How do our listening perceptions change?

Did that component just start sounding better? That component I thought sucked a few years ago now sounds great. Are they building them better now?

Or conversely, did that component just start sounding terrible? Are they just building that component that I used to think was great, and now I think sucks, with worse parts than they used to?

Or is it just me?

We all run into these circumstances where our impressions of sound quality change. Some changes in our perceptions occur over years. Some over days. Some take just a few minutes :-)

Oh, and the answers to the introductory questions are… yes.

There are all sorts of reasoning we use to describe such a topsy-turvy apparently wishy-washy situation…

1. The quality of the power changes in direct relation to the quality of the changes in the sound [I have always been suspicious of this one, and instead prefer #2]

2. Our emotional state affects how we enjoy most kinds of music – it taking perhaps an hour or so to relax and enjoy many kinds of more ‘laid back’ music genres if it has been a hectic day

3. If we do not have a lot of experience listening to different equipment, first impressions – which may last weeks – are just not reliable, and long term impressions are only relevant compared to what we had previously

4. Our ears do change and grow more experienced and we are able to hear more – we educate our ears just like wine lovers educate their palette [this reasoning is often used in a derogatory manner by non-audiophiles to explain why THEY can’t hear, or taste, something.]

5. Manufacturers do actually change equipment without telling everybody, usually for the better

6. Our preferences change. [This is the most interesting subject, for me personally]. As we hear better and better equipment for long periods of time, as our ears grow to trust that we are not going to attack them with aggressive and annoyingly obnoxious exaggerations or parodies of sound – we start to hear things… the mind – ear interface becomes more and more efficient, and we start experiencing other states of mind more and more often.

It is not just drug-like sound that many of us are looking for, but the ability for the drug-like sound to affect us deeply. This is opposite to a typical addiction where one becomes less and less sensitive to a drug. Here, as we open ourselves to the music more and more frequently, and achieve a drug-like ‘high’ from the music more often, the more easy it becomes. [This is why it is a good thing that the faster I drive, the louder the wind noise, and the less able I am able to hear the car radio .. :-)]

This increased sensitivity to drug-like sounds, and this, what we have been calling the drug-like music state, if pursued with some diligence over time, is a great thing. It is independent of the cost of the system making the drug-like sound. Expensive systems can deliver a more powerful druggish sound, and more frequently [ sometimes every time you play them! Danger Will Robinson! ], but otherwise it is an experience that is available to just about everybody who cares to try and achieve this musically altered state-of-mind.