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Smoke & Mirrors … | the Genius of Michel Vanden Broeck

Smoke & Mirrors 

...How Making it Loud Can Just Be Noise!

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Simply making music loud does not make music sound good.  Actually quite the opposite is true1 

Interestingly, over the years I have found that most women listen differently then men do.  They generally do not enjoy listening to stereo systems at loud volume levels.  Typically women play stereos more for background music. Perhaps there is a reason for this!

 In actuality, the hobby of stereo systems is extremely male dominated.  Just attend any of the world high end shows such as Munich, Vegas, Montreal and so on and you will find attendance to be mostly male. 

This is quite remarkable given that a women's hearing is considerably more sensitive than men.  Wouldn’t women find this hobby more rewarding than men for this very reason?  They certainly love music - so why is it that women are not attracted to this hobby?  

With their advanced hearing … and it may simply be they are better listeners … women typically know what they like and what they don’t like.  Perhaps women are interested only in the product - the music - so, having no investment in the process, they are completely and totally objective.  Women know there is no substitute for quality … but men think very differently as I will discuss.

Men typically substitue volume for quality - like going fast, then faster, in a car that doesn't really handle or ride very well  (I ask myself why would one want to?)  With so many men substituting loudness in place of quality, it is no wonder that so many people have been turned off from listening to music.  If it doesn’t sound good at a low volume, why would we EVER want to make it louder?

Fact is we shouldn’t - but life is sometimes about ‘Smoke and Mirrors’!

Inexperience in the field of sound reproduction always defaults to increasing the volume.  Home theatre is a great case in point.  Can you ever recall hearing a home theatre system that wasn’t being played loudly?   Home theatre has the benefit of a visual track … seeing what we are supposed to be hearing.  A stereo needs to work and convince the brain that a real performance is happening without any distractions or reinforcement.  It is no wonder that few women have an interest in home theatre.  Most systems simply create more distortions from more speakers compounding the problem in a very overwhelming manner!

Yes!  Real music has dynamics and you don’t need to blast the volume to make this work.  Dynamic range,  simply stated, is the difference between the quietest moments and the loudest.  With proper equipment,  true dynamics can be realized in a quality stereo system.  Really good systems can exhibit lifelike dynamics while being played at moderate levels of volume without listener fatigue.

listen before you buy

This is when the magic begins. 

Over the years I have found that many women, including my lovely wife, take great pleasure in listening to recorded music especially when heard through a truly outstanding system.  I can recall many times that I would invest in a new piece of gear that I thought I wanted and thought would be an improvement.  I would be very excited to install it and then sit back and listen to my favourite music.  More times than I would like to admit, my wife would call down and say after a short listen “What did you do to your stereo system?  It sounds awful!”.  Need I say more?

This happened when I would buy a new piece of audio gear for all the wrong reasons (as I know now)!  Perhaps I really liked the designer, the cosmetics or the technology.  My wife wasn't invested in any of this so she just listened with her ears and without prejudice … and concluded the obvious!

I realize that I am generalizing, but I have experienced these things over my four plus decades in this wonderful business of home audio.  My main focus has been in high end audio 2 channel systems and these are my findings:  If you are a male and don’t have a trusted female to help with the listening then perhaps try a blind listening session.  I used to provide my experienced listeners with a pair of sunglasses painted black, enabling truth in their listening… Smoke and Mirrors perhaps?

Let’s have some fun listening, perhaps for your first time!

 

All the best, 

David

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