When are people going to wake up and realize listening is a skill?

Thirty years ago I realized my lifelong dream of owning a 911. This is a fast car and so first thing I did was join PCA to get some track experience in order to be able to drive safely at speed. Of course I already knew how to drive. I was a "good driver" much better than most, etc, etc. 

PCA Driver Ed begins with several hours of classroom study. Track rules, safety, and some car control skills- braking, steering, throttle control. Yeah, yeah, whatever let's go!    

Then at the track they put you in your car with an instructor and you head out onto the track driving so freaking slow, actually normal freeway driving speed but it seems slow because, race track. So we play follow the leader with the instructor pointing out cones. Braking cones, turn-in cone, apex cone, track out cone. Each turn is numbered 1 thru 9, and there's turn worker stations, and they have flags, and you need to be watching and know what they mean, because you screw up and that is it your day is done. One full 20 min session, all the excitement of a tour bus.  

Bear with me. There's a connection here. Trust me. 

It goes on like this all day until finally we are signed off to drive solo but then there is an accident, flat bed, that's it for the day. 

Next time out I am so super confident instead of novice I sign up for Intermediate. Same cars, only the Intermediate drivers are supposed to somehow be better. Whatever.   

So out I go and Holy Crap everyone is passing me! I am driving as fast as I possibly can and being passed by everyone! Not only that, if you have ever driven as fast as you possibly can then you know this means braking as late as you possibly can, cornering as fast as you can, all of it. Which without fear of police is pretty damn fast! So fast I am not at all used to it, and so by the end of 20 min am literally sweating and exhausted!  

But I keep at it. Turns out all that classroom talk is about driving skills that are absolutely essential, not only to know but to be able to do. Threshold braking is braking right at the edge of lockup. Right at the very edge. Those cones are there for reference, to help you delay braking as long as possible. The turn-in cones are where you start turning, apex cone where you are right at the inside edge of the turn, track-out where you come out the other side. Do all this while at the very limit of traction and you are going very fast indeed. Without- and this is the essential part- without really trying to go fast.  

Learn the skills, practice the techniques until you are able to execute smoothly, efficiently, and consistently, and you will be fast. Without ever really trying to go fast.   

The connection here is, everyone thinks they hear just fine. Just like they think they drive just fine. In the classroom they talk about threshold braking, the late apex line, and controlling weight transfer with throttle. Just like here we talk about grain, glare, imaging and sound stage.   

I left one part out. All the track rats, they all start out talking about horsepower, springs and spoilers, thinking these are what makes the car fast. They are, sort of. But really it is the driver. By the time I was an instructor myself it was easy to go out with those same Intermediate drivers and it was like the commute to work it was so easy. My car was the same. Only my skills were greater.  

So when are people gonna wake up and realize listening is just like this? Nobody expects to become a really good golfer, tennis player or rock climber just by going out and doing it. Why are so many stuck talking watts? When are they gonna realize that is just like track rats talking hp?

Whenever anyone says "Trust me", I think most people know what the appropriate response is.
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Yup. Bassoon and Golf. Became quite good at both but I was never a natural at anything. Took years. But for some reason I thought I was a Natural Born Listener. I am finding out otherwise and continue to learn. Great post, MC.
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track day ain’t racing but it did take enough edge off the X-50 Turbo to stay away from felony speeding.. In my youth, there was racing. There, HP and everything else matters including your relationship and mutual respect for crew.

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I drove a service truck to long, I just tried not to squash your little zippin' in and out of traffic butts. The crap I use to see around the old fish ranch road and the Coast Highway. Drove me nuts..

I never had a wreck. Dented a front rim, working on the RR tracks. Rail mount piling rig...

I use to hear guys in/on cafe racers and the 4 wheelers too.. No thanks.. HW 1

Drag boat racing.. that's the one I don't get. Going straight, on fire, or on the bottom. I use to build engines for a couple a local NUTS...30 -35 years ago..

So are we talking about listening, going fast, making noise or Porsche?

One of them makes my back hurt.. Rolls Royce chauffeur please..

So are we talking about listening, going fast, making noise or Porsche?

Yes.  1 is awesome.
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Good analogy. It really takes a lot of learning and experience to improve listening skills and develop the vocabulary to understand and describe what you hear.
This reminds me of the old joke.  What's the difference between a porcupine and a Porsche?  The prick is inside the Porsche!

Life is about the journey - being good at something isn't a prerequisite to enjoy it.

You do you, I'll be me.
You are right, listening and hearing the differences in music and gear is a skill that you develop over time, and when you have developed it you are so much better at assessing the sound of your system. That is when you get the gear and music that makes you happy and takes you off of the upgrade bandwagon.
Wow, fascinating post...

MC the expert race car driving instructor... 

What's next?


So the lesson here is that certain brands of speakers don't suck, it's that only people with terrible listening skills believe they suck.

Got it.
I’m going to disagree, not on cars, but on audio. ( I had track time with Hurley Haywood in a CGT when Porsche couldn’t get rid of them; fun, and have lots of car stories but that’s not the point).

I want somebody who is not a hi-fi listener to find listening to reproduced music to sound as real and lifelike to them as I’m capable of making it, within my knowledge, budget and resources. Some have a music background; others don’t, but nonetheless love music. I want to realize the same thing when I listen-- to forget there is machinery at work and get taken in by the composition, the performance (and hopefully) a good recording.
I think we as audiophiles have a tendency to "geek" and assign great importance to small things-- not that they aren’t important, but being "educated" as a hi-fi listener can actually lead you astray. How many times did you hear the same tired tripe from Harry’s list in demonstrations?
We audiophiles as a group are very siloed into different approaches-- that’s not unhealthy, but it makes for discussions at cross-purposes (like a Tower of Babel) when most of the time, our ultimate goal is probably the same-- more realism within whatever constraints exist.
Getting people out their comfort zone musically is not easy and does require exposure and self-education. At a certain point, the gear is simply the vehicle, and to borrow from your car analogy, much is up to the skill and stamina of the driver and the capability of support team, not the car itself.


Only people with excellent and trained tasting skills can have a valid opinion on what food is good and what is not. Otherwise never take a restaurant recommendation from them seriously.

Only people with perfect vision can comment with any authority on what beauty looks like.

Only people with a highly trained sense of smell should have valid opinions on what fragrance smells good.

And of course only a highly trained ear knows what good audio gear sounds like.

The rest of y'alls opinions don't count as you're wholly unqualified to have a voice in any of these matters and your reflections in these regards should be categorically dismissed.

Sadly I think MC actually believes his own bs.
Speaking of real race driving instructors, I wish Sabine Schmitz was still alive to take me ’round the Ring in one of their taxis. A bucket list item if there ever was one.

All the best,
Hey, Miller.   

Tell us the truth.    

You are actually that guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials.     

You know, the "most interesting guy in the world".    

"By the time I was an instructor myself it was easy to go out with those same Intermediate drivers and it was like the commute to work it was so easy. My car was the same. Only my skills were greater.  "

Tell me. Did you have to have your helmet specially made to fit your massive cranium?   

@whart I got schooled by HH at Mid Ohio in the rain….

clearly the emotional connection is maximized with a system that gets ( or is it Getz ? ) out of the way.

During the pandemic the recording studio we help support trained some 12 engineers and producers to become… better listeners..,

Pay it forward, lots of this sort of stuff on Patreon

"That guy".     

Everyone knows someone like him. He has knowledge, but he uses it as a club to beat the uninformed with. Anyone that knows less than him is treated with distain and ridiculed. The weak are impressed by his bravado and become his acolytes. This feeds his ego to a point where arrogance takes over. 

Master of everything, no weaknesses, oblivious to the fact that he is becoming a caricature of himself.   

There seem to be 2 different levels of system building.

The first is the "simplest" kind (not being dismissive). It consists of merrily going along and attempting to "cobble together" some perhaps disparate pieces into a functioning whole that results in a pleasing sound. You can benefit from knowledge and experience with this approach, but they're not required to get started. 

There's only one caveat: it sort of limits you from easily transitioning from that level of system building into the high end, should you ever even decide that was what you ultimately wanted to do. There's a sort of glass ceiling in that the high end begins to involve a more profound appreciation of any number of audio or acoustic principles that go well beyond the more readily accepted principles of gear matching. And wading into that territory will require a lot more study, time, effort and money than many people may feel they are willing to give.

So, in effect, there is a personal threshold that must be crossed: either you are willing to do everything it may take in order to try to bump everything up to the next level, or you must remain content with a certain level of 'status quo'. Fans of the latter may typically say "it's the journey, not the destination", so a kind of philosophical attitude just seems to go with the territory.

For going the high-end route, it may tax all your knowledge, experience, and talent to boot, in order to either arrive at some presupposed nirvana destination, or simply to carry on indefinitely with yet more experiments, but at a noticeably higher technical and financial level.

I think all that may depend on your wallet, expectations and your personality order...(or disorder, if you like).

Good analogy. It really takes a lot of learning and experience to improve listening skills and develop the vocabulary to understand and describe what you hear.

How right you are. And it don’t come easy.

But it can be learned.

Vocabulary is essential. There is a very real debate to be had as to whether we even can be said to hear things we do not have words for. All words are defined in terms of other words, and so this gets real deep real fast. But there can be no doubt vocabulary is at the heart of it.

So, in effect, there is a personal threshold that must be crossed: either you are willing to do everything it may take in order to try to bump everything up to the next level, or you must remain content with a certain level of 'status quo'. Fans of the latter may typically say "it's the journey, not the destination", so a kind of philosophical attitude just seems to go with the territory. 

Well said.
@tomic601 - my bet is, you weren't teaching budding engineers how to listen in a technical, engineering sense so much as to ask the question whether X recording v Y recording sounds more like a real trumpet, no?
As to "vocabulary" JGH did us a service many years ago by defining the terminology, but it is still applied subjectively. One man's "clarity" is another's "analytical, too clinical." I'd rather listen with somebody who knows the sound of real instruments than hi-fi rigamarole. 
All I can say is that I currently enjoy the heck out of my musical toys and that I live too far away from any sort of high end music retailer (stereo, musical instruments, etc.) to climb into the car and "drive" myself nuts.
You know who else told you to do exactly what he does? ADOLF HITLER!

Seriously, though, I think there's a difference between (a) a two ton, 640 horsepower automobile and (b) your ears.
All I wanna do is bang on de drum  all day “
Todd R

start there, make them work way thru microphone selection…with serious discussion about WHY

EQ , gain at various places in the chain. Etc

to get to us, most already have tools, a home studio, and a ( self ) producer mindset…

I am the simple stereo pair dude, so I fade to black …. But it comes in handy later
Wow, fascinating post...

MC the expert race car driving instructor...

What's next?
clearly, this is no ordinary man...

1. He once won the Tour-de-France, but was disqualified for riding a unicycle
2. When in Rome, they do as HE does
3.His feet don’t get blisters, but his shoes do
4.He can speak Russian… in French
5.He lives vicariously through himself
My real audio soul mate and sensei spends a lot of time with Joe Harley ( see Tone Poet, Blue Note, Audioquest Records ) . Your point Bill about Holt is well taken. They push each other while enjoying each other, the journey and the music.
best to you Bill, I always enjoy your writing, musings and the Reggae 
They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Music can be in the ears, heart, and soul of the beholder.

My mission is to enjoy the music and that I do.
1-The greatest F1 driver of all time has become so primarily by braking as late into corners as his skill and physics allow, which give him a real advantage over his competition as few can do the same.
2-There are musicians (and even "regular" folk) that have perfect pitch. When they judge live music, or reproduced music, their parameters are different than most.
3-There is a 10,000 hour rule that proposes that to become proficient at a task requires a minimum amount of practice/learning.
4-As humans age, especially men, they lose the ability to hear certain frequencies they could ascertain in years past. Some of these men still master and remaster recordings and don't realize their hearing has changed.

Driving, like listening, is a skill. Some choose to pursue it further than others. There are thousands of people who think Bose 501’s were great speakers and there are those who’ve heard them, compared them to better ones, and disagree. That disagreement is only useful to those who can hear the differences. Those who can’t claim those who can are wrong.

Driving and listening skills decline with age. Most of us never have to take a performance car level driving test to keep our licenses nor get our hearing checked to validate what we "know" we hear in our systems, at concerts etc.
Don't trust me.....at all.....

...it makes it easier for me to get the drop on someone later....;)
@tomic601 - much of what I learned was through a shared experience. It is good to have a guide, or soul-mate with whom you can share and learn. The real beauty of this hobby/pursuit is to advance one's understanding and share that with others. There is so much we don't know, leave aside the "why" of the technical stuff, the music alone is enough to keep one occupied full time. 
We are, as a group, however disparate in taste or predilections, so fortunate to have the time and opportunity to experience reproduced sound at a high level. Without getting all cosmic about it, we are graced to enjoy this pursuit. Live every day as if it is your last. (Except when driving). :)

”4-As humans age, especially men, they lose the ability to hear certain frequencies they could ascertain in years past. Some of these men still master and remaster recordings and don't realize their hearing has changed.”
Ah yes BS and Skill…perhaps Imagination as well.
It takes Skill to Imagine great sound from a BS system.

I’m still waiting for you to start. I don’t understand: you are the cheapest guy in audio by buying really low but claiming they are the best. So I’m assuming you purchased a used gremlin and taking it out on a Porsche track day but thinking you are going faster than all the porsches on the track because you updated the gremlins springs so it handles better.
please don’t insult the Porsche brand, it’s not you

"Those who doubt that we think in words should attempt the exercise of thinking without them." -- Richard Weaver
Some budget audiophiles and builders of average systems need to think they have advanced listening skills. They make a low to average rig, yet they want to pretend it's  close to SOTA.  Since they can't compete - for them it has to be a form of competition regarding performance relative to cost, etc. - on the basis of the system,  they pretend their listening skills are inherently superior,  or more developed. It's important to them to think they are doing audio in a superior fashion. 

These people think their skills are so great that they inhibit betterment of the system.  It's one example why I state that the greatest impediment to advancing an audio system is the audiophile. 

System performance is independent of listening skills. To suggest that all audiophiles need to be in competition,  to navigate the hobby like a racer is self-serving and irrelevant to the bulk of hobbyists. 

The post is ironic coming from someone who has spent inordinate time talking about tweaks.  Tweakers, who use poor system building methods, need to think their listening skills  are extreme.  :)
Circular logic + massive ego = self delusion

But there is a degree of good advice sprinkled throughout . 
When I was in music school in college, we spent an enormous amount of time on ear training and building listening skills. We learned and practiced very specific techniques to hear deeply into the music - instrumentation, intonation, timing, counterpoint, harmony, timbre, etc. By the end of those classes most of us could reliably transcribe a simple to moderately complex piece, and speak in detail about what was happening in the music. 

I don’t enjoy music any more than I did before all that training. I loved music before, and I love it now. I sure do hear a lot more than I did before, and that’s pretty cool. It definitely helps me evaluate changes I try with my system. 

I’m new to hifi and I have a very modest system. And I love it! Experimenting with tweaks is fun, and I’m slowly up leveling over time. Thanks to this forum, I’m slowly learning enough to think about my next meaningful upgrades. 

About MC: I’ve learned a lot from his posts and tried many of his recommendations. Most of what I’ve tried from him has made a BIG difference in sound quality for me. For some reason I don’t hear the arrogance in his tone others hear. I hear exuberance and passion, and abrupt replies to those who dismiss his experience. 

As for MC inventing electricity and being the World’s Most Interesting Man, read up on Multipotentials and the “Rainforest Mind.” Some people really are like that. I think it’s great. 

Being new new to hifi, I’m still a bit confused by the intense and nasty criticism I see on this and other forums. My post here will likely be shredded by somebody. In the work I do, people just don’t act that way. We laugh along with big exuberant personalities, take what’s good, and move on. I think it’s cool MC drives a Porsche and used his learning curve to illustrate learning to listen analytically. It seemed like a pretty decent analogy to me. 

I’d love to be the porcupine prick sitting inside a Porsche! When I finally buy my Porsche, maybe this year, I think I’ll get a vanity plate that says “Prick.” That’s good! 
Enjoyed the post MC. Listening is a learned skill either by reading about it, listening to what others experience  or by your own experience. Being a musician really helps as well.
It is unfortunate some people cannot get past their own financial situation. Using a sports car/driving analogy is relevant. 
Saying you drive or own a Porsche is not bloviating or bragging or whatever, just another life experience. 
@phasemonger & @cdamiller5

Very happy to read your posts, as I was thinking about this yesterday.

Anyone who is (or was) a musician, and there are many in the Audiogon community including myself, is aware of listening as a skill. It’s taught in a musician’s first month of training, and refined over subsequent years.

Listening skills required to play in an ensemble or band readily transfer to listening skills helpful for evaluating an audio system.

The OP has this advantage, as he was also a student musician. French horn, as I recall.

Listening skills required in other professions also apply. Heavy mechanic comes to mind. Physician. Pilot. Therapist.

So, as far as the Audiogon community is concerned, the answer to when, is often now.

Just stop and think for a moment why this thread exists at all.

It's sole purpose is to try to counteract the other currently running thread with a similar title.

Why anyone, ever, gets so invested in one brand to go to these lengths, beats me.  Especially one that's clearly mediocre.

But let's also remember that the OP, thanks to his sixth and seventh senses, knew beforehand that the speakers he'd ordered were going to sound fabulous.  And guess what, they did!

But not so supercalifragilisticexpialidociously fabulous that they didn't benefit from a multitude of after-market home-made tweaks, which incontestably turned them up to 11. 
this discussion, if you remove some of the arrogance and criticism, is actually quite thought provoking.  Some good points have been made, but some of the analogy falls a bit short.  In  most sports(and I guess car racing is a sport, to a degree), there are absolute measurements, objective, of who wins, who is the fastest/strongest, etc.  A participant can  have fine shoes, a fine racket, the best suspension/engine, and even the most beautiful /perfect technique, but not be a winner or the best.
The perception on home reproduced sound certainly does have objective things that can be described, and experience does garner our ability to pick those things out and have the vocabulary to describe them, but at the end of the day, the experience still is subjective, and one individual can enjoy one type of "sound" that differs from another listeners preference.  Perhaps oenophilia is a better analogy....Perhaps this all goes back to Harry Pearson's "absolute sound", the truly live experience.  Some recordings and systems approach this, and those are limited, IMHO, to certain types of music and venues.  Otherwise, our systems do well to "remind us" of the live experience.....Some of our participants are more or less confident/arrogant/opinionated than others...that is what you call "personality"
Getting back to Porsche. I wanted one for many years and finally at age 70 I was "allowed" to buy one and I acquired a brand new 911 in GT Silver. It is now three years old and I still love it.....!