The Art of Listening
don't consciously hear tones above 15-20kHz, however we do sense time
differentials of single digit microseconds, which does require a system
with bandwidth above 20kHz, sufficiently small aperture uncertainty,
and sufficiently quick settling time. Critical
listening skills are learnable, in which one learns to trust all of
one's senses, and articulate those senses in the sonic realm.
recently discovered phenomena, loosely analogous to glasses blocking
out UV and the iris not contracting sufficiently in sunlight: the
ear/brain is not just a passive pair of microphones. This dynamic
aspect of hearing appears to have been useful to our physical ancestors
having a wide range of hearing, predators sensing prey food or prey
sensing predators and not becoming food, the small snap of a twig being
stepped on, against a background of thunder for instance. It also is
what facilitates brain entrainment from anything rhythmic as the
hippocampus "decodes" the envelope of sound from both ears: traditional
shamanic drumming, pounding deep house mixes at raves and festivals,
binaural beats, the slow subharmonics of singing bowls, the liquid
quality of piano strings resonating with each other, the nuances of
jazz bass. The ear/brain is in a feedback loop, responding to the slope
of events, which tightens and loosens muscles around the eardrum in
anticipation of high amplitude events.
The initial low
amplitude short time frame aka high frequency aspects of sound, with a
steep slope is present in real life as an "early warning system" to the
ears, and Nyquist, Brickwall filtering messes up that ability to sense
those transients, which is part of the digital glare, listening
fatigue. The ear/brain literally does not know when to tighten up the
eardrums with such an artifice. This is an important facet of how MQA
sounds and feels, the ultrasonic component, uniquely reproduced by MQA
without time smear, allows our ears and brain to respond naturally,
unlike with the blurred edges of nyquist PCM filters.
captures, folds, and encodes those small squiggles with sufficiently
accurate time resolution to provide the ear/brain with the correct
physical response, just as in real life. MQA does this closer to the
ideal "air" than even traditional nyquist high sample rate sampling,
with lower time smear. Analog to analog.
nyquist aka brickwall sampling including both 44.1 kHz redbook CD and
higher bit rates 2,4,8x at 24 bit, ignore time domain accuracy and
mis-presume based on outdated hearing models.
More words on listening:
is a distinction between consciously heard, and viscerally sensed; both
are valid and necessary for the transparent listening experience.
Again: Critical listening skills are learnable, in which one learns to
trust all of one's senses, and articulate those senses in the sonic
realm. A Japanese word: Ongaku which loosely translates as soul or
essence of sound and music is a similar concept.
Allow me to mansplain through metaphor with a leading question.
Are you a knuckle dragging cretin, or do you stand, move, walk upright?
the latter, the body is orchestrating 200 muscles, tendons, joints; all
without your conscious intervention. Similar for touch typing on a
qwerty keyboard, or driving a stick shift transmission, or sight
reading music, or f*.....I mean mating and breeding. You are not
conscious of every micro movement of each muscle, tendon and joint when
standing, but you are standing. That's visceral.
audio, up to around 20 kHz or so, most can consciously sense a steady
state tone. For what is called the ultrasonic spectrum or band, above
20 kHz, visceral sensing takes over. For the ultrasonic band, it's the
very low amplitude facets of the sound we sense more than hear,
correlated with the baseband, for which the slope and timing of those
low amplitude ultrasonic facets are key. Again, viscerally sensed
rather than consciously heard.
So, we have baseband and ultrasonic.
traditional nyquist PCM redbook CD standard, 44.1/48 at 16 bits with
non standardized, undefined brickwall filtering, only covers the
baseband facet of the audio signal, and barely at that, with time smear
(blurring) well into the range of audible, and loss of resolution from
mismatched encode/decode filters, also known as anti-aliasing and
The ultrasonic band, which is chopped
off in traditional nyquist PCM by the brickwall filtering, while
appearing on a linear scale as wide bandwidth, is actually only a
couple of octaves at very low amplitude; hence lends to efficient
coding to be buried inaudibly in the baseband dither; what is called
audio origami by MQA.
High Resolution digital, sampling at 2x 4x
or 8x the redbook standard rate with 24 bits available, only partially,
incrementally resolves the time smear issue, and does not address the
need for encode and decode filters to be conjugate matched for true
high resolution playback; while resulting in considerably larger file
size and streaming bandwidth. There are a lot of empty bits
representing the ultrasonic spectrum, with just a few actually carrying
perceptually significant information.
Unused "bins", empty bits
devoid of data in sampling space are inefficient, as unfortunately in
PCM do not lend to ALAC, flac, or MLP packing any more efficiently than
full data. All those blank bits don't compress well in prior schemes.
MQA addresses that among other issues, in being efficient with packing
information, not just data.
At the low end of the baseband, the
infrasonic band, there is a moving window of perception, the time frame
of which correlates with the frequency at which our senses, both visual
and audio, transition from discrete events through vibrating, to solid.
This time/frequency correlates with the EEG alpha band, and the
fundamental frequency of the Schumann resonance, which is just how
things evolved and emerged on the planet, not some woo woo space cadet
stuff. But that's another metaphorical mansplain.
"blind" a/b/x testing is not a valid mode, neither critical listening
nor "scientific." There is a baseline skew towards mediocrity, wherein
the ear/brain gets stressed and fatigued, and soon all cats are grey in
the dark as the listener uses the wrong part of their brain. Take the
time to really get to know music you enjoy, all the twists and turns,
the dynamics, the phrasing, the feeling, on a system you are also
familiar with. After days or weeks, then change one component. You will
be able to discern differentials that are lost in rapid back and forth
switching. Some distinctions are blatant with unfamiliar music on an
unfamiliar system, such as the salon demos that Sunil of Sunny's Audio
Video does to demonstrate the sonic benefits of MQA. But most of the
time, be with the familiar, get to really know your music and system.
You will enjoy your music more that way. Rest assured you are not
imagining things. Don't be paranoid. Trust your senses.
Gratitude to countless generations of Artisans
who listened to the Grand Muse; who practiced,
even mastered the Art of expressing the resonance
and coherence of the Universal Aum;
who crafted these and other Singing Bowls.
memory lives on.