The human voice is an amazing thing. I can think of no other instrument that moves our emotions and soul as powerfully.
The examples are endless: Freddie Mercury, Beyoncé, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby McFerrin, Luciano Pavarotti, Ariana Grande… Just take your pick.
And it’s not just singers’ voices that we respond strongly to. How about the familiar voices of our friends and loved ones? Don’t they also have the capacity to rekindle our spirit, just like songs? Sure, at times their voices may grate on our nerves, but the same can be said of our favorite singers’ voices.
Whether singing or speaking, human voices are an incredibly important part of our lives. Unfortunately, in this era of pandemic and social isolation, we can’t hang out with others or go to concerts like we used to. As a result, our daily dosage of live human voices, and live human contact, for that matter, is lacking.
Today, most of the human voices we hear reach us through personal audio devices — earbuds, headphones, or speakers. The reality of today is that we mostly hear human voices through objects created by humans. And whatever earbuds, headphones, or speakers we’re using, they are an extension of our ears. They are, almost literally, part of our body. The same holds true for our microphone. Whenever we’re on Zoom or Skype with someone else, our voice reaches them only through whatever microphone that’s picking up our speech. That mic is an extension of our vocal cords.
A huge part of what affects the quality of our lives is the quality of our interactions. The interactions we have with the world around us, including the interactions we have with our fellow human beings and the art they create, greatly affect the well-being of our body and soul. It’s why those of us with poor eyesight care about the glasses we wear. We make sure they’re the right prescription. We make sure they’re not fogged up or smudged with fingerprints. Because we don’t want the quality of our visual interactions to suffer.
But how about the quality of our auditory interactions? Isn’t that also important? Don’t we use our ears just as much as our eyes?
Yet so many people overlook the quality of the audio devices they use, even though these have a direct effect on the quality of their interactions with the world. As a podcaster and an online language teacher, I discovered that people liked me and my content more when I purchased a better-sounding microphone. It made me sound more genuine. More real. As such, people had an easier time relating to me. When our earphones or speakers can’t reproduce a reasonable likeness of the real thing, by replacing them we can improve our quality of life.
But if not caring about audio quality doesn’t seem to do us any good, how about the extreme of caring too much? We could spend hours and hours researching the “best” earphones, headphones, speakers, or microphones. And we could, of course, spend a ridiculous sum of money to keep buying them.
Endless craving doesn’t improve the quality of our interactions. Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that it has the opposite effect. This incessant anxiety that we may not be hearing the best possible sound could drive us crazy. It works exactly like body insecurity, where we’ve developed this habit of finding flaws no matter what. And we are miserable for it.
If our ears tell us our audio system sounds wonderful and a friend or two tells us the same thing, it’s best to stop creating doubt in our head about the possibility that we may not be getting the best sound quality. “Best” in audio is a subjective term, although “bad” is somewhat absolute.
The most pleasant place to be is somewhere in the middle. Our quality of life deteriorates when we move too close to one extreme or the other, when we care too much about our gear or not at all.
I have a great sounding system that includes a pair of Magnepan speakers and a not terribly expensive solid-state amplifier from Densen, both bought from a friend. To my ears, my setup sounds marvelous. When I listen to it and am immersed in music, I know I’ve arrived at a place I’ve longed to get to. But I also know that my friend’s system, which cost many times more, sounds better.
And better sound can improve the quality of our interactions with music. It can be like hearing our music anew, now with previously obscured beauty. Better audio can also give us a better appreciation of a musical piece or genre we initially overlooked, by making its qualities clearer to us.
The trick is to hit the right balance between being attentive and being grateful, to pay attention to sound quality but also be thankful for what we have.
Our audio devices are extensions of our body. And each of our body parts needs and deserves two things from us — attention and gratitude. So doesn’t it make sense that we treat our audio devices the same way?