6 Things You Can Do to Train Your Ears Like a Seasoned Audiophile

Get your ears fit and hear what you've been missing.
Get your ears fit and hear what you’ve been missing.

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Here’s how to give your ears a long-overdue tune-up.

Besides upgrading your audio gear, training your ears can open up new experiences and discoveries. This can help you appreciate the subtle details in music that breathe fresh life into even your most well-worn tracks.

A “Golden Ear” may be a myth, but there are ways to get even just a little bit closer to this idea. Here are my tested and proven tips to train your ears like a seasoned audiophile:

1. Assess Your Current Hearing Health

Sample of the 30-second hearing age test result. (From: eargym)
Sample of the 30-second hearing age test result. (From: eargym)

According to research, nearly half of young adults show signs of premature hearing loss, often due to prolonged exposure to blasting music.

As a music lover, I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of extended listening sessions and loud sound exposure over the years. So, it’s wise to evaluate your current hearing capacity to understand what you’re working with.

You can’t effectively train your ears without first grasping their abilities. Otherwise, you risk developing habits that could do more harm than good.

Consulting an ENT doctor or audiologist is ideal. But, there are also a lot of free online tools to get you started.

You can try eargym’s 30-second hearing test. This is basically a video that plays a tone at increasing frequencies. All you have to do is press ‘pause’ the moment you no longer hear it.

The test determines your “hearing age” based on the highest frequency you can detect, measured in Hertz (Hz). For instance, if you can’t hear beyond 13 kHz, your hearing age is roughly 47 years old.

2. Practice Critical Listening

Take some time to REALLY listen to the music.
Take some time to REALLY listen to the music.

Audio ear training is all about learning how to truly listen to music. The main difference between trained and untrained ears is knowing whether or not something is missing in the track.

Start by selecting a single track and listen to it closely, without distractions. You can even close your eyes if it helps.

Pay attention to where each instrument is positioned in the mix and how the elements move around the sound space.

As you do so, consider taking notes on your observations. Not only does this sharpen your listening skills, but it also improves your ability to communicate your experiences effectively.

3. Compare Different Audio Sources and Gear

Don't be afraid to play around with your setup. (From: Trav Wilson)
Don’t be afraid to play around with your setup. (From: Trav Wilson)

Training your ears also involves comparing the same piece of music across different audio systems. Doing so helps you discern differences in sound quality and understand the traits of various equipment.

Start by selecting a few of your favorite songs and listening to them intently through your current audio setup. Then, change one component in the chain – perhaps swapping out the amplifier – and listen to the same songs again.

Pay close attention to any nuances or details that stand out differently, as if you’re hearing something new or as if something is missing.

Over time, you’ll develop the ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different audio gear. This should help you appreciate how each piece of equipment contributes to the overall listening experience.

4. Use Training Apps and Websites

Harman's How To Listen software is an oldie but still an absolute goodie. (From: Harman)
Harman’s How To Listen software is an oldie but still an absolute goodie. (From: Harman)

There are several apps and websites that offer structured ear training programs designed to help you train your ears.

One popular tool is Harman’s “How to Listen” software. This is an oldie but still an absolute goodie.

It works by simulating various timbral, spatial, and dynamic distortions commonly found in recordings and audio chains. You must identify, classify, or rate these distortions based on well-defined perceptual attributes and scales.

As you progress through the levels, the difficulty increases.

According to Sean Olive, reaching Level 8 in this test is considered a major milestone in becoming a truly trained listener.

5. Learn Basic Audio Terms

The best way to understand sound is to learn its language.
The best way to understand sound is to learn its language.

The longer you stay in the hobby, the more you’ll hear jargons like “dark,” “airy,” “resolving”, etc.

These terms might seem confusing at first, but they’ll make more sense as you gain experience.

It’s worth reading up on these to understand what they mean, though. Not only will this expand your vocabulary, but it will also help you understand reviews and learn more about the in-depth details of audio gear.

Here are a few resources we have to help you with this:

Some technical knowledge of how different gear works and even music theory is also beneficial. But don’t feel pressured! This is a long journey, and the most important thing is to enjoy the ride.

6. Give Your Ears Some TLC

Never forget that your ears are your ultimate audio gear.
Never forget that your ears are your ultimate audio gear.

You should always think long-term when it comes to your hearing. Preserving your hearing should be the top priority above any other tricks.

Remember: You can’t listen if you can’t hear.

Here are a few tips:

  • Take regular breaks: Aside from potential hearing loss, listening to music for extended periods can cause ear fatigue. You may think that spending hours critically listening to identify all nuances is productive, but it’s actually the opposite. In fact, as time goes by, you’ll get used to some nuances too much that you’d stop hearing them altogether.
  • Keep the volume low: It’s tempting to blast the music at deafening volumes, but you don’t actually need that to appreciate the sound. Try getting used to listening at lower volumes during your critical listening sessions and make it a habit.
  • Don’t touch your ears: Avoid touching or scratching your ears, as this can introduce irritants or disrupt the natural ear wax buildup. If you suspect excessive earwax buildup or experience persistent discomfort, consult a medical professional promptly. They can evaluate the situation and safely remove any obstructions, ensuring your ears remain in prime condition.

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