How to prevent listening fatigue in your audio setup? The power of contrast…

Dries Van HooydonckAudiophile Mindset, ListeningLeave a Comment

How to prevent listening fatigue in your high-end audio setup? The power of contrast

Listening fatigue can occur to any audiophile: you listen to your hifi or high-end audio setup, and suddenly the sound is not good anymore. In this article you will discover how listening fatigue occurs, what the underlying principles are, and how you can prevent listening fatigue from happening to you. And you will also discover what I call “the power of contrast” at play. So sit back, relax and enjoy this article… 

The sky turns pitch black. Dark clouds are forming above you. It is completely silent. You feel that a storm is coming. And then suddenly… The first bang, like fireworks on New Year’s Eve but ten times louder. Another bang. And a flash of lightning every couple of seconds. Then the sky opens up a little, an avalanche of rain pouring down, the roof of your house sounding like it could collapse any moment.

I find a thunderstorm amazing. It makes me feel more alive. The adrenaline peaks, and I eagerly observe this sublime spectacle. Not even the most suspenseful thriller can compete.

But it is that moment of silence that intrigues me most. The calm before the storm. In a movie, such silence always predicts something thrilling is about to happen.

Such silence makes the subsequent apotheose more compelling. The more calm the moment before, the larger the climax afterwards.

The power of contrast

the power of contrast

Such a thunderstorm is the perfect example of contrast.

We humans love contrast. Our brain is utterly alert when we witness contrast.

Another example that illustrates contrast very well: when a group of people is all dressed grey, nobody stands out. But when one person wears a red sweater, you will notice him immediately.

We have been programmed like this since the primeval times. Back then contrast could mean danger: a yellow tiger between the green leaves of the forest for instance. Brain on ultra-active.

Today we humans still have remains of our primitive ancestors in our genes, and we still use this primitive part of our brain, also known as the reptilian brain or the the basal ganglia. It is the oldest part of our brain. It is our attention gatekeeper and decision maker.

reptilian brain used by audiophiles when first listening to new hifi or high-end audio component

With music reproduction the same principles of contrast are at play, and this can trigger our reptilian brain in the same way as a yellow tiger would for our ancestors.

If you are an audiophile, and when you are aware of this principle, it can save you from a list of bad choices when a new upgrade presents itself.

It can save you tons of money, or equipment bound for resell. It can even prevent you from listening fatigue all together: never having to make another upgrade in your live, completely satisfied with the hifi or high-end audio components you already have in your possession.

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Discover your ultimate sound: looking for The Holy Grail

Dries Van HooydonckAudiophile Mindset, Listening6 Comments

Looking for the holy grail in music? Discover your ultimate sound

You’re probably an audiophile. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article. Like all audiophiles, you are chasing an ultimate sound and ultimate musical experience, right?

The very best representation.

A “Holy Grail” in the music.

You want to portray a life-like performance.

The singer is in your room. In-between the speakers. Every movement of her lips audible. Her breath against the microphone. A warm glow that gives you goose bumps.

To accomplish this, you probably spend a lot of money. Gorgeous speakers that fill the room with the most beautiful sonics. A set “beasts” of monoblocks. Expensive, thick cables. A reference DAC that sounds more analog than analog. A digital source that transmits an optimal signal. A world-class record player, with a needle that absorbs the grooves better than your previous element.

But that is still not enough. You haven’t reached the “Holy Grail” yet. It still is not “ultimate” enough. A new upgrade announces itself…

Before you completely dream away in this tale, I’m going to burst your bubble: The Holy Grail does not exist. But you can come very close.

In this article, I will tell you what the Holy Grail actually entails. And I inform you about the dangers of that quest.

What is your Holy Grail of ultimate sound?

What is your Holy Grail of ultimate sound

Maybe you got blown away by a gorgeous high-end setup at a trade show, or at the showroom of your local dealer. Maybe your friend has a nice setup, and you find this the ultimate sound. Or maybe you heard it during a concert, where the acoustics were so good, or the mix was perfectly tuned.

Maybe your contact with such ultimate sound was a long time ago, and that sound has now been lost in the history of “cult” or vintage. Or perhaps it was more recently.

No matter were it came from, that memory of the ultimate musical experience is your very own “Holy Grail”.

It’s the association you make to what is “ultimate” for you.

For someone else this association is something entirely different. Because the experience and the situations were different.

So, everyone has its own unique Holy Grail, and is looking for a different ultimate sound.

I, myself, was blown away for the first time by a reference setup of a high-end audio dealer, who let me hear Pat Metheney “Imaginary Day”.

My first ultimate sound experience: Pat Metheney Imaginary Day

Do you remember your first ultimate sound experience?

Where did you hear your very best sound ever? And do you still chase such sound?

Think about this for a second.

Maybe you can uncover what particular sound you’re looking for.

Maybe it doesn’t immediately come to mind. That’s all right.

At first, I did not know my Holy Grail either. Maybe this article will help you to discover it.

The example of the tomato

the example of the tomato

You can compare the ‘Holy Grail of sound’ with the taste of a tomato.

I can still hear my father say: “Tomatoes tasted so much better back in the day. Now it’s just water.”

In your experience tomatoes maybe tasted better in the past too.

My father ate tomatoes from in his own garden, in a time where the air was still clean, the soil was better, and the vegetables weren’t sprayed with pesticides yet.

Partly, he might be right. A home-grown tomato or a biologically grown tomato can indeed taste better than your average store-bought tomato. But there’s more going on here.

The primitive brain

the primitive brain waw effect

The first time when you experience something new is always more intense. And that’s normal. We humans are programmed this way.

In a new situation our brain demands more attention. That’s due to our survival instinct. Because a new situation could mean danger. As a primate in the prehistoric age we had to be alert in a new situation. Because there could be a saber tooth tiger or another danger around the corner.

I’m guessing you’d be pretty alert too, right?

But when we do the same things again and again, our brain works differently: without giving it much thought, we function on autopilot, on routine. Then our brain isn’t so alert anymore. If this wasn’t the case, you’d be filled with adrenaline in the bathroom every night, when brushing your teeth would be as exciting as skydiving for the first time.

That’s why your very first tomato tasted way better in your memory. You did not taste something like this before. It was a whole new sensation. Brain on ultra-active.

Afterwards, every tomato became the same, with the same watery taste. Brain back to sleep.

The ultimate music experience works the same way

Just like a tomato, this also applies for your first “ultimate musical experience”, your Holy Grail in sound.

Your memory of that first ultimate musical experience sounded way better than it actually was. At the time, it was a new situation. Your brain was paying full attention. The sound was phenomenal.

But in reality, it wasn’t. If you heard that same sound today, maybe you would even be disappointed.

Be aware of this quest when chasing your ultimate sound or whenever you want to upgrade your high-end audio setup

looking for ultimate sound? Beware of the holy grail

You can learn from your Holy Grail of ultimate sound. It makes you aware of the sound you’re looking for in your high-end audio setup.

But dangers are lurking, and there is a dark side to your queeste:

Because your memory of it is so good, you will continue to chase this so-called ultimate sound.

You do upgrade after upgrade, to come close again.

Closer to the memory of an experience, that your brain made more beautiful than it really was.

So, looking for such a Holy Grail is an endless quest. And still, it surfaces with every new upgrade you want to make in your high-end audio setup.

So watch out: it can cost you a lot of time, money and discarded high-end audio components.

Of course that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to come very close:

The singer in your room. In-between the speakers. Every movement of her lips audible. Her breathe against the microphone. Almost life-like.

Of course that’s something I can only wish for you. 🙂

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Which music gives you goosebumps?

Dries Van HooydonckListening, Music2 Comments

which music gives goosebumps - music is emotion

I was in the city of Leuven recently. I spent the afternoon working on my laptop in a cosy coffee bar.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend Clara was shopping with our son Tristan (two and a half) elsewhere in the city.

When the three of us were eating dinner in an Asian restaurant in the evening, I suddenly heard music coming from the street.

Tristan had finished eating and together, hand in hand, we went out to see what was going on. It turned out to be a street artist. Singing and playing guitar.

And then it happened: GOOSEBUMPS ALL OVER MY BODY…

And that was just the start of it…

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2 disadvantages of playing music loud in a high-end audio setup

Dries Van HooydonckListeningLeave a Comment

disadvantages of playing loud audiophile setup

Some audiophiles like to play very loud. They want to experience impact, or a sound level that matches a live concert.

Johan – a friend of mine – is such a person. He has got a very nice setup at home: JBL Jubilee speakers & a Bryston 14B3 amplifier. He’s one of the only “volume” freaks I know that can make a Bryston 4B clip when he goes all the way. Blasting his speakers…

Actually, this clipping happened literally: when Johan wanted to buy a new amplifier, a dealer came by his house to give a demonstration of the Bryston 4B. Johan was concerned about how this amp would react on his listening habits. But the dealer was convinced that the 4B wouldn’t clip.

Until Johan raised the volume. And oh yes, the 4B SST2 clipped. This dealer had not yet seen a client play this loud. That’s why Johan now has the highest series Bryston: the 14B3 power amplifier. A beast with more power reserves than any sane person would ever need.

Bryston 14B 3 power amplifier

Johan can’t live without his dose of “high volume” once in a while. Compare it to a short pump on the gas pedal, after which you continue to cruise smoothly. Or a quick fix, a shot of adrenaline. It gives him a kick. For Johan this is part of the audiophile experience.

Bob Dylan shares Johan’s opinion. A famous quote of the recent Nobel Price winner:

“Play it fucking loud!”

Disadvantage of playing loud

Even though this can add to the experience, I would like to share two reservations with you. Two concerns why you should be careful with high listening levels:

Room overload at high sound levels

Every room has a “breaking point”. A point where the standing waves take over, where the bass accumulation in the corners is too audible, or where other acoustic problems arise that keep you from an optimal musical representation.

Not the audiophile representation I’m used to. But of course, nice for the kick.

“Play it fucking loud!” like Bob Dylan.

Or like my buddy Johan.

Hearing impairment

Sometimes I go listen at Johan’s place. Other than a high-end audio setup for stereo listening, he’s also got a pretty amazing home cinema setup with a huge screen, and he’s a big fan of Joe Bonamassa.

There are worse things I could think of, than an afternoon of letting his speakers blast on the virtuoso guitar riffs of this blues legend.

However, I can’t stick through for more than 5 seconds of Johan’s volume.

My ears literally start to hurt. Not because I have “extremely” sensitive hearing. But I’m younger than Johan. So, my hearing has suffered a bit less than Johan’s.

Since his teenage years, Johan frequented his fair share of concerts. (His first concert was Todd Rundgren by the way).

So, except for the acoustic problems that every room will show, it’s also important to think about the hearing consequences if you play too loud.

Hearing damage occurs faster than you’d think. And then your audiophile representation is done for.

I know audiophiles that had to sell their beautiful, expensive high-end setup due to hearing damage, because they just couldn’t hear the differences anymore.

Of course, your hearing range isn’t the only factor that comes into play being an audiophile. I know audiophiles that have partial hearing loss, and can still enjoy their setup.

But it’s still important to think about the consequences playing loud can have on your hearing.

Fortunately, Johan realizes the risk of hearing damage. Playing “full on” for a small amount of time is enough for him to get his desired rush.

When he had his portion of “high volume”, he’s satisfied and can play his music at a normal listening volume again.

Conclusion

Playing loud on a high-end setup can give you a “kick”. A shot of adrenaline that some audiophiles really need. Completely understandable.

That’s why Johan made the conscious decision to get the JBL Jubilee 250 Ti with a Bryston 14B3 amplifier.

JBL Jubilee 250 TI

Blasting his speakers.

High SPL (sound pressure level)

Or like Bob Dylan says: play it fucking loud.

But you should think about the consequences too: acoustic problems that will get worse at higher sound levels, and that stand in the way of a perfect audiophile representation.

And maybe even more important: the risk of hearing damage when playing loud. Especially we audiophiles should care more for our hearing than the average person. Because we want to enjoy our high-end audio setup for a long time to come, right?

To finish: are you also an adrenaline junkie that likes to play loud? Or does it not interest you? I’m curious to read your comment. You can write it down below. 🙂

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Free upgrade for a better sound: resource yourself

Dries Van HooydonckAudiophile Mindset, ListeningLeave a Comment

ree upgrade for a better sound on your high-end audio setup

I love summer. The sun is shining, everybody is in a good mood, and you’re able to spend a lot of time outside. But what does this have to do with high-end audio? You’ll discover in this article. And above all, I’ll give you a free upgrade for a better sound on your audio setup.

An upgrade that does not cost you any money, and for which you don’t need to buy new components.

So definitely continue reading…

A walk in nature

Together with my wife and son, I love to go for nature walks in our region.

We’re currently living in “Pajottenland”. It’s part of the “green belt” around Brussels.

This area is characterized by its gentle slopes, large meadows and wide, open landscapes. Together with wooded areas and a lot of nature reserves it’s an amazing region to discover.

Recently we went for a walk in the “Hallerbos”. It is a big forest on the countryside near our capital of Brussels. It is classified as a nature reserve. In springtime this forest is most famous for its Bluebells.

It had been a hectic period and we all needed to recharge our batteries.

We’d been walking the entire afternoon. Along the way we had a nice picnic and in the evening, we went home with a fresh mind and a wonderful feeling.

Lovely.

Heavily recommended on my part.

After such a recharging walk you feel good and positive again.

And such recharging also has a beneficial side effect for audiophiles:

free upgrade for a better sound on your high-end audio setup: resource yourself

Free upgrade for a better sound on your high-end audio setup

When you arrive back home after such a “nature bath” and you press play, your setup suddenly sounds a lot better.

And that’s logical: you were able to free your mind. You weren’t thinking about upgrades, tweaks or other audiophile affairs. You weren’t thinking about the shortcomings of your setup, about that one “weak link”, or the components that you want to replace for better ones.

Thanks to the sun, the surrounding nature and the fresh air you see your high-end audio installation in a new light.

You listen with fresh ears. Like it’s your first time listening to your audio setup.

You appreciate every aspect. And you can relax while listening to music again.

No more stress that causes a narrow and closed mind.

Instead, you will now have an open mind.

Open to enjoy your audio setup in a much more profound way.

resourcing yourself: a free upgrade for a better sound

Resourcing yourself

Of course, making a walk with your family is only one example of resourcing yourself. You could also take a holiday, have some fun with friends, go out to the movie theatre, go to a concert,… Actually, this list is endless.

Or, when you also enjoy having some time reserved for yourself, you could take some me-time. For instance: I deliberately walk alone in nature as well – also highly recommended for resourcing, and recharging your batteries.

And similar as above, such activities are also effective as free upgrade for a better sound.

Upgrading yourself instead of your setup, without costing you any money 🙂

Conclusion

So, the next time when you think your setup isn’t good enough, when nothing sounds right anymore, or when you want to make an upgrade, just think about this advice: go outside, enjoy the sun (or the snow for that matter), enjoy nature and recharge those batteries. You’ll notice that afterwards, you’ll be able to enjoy your music in a much better way again. Good luck!

Audiophile albums you must hear

Dries Van HooydonckListening, Music18 Comments

audiophile albums you must hear

What are audiophile albums?

Audiophile albums are music albums where focus lies mainly on the recording quality. During the recording, mastering & production process, high-end audio equipment is being used. Audiophile albums will sound phenomenal on a decent high-end audio setup. They can be used as a reference to test equipment, or to showcase your system.

What are our favorite audiophile albums?

Regarding most audiophile recordings, unfortunately most of the time focus lies only on the recording quality and on the sound of such an album, not on the performance of the musician or the music itself.

The big problem with many of these audiophile albums, is that the performance itself is sometimes insufficient, even plain boring or that musicians are portrayed that nobody ever heard about.

Let’s be honest, the most important thing regarding musical reproduction is the performance, the musicality of the artist and how artists translate their emotions by means of their music, right?

Therefore, in this article we give you a list – including description – of our most listened albums at the time of writing this article.

We focus not only on audiophile recordings or audiophile record labels, but also on rock-solid performances by world-class musicians, where recording quality sounds good as well:

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