The Secret Behind Listening Fatigue/Not Another Speaker Setup Article



Listening fatigue is something we’ve all experienced.  You sit down to listen to your favorite piece of music.  You start to really jam out.  The lead singer or lead guitar goes for a solo and it hits you.  Your ears start to tell you that something is wrong.  Sometimes it only lasts for a split second or only on certain notes.  In some cases whole songs become bright and flat-out unlistenable.  It’s listening fatigue.  The only solution is to turn the volume down.


Why does this happen?  Too often we blame the speakers or the room with statements like, “these speakers are too bright for me” or “I must have a ‘bad’ room.”  The real culprit is speaker setup.  And we can prove it.


Start by playing any track that has high notes or sections of brightness that give you that urge to leap for the volume knob and turn things down.  Once you have that section playing at a decent volume level, try holding a conversation with somebody else in the room and notice how much you will have to strain and talk over the music that is playing, not to mention the general discomfort of the sound coming from the speakers.  Most people have experienced this feeling before.


Now for the magic trick:  unplug one of the speakers.


You will notice instantly that the awful brightness has left the room.  You probably won’t feel that urge to reach for the volume control either.  Even at higher levels.  Try that same conversation again.  Way less tension in the room this time, right?


So what happened?


The secret lies in how we hear.  We hear all things in mono.  Our stereo speaker system is comprised of 2 speakers (obviously).  If they aren’t working EXACTLY perfect and in sync with each other across their entire audio spectrum then our ear will hear 2 distinctly different sounds.  Just like 2 people trying to talk to you at the same time.  This type of sound registers in most people’s brains as extremely irritating.


So how do you solve this problem for your own system?  Go back to mono recordings? Of course not!  Stereo is an amazing invention that just requires a bit of care in the setup, but like most things, the devil is in the details.  All you have to do is get your speakers EXACTLY perfect and in sync with each other across their entire audio spectrum.  But how?


There are all sorts of methods out there that claim to solve the issue of listening fatigue and on how to properly position speakers.  And we will save the specifics of speaker placement and system setup for a different article.  The point of this article is to emphasize the importance of speaker setup and to emphasize that you may not actually need to replace your “insert random product here” or do construction on your “bad” room.


Here at Soundings we specialize in and highly recommend our own variety of the MASTER SET process.  In our experience, it solves the issue of listening fatigue almost universally.  Stay tuned for more details on how to improve your own speaker placement.


Thanks for Listening!

I know this sounds like a silly question, but think about it for a moment – what is the job description of your home audio or home theater speakers? I mean we all know the job descriptions of other things around our house, the toaster is supposed to deliver golden brown toast, the dishwasher is supposed to clean your dishes until they sparkle, the microwave is supposed to heat things up quickly. What then, are your home audio or home theater speakers supposed to do?

Home Audio or Home Theater Speaker

Knowing a products job description is important because it allows you the homeowner to decide whether or not it’s living up to its potential. If your toaster burns your toast, you get rid of it. If your dishwasher doesn’t clean your dishes you call a repairman. So then, how do you know if your home audio system or speakers are doing what they’re supposed to do and if it’s time to get rid of them?

Let me offer this answer. The job description of a home audio speaker or home audio system is to zonk you, to remove you from reality and take you to another place where time passes without you knowing it, where distractions don’t exist. Good home audio speakers allow you to get completely and emotionally involved into the piece of music or film. Is your home audio or home theater system doing that for you?

I’ll never forget my first time listening to great speakers. It was a pair of Vienna Acoustics Mahlers. When the music played, the first thing I noticed was the hair on the back of my neck standing up, followed by goosebumps down my arms as Andrea Bocelli began to sing to me. The song was in Italian, and I don’t speak Italian, but I understood exactly what he meant. My vision blurred, things around me got slightly darker, and I was motionless. About 4 minutes later, after the last note had played followed by silence, I snapped out of it, and had to take a moment and look around to figure out where I was.

When you sit down to play a movie or piece of music on your home audio or home theater system, you will insert a disc, and hit play. Only 2 possibilities now exist. The movie or piece of music will take hold, grab you, and absorb you completely into it…. or not.

That is the job description of a home audio speaker. If you’re not experiencing what I’ve just described, you need to come down to Soundings in Denver, CO and hear it for the first time. I promise you, it won’t be a waste of your time.

Sound and music are parts of our everyday life. Just as we have eyes to see, we also have ears to hear. We seldom take the time to consider the characteristics and behaviors of sound and how we hear. Sound is created when an object like a violin vibrates the air, and those vibrations travel through the air until they reach our ears. Our hearing works much like our vision. With two eyes, not only can we clearly see objects, we can also measure their distance from us. Likewise with hearing, we take a mono source and we hear it with stereo hearing so that we can measure it. Thus we are able to not only tell what the sound is, but also where it is and whether it is coming closer or moving away from us. Have you ever heard an airplane in the sky, and before you could see it, you already knew where it is coming from and what direction it is traveling in? That’s stereo hearing.

When you place two speakers in a room and play them, you divide that room into two pressure hemispheres, which immediately start to compete with one another. You find yourself listening to two girls, two guitars, and two trumpets, etc.., each one coming from each speaker – this is stereo sound. Your ears were never designed to hear stereo sound. In order for the sound to be pleasant and involving the speakers must work in the room together as one, and the pressure from each speaker must reach your ears in mono. In other words the girl singing from both of your speakers MUST arrive at your ears at the same time with the exact same pressure. Even a slight deviation from this will result in distortion. Although the distortion itself can be hard to detect, it does manifest itself in ways that you are familiar with:

  • The speakers sound loud and aggressive. Ever wonder why your wife won’t sit and listen with you, or why she keeps telling you to turn it down? Women have far better hearing in high frequencies that men do, and since most of these distortions occur in the higher frequencies, it’s painful to them – It isn’t loud, it’s distorted!
  • There is a very small “sweet spot” that you must be in. And if you move from this position the sound changes radically.
  • The tone of the sound is uneven. The bass is boomy but only on certain frequencies, and the voices are shouty, bright, and harsh.
  • Because distortion increases with more complex passages, you are left with is a system that is either too quiet to understand the dialogue or the small nuances in music, or far too loud and boomy during the important passages. You can’t watch a movie or listen to a piece of music without turning the volume up and down several times throughout the piece.

Anyone can sell and install a home theater or stereo system and get it to work (sort of). Unfortunately any home theater or stereo, even a very expensive one, that is not critically set up has no chance of disappearing and letting the emotion of the story or piece of music take you over.  Then comes the classic scenario; you self-diagnose the problem and make plans to self-medicate by buying yet another piece of equipment that you’re sure this time will be the answer to it all. And, surprisingly enough, it isn’t.

The point is this: There are many high quality speakers on the market, all of which have the “potential” to thrill you like you have never dreamed of before, but if they are not critically setup in your home this will never happen. The finest guitar or piano in the world cannot make beautiful music unless it is tuned perfectly. Why then can ANYONE expect fine speakers to make wonderful music in your home without being critically set up?

Master Set™, the only systematic speaker setup method that works in every room with any system.
Visit us at Soundings for a dramatic demonstration of what Master Set can do for your home theater or home stereo system. Or to read more about Master Set™, click here.