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Critical Listening


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It can mean either way I supposed.

I consider critical listening to music when I only listen to music, that means turn the tv off, turn the computer off, turn the phone off. Only enjoy the music. Some would say that they listen to a certain part of the song, I don't quite know but I supposed critical listening is when we stop multi tasking and actually listening to music

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Just want to know what this term means. Are you just listening to the music or listening for something in particular?

When I worked in the darkroom loading film (as a photographer), I could imagine where everything was much better if my eyes were closed. Even though it was pitch black either way, it kinda freaked out my brain a little to see pitch dark with my eyes open........that just wasn't normal.

I applied the technique to musical listening. Lights out AND eyes closed. Just to isolate my hearing from all other distractions. That, my friends is critical listening, and the volume must be at least 88 db, which you should adjust BEFORE turning out lights and closing your eyes, otherwise, it's hard to read.

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Crikey - critical listening is completely different for me than anything covered here.

My normal listening is with the lights low, in the evening, with no other distractions - just getting lost in the music.

Critical listening, for me, is rather different and I suppose there are really 2 types:

The first would be listening to a performance - to see how a conductor / pianist / violinist handles a given piece - do I like the way they do it? Do they do something differently from other versions I have heard? That sort of thing - comparing, for example, the Rach 3 Piano - the way Ashkenazy plays it, the way Rachmaninof himself played it and the way, say, Volodos handles it (to use a newer, younger Russian pianist).

The second type of critical listening is when listening to a system - to try to see how a given system handles a piece. To do this properly I use a few well known (to me) pieces and try to see if the system passes on to me the feel that I expect. For a vinyl system I find, for example, that the 4th movement of Sherherezade (Reiner/Chicago on Living Stereo) is an ideal test of a system. In one 8 minute burst you have everything from melody to dynamics, from pp to FF, sudden intrusions of the whole orchestra (thwack as a rocker might know it), massively apparent soundstage and depth - the whole 9 yards. All of this at the end of the record - the worst possible place to have it due to the nature of a vinyl record.

Here I am not trying to listen to the music (although it is sublime) I am trying to listen to the system. It does not always work - but that is probably the best sign of how good a system might be - if I find myself forgetting the system during this type of critical listening then that is a system I want.

Anyway - that is critical listening to me. The latter is something I almost never do when listening to my own system - unless I think something is suddenly wrong. The former is something I do with just about any new recording the first time I play it - after that it is all about the music and drifting off into its melodic reverie....

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I TOTALLY agree with Maxg here! I have what I call critical listening sessions. My former living place had a dedicated room that has was light free even during the day! Fully curtained and carpeted. I even made a special partition that was covered in the same material as the curtains (in front of the gear) and had cutouts in it where the IR for the remotes could get a signal through.........I didn't want me or my guests to be distracted by the displays. Lights out, total blackness even with eyes open - perfect! The performers in their space begin to take form in front of you [;)]

My test STEREO recording is and still is a Delos recording of a certain state university wind orchestra of - Percy Grainger, if you have this, you know what I am talking about.

For total bigness in soundstage, image and the original recording space, I have my Telarc SACD's.... Robert Spano with the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra - the Vaughn Williams `Sea Symphony' is a must listen if you have SACD setup. If you have been keeping up with Telarc over the years, I don't have to tell you about the awards and breakthroughs this company is known for, and their genuine SACD recordings are first rate! Same goes for Mr. Spano !

There you have it moi - NEW to the stereo world of the K'Horns.



PS. My new home presently has a room already for the contractor to come in and begin work. I new theatre will be constucted - its exciting [:D]

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I was going to say exactly what wpines said. The book is incredible. Highly recomended. Critical listening is just one item. There are hundreds more covered. There are 3 issues of this. I bought the 2nd edition on ebay for $10. The retail on the 3rd edition is around $43 but You may find it on ebay as well. Written by an "EXPERT who makes his living as an EXPERT". He may be the current editor of Absolute Sound magazine, or perhaps it's some other highly regarded magazine.

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To me, critical listening requires at least a basic understanding of music theory and music history. Listening critically involves attention to, among other things, melodic and harmonic progression, rhythm, compositional form, and the style of the muscial era during which the piece was composed. The interpretation of the artist, whether solo, small ensemble, or large group, can then be gauged as technically and stylistically accurate or otherwise. Of course, there are many other things to listen for, but these are some basic thoughts. The term "critical" used in "critical listening" or "critical viewing" indicates to me, the ability to critique and that requires some basic understanding of the techniques of whatever art form or endeavor is being critiqued. For example, I can look at an impressionistic painting and enjoy its aesthetic value, but I may not be able to look at it critically in that I don't know much about the techniques and stylistic considerations that embody that period of art. I can enjoy the beauty and function of a Porsche 911 but I don't understand the details of the engine and suspension so as to able to discuss such in a critical manner with the designer. I think for most of us, we listen to music for its aesthetic value, but rarely do we listen to it critically - at least for me, I haven't done that much "critical" listening since I studied music during my college days and for a while afterwards as a professional musician. Critical listening can be hard work and I don't listen to music to work, I listen to relax.

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For me... critical listening occurs between the time I power up the system and the moment I start to enjoy the music. The duration varies depending on the aritst/album, the medium and any new gear. Under normal circumstances, it takes about 20-30 minutes after I've let things warm up. 

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I'll be lame and go by the definition of the words....critical

listening for me is listening with the intent to criticize. There are

lots of different things that can be criticized, but isn't the goal of

this hobby make music and equipment that has no shortcomings?


Blanchard warned me about using music I enjoy for critical listening

because you're always going to end up hating your music...

I might also argue that the better you get at critical listening, the better you are at placing blame on the right things. That's where experience comes into play.

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The concept of critical listening logically needs to be framed in opposition to some other kind of listening, which some here have called "normal" or "enjoyment" listening. These distinctions make a lot of sense. Analogies will make this more clear:

The time I spend in my home may be divided into two types that I may call "being the servant" and "being the master".

Being the servant is the role I take when I do yard work, wash dishes and clothes, vacuum, dust, clean, etc. It is like being my own butler, maid, and yard boy. These are tedious tasks that must be done and I just bear them until completed. Being the master is enjoying the fruits of my labors... I dine, I relax, I read, I play music, I enjoy how clean and straight things are around the house, and I make some mess in the process.

So, to me; critical listening (being the servant) would be the kind you do when deliberately examining your sound system, choosing artists, making changes, carefully analyzing updates, and other "tasks" to benefit normal or enjoyment listening. Normal enjoyment listening is coasting on the benifits of adjustments toward perfection performed while assuming the critical listening role.

Critical listening is like working on your car, normal enjoyment listening is like driving your car. The distinction is like that between potential energy and kinetic energy, like the distinction between pedaling and coasting, the distinction between decreasing entropy and increasing entropy. Critical is working to push uphill, normal enjoyment is relaxing as you do downhill.

Fortunately, many of us actually enjoy the critical aspect (tuning, cleaning, analyzing, fixing, improving) almost as much as the normal enjoyment. When this is the case what you have identified is your hobby. Part of the definition of a hobby is that one will expend vast amounts of effort, time, and money seeking highest levels of satisfacton that non hobbiests view as an obsession with an approach to perfection.

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I had a feeling the term meant more than just kickin back listening to the music. Just wanted to get some input as to what you believe it is meant to be. In this busy lifestyle most of us have I am sure it is rare to have the opportunity to really relax and listen. I can only speak for myself, that music is always playing in the background. It is rare that I can just sit and listen. As far as critically listen, I will have to work on that.

Thanks for all the input, good reading.


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