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  • Critical Listening / Testing, Any Tips?

    I've heard that certain songs and noise/tests can be good at revealing particular flaws in a design or driver or crossover. I've seen some recommended listening lists, but I haven't noticed much mention about what specifically to listen for problem-wise and I'd like some guidance on other listening tests using noise or songs or whatever else and what to listen for.

    Are there some songs or clips that are good at revealing frequency peaks/valleys or generally unnatural frequency response?

    Is there anything I can listen to that'll be really good at revealing distortions?

    Is playing pink noise while moving around and trying to listen for obvious "shhweeiiiiw whoosh" of phase-issues and notches a good way to "test" for phase/alignment, or are there more effective listening tests?

    Are there any other major speaker problems that can be heard and narrowed down through some careful listening tests?

    What are some important pitfalls to lookout for when trying this?



    I think I'd like to become a more effective listener with a better ear (though I'm also a little afraid that ignorance is bliss). Teach me your ways. Empower me to put off buying measuring equipment and learning to use it for as long as possible. :D

  • #2
    I use decent flat response headphones as my sanity check, AKG K601s. They've been invaluable figuring out if it's the recording or the speakers. Be careful choosing just any headphone, many are far from flat.

    Without a fixed reference you can go into the weeds fast. Your ears get used to a weird frequency response very easily.
    Francis

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    • #3
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      Francis

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      • #4
        Originally posted by LOUT View Post
        Are there some songs or clips that are good at revealing frequency peaks/valleys or generally unnatural frequency response?

        Is there anything I can listen to that'll be really good at revealing distortions?
        There are several "stickies" at the top of the forum landing page, one of which is Recommended Test Tracks/Recordings Sticky

        I also have Google searched and found test tracks dedicated to revealing certain things, but I'll leave that to you.

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        • #5
          I think Francis nailed it... a decent reference to compare against is a good thing.

          Coming from a home studio production perspective, it's all about having a good reference and knowing what your favorite music should sound. The trick is, no system is perfect ever, so our "reference" is always going to be flawed a bit one way or another. We'll all tend to gravitate to a bit of our own personal preference curve, I believe mine has a slight lift above 10kHz and good sized shelf at and below 50Hz with a little depression in the 100-200Hz range. I go for flat in design or when looking for studio monitors, but when it comes time for listening for fun my personal preference curve comes into play.

          Without a reference, you're going to simply go for what sounds good to you. Your best bet there is to try lots of genres of music, like from that test track sticky. If you like how something sounds across a lot of that material, you probably have a winner. It may still have some dips or peaks in the response that someone else may notice, but unless you're doing a comparison or a DIY competition / gathering... who cares?

          In the end, this should be about enjoying music. I say that with a little irony as one of the engineering types that obsesses over flattest possible measured squiggly lines when I'm actually designing something.
          Electronics engineer, woofer enthusiast, and musician.
          Wogg Music
          Published projects: PPA100 Bass Guitar Amp, ISO El-Cheapo Sub, Indy 8 2.1 powered sub, MicroSat, SuperNova Minimus

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          • #6
            I always like acoustical instruments, as opposed to electronic, because with the latter they can be made to have so many different sounds that there really is no reference.

            Acoustic piano is hard to record accurately and even harder to reproduce well, so that is something I like to listen to. Also, naturally recorded voices, male or female, if you can find them. So many are artificially processed, and I find that obnoxious, but some are quite clear. A natural sounding voice is a good indicator. Voices can sound shrill/sibilant, or chesty if poorly recorded/reproduced.

            I would also recommend varied sizes of source, ie, maybe a jazz trio, and then a full orchestra, so you can hear clarity of the instruments, placement of image, how well crescendos are handled.

            I don't rule out electronic instruments, and many I enjoy, but I think acoustics give you at least a chance at having a reference.

            Steve

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            • #7
              Originally posted by wogg View Post
              It may still have some dips or peaks in the response that someone else may notice, but unless you're doing a comparison or a DIY competition / gathering... who cares?
              I'm looking to avoid making anyone cringe when hearing my speaker build/s at the MWAF DIY competition, lol.

              I agree that a good/flat/neutral reference would be ideal for listening comparisons, but the only non-DIY speakers I have with any measurements are the little SkullCandy JIBs which have a raised bass response with an F3 around 400hz that grows to an ~8db shelf/bump by about 150hz with a couple smaller/shallow treble dips around 5K and 8K.
              I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that I enjoy these headphones and also enjoy my current DIY 2ways that have a full BaffleStepCorrection despite usually being close to a wall.
              These little felrs:
              http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...shelf-cheapies

              I really like my little creations, personally. I mostly want to try and avoid them being embarrassingly bad-sounding to folks with better ear/experience. And for no really good reason I'm trying to do it by ear instead of just buying a measuring mic like I realistically should. So I'm trying to find ways to streamline and improve my listening skills..if that's a thing.
              Probably could've made this clearer in my original post. Sorry.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by LOUT View Post
                I'm looking to avoid making anyone cringe when hearing my speaker build/s at the MWAF DIY competition, lol.

                I agree that a good/flat/neutral reference would be ideal for listening comparisons, but the only non-DIY speakers I have with any measurements are the little SkullCandy JIBs which have a raised bass response with an F3 around 400hz that grows to an ~8db shelf/bump by about 150hz with a couple smaller/shallow treble dips around 5K and 8K.
                I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that I enjoy these headphones and also enjoy my current DIY 2ways that have a full BaffleStepCorrection despite usually being close to a wall.
                These little felrs:
                http://techtalk.parts-express.com/fo...shelf-cheapies

                I really like my little creations, personally. I mostly want to try and avoid them being embarrassingly bad-sounding to folks with better ear/experience. And for no really good reason I'm trying to do it by ear instead of just buying a measuring mic like I realistically should. So I'm trying to find ways to streamline and improve my listening skills..if that's a thing.
                Probably could've made this clearer in my original post. Sorry.
                For great speakers you need measurements, but also listening and voicing. So your listening skills won't go to waste.
                Francis

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by skatz View Post
                  I always like acoustical instruments, as opposed to electronic, because with the latter they can be made to have so many different sounds that there really is no reference.

                  Acoustic piano is hard to record accurately and even harder to reproduce well, so that is something I like to listen to. Also, naturally recorded voices, male or female, if you can find them. So many are artificially processed, and I find that obnoxious, but some are quite clear. A natural sounding voice is a good indicator. Voices can sound shrill/sibilant, or chesty if poorly recorded/reproduced.

                  I would also recommend varied sizes of source, ie, maybe a jazz trio, and then a full orchestra, so you can hear clarity of the instruments, placement of image, how well crescendos are handled.

                  I don't rule out electronic instruments, and many I enjoy, but I think acoustics give you at least a chance at having a reference.

                  Steve
                  I agree with Steve. At the risk of starting a list of recordings, one of my favourites is Marc Cohn's Silver Thunderbird. He is at a piano with minimal accompaniment. I was fortunate to be able to listen to this song a LOT on a pair of Martin Logan ESLs and it has remained a reference for me. Strong male vocal in parts can test your mids quite well. In a couple of places there is a stringed instrument in the background (a mandolin I believe but could very well be wrong) and I always listen closely to see if I can hear the strings and body or just the click-click of the strings being plucked. It is surprising how many speakers fall down on this detail.

                  FWIW I always go for Skull Candy bud style ear phones. I like the $25 ones. They have an accentuated bottom end but I enjoy that.

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                  • #10
                    I like Ol' Blue Eyes ( Sinatra) Reprise collection and Nat "King" Cole for male vocals and Marilyn May and Doris Day for female vocals. All of them have great vocal ranges, and there are extremely good quality recordings of all of them available. There were no pitch boxes or "sweet boxes" in those studios. A REAL test of the least bit harsh speaker is "The Pearl" (Janis Joplin). She isn't supposed to sound like a cat with it's tail caught in a wringer washing machine. I tend to like analoge (LP) sound best, but I always have Alan Parson's Project CD's too.

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                    • #11
                      I like Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company album - usually the first selection when listening to a new design.
                      See my projects on Instagram and Facebook

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                      • #12
                        I like Jay Leonhart Salamander Pie, but it makes every system sound good.

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                        • #13
                          I have about 10 different CDs I use. Optimizing on one track or CD often means you're remastering via speaker response, so other recordings then aren't as good.
                          Francis

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                          • #14
                            Use good high quality recordings that you are familiar with. Different tracks for different things. I tend to use studio versions of songs, not live versions. Here's a couple of examples.

                            Pink Floyd - Great Gig in the Sky - There's a male voice partway through the track that prompts her to continue
                            Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here - The acoustic guitar should never disappear or move no matter what the rest of the music does
                            Black Sabbath - Paranoid - The kick drum should be 100% consistent, you can always feel it but you need to listen for it once the rest of the band starts playing
                            Ted Nugent - Sasha - They miked the guitar too close. Listen carefully you can hear his fingers sliding up and down the fret board of the guitar
                            Joe Cocker - You are so Beautiful - It's Joe, a piano and some strings
                            Etta James - At Last - Close your eyes and listen. If you can't see her singing in front of the string section something isn't right.


                            That's just a few examples while I have some morning coffee. Now I've got the urge to do absolutely nothing today but listen to music...........

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                            • #15
                              When demo'ing a new set I always, always, always, go to music that I'm very familiar with - the ten or so songs from a variety of musicians/bands that I know intimately. If you have those 10 songs you really have the basis for what you need as you're familiar with the sound of a snare drum on one track, an acoustic guitar on another, the female vocalist on a third and the string section on a fourth. Identify those songs and create your own playlist. Don't rely on the ears and tastes or others as you don't know what they're listening for.

                              One last thought: Walk away every hour or so. Let your ears 'relax' and don't be afraid to hang it up for the night and go back at it tomorrow. I don't know how many times I thought I 'had it' only to go 'What were you thinking? That's terrible!' the next morning.

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