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Audiophile Hearing Test

Are your ears larger or smaller than your wallet?
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I have several friends who are audiophiles, with very high-end sound equipment in their homes. I have a better-than-average system in my home as well. We occasionally have music listening parties where everyone brings over new CDs (or DVDs or SACDs or DVD-Audios) to play selections from.

From years of hanging out with these folks, it has become clear to me that many people (including myself) simply do not have good enough hearing to appreciate some of the extreme subtleties in sound that these high end systems can reproduce. We’ve done side-by-side comparisons of higher fidelity against lower fidelity recordings. Sometimes others in the room will report they hear a clear difference, when I can detect little or none.

This makes me glad I didn’t spend 30 grand on my system, because it seems like the extra bit of fidelity that would have gotten me would probably be lost on my ears. (As in most product categories, there is a law of diminishing returns here, where the higher you go in the product line, the less linear the quality-to-cost ratio is). And from that comes my idea.

I propose a disk that has a number of pairs of recordings that are subtly different in quality, designed to test your ability to hear subtle differences in sound. This is not just a simple medical hearing test, which tests your ability to hear different levels and frequencies of sound. That maps out the edges of the envelope of your hearing. What we’re interested in are the surfaces and volume of that envelope.

You would rent this disk, and take it to a location with a very high-end system installed (such as an electronics store, or a friend's house) and play through the samples. For instance, a CD quality recording, followed by a DVD-Audio or SACD quality recording of the same fragment of music, followed by questions of whether you noticed specific differences. For instance: “How many trumpets did you hear in the sample?” “Could you hear the cowbell?”

The samples would be specifically designed to compare apples to apples, for instance it wouldn’t ask you to compare a stereo recording against a 5.1 surround recording, since obviously there are going to be differences there that go beyond simple fidelity. (That’s the problem with home-brewing a test like this; it is hard to find pairs of recordings that are simply different in fidelity but otherwise match. Usually there are other differences, such as the mix and level).

At the end, it would tell you approximately how much money you should spend on your receiver, speakers, etc. to take full advantage of your aural abilities, but not waste money reproducing sounds you can’t possibly appreciate.

krelnik, Dec 06 2003

best speaker ever? http://www.stereoti...om/speak091702.shtm
where did I leave that extra 10 large? [ato_de, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Test & Sampler Discs http://www.audaud.c...eature/feature.html
[phoenix, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Audio CD Hearing Test Disc http://www.vivante....in=Accessories.html
Half way down the page. [phoenix, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Oscilloscope: http://www.digitalv...fi/images/k6060.jpg
Now your friends can see how good it sounds. [Amos Kito, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Seeing this link and (next link) http://www.soundsta.../mit_oracle_v21.htm
[Dub, Nov 01 2005]

And this link on MetaFilter http://www.amusicdi...?cat=380&sku=AAQEV8
[Dub, Nov 01 2005]

Lambda Headphones - Expensive! http://www.stax.co.jp/index-E.html
[Dub, Dec 02 2005]

[link]






       excellent idea! This will let me know if I really need those new quads.
ato_de, Dec 06 2003
  

       This ignores the satisfaction many get from owning a system or machine that is engineered well beyond useful levels. Ferrari comes to mind.
bristolz, Dec 06 2003
  

       Hey, welcome back, bris!
krelnik, Dec 06 2003
  

       Also useful for other tests, such as: CD coloured in with green marker pen vs. CD not coloured in with green marker pen
hippo, Dec 07 2003
  

       On those links, phoenix: The first one contains disks that test your equipment to make sure it is set up correctly, I have a couple of those and they are quite handy.   

       The second one sounds more like a medical-style hearing test as mentioned in my fourth paragraph.
krelnik, Dec 07 2003
  

       The best upgrade I ever made to my audio system was to stop reading hi-fi magazines.
English Bob, Dec 08 2003
  

       There would be a downside for people who like listening to music, but aren’t too concerned with fidelity. After using this disc to evaluate dozens of systems, you’d have trained yourself to be sensitive to the subtle differences that you didn’t care about before. Now, the next time you go to listen the Metropolitan Opera on the radio (broadcast over FM, ugh) you won’t be able to enjoy it as much.
AO, Dec 08 2003
  

       That already happens, actually. I really dislike listening to FM radio, because it seems really low fidelity to me compared to my system at home.
krelnik, Dec 08 2003
  

       I like the concept, but one difficulty I can see is that people who listen to music a lot can become accustomed to how it sounds, and so something which is technically an improvement may change the sound in a way they don't like. Part of audiophile's historical preference for vacuum tube amplifiers comes from this phenomenon (though I suspect another part may come from the output impedance characteristics of tube amps which can be quite different from those of transistor amps).
supercat, Dec 08 2003
  

       I like the soft rumble and muffled pops that you get with an LP in less-than-perfect condition played on a good stereo system. It takes away from the fidelity of the sound reproduction, but it adds to the overall experience.
AO, Dec 08 2003
  

       Perhaps you could use the same thing for normal hearing tests.   

       Can you hear the guitarist's shirt button striking the guitar every 4 beats or so? No?
Can you tell me what two coins the guitarist had in his pocket as he tapped his foot along with the song?
Do you even hear the change in his pocket?
Can you even hear the toe tapping?
The guitar. Shirley you can hear the guitar.
(stamps FAIL on standard form)
Worldgineer, Dec 08 2003
  

       I always find it interesting when you hear sounds on a hi fidelity recording that you are not sure what they are. I have an album by a young acoustic guitarist named Kaki King, who plays in very odd ways. Its quite amazing the weird sounds she gets out of a standard guitar, leaving you wondering how she did it.
krelnik, Dec 09 2003
  

       An acoustically perfect bun for you.
absterge, Aug 20 2004
  

       It would be interesting to hear Commodore 64 music on a high end stereo (as in 192Khz sampling) with tweeters that are flat to 96Khz. As a SID file (that's C64 music) is a mathematical description of the music, the fidelity is limited only how many samples per second you have in the final conversion, as the waveforms have infinite bandwidth in theory. Quality will be revealed that's unknown at the time of composition.
Amishman35, Nov 01 2005
  

       (sorry, slightly OT rant)...I once had my ears syringed... It was amazing... I could hear the sound of my fingerprints on tissue paper, however...Seeing [2 x links] recently prompted me to think that simply having ears syringed is stopping a bit short... People wasting that much money on cabling should have their entire brain-case vacuumed out!
Dub, Nov 01 2005
  

       I recently improved my stereo system very cheaply; I got a bit older so my hearing accepts the imperfections.
angel, Dec 02 2005
  
      
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