Learning to Listen: Neurological Evidence

Neurological evidence indicates we not only learn to listen, but actually tune our inner ear response based on neural feedback from the brain. We literally are able to actively tune our own hearing.  

When we listen for a flute for example, this is more than a conscious decision to focus on the flute. This creates neural impulses that actively tune ear cells to better hear the flute.  

This whole video is fascinating, but I want to get you hooked right away so check this out:  

“Selectively changing what we’re listening to in response to the content. Literally reaching out to listen for things.

Here’s another good one. Everyone can hear subtle details about five times as good as predicted by modeling. Some of us however can hear 50 times as good. The difference? Years spent learning to listen closely! https://youtu.be/SuSGN8yVrcU?t=1956

Learning to play music really does help improve your listening.  

This video is chock full of neurphysiological evidence that by studying, learning and practice you can develop the listening skills to hear things you literally could not hear before. Our hearing evolved millennia before we invented music. We are only just now beginning to scratch at the potential evolution has bestowed on us.

Both recordings sound great and highly enjoyable on both the speakers and the headphones, so I’d say this level of refinement is beyond my typical threshold of concern. But it is interesting and a good example for comparison.
Which is why I mention it. The Well is much more liquid, lush, deep and luxurious than FBRC. Not even close. This is all entirely separate and apart from frequency response. If people are distracted and misled by frequency, well that is another one to learn to distinguish!

One way to do that, frequency response will not change as things warm up, while grain definitely will. In order to distinguish the difference it helps to think about the fundamental tone or frequency. Grain is never there in nature but rather is added in the recording/playback chain. As grain goes away the fundamental tone remains. But since grain is as Harley says primarily midrange/treble those regions can seem at first to be toned down a bit. Because in removing grain we are removing something that was added. This is where learning to distinguish between the fundamental that is really there and the grain that is added comes in. Once you learn to do this it becomes clear grain may be evident in that frequency range, but still frequency response and grain are two very different things.

There are also different versions of both these fine recordings. Both FBRC and The Well are available on 33 and 45. In both cases the 45 is easily the more detailed and yet also more natural and smooth. The 33 versions sound great until compared with 45, after which they seem a bit hard.

Ah, grain! Hate grain. For as long as I’ve been serious about audio I have pondered the question of whether it is an artifact that is added as you say; or, caused by the absence of information. By absence of information I mean the incompleteness of the sonic picture; akin to looking very closely at a picture in a news paper and being able to see the dots (pixels) on the page. There is empty space between the dots, so the (sonic) images don’t have enough density as they do in real life. I’ve always thought of this as a “soft grain” because one doesn’t necessarily hear harshness. That was one of the main problems with early digital sound for me, and still is to a lesser degree depending on the recording.

In the case of equipment warming up I think it is, in fact, heard as an artifact that gets added to the sound. In this case, to me it sounds like a sonic artifact that one hears as somewhat disconnected from the musical content; on a different plane from that of the music itself. As the gear warms up the glass on the window into the music gets wiped clean more and more, and more of the music is revealed.

Interesting topic.