10 Ways to Come Home to Music

Audio equipment is a crock of pretentious technical jargon, a pile of useless black boxes, a plague of blinking lights, a waste of space, a needless drain on your household income—unless it brings you closer to music. Then it’s form of nutrition, a balm for the multiple beatings we take in our daily lives, maybe even a gateway to the soul. If I felt otherwise, I’d have to give up this audio-critic stuff and find another way to make a living, preferably one that paid more.

Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, the delivery of music through an audio system takes on meaning only if someone is listening. Obviously equipment playing in an empty room is useless (unless you’re cocking an ear in the adjoining room). But the gear is almost equally useless when serenading a listener who’s only half there. Listening is like an investment. It can pay dividends, but only if you ante up some human attention. The act of listening makes music more powerful.

This should come as good news. It means that however much or little you’ve spent on your system, and your iPod, you can get more out of them without spending an extra penny. No, I’m not about to abandon the central premise of my career—that better audio can improve your listening life. But I’m going to set it aside for a moment to help you concentrate on the act of listening.   So how can you listen better and get more out of your listening life? Here are 10 ways to come home to music:

Pay Attention: Make a conscious decision to replace background listening with foreground listening. Ruthlessly eliminate other activities. You are listening to music, period. If you haven’t done it before, or haven’t tried in awhile, you may find it hard. But you need to increase the quality (not the quantity) of your listening. And the only way is just do it.

Make the Time: You say you don’t have the time for active listening? Then make the time. A minimum of 20 minutes a day is a good start. An hour or two (but not necessarily more) is better. That will mean less time for other things. For heaven’s sake, don’t stop talking to your spouse and kids! But a little less time vegetating in front of the TV will mean more time for musical nourishment.

Listen at Home: While it is possible to do foreground listening anywhere, it’s easier in places that offer a neutral background of silence. It’s not impossible to actively listen in a car or on the street, but it’s harder, because the background noise places a floor under the dynamic range of what you’re hearing. Then unpalatable alternatives come up: Choose dynamically squashed music. Choose a low volume and miss part of the music. Choose a high volume and ruin your hearing. Choose to adjust volume continually, breaking your concentration. See what I mean? Home is the best place, at least until your neighbor turns on his lawnmower.  

Find a Sweet Spot: This is actually two instructions. One, find a place where you’re comfortable being an active listener. Two, maximize sound quality by picking the place in the room where your system sounds best. If your room does not have a comfy seat in the sweet spot—then rearrange it! This is important.  

Explore New Musical Terrain: As you become a more serious listener, you will need material that repays your attention, music in which to invest precious moments of your life. A probable and welcome side effect is that your tastes may broaden. One thing that’s helped me enormously over the years has been to get interested in historical styles and historical performers (especially from the era before I was old enough to buy records). Look for the paths less traveled and get on them.

Favor Naturally Recorded Styles: Unfortunately, contemporary pop music is rarely well-recorded. Excessive equalization and compression kill music by turning it shrill, starving it of tone color, and sucking the drama out of it. Look into other genres (jazz, classical) and eras (before everything got Pro Tooled to death). Again, historical recordings are among the most potent: The golden age of analog recording technology ran from the late 1950s, when stereo recording kicked in, to the early 1980s, before the dark age of early digital. Contemporary digital can be quite good depending on who does what with it.  

Share with Friends (and Strangers): This will be hard for some of you—as a matter of fact, it’s often hard for me—but your ability to listen will improve if you communicate with other listeners, even if you mostly listen alone. Share person to person, on the phone, via email or chat. They all work. I never come home from a great concert without emailing my friends about it, often before I’ve gone to bed. A second step would be to listen with other people — concert going provides the ideal excuse. Even one-way communication, like the reader reviews on Amazon, can enrich your listening life, not only at the basic consumer-guide level, but by offering perspective, suggesting new ways to listen.

Use Gift Giving to Expand Your Circle: When I find something I like, I give it to all of my closest relatives at Christmastime. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, there are always birthdays. By sharing music with your family, you create a common frame of reference and more opportunities to talk about music with people about whom presumably you care.

Listen to Music, Not Just Sound: This is a cautionary note to audiophiles, budding or otherwise. It’s a sad irony that some of the people who spend the most on their systems forget about music. In doing so, they undermine the quality of their listening.   And finally:

Turn Down the Lights: This old bit of audiophile wisdom really works! The less brain processing power you devote to sight, the more you’ll have for music. That’s why blind people have such keen hearing. It’s also why some surround systems that seem great for movies fall down on music, when visual sensory input decreases. If you don’t have at least one low-watt ambient lamp in your listening room, get one. Do not use overhead lights at all. And if you find your eyes drawn to front-panel displays, dim them or turn them off.   Happy and healthy listening to you. I hope I’ve changed your life. If you can think of anything I’ve missed, tell me.  

Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater, audio editor of Home Theater Magazine, and tastemaster of happypig100.com.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Wearables

Apple patent hints at better gesture control on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch already does things like shows you the time when you raise your wrist, but soon the gesture controls on the Apple Watch may get a whole lot better, if Apple's latest patent is anything to go by.
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

Between sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. To help make your search easier, we've put together a list of the best…
Smart Home

Put away that sponge and let us help you pick the best dishwasher for your buck

Tired of doing dishes by hand? Take a look at our picks of the four best dishwashers currently available and let a machine do the dirty work for you. They’ll do a much better job, anyway.
Podcasts

Apple Music vs Spotify, Smart Speaker battle, Google Duplex may answer your call

On today's episode: Apple Music is beating Spotify in paid subscribers, but is it a better service? The HomePod is falling behind in the smart speaker battles to Google and Amazon. Google Duplex AI may be answering your phone calls soon…
Deals

Save up to $900 with the best smartphone deals for July 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We've rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $900.
Wearables

Best Buy is knocking $50 off the Apple Watch Series 3 for a short time

Been holding out on a better deal for the Apple Watch Series 3? Best Buy may have the deal for you. The company is selling the Apple Watch Series 3 for as much as $50 off -- meaning you can get the device for as little as $279.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Laptop screen extenders and self-healing tents

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Home Theater

5 gorgeous turntables that spin stacks of wax in style for less than $500

Vinyl records are awesome, but they're also finicky. To get the best out of your stacks of wax, it's best to play them on a quality turntable. Here are the best turntables to be had for under $500.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

Get the most boom for your buck with the best headphones under $100

Everybody wants a bargain, and this list has a bunch. For those looking for a solid set of headphones without spending a big stack of cash, this list is is your starting point. Check out all of our picks for the best headphones under $100.
Music

Spotify is the best streaming service, but competitors aren’t far behind

It can be hard to decide which music streaming service is for you, so we've picked out the individual strengths of the most popular services, aiming to make your decision a little easier.
Computing

How Logitech continues to thrive in the post-PC world

The PC is in decline, yet a company like Logitech continues to find ways to stay relevant. From its high-end audio to emphasis on gaming, the company is more determined than ever to not go down with the desktop.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2018, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR, and much more.
Home Theater

Roku TV Wireless Speakers make Roku TVs an even smarter choice

Roku wants to make life even easier for Roku TV owners with the introduction of its Roku TV Wireless Speakers, which pair wirelessly and even include a “tabletop remote” meant to let you use the speakers away from your TV.
Home Theater

AT&T wants to make HBO more like Netflix, and it could be a disaster

After acquiring HBO parent company Time Warner, AT&T is pushing HBO to become more like Netflix, but for all of Netflix’s success, this plan might not be great for either HBO or its customers.
Home Theater

We all cut cable, and now we’re just as screwed on streaming

As live TV streaming services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue raise prices in tandem, it raises questions about whether these services were ever a viable alternative to cable in the first place.
Home Theater

Why I still won’t wear wireless headphones

Wireless headphones promise liberation from cords, tangles, and snags, but there’s just one issue holding them back: battery life. And until manufacturers figure it out, sales numbers prove consumers aren’t yet biting.
Gaming

Google might be planning a game console. That doesn’t mean it will happen

A new report suggests that Google is working on a game console, code-named Yeti. The reports about Google's game console are likely true, but that doesn't mean we will ever see it.
Computing

MacOS Mojave brings evening elegance to your Mac experience

The MacOS Mojave public beta is out now, with an official release coming later this fall. Chock-full of quality-of-life upgrades, we took it for a test drive to get a sneak peek at what you can expect from the next major update to MacOS…
Health & Fitness

Ugh. I’m done with fitness trackers, and so is the world

In 2016, everyone was tracking their fitness. In 2017, people grew tired of it. In 2018, I’m done with it. I’m going tracker-free in my workouts from now on.
Mobile

iOS 12 is more evidence you should buy an iPhone, not an Android phone

The next version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 12, will be compatible with devices all the way back to 2013’s iPhone 5S. Android phones from the same era didn’t even see 2016’s software update. It’s further evidence you…
Mobile

5 obviously stupid iPhone problems that iOS 12 doesn’t even try to fix

At WWDC 2018, Apple took the wraps off the latest version of its iOS operating system. iOS 12 introduces quite a bit of changes -- visually and under the hood -- but there are still some basics that it doesn’t address. Here are a few of…