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The Ill-Tempered Audiophool

Audiophiles = Synesthesiaists ?

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I've pretty much come to the conclusion that audiophiles are either a bunch of pathological liars governed by mass hysteria, or they must hear things fundamentally differently from the way everyone else does.

I wonder if this is a form of synesthesia. Maybe not the extreme forms, like people who smell colors, but nonetheless, the experience is neurologically atypical. This would explain a lot of the frustration on both sides of the typical arguments about perception.
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  1. Jud's Avatar
    Heh, you could well think that from reading this forum. I'm guessing it's more the way audiophiles think and talk and listen, not the way they hear, at least in my experience. Non-audiophiles, pretty much by definition, don't obsess over the sound - the "realism" of what they're hearing. Not that they don't appreciate good sound (I think folks in general do), but it's not a life goal.

    Audiophiles, on the other hand, may not have better hearing (leaving aside the fact that hardware designers, software developers, and audiophiles may through practice learn to quickly recognize and evaluate certain aspects of audio performance - just as you might look at X-ray crystallography that to me is essentially a Rorshach test and immediately recognize something about the structure of a nucleic acid or protein), but they certainly listen more attentively from time to time than the average person, and think and talk about what they've heard a great deal more. Where audio is concerned, audiophiles tend to "sweat the small stuff" more, magnifying in their thinking and writing the significance of what others might consider minor differences.

    But can audiophiles hear things the rest of the population can't? With one possible exception that I'll get to in a minute, my feeling is that the answer is no. At least in my experience, my wife, when she has the patience to listen, can hear differences between cables, components, etc., just as well as I can. When I ask her to sit through two plays of a song and ask her which one she likes better, she always winds up picking the playback with the component or cable I think sounds better. (That's all I ever ask, which play of the song she likes. She doesn't know whether I'm switching cables, components, software players or settings, or what I'm doing - she's pretty well completely uninterested in any of that.) Of course this could be the result of subconscious cues from me - I won't pretend it couldn't be - though I do my best not to give such cues.

    The one area of potential difference I can think of is that there's been work done on pitch recognition and its relationship to learning a foreign language. It's been determined that there is a relationship between people having "perfect pitch" or something close to it, and how readily they can pick up foreign language sounds. My Italian-American wife (blond, green-eyed - Northern Italian ancestry) loves cooking and cooking shows, particularly Lidia Bastianich, who closes all of her shows with the words "Tutti a tavola a mangiare!" - Italian for "Everyone (come) to the table to eat!" I could repeat it word for word easily the first time I heard it. After a couple of years of watching, my wife still gets it wrong as often as not. I have something reasonably close to perfect pitch, while my wife can't carry a tune in a bucket. Does this have any significance at all regarding how much I might be bothered by something not quite completely realistic in the sound, versus how much it might bother my wife? Don't know. Like I said, any time she's had the patience to be subjected to one of my A/B tests, she's come to the same conclusion I have (but also as noted previously, there's always the kicker about possible subconscious cues.)
  2. REShaman's Avatar
    Bravo, Scott. This is an excellent awareness. I love this subject and the world it opens for us as humans in training.

    Jud, perfect pitch contributing to hearing/learning foreign language, why not?

    In the two + years my wife (at the trainer level) and I (master practitioner level) studied and were certified as practitioners in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) developed by John Grinder, a linguist, and Richard Bandler, a mathematician, who studied master practitioners of some discipline who were noted for their excellence such as Erickson, Perls, Satir, Bateson and other masters, synesthesia was often referred to for several criteria in representing their models of the world, primary representational systems i.e., audio, visual, kinesthetics using sensory input as with how one sorts information, accesses memory, sensory relationships and the brain (using different quadrants of the brain, i.e., {eyes} looking down and to the right to access remembered feelings, looking down and to the left to feel a constructed feeling, looking laterally and to the right to remember a conversation and what was said or an audio, to the left to construct what one is telling oneself or hearing an imaginary conversation, looking up {again eyes not head movement} and to the right to see something remembered, looking up and to the left to see something created, i.e., a pink and blue giraffe with yellow polka dots). Watching the eyes move in several directions indicates that a person may be hearing, seeing a feeling a rich experience. Or lying. Or creating, or...

    Spelling is a special ability that is not related primarily to intelligence but rather the ability to see the word in one's mind's eye. And as Jud suggests, if hearing may play a part in it, one can not only see the word but see-hear the word in one's mind's eye. And this synesthesia facilitates learning as with a language, or equations that represent relationships.

    I, for one, listen to music and often and with some composers more than others, I am stimulated to see the music. I am able to step into their music and imagine I am in a forest, by a lake, flying in the air, going up and down, moving left and right. And actually see the world they create with their music. Or feel the movie score and get scared or fearful something is about to happen, or feel joy, love, beauty, excitement, bravery.

    Hypnosis, which I use in my work, is a heightened state of awareness. Awareness is a heightened state of attention. Where I put my attention so goes my awareness. Audiophile may also include directing one's attention to a certain state of being. At least that is what I suggest and take from Scott's awareness/comment and Jud's.

    Audio does, at least for me, provide an associated sensory experience; and I imagine I am not unique in this experience. So call me crazy, unreliable, irresponsible or not, that We see what We hear; We can feel what We hear. We can remember what we saw, heard, felt. We can smell something and be back in our grand ma's kitchen years before as a child, remember a lullaby and a mother's loving touch.

    Every time I hear Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, a momentary glimpse as a three year old listening to 78s (I still have the original album in 78s).

    Great comment, Scott.

    Thank you for summoning the experiences I associate with my love of music and the rich world it opens for me. I think that is my reason for regarding as a medicine as well. And my reason for prescribing music. And my need to self medicate as often as possible.

    Enjoying the synesthesia,
    Richard
  3. souptin's Avatar
    I did type up a long reply about musicians' hearing vs audio engineers' hearing, hobbies and OCD and attention spans, luxury goods bought for ostentation and/or self worth rather than quality. It was an amazing insightful post which would have represented a paradigm change.

    Then I read some of it again, my toes curled and I realised it was a load of bollocks.

    I suspect the frustration about perception - and certainly the constant challenges to test those perceptions, versus the reluctance to becoming a lab rat - is at least 50% "ya boo sucks". Is ya boo sucks defined in the world of neurologic? Damn well should be.
  4. Jud's Avatar
    This American just had a fascinating Google journey through the world of "ya boo sucks," courtesy of our tin (except for the ears) Brit friend. Thanks!
  5. souptin's Avatar
    A nice feature on synethesia from a UK newspaper (Kandisnsky is the artist who's paintbox hissed):

    The man who heard his paintbox hiss - Telegraph

    I think the best translation of 'ya boo sucks' is that it's a (slightly less offensive) way of saying "I know better than you, so f**k you!". My usual go-to site for explaining similar phrases is Urban Dictionary, but it let me down this time - a bit to Americanized to be fully up to speed on UK put-downs, I suppose.

    I continue to practice my "your mom" jokes to the amusement / irritation of US forum friends. The Scottish nearest equivalent is "yer maw" but I don't think it has the same depth and richness of meaning.
  6. elcorso's Avatar
    I wonder a lot about you, that does not believe in the conspiracy theory ... This, yours, seems to me to be one.

    I, for one, do not believe I'm a liar, not even in the days when I was a fisherman. I try to express what I feel when I listen to music, but sometimes it is very difficult to express in words what the senses perceive: One can describe either a sunrise or a sunset, but not exactly the excitement you feels at the sight.

    It has been shown in scientific studies, and each time it is confirmed again, that music stimulates the human brain favorably the feelings of pleasure.

    Other studies point to listen to music in the first place, above sex and food. On drugs do not know, because I have never been interested.

    Now imagine if the music stimulates many senses, can boost dopamine levels so high that they do, that could stimulate other senses such as sight and smell.

    If you (or others) do not feel the same, not your fault, but it can not consider those that do feel like, pathological liars. But... we could look like liars to those whom don't feel the same.

    Roch
  7. Jud's Avatar
    I continue to practice my "your mom" jokes to the amusement / irritation of US forum friends.
    If you prefer amusement to irritation, the proper parlance for what is sometimes referred to as "the dozens" is not "your mom" but "yo mama," e.g., "Yo mama is so fat that when she was diagnosed with flesh-eating disease, the doctor gave her ten years to live."
  8. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by REShaman
    I, for one, listen to music and often and with some composers more than others, I am stimulated to see the music. I am able to step into their music and imagine I am in a forest, by a lake, flying in the air, going up and down, moving left and right. And actually see the world they create with their music. Or feel the movie score and get scared or fearful something is about to happen, or feel joy, love, beauty, excitement, bravery.
    Do you ever listen with a TV in sight or a monitor with some sort of visual?

    I think any kind of visual presentation ruins the whole of the musical experience for me. My mind stops working.
  9. REShaman's Avatar
    Do you ever listen with a TV in sight or a monitor with some sort of visual?

    I think any kind of visual presentation ruins the whole of the musical experience for me. My mind stops working.
    Chris, I was actually referring to my music collection which includes maybe 100+ OST CDs (never counted) converted by XLD to AIFF files which I play without visuals save what my mind sees and body feels. For example, my latest addition is Alberto Iglesias's sound track Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which without visuals is extraordinary as a piece of music composition, jazzy and dark and highly visual musically. And, contrary to your remarks "My mind stops working", when watching the film which I have seen over 10 times as the film is artfully done, i.e., script, acting, editing, the sound track perfectly compliments the film taking it to a higher level and creates a totality of visual and sound that combines to add layer upon layer of nuance to the visual action, the emotions, the relationships, the intrigue. The sound track becomes a subtext on its own. You know, you're watching a film, there's a theme, the actors are conveying meaning other than the mere words, a look, a gesture, add to those nuances the score and non-speaking acting is so rich experientially and signaling what is going on non-verbally as well as what is about to happen. The mood. The color of the music. The emotion of the music. In this sense, my mind is more highly stimulated and the opposite of your experience. Not that your preferences are wrong. But for me it takes the film to a richer experience. Different models of the world.
    Enjoy the music,
    Richard
  10. Jud's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile
    Do you ever listen with a TV in sight or a monitor with some sort of visual?

    I think any kind of visual presentation ruins the whole of the musical experience for me. My mind stops working.
    Dorothy goes to the Dark Side:

    Dark Side of the Rainbow - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  11. tne's Avatar
    I do not understand the premise. While I appreciate the joy that some get from pointing out "the emperor's new clothes", clearly there are different degrees of detail and different aspects of music that each individual shares. This is natural and seems to be no great mystery to understand it. I personally like to hear the details of the music and the 3D like representation that I do not get from, e.g. earbuds with my iPhone. I am sure that I can tell the difference of a 24/192 on my home system, from the same file on my remote system. Yes the notes may sound good but the music sounds better.

    If you want to make the discussion about quantum tunnelled USB cables or noise-absorbing gadgets, that is another thing, but we all should accept that individuals want different levels of quality from music. My wife or daughter could care less about hearing the ring/rattle of Neil Young's acoustic guitar or the sound of the cymbal on Jazz at the Pawnshop.....but I do and it enhances my experience of the music to hear this. If you do not care, why bother being concerned about what others want and enjoy.

    It is really rather simple.
  12. Biku Toru's Avatar
    Let's see who gets this: https://encyclopediadramatica.es/Audiophile
    My personal favorite from this entry the "Mullard tube ad" on the right :D
  13. wgscott's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by tne
    I do not understand the premise.
    The premise is that maybe the assumption (implicit in many of the disagreements we read here) that everyone's aural perceptive center in the brain is wired in exactly the same way is wrong.

    I think you completely misunderstood what I wrote. (Richard got it.)