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Why Everyone's Hearing Is Not Different

There are some universal misconceptions in audio such as "big speakers need more power" - untrue; or, "everyone's hearing is different" - again, untrue. In the case of the latter, this is a point worth clearing up because it's one we encounter often.

The argument goes something like this: Everyone's ears are different. Some are larger, some smaller, with different shapes inside and even the ear drums work differently so it all results in different hearing. This much is true. Ears are physically differently. But this doesn't mean that we hear differently. In fact, we all hear exactly the same. Here's why.

Imagine this scenario. There's a violist playing in a room and you're seated in a chair in front of them listening. The violin sounds great and you're mesmerized by the performance. Then you decide to record the violin and put it on a CD and play it back on a pair of speakers in the same room. You sit in the same chair as when you were listening to the real violist and you listen. Now, depending on the quality of your microphone and recording equipment and speaker, the sound you hear might range from being pretty unfaithful all the way to incredibly similar to the real violin. That's dependent on your equipment and there's tons of variables in equipment.

But what doesn't change is you. It's still your ears that heard the real violin and also the recording of the violin after. This is a 1 to 1 ratio.


To dissect this example further, let's say person A's ears have a bass rolloff compared to person B. Does Person A hear differently than Person B? Not in practice, because BOTH the real violin and the stereo will suffer from exactly the same ratio of bass rolloff. Person A will never know what he is missing compared to Person B. It is always a 1 to 1 ratio of original to recorded sound within each person's own ears. Maybe person B has no bass rolloff in their hearing but this makes no difference because they too have the same 1 to 1 ratio between the original sound they heard and the recording of that sound.

So, don't let this false argument fool you into thinking your ears aren't "good enough". You're not comparing to another person's ears nor could you ever. Go back to the prime goal of a stereo - to re-create the original sound as closely as possible. This is the gap you're looking to close. The way to do this is not to compare to any subjective opinion of another person. The way to do it is to compare directly to the REAL instruments and then use your OWN ears to judge how far apart the two are. If you're comparing one stereo to another or worse to another's written or spoken opinion about sound, then you're comparing to a completely arbitrary reference. There is only one reference! Your hearing of the original instrument and then the stereo. Next time you're auditioning, at least ask to listen to simply recorded acoustic solo instruments on playback. Better yet, go listen to real unamplified instruments and really get to learn what they sound like. Then when you listen to a stereo you will know how close it's getting to that real sound and how much is just sounding like a stereo.

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