once you reach this point, you're a Listener.
4) Take ear breaks. After 10 or 15 minutes of music, you often need 2 or 5 minutes of silence.
5) Have fun.
Tpreaves got it right.
My experience is: rely on your girlfriend. She can teach you more than your gear can. And watch out that your ear isn't "tuned" and that you are fixated. Her ears aren't broken, yours might be.

My wife enjoys music.

I enjoy music AND sounds.

I can love the sounds something makes even if it isn't musical. I do this with everything - voices, engines, tools, nature, guns, you name it. If it makes a noise, I listen to it. If NASCAR's in-car camera sequences come on I'm listening to the engine. Awesome. The whine of tires changing pitch in corners. The clack of gear changes. Anything. I like and fixate on sounds. If I fixate on it I can tune a chainsaw within 50 rpm by ear. That hasn't taught me anything about music, but my chainsaws rip and I don't have to take the meter out.

I can probably tune a piano before I can learn how to play it.

My wife can probably learn to play a piano before she can tune it.

I forget that my wife hasn't heard a reference recording 1,000 times.

My wife finds how a string is bent to have more musical meaning than the fact that a tiny little bell noise has entered the soundstage at 2 o'clock.

When I turn music down to the volume my wife would have it and I cannot hear what she hears with perfect clarity, I know she hears better than I do.

When my wife hears how the string was bent AND hears the tiny little bell noise enter the soundstage at 2 o'clock on an NAD 326BEE, that means I've wasted $5,000 on my amp.

When she tells me to give it a rest, that means she'd like me to obsess over her for a little while.

Oh, and one more thing I've learned: if she is still with you, that means either she is crazy and you need to dump her before she burns you in your bed or that she loves you.
Thanks Lears, I'll look into that book!
Buconero, I didn't know that there are such classes; thanks, I'll look into that also!!
I would second Buconero's excellent suggestion, I usually remember to mention it myself!
Lol vsollozzo, that made me laugh, what you said about her either being crazy or that she loves me. Your whole post was good! I can relate; I love the way some Ferrari's scream, and I love the way some sportbikes and harleys sound. Never thought of it that way, but I guess I like sounds too :-)

Cymbob, thanks for all the good input. I've recently been picking up on backup vocals. It's kind of funny, or sad, that I wasn't really able to hear that too much before. I've found that I do hear more and get more involved when I close my eyes when listening. I think part of what I enjoy so much about listening to music is how relaxing it can be. I've found that activities that can consume 100% of your concentration can be zen like.

Anyhow, thanks for the valuable input guys!
You've _got_ to take your eyes out of the equation. Your brain is wired to give visual stimuli precedence over aural stimuli. That's why I play bass with my eyes closed; that's why I'll close my eyes to listen when I'm at a live concert. That's why I set my DAC and Squeezebox to go black during playback. Turning off the lights in the room helps immeasurably, if you can get past other people thinking that it's weird.
Cymbop, nice rig.
I had to get past people thinking "it's" weird a long time ago my friend!
I truly believe that most anyone can develope golden ears.
But I also have to add that some folks may have better ears than others ,hence the ability of some folks to be able to carry a tune and others who can not-the tone deaf.

Iam a musician, so for the last 40 odd years I've trained my ears to keep me playing in tune,you know when things are off key.Some folks don't seem to be able to tell the difference.

Part of this was learned from experience,some taught from mentors and some self taught thru many hours trial and error learning to play by ear.

I think this early musical experience made it easier for me to become a more discerning audiophile, and I don't mind being called an audiophile,because to me that's the ultimate music lover.To me it's someone who wants to retrieve as much music from his system as he can, the emphasis being music.
If I wanted to collect stuff there are much cheaper things to collect than audio gear.
But I was also lucky enough to have a few audio mentors who helped me hone my music listening skills.
First of all, to get ears you have to use them.
That means listening to the music and not just having it play in the background while you text or read.You know the types who like to have a few brewskies and spin some tunes to chill out types.
Nothing wrong with that,but you'll never turn a poor system into a good one if that's how you view this hobby.
Then again enough brew and anything will sound passable.
Ever notice how the volume goes up as the quanity of alcohol is increased?

In the old days when I started,distractions were frowned upon.
You turned the system on, grabbed a few lps and listened to them,mostly in the dark and in solitude.
You listened for every little detail, and you developed an auditory memory of what was on those discs, you knew them inside out, which came in handy when you contemplated an upgrade.
If the old reference (could be any type of music and style)was found to have more detail, more hidden nuggets of information,then the new upgrade was deemed worthy of a cash outlay.
If it was the same or no difference, then no blood was spilt.

I do wonder if some of the folks who make it a habit to post that everything sounds the same or makes no difference to their ears are perhaps 1-less critical listeners, who only listen to the tunes for pleasure-2-have no musical apptitude or the gift of being able to sing in tune and stay in pitch-3-lack the concentration to focus on just one thing and absorb it entirely without distractions(ADHD could be an issue with some anti audiophile,non tweakers).
Or perhaps are all of the above and who don't care about anything other than if the music makes their toes tap.

If that's all that it takes, then you don't need to search out any gear better than a table top radio to satisfy you.
And you would be correct to state that the rest of us are all nuts.
After you develop golden ears, they become a curse; although I must admit they come in handy for acquiring holographic sound. After I got what I wanted, I tossed my beautiful pair of "audiophile" golden ears out the window. Now I have a brand new pair of "musiophile" ears, they're much better.
I thought gold was a good conductor.
Why toss the golden ears out ?

Getting rid of good quality gear and settling for inferior gear because you are a music lover first and like to brag about the lack of quality gear, is no different than someone who brags about how great his gear is and how good it sounds.

In the end it's all about the music,but the gear is still necessary evil.

For me, settling for a cheap system but able to afford better,is like having lead ears.
With me the old days are still the same. It was'nt and isn't nearly as much about detail as it is about the quality of what is being presented. However, it seems the higher the quality/realism, the more detail there is as well. They seem to go hand in hand. But it is uncanny how similar to a musician's ears an audiophile's ears become trained. You may not be listening for the same things but you're listening the same way.
What is important to me is hearing as much of the music as has been recorded.

Unfortunately,the better more expensive systems just seem to do this better, and I've never experienced listener fatigue with a quality system.
My ears have shut down on lesser systems.
This isn't elitist snobbism, just a fact of my audio life, and no, I don't own a system consisting of the best cost no object gear.
But it is a system, tweaks and all, that's evolved over the years to where it's giving me a more enjoyable musical experience than some systems I've owned that did cost more.

I do have on occassion access to a marvelous High End system all the better to tune my ears and give me some insight into how much further I have to go to get to that sonic nirvana-the sound of just the music and not the gear.

I've gotten much closer in the last year, but wouldn't have had a clue without the infusion of audio realism I get from a friend's system.

So, for me, to take any system up a few notches, if that's what you desire-(but then isn't that what this hobby is about?)you need to expose yourself to systems that are different and if possible better than the one you own.

If you restrict yourself to only your own set up,you sometimes just run around and chase your own tail.
You spend money moving sideways and backwards and seldom forward if you've never experienced a really good system and learn what it does that your's doesn't.

If you want to play like a pro, go listen to a few pros before you take up the instrument of your fantasies.
Only then will you know just how far it can go.

Fortunately in audio at the moment there are a number of very fine components that really do great things for not a lot of cash.It wasn't always this way.

It's too bad a lot of music lovers are so put off about the prices of high end gear that they avoid any such items like the plague and never even go to where they are displayed.
Audio shows are OK, but not perfect places to listen and make a judgement.Upscale audio salons are becoming harder to find.
So seek out audiophiles in your area thru forums like this.

I'm sure there will be many who would graciously allow you to have a listen and perhaps give you a few tips.

It's really not an elitist, audio snob society at all.