Are you listening carefully?

Woman with headphones on

A friend of mine posted a link to a BBC article on how to improve your enjoyment of music. Intrigued, I took the (click)bait and read on. To be honest it was a bit hit and miss with a third of the article looking at spatial audio and not so much “tips” as explanations of how we process sounds.

However there were a few things that resonated and it got me thinking about my own listening habits and consumption of the thing I love most.

It’s not a new topic for consideration; I’ve battled previously with the usual “must have the highest audio quality” challenge – for the record, my CD collection is ripped to hard drive as lossless WMA files but the frequency with which I delve into my digital archive to listen to a “hi-def” version of a track that I can stream with immediacy to most devices in my home is probably no more than once a month at most. For the most part it doesn’t bother me until something triggers the “fear of missing out” on everything those audiophiles rave about. The rational part of my brain knows that my music listening is compromised from a quality point of view regardless of the source material.

Most of my listening is done in one of the following three ways:

  • While driving in the car 
  • While running or cycling
  • While cooking

In all three instances the source material will typically be Spotify. Checking my current settings (because Spotify is forever tweaking things) this is set to “Automatic” for streaming and “High” for downloaded music (of which I have little). Just what “Automatic” translates to is anyone’s guess – presumably related to connection speed so could be anywhere from 24kbps to 320kbps.

For both driving and while cooking I typically use bluetooth to connect to the speaker or car stereo which adds it’s own degradation to the audio signal, and both of these environments bring their own ambient noise challenges. For running or cycling I use bone conduction headphones because I need to keep my wits about me and be aware of what less responsible road users are up to.

The only place where I really have the facility to experience top class audio quality (by my own standards) is in my studio. Not only do I have access to the hi-definition source files, I also have reasonable quality monitor speakers (White Yamaha HS-7 in case you’re interested). More often than not though, studio time is for creating music rather than listening. 

Having said all that, I’m happy to accept all these compromises in order to allow me to continue to consume music as often as possible rather than when I have a spare hour to dedicate to sitting and simply listening. What the article does lead me to though, is that I should be setting that dedicated listening time aside as well. (tip 3) 

So that’s the new addition to my plan, at least once a week, to pick out an album and give it a fresh listen, probably with the lights off or way down low (tip 1) 

Now I just need to decide what to listen to first…

Until tomorrow.


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