Once we have assembled a credible playback system, setup in a useable space, we can move on to the next step in the process, Critical Listening. As in all things related to Recording and Playback this event can take on many possible scenarios. Due to the subjective nature in assessing various audio systems there is quite a bit of room for interpretation. What some find as acceptable may for others be a waste of time.
The degree in which someone is able to appreciate music is another question altogether. Formulating objective standards in listening can only be ascertained by forming conclusions based on observations. Making sense out of what we perceive is developed through our knowledge of the Sound Hierarchy, and the limitations within it.
The study of sound is a never-ending quest; it is not about finding perfection, but seeking the possibilities that exist and trying to understand the qualities they possess. When we critically listen, a poor playback system will obscure good recordings and poor recordings will limit a good playback system. The best systems will allow us to hear further into the content of the music. To hear more detail at the expense of the musical message is no better than having less information to begin with.
When music speaks to us with its intended meaning (happy, sad, inspiring, heavy, soft, etc) it is communicating in its own universal language. This is the beauty of music; the stories are never ending and allow for continual exploration.
When we listen critically this task is filtered through our own particular set of criterion, are we listening for pleasure or trying to dissect a project for clarity, balance, timing etc. A recording engineer will at times pick apart their work; this is part of the process. How we record multi-track or True Stereo is about obtaining a desired result. How we get there is determined by our understanding of the process involved. The study of critical listening is just as important as what we know about recording and holds a key to the ultimate understanding of our craft.
The term critical listening sounds technical and perhaps not enjoyable, but nothing could be further from the truth. When we have a passion for what we do and love to create, music is a hard subject to beat.
My perception of critical listening is; paying attention, being responsive and letting the music take you somewhere. Creating art is both inspiring and involving, but requires a firm understanding of the path. My passion is for recording in True Stereo, because done right it’s the simplest form, but also the most true to the reflection. When you combine suburb musicians, in a magical space and a proper setup nothing can beat the musical message it portrays.
True Stereo recordings will also give us a better insight into what a playback system is capable of. With its greater sense of dynamics and harmonics it improves more readily with increasingly better quality playback systems. This allows us through critical listening to resolve the quality of the systems fullest capacities.
The greater the knowledge we gain in understanding critical listening, be it work or pleasure, the less limited our perceptions will be of what is possible to achieve.
Ken Christianson, Pro Musica, Chicago