Who Cares?

I care. I care about good sound reproduction, a lot. I’ve spent countless hours reading and learning. I’ve spent countless hours listening. To what end? To hear the music as the musicians performed it, as they intended it to sound without anything added or missing. Why? Because music is important to me. Because music gives me something I can’t get from any other art form. Because music takes me places no other medium can take me. I want the full experience that music has to offer.

But you don’t need good sound to enjoy music. Millions listen to music everyday with earbuds or low grade speakers. They go to concerts that have near-deaf audio engineers working the controls that blast the audience with horrifically bad sound. The audience doesn’t care. They enjoy the music despite high levels of distortion from over amplification and improper equalization, i.e., too much treble or bass and painful sound pressure levels.

I can’t enjoy the music when I’m distracted by these distortions. It’s no fun when an eighty-thousand dollar concert grand piano sounds like a honky-tonk upright. It’s no fun when the bass and the cymbals drown out the vocals. It’s no fun when the sound gets garbled and my ears hurt. But who cares?

There are some people who care, a lot, even more than I do. They care so much that they’ll spend countless hours playing with their audio systems. They’ll spend enormous amounts of money trying the get that last bit of perfection out of their music reproduction. They’ll play with wires, and room treatment, and cryogenics, and countless other tweaks to attempt making everything just, exactly, absolutely, perfectly right. They spend so much time, money, and effort that it’s inconceivable to think how far off the mark their efforts actually fall. And after all that they’re still never satisfied. But who cares?

I don’t care. I don’t care to cringe through a concert and damage my precious hearing in the process. I want to hear the musicians, not the amplification system.

I don’t care to dump major money at nebulous differences in sound that every double-blind test, and every casual single-blind test, and all the simple listening I’ve done have proven inaudible. All the time, money and effort spent on minuscule differences isn’t justifiable, and just as pitiful as listening to painful, unrealistic sounding music. That may seem like an unfair comparison, even a contradiction. One side puts their attention on the sound, they miss the music; while the other side puts their attention on the music, they miss the sound. Neither really listen to the sound or the music because their listening is lopsided. They miss the composite. Music is rhythm, melody, harmony. Music is organized sound. If you really listen, you will hear both and find pleasure in both. You’ll realize that bad sound steals important parts of the music from you, and obsessing over the sound steals your attention from the essentials of music.

Maybe it’s about balance. Maybe it’s about not caring, too much. Maybe it’s about caring, not too much.

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