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Listener's Checklist

I've gathered together a list of all the factors I've come across that can influence sound quality or the listener's experience of recorded music. It's presented here to serve as background for more specific blogs and discussions in the Listening to Music topic.

Each of us has a unique sensory and emotional experience while listening to music. Some factors listed here are especially important to me; others will be more important to you. I'm sure the list is incomplete, and I hope you'll help me fill it in and improve its organization.

In making the initial recording, sound quality can be influenced by:

• performers' choices of instruments (distinctive tone quality) and "effects" (reverb, wah-wah, etc.)

• acoustic properties of the recording feestjurken huwelijk space (each studio or venue has own "sound")

• number, choice and placement of microphones (each mic has its own qualities; placement is key)

• recording equipment quality (bandwidth, distortion-free, etc.) and the number of tracks or channels

• recording media quality (reliability, stability, how archival recordings have been stored)

• uses of signal processing (equalization, limiting/compression, echo, noise reduction, etc.)

• how the individual tracks are combined to create the final mix (the whole mixing process)

• skill, experience, judgment and goals of the performers, recording engineer and producer, whose collective artistic or commercial decisions on all the above determine the sound quality of the final mix

In the mastering and release of recordings, sound quality can be influenced by:

• skill, experience, judgment and goals of the mastering engineer, whose job is not only housekeeping for production but also the use of signal processing tools to "re-engineer" the sound for the marketplace

• duplication in specified release format(s), which may introduce manufacturing artifacts in LPs and CDs and typically involves at least some compression of digital files

In the methods of listening to recordings, sound quality can be influenced by:

• intrinsic capacity of the music format (digital files range from an archival 9216 kbps to the CD standard of 1411 kbps to the current rolex replica watches uk compressed mp3 standard of 256 kbps; vinyl has its own intrinsic limits)

• playback mode (mp3 players, satellite radio, streaming websites, video games - files usually compressed)

• quality of playback components (computer gear or CD transport, D/A converter, preamplifier, amplifier)

• quality of speakers/earphones (frequency response, resolution, distortion, isolation, etc.)

• competition from other sources of sound in the listener's immediate environment

Across a variety of contexts, listening experience can be influenced by:

• activities that enhance or marginalize the music (e.g., dancing, romance, exercise, muzak at market)

• whether attention is focused entirely on the music or subject to constant interruptions and distractions

• motivation, which may range from background or activity partner to critical listening or ecstatic immersion

• mood, which may range from sad and lonely to celebratory, with or without chemical enhancement

• one's frame of reference: the same individual listens to different equipment in different contexts at different times, so each of us has a basis of comparison built into our own experience

Across a variety of individuals, listening experience can be influenced by:

• how much we understand or identify with a particular song, which depends on how familiar we are (or want to be) with the sub-culture and language of communication of its musical genre

• which aspects, features, and details of the music we pay attention to, which depends on what we've learned from our prior experience with making music, recording music, and listening to music

• our entire brain, which automatically combines the present experience of the music with personal memories and other associations, actively "making meaning" out of what we hear as we listen

Reviewers of music generally write about the recordings themselves, but what they say is always based on their listening equipment and listening experience as well. I point out the obvious here because I never cease to be amazed by what a difference the listening context makes in my own appreciation of songs. I've written another piece specifically about what figures into my sound quality ratings.