Hearing and listening. You’re doing it wrong.

Graham Audio System3D
Whats your favourite song?

Lets face it, everyone has either asked or been asked this question. For some the answer is probably on repeat as the sound track to your life. For others this can lead to an existential crisis as you attempt to narrow down the entire history of music, cross reference this with your current emotional state, the date and time and what you had for breakfast in order to give an answer that you hope best represents you, your values… Please stop asking me this question!

However, how many of you have truly sat down and LISTENED to your favourite song? In a world that is currently shut down I’d like to think that you’ve all had time. Time to stop what you’re doing and spend some time with something I suspect we’ve all taken for granted, music. But here is where things get difficult, how do you listen to music? The emphasis in that question can lead to an incredible array of answers but here is what I believe.

Listening properly requires concentration so find somewhere quiet where you can relax. Ideally you’d be able to isolate yourself from any distractions so that you can focus fully. Its difficult to stress this enough because of the constant relegation of music to be something “in the background”. Ear buds allow you to have music while running, we have music on while we drive, when we shop (before lockdown!) and the rest of the time our lives are surrounded by noise and other distractions. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this, however, this is also the fundemental crux of this article. Just HEARING music is not the same as truly LISTENING to it.

Next you need to get the best quality recording of your song you can find. Again, I suspect most of you reading this are fully aware of this but let me make it perfectly clear. Digital bad, analogue good. I suspect a post explaining why this is the case will follow at some point but for now you just have to believe me. Regardless of how lossless your mp3’s say they are its impossible for all the sonic information to be there. CD’s are better but vinyl records are better still. Having worked in a studio I can tell you that getting hold of the master tapes is best but who amongst us has a 2″ tape machine lying around?! Also, coming across these is virtually impossible so I suggest making do with a nice big friendly record. 

So we just play the song now, right? I’m not going to bore you with an audiophiles guide to hifi (google search) but the system you listen to your music on really is important. If you care enough to be reading this then you’ll know to look for quality speakers, quality amplifiers and/or quality headphones (not Beats!) Generally speaking you’ll want the best you can afford. I will say this again, only spend what you can afford, it can get seriously expensive once you start researching!

As an aside, the highest quality speaker I’ve ever heard comes from Graham Audio. This was their System 3D which was designed for the Royal Opera House but, having spent my working life using Meyer which I consider to being the best quality range of speakers around, this system was on another level entirely. Sitting and listening to what this system could reproduce was astonishing. I therefore assume that their hifi range is equally amazing and so would highly recommend them.

Here we are then, in our nice comfortable room in a nice comfortable chair with our nice big record in front of our economy crippling hifi. now what?! Well, now it is time to begin listening to that song you’ve chosen. Just sit and listen. If you’re doing this properly you’ll find that there will be layers of sound you’ve not heard before. Odd things that you’ve not noticed before, instruments you didn’t realise were there. I promise you, if you’ve really taken this seriously then you will hear something new.

Now you’ve heard something new, go back and listen again. Listen back and hear if there’s anything else in the mix that you might not have heard before. With enough plays you’ll be able to train yourself to tune in and be able to pick out subtlies. Things like harmonies, instrumentation, changes in effects or even dial your ears in to just the snare!

But so what?

Yes, that is a good question. As a PA company we believe that it is our job to provide the highest quality audio we can. It would be possible to do gigs and events with cheap equipment with very little thought of setup and if its loud then most people won’t notice the difference. This is the equivalent of only ever listening to streamed music through cheap earbuds via your phone. You lose so much information and what is there is just nasty and only good for background music. If you’ve paid money to go and watch a band then you should expect the experience to match what you’ve paid for it.

I’m often met with rolled eyes when I start talking about something as seemingly mundane as “listening” because, until you’ve done it, it’s a difficult concept to appreciate. This passion for audio quality is what has fueled Astra since 1985 and is what will continue to fuel it into the future. While we’re waiting for the future to begin I urge you to take a moment to take a break from everything for 20 minutes and go and listen.