In Part 1, I mentioned the phenomenon of thinking overpowering listening as the main culprit that diminishes our music-listening pleasure. Three kinds of thoughts are most detrimental to our listening experiences, and they start with A, D, and E respectively. They are:
Aversions, Desires, Expectations
Let’s explore each.
Maybe you find the bass too muddy. Or the highs too bright. Or the brand of gear you own not audiophile enough. Or maybe your unhappiness with those things really has little to do with them by themselves. Maybe the real issue is you’re stuck in a state of disliking.
We can have an aversion to something about anything. Our audio system is certainly no exception. In fact, it can be easy to dislike aspects of our hi-fi because there’s a lot in it to find imperfections with: the bass, the highs, the soundstage, the imaging, the look, the heat, the size, you name it. Truth is, all these aversions are one and the same. It’s the same guy showing up on the doorstep of your mind over and over. He’s just changing his face.
Having aversions isn’t a bad thing. They’re essential to our well-being, such as having an aversion to drinking expired milk. Aversion to financial struggles is what drives us to improve our resume and get a better job. Likewise, being dissatisfied with the sound quality of our audio system helps us find a solution, like widening the speakers’ toe-in to improve bass response. (Worked for me every time.)
What I’m cautioning against is having aversions while you’re listening to music. You shouldn’t try to dislike and listen simultaneously. When that happens, there’s conflict. So, whenever you’re trying to listen to music for fun and that guy shows up on the doorstep of your mind to tell you something’s wrong, tell him there’ll be plenty of time to check things out later, when you’re not busy listening to music.
You want tighter bass, or smoother highs. Or you want more prestigious brand names. Instead of disliking something, now you want something. I’m using the same examples for aversions and desires to demonstrate that both come from the same place. They’re two sides of the same coin. And they can both work against us when it comes to our listening enjoyment.
Like aversions, desires aren’t all bad. They can help us improve the sound quality of our audio system. For example, our desire for tighter bass can prompt us to try different electronics or cables that will give us better defined bass.
The trouble comes when we desire excessively and incessantly. When we’re enslaved to this state of mind, upgrading our audio system becomes a futile, endless, and unrewarding endeavor. It’s like trying to fill a bottomless pot. Instead, learn to enjoy and appreciate what you have. You can’t enjoy listening to music if you’re constantly hungering for what you don’t have. You’re lucky—probably 95% of the people in the world don’t have an audio system that sounds as good as yours.
Expectations fall into two categories: negative and positive. Let’s talk first about the former. Before the music even begins, you already anticipate weak bass or shrill highs. Or you simply predict, ‘Mine is a cheaper system and will sound like one’. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But even if your expectation isn’t negative, it can still affect your listening experience in a sub-optimal way. Let’s take, for example, two people scuba diving for the first time. One dives with the hopeful expectation of seeing a sea turtle. Two outcomes are possible: he doesn’t see one and leaves disappointed by the experience, or, he sees one and leaves not disappointed by the experience. In the latter scenario, the result was expected.
The other scuba diver goes down with no expectation of seeing anything and encounters a sea turtle. The experience thrills him because it was unexpected. So while both scuba divers may have seen a sea turtle, the emotional impact of their experiences was radically different.
The point here is there’s a huge gap between being ‘not disappointed’ and ‘thrilled’. Wouldn’t you rather be thrilled? If so, then keep expectations at bay when you’re listening to music. It makes it harder to be disappointed and you may just encounter some thrilling moments.
Summing up, the three kinds of thought that are precarious to your music-listening enjoyment are:
More than with any other kinds of thoughts, your enjoyment of audio and music is determined by your ability to banish all three from your listening process. But beware, they can be frequent visitors. Especially in the early going, be prepared to banish them over and over. Don’t give in to them.
But don’t be hostile to them, either. See them out graciously. You don’t want more aversions showing up on the doorstep of your mind.