Does listening fatigue go away???

Hello everyone,

Just want to ask everyone here an honest question. Is listening fatigue sometimes associated with getting used to a "presentation" coming from your setup. In addition, is the burn period people talk about also associated with the above?

The reason I ask is that I currently own a pair of Quad 12L Active speakers that were being feed directly by a Squeezebox Touch. Unfortunately this setup only had a digital volume control which really affected low level listening. My solution was to add an external means of volume control with the Warpspeed optocoupler which uses LDR. I have received it this week and it has made a huge difference in almost every facet of the sound, soundstage, speed, bass, imagining, clarity and authority without adding any coloration. It also dead quiet and I have spooked out my wife a few times when the music suddenly comes on. In fact the only issue I have been having is listening fatigue after about an hour which I did not have before.

My question is it just me getting used to the new sound or something with the warpspeed or mogami wire? How can I pinpoint the problem? I also am planning to get an EE minimax plus soon, you think that will alleviate the problem?

Thanks for you advice.
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Hi Dambert,

The short answer is NO! However, are you sure that your new passive preamp and cables are totally broken in? If they are, you will find what your calling fatigue will stop you from relaxing and enjoying your music. If that's the case one of your pieces of gear or system synergy is not in place for the fatigue to go away and you will have to experiement to figure what's causing it. Good luck.
The first thing I would try to determine is whether or not the quality of the source material is the problem. Perhaps the deficiencies of the particular recordings you have listened to since the upgrade are being more accurately reproduced.

Beyond that, although I have no experience with any of your components, fwiw the next item on my suspicion list would be the built-in DAC in the Touch. So it seems quite conceivable to me that the Minimax will help.

-- Al
If it does seem to go away, in time, by itself, it will probably be because you will have learned to avoid source material that exacerbates your fatigue. The problem could be as small as a tube or as large as total system incompatibility... sorry...really. Don’t settle, and don’t dive up; you’ll get it right with perseverance. Good luck.
Yes they do but many agreed it was not optimal. Even the manual suggest that volume should be set to 50% and outside source (preamp) should be controlling the input level. I was using digital volume control on the SB touch but sound suffered tremendously at low level. Hence the LDR.

I think Almarg might have smacked it on the head. We'll see.
Every time I had listening fatigue it had something to do with the system. For example, I bought a new MM cart and had the gain set for a MC cart. After I changed the gain, the listening fatigue went away.
Elizabeth's response is the one I most agree with and have experienced most frequently as well. Until you address the component introducing the problem, you'll have to keep the volume down or avoid content that exacerbates it.
Hi Daimbert, yes, listening fatigue is an all-too-real phenomenon that you CAN get rid of – just not quickly. I don’t believe there’s any real and reliable way for us to ‘pinpoint’ what the source of listening fatigue is in a given system. It won’t be as straightforward as diagnosing a faulty component (unless you can beg, borrow or steal other gear to try – ANY other gear could possibly help give you a clue of sorts). But, you can only start by making substitutions in order to see firsthand. The fact is, to start with, it could literally be all or any of your components: source, preamp, amp or even speakers (or even wiring, as rare as that is). But, I second what Elizabeth says: it isn’t always necessarily what you’d think it would be. It isn’t necessarily going to be easy, so you’ll likely just have to pick your starting point. I suppose in general a practical place to begin may be your with least expensive components. In the course of all this, you may find yourself in the position (as many who have gone before you) of having to buy something that has a 30-day trial period just to find something out for yourself. Don’t knock it, this can work quite well, if you can afford to be out the shipping costs. But, remember: what it gives you is direct experience – something no amount of ‘fact-finding’ or ‘theory’ or supposition can supplant. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If you can’t quite make up your mind, at least you’ll have an idea WHY you can’t. But, keep in mind that what you’re after here is certainty, not information – there’s a difference, of course. But, all that’s the first thing to consider. There’s another to think about and that is power conditioning. I don’t know how you feel about it (many audiophiles are polarized by the topic). I mention it because in my case it COMPLETELY cured the problem – albeit to the tune of at least a $1000. But, after I got to the point that I felt I’d addressed each component individually to the point of assuring myself of at least a decent quality level on its own, within my means anyway, I then switched focus to power conditioning as a possible answer. That’s because at the time I was beginning to see the writing on the wall about how frustrating and expensive it might eventually prove to be to finish out my own quest for conquering listening fatigue on the basis of equipment swapping alone. I’d been spending a lot of time on the facebook site of Alan Maher Designs and eventually found my curiosity peaked. Finally the time came when there was nothing more to do than take the plunge ($40, plus shipping in my case). It was a big improvement, I was blown away and all that. Fast forward to late last year and about a thousand bucks later and I’m very glad I’d taken that first step – listening fatigue nixed altogether (to a level I hadn’t thought was possible really, but all that’s another story). Who knows, if you do your own research you might even find something else out there I didn’t know about that works for you better or cheaper or whatever… But, for me it turns out that was the thing that saved me from the equipment treadmill that I otherwise would likely have had to hitch myself to, like too many other people, I suppose. My system is a CD-only based, minimalist one that cost about $5000. For many audiophiles that would amount to nice second system. Me? I’m now VERY happy with it as a first system and I hain’t givinit up fer NObody. But, seriously if you keep on asking the right questions like that, I believe you’ll come out on top. It will take some patience and experimentation, but that can really be key in this hobby to winding up with something of value.
I have been at this audio thing for 35 years and don't think it is the digital thing. It is system synergy and your unique set of ears. No, it won't just go away if you change nothing. Sorry.....

I use a digital front end and no trace of fatigue with my current set up.
To be honest, the entire system is fairly new, probably no more than 30 hours? The odd thing has been that I did not have experienced any listening fatigue from the on it until now. Although, like I mentioned before there is a lot more grunt in my system since installing the warpspeed. Considering I live in the apartment in the city, I can't do proper burn in procedures. If anyone can suggest anything I'll do it. Here's my system so far maybe there something I am missing.

Source: Squeezebox Touch with Bolder PSU
Preamp: Warpspeed optocoupler (with .5 voodoo cable)
Speakers: Quad 12L active connected via unbalanced Mogami 3 feet cables.
I'm curious, could someone give an exact definition of 'listener fatigue'? There's been times where I'm not as 'into' listening to the system as usual. I've found simply not turning it on for a few days cures that symptom. The stuff you guys are describing sounds like it's at a different level!
IMPORTANT FOLLOW-UP to my previous comment about the Minimax DAC:

It appears that the original version of the Minimax DAC had extremely high output impedances of 22K and 10K for its tube and solid state outputs, respectively. Those output impedances would be unsuitable for use with a resistive-based passive attenuator, optically controlled or not. Even more so in this particular situation, where the attenuator is driving the low 10K input impedance of your active speakers. And although the original Minimax DAC included a volume control function, chances are that the high output impedance would also create problems if you were to use it directly into the speaker inputs, without the Warpspeed.

On the other hand, several references indicate that the Minimax DAC Plus, introduced last year, has tube and solid state output impedances of 3K and 200 ohms, respectively. The 200 ohm output would certainly be fine; the 3K output may not be, depending on how much it and the input impedance of the speakers vary as a function of frequency, and on the characteristics of the Warpspeed.

According to John Atkinson's measurements in Stereophile, the Squeezebox Touch has an output impedance of 599 ohms at mid and high frequencies, and 878 ohms at 20 Hz. I suspect that both the magnitude and the frequency variation of those numbers are not affecting sonics in your setup significantly, although it's hard to say for sure without knowing how the input impedance of the speaker varies with frequency. Although of course the Squeezebox's DAC function itself could very conceivably be contributing to the issues, as I previously suggested.

-- Al
Chazro -
There's probably more than one definition, but I define "listener fatigue" as simply any unpleasant listening experience that causes an audiophile to squirm in his/her listening chair. For me, it's exaggerated treble. I have two sets of resistors for my speakers, one is -4db (for analog) and one is -5db (for digital). I can introduce listener fatigue by using the -4db for digital while using my SS amp; the harshness of the highs literally drives me up the walls. I've done it inadvertently by forgetting to swap out resistors after a session of listening to LPs. On the other hand, when I replace my SS amp with my tubed amp, the sound is so gorgeously mellow that I'm lulled to sleep by the middle of the first track. So, to avoid the naps, I have to make sure I'm using the right resistor with the SS amp. I'm wondering if Daimburt's system isn't overly bright. One solution might be to introduce a tubed amp and/or tubed pre into the system.
fascinating question...'had to comment.

many years ago I had owned what should have been a good mid-range system, Krell (KSA) and other pwr amps, Apogee Duetta Signatures, various preamps including some solid state, some tube, various CD/digital front ends... old PS audio ultralink etc.etc.

while the system sounded quite good overall, out of 1000 or so CDs, probably 100 sounded good, 900 sounded like crap and I had a hard time listening more than a couple hours without fatigue. I don't want to say my ears hurt as that would be a vast exaggeration, but the overall harshness on most recordings could loosely be described as causing physically annoying.

Years later, and for the last few, I'm listening to an entirely different system, probably only slightly more expensive, but 10s of thousands of dollars more enjoyable.

Strangely, as my hearing has "evolved" :) I'm now more annoyed by harsh sounding systems.

At this point I never (and I mean never, even after marathon hours of listening) get that that "pain-in-the-ears" of the past. There are times when I feel like listening to music more or less of course.

Strangely enough, many older CDs that were very un-enjoyable are now quite good. (same old CDs now ripped to WAV or FLAC and stored on NAS)

some things never change, there remain good, bad and pitiful recordings just like always.

The only thing really having changed is me finally learning what sound I wanted and not taking no for an answer in thinking I could not get it, that along with 10+ years more of experimenting with components, room treatments, cables, etc.etc.. etc.
Hi Chazro, my definition is: anything that prematurely causes your mind to wander during a listening stint, or otherwise causes you to begin to wonder what's on TV. As such, probably a pretty common issue, I'm guessing.
"To be honest, the entire system is fairly new, probably no more than 30 hours?”

Daimbert, I think that your concerns are premature. IME, instability is to be expected with a new system. Your components haven’t broken in yet; and I personally, have never been able to fully tweak a system within that time frame. Give it closer to 150 hours, IMO.
Different things cause listening fatigue for different people. There's no universal answer as to what's causing your's.

People get carried away with cables. I definitely hear differences in them, but none that ever transformed a system by any means. Mogami makes very good stuff, so it's not like you've got something butchering the signal, emphasizing or cutting something, etc.

I think there's a little bit of burn in in amps and digital sources, but very little IMO. If it doesn't sound right after a day or two, I don't think it ever will. I'm a firm believer in warming up stuff though. My old Theta DAC would sound awful when it was cold. Very harsh and distorted in the highs. If it was unplugged for more than a few days (no power button), it would take almost a full day to sound right again. I've never heard it to that extent with any other component. My integrated amp (Bryston B60) takes about 45 minutes of playing from a cold start for the magic to happen. Once the knobs are warm, the music flows.

I'd say leave your gear on for a day or two without turning it off. It doesn't need to play constantly.

It could also very well be that the increased clarity from the preamp has shown you a flaw elsewhere in the system.

Have you played around with the volume level of the speakers, or more importantly the Squeezebox? Perhaps one of them is causing an imbalance. Not sure if the Squeezebox outputs bit perfect at 100% volume or somewhere less than that. If its less than that, it could be adding bits to go louder. Alternatively, perhaps the Quads are being a bit overdriven by the preamp, and the Quads need to be turned down just a tad.

Last thought... Have you played with speaker placement? Perhaps the increased clarity has shown a flaw in that.

Just some thoughts. I'd start with fiddling around with the volume adjustments. If all else fails, borrow some gear to swap in and out.
Thanks for the information everyone. To be honest, I kind of assumed that my low hours of use was an issue. What I was more curious to know it the "break in" period and "listening fatigue" that people, myself included, complain about are one and the same. That is, that you mind and ears need an adjustment period to get used to the sonic presentation of certain new components or systems.

For me reducing listening fatigue was quite an ordeal.

Here was the list of problems. I hope this can help with your battle with listening fatigue.

1) Lack of room treatment. My listening space had lots of bare walls.

2) Tweeter height on my speakers at the time. I put them on stands that put the tweeters right at my ear level. I did this because of aesthetics. I thought the speakers should be taller. The tweeters and speakers in general were supposed to be 6 inches below ear height.

3) The toe-in angle of my speakers was to sharp. I had them pointing at my ears. I had to decrease the toe-in by a bit.

4) Speaker cables weren't a match for my system. Even after over 400 hours of burn-in my ears would hurt on some recordings even after I handled some of the placement issues with the speakers.

5) Amp. It had a lot of gain and was too revealing. It was airy and gave me a lot of detail that I wanted but the cables and other issues the detail and harshness got too much.

It was a long journey but my listening fatigue is gone now but I had to make sweeping changes.

Good luck
You could have put on Charles Mingus' 'hog callin' Blues', and solved the whole thing much quicker and cheaper.
Oh, now I see Daimbert. No, burn-in and listening fatigue are actually 2 separate issues. Both are real, but burn-in does indeed go away while listening fatigue does not ever do so unless and until you make whatever the necessary pre-emptive changes turn out to be in your system. Burn-in doesn't usually take too very long to go away. Most of the change in sound for components tends to happen within the first few hours to the first few days, but formally speaking it may not actually complete itself until anywhere from 2 weeks to a month or so out. Copper wiring can take about a week or 2 and silver wiring can typically take around 400 hrs, or even more, really.
I have a system that most times sounds very good but at times can fargue, maybe its power, maybe mood, its also the recording but its not constant.
there have been many discussions about rigs sounding better or worse depending on time of day, listener mood, humidity etc.

you may want to find some of these threads, one was posted about a month ago...