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INTRODUCTION - PLEASE READ FIRST TO UNDERSTAND THIS FORUM!

"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

Please consider carefully how much you should rely upon and be influenced by the subjective opinions of strangers. Their hearing acuity and taste will be different to yours, as will be their motives and budget, their listening distance, loudness and room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you. Always keep in mind that without basic test equipment, subjective opinions will reign unchallenged. With test equipment, universal facts and truths are exposed.

If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page http://bit.ly/2FEgoAy may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"


Feb. 2018
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Is Listening Fatigue an Absolute?

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  • Is Listening Fatigue an Absolute?

    Is listening fatigue an absolute?

    Is it the same (on average) for everyone, or people are "brought up" to different thresholds of listening fatigue and, once they adapt, there's hardly a way back? Much like food habits developed during childhood.

    Would a person (age related issues aside), having been brought up to harsher music reproduction (i.e. more fatiguing), have a different and immutable appreciation of listening fatigue (thus not an absolute)? For this person, would a less fatiguing reproduction of music be dismissed as simply "not lively", even after prolonged listening? Or would it blossom, changing the perception after a while?

    And how does listening fatigue and loudness interact? Are these 2 separate concepts? I mean, can we differentiate the problem of a non fatiguing reproduction at too high a level, from a fatiguing reproduction at lower leves? I suppose it's reasonable to assume that we respond to loudness in a "relative", non absolute way: when we turn the volume down, the first impression (of great loss) is gradually overcome as we keep listening and adapt. That is not the same (at least for me) with listening fatigue: turning the volume down simply gives an extra dose of "courage" which runs out of steam in a short while, prompting to further lowering of the volume. But what about the other end? How does a non fatiguing, excessively loud reproduction affects us, when compared to a fatiguing reproduction (even if at lower levels)? I may want to turn the volume down as well. But - it seems to me - because of a different motivation (or moved by a different sensation, if you will). Having a jazz quartet (drums, piano, bass and trumpet) play in my living room would be unbearable, although completely natural. Too loud, of course. But not listening fatigue

    The last subject - and a really dangerous one, given my lack of technical knowledge: how does the size of a speaker interact with listening fatigue? Think of a big woofer compared to a tiny one. For the same loudness (I'm assuming pressure on the ear), different amounts of total air would have been displaced. Again: this statement may be completely wrong, given my lack of technical knowledge. But how would that affect listening fatigue? I'm assuming different speaker sizes have dramatic different impacts on the "modeling" (i.e. scaling) of a real world sound. And I'm supposing this "modeling of music reproduction", given the limitations of the speaker size, may have a significant impact on listening fatigue.

    PS. If this last paragraph is simply too crowded with imprecise, technical nonsense, just skip it altogether.

  • #2
    Listening fatigue is not an absolute, but relative to many things, I think. First, let me state that my listening is primarily to acoustic music recorded in real spaces. For all such recordings, I find that there seems to be a fairly specific volume at which they are satisfying. Below that volume, I seem not to connect well with the music. Above that volume, it just sounds wrong - unnaturally loud. Rather like the Goldilocks and three bears story. But also, whether recorded music becomes fatiguing or not depends upon our physical state at the time of listening. There are days - or nights - when I know very quickly after putting on a recording that my body/mind are not in a receptive mood. Better not to listen. At other times, the receptivity is there and hours of pleasurable listening can result. I don't think size of speakers is a factor. Large or small, it's how natural their production of the recording is. I would assume that for most of us here, it is that natural quality of the Harbeth speakers that attracts us to them.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Ned Mast View Post
      Listening fatigue is not an absolute, but relative to many things, I think. First, let me state that my listening is primarily to acoustic music recorded in real spaces. For all such recordings, I find that there seems to be a fairly specific volume at which they are satisfying. Below that volume, I seem not to connect well with the music.
      Does your amplifier have a loudness control feature to boost the relative level of lower (and also perhaps higher) frequencies at reduced listening levels?

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      • #4
        Neither of my amplifiers has a loudness control feature. But through DSP, I have established a frequency response curve that is a few dBs above flat from 200 Hz down to 40, is reasonably flat from 200 Hz until about 1000 Hz, and begins to gradually taper down from there up. This seems - to my ears - to come close to replicating the frequency response I'm used to hearing in our local concert hall. My room - and many recordings - tend to emphasize higher frequencies, which I find totally unnatural. (I may not want to use this setting for all recordings, but it is good for most orchestral and chamber music recordings). And this response curve allows me to listen to such recordings at what seem like natural volume levels - say sitting mid hall or front of first balcony - without fatigue.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Ned Mast View Post
          Neither of my amplifiers has a loudness control feature. But through DSP, I have established a frequency response curve that is a few dBs above flat from 200 Hz down to 40, is reasonably flat from 200 Hz until about 1000 Hz, and begins to gradually taper down from there up. This seems - to my ears - to come close to replicating the frequency response I'm used to hearing in our local concert hall. My room - and many recordings - tend to emphasize higher frequencies, which I find totally unnatural. (I may not want to use this setting for all recordings, but it is good for most orchestral and chamber music recordings). And this response curve allows me to listen to such recordings at what seem like natural volume levels - say sitting mid hall or front of first balcony - without fatigue.
          But how does your DSP device compensate for the changes in the frequency response of your hearing as a function of listening level?

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          • #6
            Perhaps I'm not understanding your question, IMF+TDL. My understanding of a loudness control feature is that it alters the frequency balance when listening at reduced levels. Primarily, if I'm correct, it boosts the bass (the last thing I would desire is boosted treble). However, I don't listen at reduced levels.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Ned Mast View Post
              Perhaps I'm not understanding your question, IMF+TDL. My understanding of a loudness control feature is that it alters the frequency balance when listening at reduced levels. Primarily, if I'm correct, it boosts the bass (the last thing I would desire is boosted treble). However, I don't listen at reduced levels.
              You previously stated that "my listening is primarily to acoustic music recorded in real spaces. For all such recordings, I find that there seems to be a fairly specific volume at which they are satisfying. Below that volume, I seem not to connect well with the music."
              What I was attempting to suggest was that, if your amplifier had a loudness control function, you might still be able to "connect well" with your music when it was played back at less than that "fairly specific volume" level.

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              • #8
                Ok, I understand what you're saying now, IMF+TDL. And you may indeed be correct. However, I think that even with loudness control, reducing the volume beyond what seems natural to me would not be totally satisfying. And since the volumes that seem natural to me - for small scale to large scale music - are never inordinately high, I see no reason to reduce it.
                One instance of this is, one evening having just returned from a concert given by the Cleveland Orchestra in our downtown hall, I decided to play a recording of the same Dvorak symphony which I had just heard live, just to compare live vs recorded. I started out with the volume set at what I thought would be an appropriate level to match the live event, but found that I had to get up two or three times to reduce it to match my aural memory of what I'd just heard live in the hall. My seat there was in the front of the first balcony. Of course, if my preferred seat were in the front of the orchestra section, my reference volume level would be different. At any rate, without loudness control, the volume I arrived at sounded quite natural; the overall sound matched very well what I had just heard live (I should perhaps note that I'm using M40 speakers with the area from 40 Hz to 200 Hz a few dBs above flat. Perhaps significant too is that my listening position is near field).

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                • #9
                  IMF+TDL asked "But how does your DSP device compensate for the changes of the frequency response of your hearing as a function of listening level?"
                  Thinking some more about that issue, it occurs to me that DSP might indeed be used for such compensation (and I'm thinking here of boosting the bass with reduction of volume level). Since many presets can be stored in the pre-amp/DSP unit, one could enter a progressive set of boosted low frequencies for different presets. Then, if listening at reduced volume, choose the preset which sounds most natural.
                  While in my case I don't see the need for this, I think it could work about as well as an amplifier with tone controls. As AS and others have pointed out, it is a shame that such controls are now lacking in most amplifiers, since for many listeners they serve a very useful purpose.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ned Mast View Post
                    IMF+TDL asked "But how does your DSP device compensate for the changes of the frequency response of your hearing as a function of listening level?"
                    Thinking some more about that issue, it occurs to me that DSP might indeed be used for such compensation (and I'm thinking here of boosting the bass with reduction of volume level). Since many presets can be stored in the pre-amp/DSP unit, one could enter a progressive set of boosted low frequencies for different presets. Then, if listening at reduced volume, choose the preset which sounds most natural.
                    Imagine going even further.
                    A person could have their hearing measured by an audiologist.
                    Then the data could be used to program the DSP to generate the required corrections (for a wide range of volume settings) to compensate for that individual's specific hearing loss.

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