Audiophile Listening

By Art Noxon (ASC TubeTraps)

What�s with Hi Fi these days? Nothing much, except it�s a new generation of people who are discovering it. It started in NYC in the early 50�s and kind of died out in the 90�s because of computers and home theater. Now, people are discovering the delights available to their ears, rediscovering HiFi, the audiophile version of HiFi.

Hi Fi originally was about recreating great sounding music. Over the years, around the mid 1980�s, Hi Fi evolved into something much more, much bigger, almost unbelievable. Until someone actually hears the state of the art in Hi Fi, it�s pretty hard to talk to them about it. Hi Fi today is not about hearing quality music, high DSP music on ear buds, it�s much more. In addition to the replication of music, today�s Hi Fi delivers a sonic Sound Stage.

Just like a visual stage, there is a sound stage; we hear it, but at the same time we actually see it. This idea of sonic vision comes from the leakage between our seeing nervous system and our hearing nervous system. Some people have more sonic vision, leakage, than others. It�s called Synethesia and it has been around forever. It actually includes the leakage of stimulus between all of the senses.

In Hi Fi, we quiet all our other senses, including and most importantly our visual sensory imput. We stare, trancelike. Once our visual distractions disappear we begin to see sound. Hi Fi is usually mic�d and records sound coming from somewhere, going some where. In a good Hi Fi setup, and when we are free from visual stimulations, we not only hear, but we begin to see a sonic version of the original sound stage.

The sonic sound stage includes a stage set, some sort of fairly static backdrop, the sonic backdrop. Often the sonic stage is of an orchestra. In Hi Fi, we can�t really see the players and the stage and we don�t want to see it, visually speaking. We can see this same stage with our sonic vision. With stereo and our sonic vision, we can see where each sound comes from. We can also see how clear the sound is and how separate it is from other sounds. We can see if it moves left, right, up or down. We can see if it is large and fuzzy or small and bright.

Thus, we actually see sound. We see how bright it is, how focused or blurred it is, what tone it is and where it is located. We see sound being close to us or being far away. Stereo is so powerful for stimulating our hearing system that we can even see and hear sounds coming from beside, above and behind us, all by means of just two ears and two speakers.

Most of us, however, never experience this kind of sonic theatrics, because most of us have low quality speakers and low quality listening rooms. What happens in a room in which sound is being made, is that we first hear the �direct� sound and then we keep on hearing, over and over again, reflections. Our hearing system adds all those �early reflections� to the direct signal and what we actually hear is the sum of all that. This sum is usually between 5 and 10 dB louder than the original direct signal. In normal rooms this is good, but in hifi rooms, these early reflections blur our imaging capability, reducing it to just about zero.

Hi Fi listening rooms, as well as recording studio control rooms, are specially built with minimal random early reflections. However, trying to enjoy or work with music in a dead room is exhausting and just isn�t done. Therefore, audio playback rooms are designed and built as if they were literally sonic sculptures. They quiet most early reflections, but allow some to help create a sense or feeling of spaciousness. Late reflections are cultivated to create a sense of ambience, which surrounds the listener with a very low level sense of "sparkle," something like snow globes. Then we have reverberation, sonic chaos, to deal with. Some reverberation is good, but not too much.

As you can see, Hi Fi is much more than powerful electronics and speakers. It includes the control of all of the sound emitted into the room, as well. The end result of all of this micro attention to detail is the audiophile listening room or the recording studio control room, places where sound can be heard like no where else in the world. Once you do hear this kind of sound, you can never forget it. Some people who hear it become driven to be able to hear it again and become audiophiles themselves. The rest of us just remember that one glorious time we had back when and go about our daily life, which includes hearing normal, regular sound that is nothing like the audiophile kind of sound.

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Copyright 2013 by Art Noxon and/or All rights reserved.