Can your ears always be trusted?

One of the most-frequently given answers to last week's Vote! was a variation on "trust your ears." But can your ears <i>always</i> be trusted?

Can your ears <i>always</i> be trusted?
Yes, all the time
24% (50 votes)
Most of the time
43% (90 votes)
Some of the time
27% (55 votes)
I don't trust my ears
6% (12 votes)
Total votes: 207

Woody Battle's picture

Taking a quick listen in a dealer's showroom, I can miss problems with a system. After taking a day or two to evaluate a new piece of equipment in my system, I almost always understand the relative benefits and limitations of the new item.

M.'s picture

Yes, I trust my ears rather than audio dealers and cable gurus.

robwazzo's picture

If you can't trust your own ears, sell all your gear!

Greg's picture

I know what I am listening for when I audition equipment. And what it should sound like to me.

Bruceov's picture

Once I get the unit home, I trust my ears.

djl's picture

Unless you've been sick or something—then it may not be a good idea to go speaker shopping! Of course, some folks don't have any idea what sounds good. They have to be taught what good sound is—perhaps by demonstrating a system that does sound good so they know what to listen for. I used to like to go look at the super-high-end stuff, gave it a listen, and then would find something I could afford that sounded like the high-dollar stuff.

Jordan.'s picture

Nobody has "perfect" hearing. We all have variations in how our ears hear sounds, depending on many factors. You have to make your listening evaluations based on what your ears hear, not what someone else's do. So what is important in your judgment of equipment or concert sounds is what your ears are hearing. There are many professionals that have very good, well-trained hearing that set performance standards. However, the majority of us are likely not in that category.

David Nat's picture

The ears aren't the problem—it's our brains which are easily fooled. This is well established by psychology and neuroscience.

peter's picture

Everyone's hearing is different, which is why all reviewers don't own the same gear (aside from cost and space).

Mike Eschman's picture

It is an accurate measure of what you will hear at home.

Dan Grogan's picture

The biggest challenge is correlating measurements with what's heard. In the end, with music, perception is everything.

John Blackwater's picture

I like my listening to surprise me—casually listening to a little-heard recording can often bring the nicest surprises across the soundstage or with the subwoofer active.

Johnny B.  Good's picture

I'll trust my ears as long as they are trustworthy. After that, I'll be too old to care about hi-fi.

Nick Green's picture

My very first stereo—I was about 12 at the time, I guess—had the speakers on a windowsill. The stereo effect was always better with the (quite heavy) curtains closed than with them open, although in theory it should have been the other way around. I presumed it was because my eyes weren't telling me where the sound was coming from, and ever since then, I've thought of hi-fi as a brilliant, magical, conjuring trick that never gets tired or old. So no, I don't trust my ears, because what they tell me seems to depend to some extent on what I can see.

Pradeep's picture

What you hear and how you connect to the music depends on your mood—the ambience, too.

Antonio G.'s picture

If it sounds good to me, then that's good enough for me. My system is for me to enjoy!

Bob Gibbons's picture

The shape of one's ears and the exact location of the ears on the head make a huge difference in what one hears versus what another may or may not hear. In my own case, if I tilt my head down so that the sound arrives at my ears more from the top than straight on, then I can hear high frequencies that I do not hear if I'm looking straight ahead. Likewise, I can push the tops of my lobes outward about 1/4" and hear the same high frequencies. Some people have ears that flair outwards more, some people's are folded back flatter. Each set of ears will hear the same sound differently.

Henry Lee's picture

I feel I have a very critical ear. People have commented on and are quite amazed at what a golden and critical ear I have.

Oliver's picture

My ears and hearing depend on the day, the hour, the mood, the light... Blind testing will show you that your ears are similar to mine. But my ears are the sensors with which I enjoy music. So my ears are the reference for me!

Fred's picture

The ear creates some harmonic distortions that may mask similar distortion in amplifiers. For this reason, we should be able to look at test results along with the listening trials. Seeing these test results published in Stereophile is very helpful. The more detail in the reports, the more useful they are.

Bulldogbreed's picture

I play and listen to a lot of acoustic music and judge audio by that gold standard.

Toussaint's picture

One of the problems with one's ears is one's eyes. There are subtle differences between some components—one sees them and one's visual impressions affect how one "hears" them. In other words, hearing and seeing are affected by our minds and are not purely sensual experiences. And our minds are biased by what we see or by what the salesman tells us about the products.

Nodaker's picture

They can be trusted most of the time, but in order to trust them, you have to hear the equipment in your system, in your room, and be given ample time to soak up the sound. Ears cannot be trusted for quick in-store decisions.

SN108+'s picture

It depends. My hearing changes based on simple things such as weather, allergies, and moods. Sometimes I believe I have the best sound ever and some days I am less happy with it. On those days, I sometimes spend time tuning everything then I just give up and realize that, at the end of the day, it’s just me!

Brian Stewart's picture

Train your ears to listen to the music, not the electronics.

Jay M's picture

Trust your ears is only good advice up to a certain point. Most of us can clearly hear the difference between say, a transistor radio and a set of high-end loudspeakers, but at the bleeding edge (and long before that, for many), it can tough to evaluate the relative merits of "difference," if they can be heard at all. It's helpful to have a standard (eg, live music) or we risk choosing what we prefer over that which gets us closer to the standard. Of course, if you believe a standard to be elusive (eg, that the live event and the recording of said event are two fundamentally different animals), then it's helpful to have a really large data set of listening sessions with different recordings on various equipment in order to understand the relative merits of what you are hearing.

Clint's picture

Once you've made a purchase decision, you can't borrow someone else's ears in order to listen to music!

Dismord's picture

I won't trust any audio reviewers' ears until and unless they publish their clinical hearing-test results. Oh, and until they inform us they have no head cold & have refrained from consuming any psychoactive substances, including alcohol, during the review process. Too often we read of reviewers settling down to another glass of red or whatever during the auditioning process.

James's picture

Who are you going to believe, us or your lying ears?

Al Marcy's picture

Yes, technical measurements are always the same, if calibration is maintained. Yes, management often thinks with its head in the clouds. No, I no longer own a pile of high-precision tech gear. Listening to music is not exactly the same as selling audio toys. Not the same at all, actually.