learning to listen

I'm sure most of you have had the experience of telling someone of your passion of listening to your high-end audio system and the other party remarks, "I have a tin ear and couldn't hear the difference."
A simple conversation came up in the office today relating to stiff necks as a result of talking on the phone. I suggested switching the phone to the other ear. The response was that they could not hear the phone conversation as well out of the other ear, besides they they were not able to write if needed with their other hand. I am able to confirm this observation. When listening to my music system at home, I don't feel that i have a bias as to one ear or the other, but on the phone, I can find that it only sounds correct from my left ear. I am right handed. Why is this? I believe that listening on the phone or otherwise is a learned experience. It should sound the same from one ear to the other if you have no hearing defects but the reality is that for everyone I have asked it isn't so. So, it would appear that the increased sensitivity required to clearly hear a phone conversation is a universally "learned" experience and that any person is capable of also learning to appreciate the benefits of a so called high-end audio system. The claim of the tin ears is vastly over rated. If you can concentrate enough to understand a phone conversation, you can train your ears/brain to appreciate a fine music system. I can not explain otherwise why the phone sounds totally different from one ear to the other but everything else is in natural balance other than the learned experience of talking on the phone with my left ear since childhood. If the average "Joe" can hear and talk on the minature cell phones, he can certainly be trained to appreciate the better quality audio components on the market.

Fascinating thread Rh. Whether or not a person "gets into" (and few do) high end audio probably has most to do with attitudes, interests, preferences, and exposure to "good music reproduction" etc-- rather than much to do with hearing. Of course the high end is expensive both in terms of money and TIME.

We (audiophiles) often talk about the dollar cost of this hobby, but there are many other time consuming hobbies available to us, and most people just won't sit still and do nothing but listen to music like we do-- yet,(oddly) many can watch TV for hours at a time.

Your 'phone comparison is interesting too. My right ear has slightly worse hearing acuity than my left, yet I always use the 'phone with my right ear-- and I'm right handed too. So, I agree 'phone useage is a learned behavior.

And I agree with Sam too, ie I would not buy a pre-amp without balance control because of the difference in hearing acuity of my ears. Yet this slight impairment has not diminished my interest in this "sport". Cheers. Craig
Yes, I got the bug very early in life.

As a child *live* just grabed me. No matter how bad aunt Sophi played. But then when she played something I recognized,--"grap-grab" more so.

The real treat was listening to a marching band / an orchestra-- live.---But all the while I listened to the radio 24/7.

So it is the combination of the *live* music/ and any music that is pleasing to you.--Any genera.

On to one's stereo. I've learned to listen deeper/ for lack of a better word. As I was able to afford better; I have been able to discern *more*. Like you are educating your ears to here beyond what most listen for.
You have to have this burning desire for *more*-- *better*--Quite an affliction to the wallet.
While it is true, as Megasam suggests, that some people simply have better (more sensitive) hearing than others, I don't believe the issue is hearing acuity as much as it is being the type of person who is open to the particular set of emotional offerings and challenges that music gives an involved listener. I know some who are as passionate about sports or cooking, for example, as I am about music; but as unbelievable as it may seem to me, when it comes to music, they can take it or leave it. Sure, they may occasionally hum along to a tune on the car radio, but it certainly is not a priority in their lives; as it is to some for whom it is more of a need, a need to listen to music. Of course, it is very possible to develop a better appreciation of music through more involved listening or coaching. These same "tin ears" might be the ones who are capable of recognizing the different mating calls of various types of ducks. But some people are, at the risk of being politically incorrect, emotionally constipated in this respect. After all, good music will move us, make us feel angry, or sexy, make us tap our feet or dance; to some, unfortunately, this is just too powerfull a force to lose control to.

Then you have the listeners for whom the act of listening to music has to be, by necessity, an uncomplicated act; even if all that we are talking about is the possibly imposing personality, to them, of electronic gadgetry. They are content listening on the simplest, perhaps only a table radio, of systems. While there is no doubt that high-end audio lets us hear more of the music, I think it's important for us audio nuts to remember that the truth of the matter is that the truly important point or message of any music usually gets through on all but the worst (distorted) means of playback. Curiously, I find that self proclaimed "tin ears" are usually music lovers; sure they can hear the difference, they're just not interested in all the trappings of high end audio.
I suspect most adult Americans have slightly worse hearing in their left ears, the result of years of driving with the window down. And those of us who have attended loud rock concerts may have had uneven damage due to where we sat. These things might balance out over time and might be inconsequential anyway, I can't say.

I always hold the phone in my left ear. rhljazz suggests that [my] hearing may be therefore more acute in that ear. Interesting! I always thought it might be less acute from all that time listening: the phone is low-volume, but it's sound nontheless, and with considerable distortion.

Good thread.
Let me clarify my initial thread. My theory is that every one unknowingly adapts to the specific sonic experience of telephone listening to improve his/her recognition of what is coming through the receiver and that this is a specific frequency range and set of distortions. The ear/brain is able to maximize this through repeated conditioning. I prepose that if I spent a considerable time listening on the phone with the opposite ear that I normally use, that at some point in time I would find no difference in perceived sound from one ear to the other. Every one has an incentive to able discern as best as possible as to what information is coming through the telephone receiver and are able to adapt to it. As some of you have mentioned, not every one has an incentive to listen to and appreciate music let alone a high-end system. However, given motivation of what ever sort to get people interested in home audio, I believe that even someone who proclaims tin ears can be educated as to what to listen for and by what means to enable them to hear some of the things that us audiophiles hear and find stimulating and satisfying in our music reproduction systems. I don't know any specialty that doesn't take a certain amount of interest/study by the individual in order to have a better understanding and appreciation of that endeavor. I am not educated or experienced in wine tasting so I might enjoy a 4.00 bottle as much as the afficiondo enjoys his 200.00 bottle but thats not to say I could not be educated, it's just that I have no motivation in this direction, and so that's my correlation to our learned hobby. To sum it up, to appreciate high-end audio, you need the motivation number one, but not golden ears, just the desire and education to appreciate the experience from the great equipment to the widely diversified realm of music.