Second opinions — how have others (including non-audiophiles) helped you?

Have been building a system since December 2020, just about at a place where I can rest for a while. Very enjoyable process of researching, trying, listening. Last phase, room treatments, are just about done.

Along the way, it's been very useful to bring in other family members and some close friends to listen and tell me what they hear. Most are non-audiophiles. But what jumped out to them helped me recalibrate what I was attending to and listen anew.

I was really trying to listen critically — sometimes with checklists of qualities to pay attention to. But myopia is a hard problem to see around, if you will. In some very important moment (including speaker tryouts), they pointed to obvious problems which I was missing.

Here's one recent example. I had been trying to tame some bass peaks and loaded the front of the room up with panels. I got those peaks under control — tight bass, well placed imaging, natural sounding instruments. Then, I had my wife sit down, and in a couple of seconds she noticed that things sounded "constrained" and "missing air." I pulled a couple bass traps out of there and things opened up — "Ah, that's better," she said. As I sat to listen, she was right. Better reverb, more space, lightness.

That's just one example. My question to anyone wanting to share is how other people (including non-audiophiles) helped you improve your system.
I have a sense that many people are much more experienced than mastering92 gives them credit for.

Indeed, and for sure. The main difference in my experience is they don't have the vocabulary to express what they are hearing. An awful lot of audiophiles have this same problem. But in terms of being able to hear and know what is better, hate to say it, won't be breaking news because I've said it before, but sometimes the worst listeners are audiophiles. 

Normal non-audiophile people who just really enjoy music are the best listeners. One audiophile, his wife came up to me one night, made sure no one would hear, and said to me, "I could listen to this all night!" This told me yes indeed, his system is so analytical and causes so much listener fatigue even his own wife can't stand it. She helped me to know I am on the right track.   

Another time an elderly man with two hearing aids told me no point sitting in the sweet spot don't bother with me I have 2 hearing aids! No sir, sit right here. Five minutes later he is gushing about the imaging saying he never dreamed his hearing aids worked so good! 

This man taught me one, we do not hear according to how good our ears work but how good our brains work, and two, he knows the difference between hearing my system and hearing his hearing aids! Whole slew of audiophiles could benefit from these two lessons. 

Another friend one time was really excited and asking about how one recording can sound so different than another? Like many he'd only heard music on systems that make everything sound the same. I'm telling him about all the various steps involved between performance and playback and we're playing different stuff and after one track he says you know that one seemed just a little, I don't know, more clear or real, than the others.  

So I said well this is Audioquest label they have recording details let's see. And sure enough, this one track he picked was recorded direct to two-track. The others were all the usual mix-downs. So my friend who never did any critical listening noticed something many audiophiles would find pretty hard to hear, even if you drew their attention to it. 

Another time Chris Brady is over, and yes this is the Teres Audio Chris Brady who made the bearing and motor in my turntable. So we have a nice listening session and towards the end as he is leaving he says that is one fine sounding system I am quite familiar with that record and that is the best I have heard it- and you know I believe it sounds better now than when I got here.  

Which is something I had known for a long time. My system does sound better and better as it is played longer.  But was good to hear such an experienced listener as Chris Brady heard it too.  

I could go on and on. One of these experiences is even written up on my System Page. Deborah and Keith came over to hear my Moabs and during one song I very quietly removed the cable elevators. Deborah was listening with her eyes closed and opened them when she heard the sound stage collapse. The thing of it is, the way I did this she had no idea until the sound changed. And when she heard it was not at the end when the last one was removed but at the beginning when only ONE on ONE SIDE was removed! 

Oh, just remembered! Should have thought of this sooner. This is a biggie! One of the biggest ever! 

This was back when I was listening to records and CD just about equally. Was just beginning to be enthralled with vinyl but still able to enjoy digital. One night after playing a record my wife says, "It's so quiet." I thought she meant the vinyl. It was very clean, zero groove noise. Typical audiophile way of thinking. 

She says, "No, not that. They're all quiet. Even the noisy ones." 

This really got me curious and so I kept asking questions. Eventually we got to what she was trying to say: the "noise" in digital is woven inextricably into the music. The whole thing is noise. With records there can be the occasional noise of a tick or pop or whatever, but all the rest is music. With digital the whole damn thing is noise!   

One of the deeper insights in all of my experience, and it came from a non-audiophile listener. They are way better than we give them credit for. 
It’s the great conundrum and paradox of audiophilia: one needs to most critically listen to achieve a system that can be heard most sanguine and with aplomb.

Two other ways to achieve this: spousal commentary...won’t go into detail; all with one and possessing of of the bare minimum of sentiency understand this, and, careful application of the advice of others also so engaged with said pursuit...may go into detail later.

Years ago, I moved to a new city and discovered that I lived near an audio reviewer. I contacted him by email and he graciously invited me over to his home. As soon as he turned on the music, a whole new auditory world opened up. It was immersive, expansive - and captivating. I’ll never forget it. Truly an ’aha’ moment. This became my reference. My stereo at the time was very nice sounding - but nowhere near its potential.

His mantra was that good SQ should be affordable. He only reviewed audio products that were reasonably priced. He believed that clean power, quality cabling and vibration control were fundamental building blocks.

He invited me over frequently when he reviewed new gear. I asked him what components in particular made his system sound so amazing. So, one day, we completely tore down his system - removing all tweaks. Slowly, we added each tweak, one by one, with a listening session in-between. After completely re-building the system, we realized that it was a cumulative effect. Everything mattered!

It took him years to assemble that system. Trying to find the best synergy. He also had a wonderful room that let his system breath. The sound stage was so large and deep that you could get out of the listening chair and walk a few feet into it. Kind of wonderful!

Later, I moved back to Los Angeles. By attending the yearly audio shows, I’ve been able to maintain a reference. Many of the exhibitors’ rooms are just okay. But, several rooms are phenomenal.  Those are the rooms that remind us of what this hobby is all about.    And what a crazy hobby it is!   But, still cheaper and less frustrating than golf.

Phenomenal responses! Loving this! Please, keep them coming.

xeolith -- would love to hear more when you have a moment.
millercarbon -- so glad you chimed in with such a generous response. I've benefited from many other recountings of yours; glad to hear you dilate on my OP. Thanks.

(And by the by, someone (maybe Guttenberg) said once that when one is listening critically to audio to alternate close focus with more peripheral attention. Take our your phone, check your email, browse a magazine, etc. How does the system sound when you’re not staring at it, so to speak? Often stories of great quality systems will be ones that call people over or startle them when they’re focused on other things. There’s something to cultivating a sideways glance.)

Thanks for the compliment, Mesch. Much appreciated coming from you!
 Its all illusion. Even the incredible $ystem$ in well thought out rooms.

The best way to enjoy ANY system is to get some basic fundamentals in place(figuring where to STOP-that's the hard part) and stay off of audio forums.