Mindful Listening

How do you listen to music & video? While cleaning, working out, or is it background (white noise?) This writer suggests investing in a dedicated listening station, one you can sit down with and enjoy for a real listening session.

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Most of us listen to music in cars, over earbuds or through speaker systems. The best way to appreciate and really hear (and feel) what the artist intended is with a dedicated listening station which is comprised of three things:

  • Headphones
  • Dedicated Headphone Amplifier
  • Digital to Analog Converter (also known as a DAC)

Mind you this will not be inexpensive, nor overly expensive, but for around $500 to $600 U.S. Dollars you can acquire a sound system that will rival most $10,000 high end sound systems. The benefits of a system like this are portability, versatility and compatibility; You can take this set-up anywhere, take advantage of excellent audio with music and video content alike, and connect it to just about any A/V receiver or Smart Phone.

Here is what you will need to get going:

Headphones: There are so many to choose from, from beatsbydre to Sennheiser and this writer’s recommendation: Grado Labs, based out of Brooklyn, New York, USA. Since 1953 Grado has hand crafted their quirky headphones which admittedly are an acquired taste, but they sound like no other headphones out there. To this listener’s ears they put you right into the sound where you become one. This can be revelatory on some recordings and particularly with movies, revealing new details and textures. Grados can be slightly uncomfortable at first, but this can be alleviated by swapping out the stock ear pads for the flat pads from Todd The Vinyl Junkie.

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Dedicated Headphone Amplifier: This is not a 100% necessity but it will make a difference. Grado used to make a battery powered amplifier that retailed for $350 and was very portable and lean and clean sounding. These can still be found pre-owned on-line. For about $300 you can scratch your tube jones and try the Little Dot. This amp is made in China but it is a well made product, and the warmth of tubes sweeten up compressed digital sources and files in your signal chain. Listening with a dedicated amp is much less fatiguing on your ears.

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Digital to Analog Converter (DAC): This device will open up your audio signal and allow it to breathe with a wider frequency range; Highs, mids and the lows (bass.) A good DAC is indispensable for giving your audio source a real polishing. Some brands to consider: Cambridge Audio & the USB – based Audio Quest DragonFly.

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With these 3 aforementioned components, you now have a high fidelity sound system you can use to relax, escape and appreciate your favorite musical artists, movies, videos or games. This is true Hi-Fi sound. There is a reason all those throwback 2 – channel sound systems sound so good – simplicity. Multi-Channel sound systems are great too depending on the application, but in reality all you really need is a 2 – channel system for both movies and music.

Strip your listening enjoyment down in a minimal sense for a lot less money than a traditional modern listening system will cost you. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for. Happy Listening.

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