Three Ways to Improve your Music Listening Experience
Music is ubiquitous and is one of the most powerful means of human expression. Everyone listens to music at some time but how can you optimize your sonic experience?
Listen in a Quiet Environment
Musicians, audio engineers and producers take a lot of time and expend considerable effort to ensure that you will have an enjoyable experience once you press play. I’m particularly guilty of the crime of listening to music in less than ideal circumstances as I’ve been known to motivate myself with a song or two while running on a treadmill (who doesn’t?), blazing energetic, danceable tunes while studying and just about playing music anywhere and at any time.
There’s nothing wrong with playing music during daily activities when appropriate but it must be understood that this isn’t the optimal way to appreciate all that is going on in the track. Many of the nuances in a piece of music will be lost in a noisy environment or if the listener is distracted. Even the apparent width of a stereo track will disappear leaving a less convincing mono sound.
Expand Your Musical “Palette”
Even something as wonderful as music can lose its charm over time if you listen to the same sounds all the time. Isn’t it awesome that there’s such a wide variety of musical genres that you can’t have possibly listened to them all yet? [Read: Black: The Root of All Music]
I’m not saying you must go out and buy an album of Tibetan throat singing but most of us could do with a slight expansion in our sound repertoire.
Improve Your Music Listening Gear
In case you didn’t know it yet, laptop speakers suck!
I’m sorry to shock you but you had to know. Don’t gloat yet if you don’t have a laptop; the same goes for tablet and smartphone speakers. Not only are some of these speakers so quiet that you can hardly make out anything, most of them represent mid-range frequencies well enough but are extremely poor with bass and high frequencies.
Try listening to your favorite popular single on a pair of these laptop (or tablet or phone) speakers in a quiet environment. Really listen closely. Do the cymbals and hi hats sizzle? Where is that booming bass that hits you squarely in your chest? If this is your primary listening gear you could certainly do with an upgrade my friend and you’re in luck. There are a number of options for boosting you sonic experience without breaking the bank.
High Fidelity (Hi-Fi) Loudspeakers
These may range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars and may be bookshelf or floor-standing but a boost in your audio quality is guaranteed if you are currently stranded with laptop speakers or worse. I have provided a link below although I personally have more experience with studio monitors that are better suited for music production applications. Hi-fi loudspeaker systems pack a punch and are great for listening to music with friends and family but suffer from a lack of portability. These speakers can be moved around a bit but definitely aren’t meant to be lugged all over town.
This is where I can definitely give my two cents. I’ve used a myriad of headphones and earbuds over the years and two in particular have stood out.
Sony MDR Series
Be prepared to be walloped by pure musical goodness. I don’t remember the exact model number but these headphones turned me into a musical recluse for a short time in university and their over-ear design kept outside disturbances to a minimum. Possibly their next best selling point after audio quality and absolute awesomeness is their comfort. The cushions in these made me feel like I was wearing a pair of Hushpuppies on my ears. I can’t help but look back fondly at these headphones. I loved them enough to buy a second pair when they had done their time. Both pairs eventually succumbed to issues with internal wiring coming loose but nothing that a soldering gun couldn’t probably have fixed.
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
The Germans may not have one the war but they sure won me over with these beauties. German engineering and design are legendary and the HD 280 Pro is no different. The comfort level may not be quite as phenomenal as the Sony MDR models but the sound quality is similar and the durability is exceptional. So far with 6 years of almost continuous use these show little sign of deterioration and they are still my choice for personal listening and supplementary monitoring.
An ideal environment and the the right equipment can be the difference between a stellar and a lacklustre musical experience. Nevertheless, whether you own a humble pair of earbuds or the fanciest new stereo system I must admit that most are good enough for casual listening purposes. Happy listening!
icon-quote-right If music be the food of love, play on
— William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night