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"Of Sound Judgement"

Sometimes it is the differences between people that are more interesting then what they’ve got in common. For instance, when I listen to music, I like to be utterly absorbed in it. I love turning it up to maximum so I can’t even hear myself singing along, and just rocking. I don’t do this most of the because (a) it’s usually antisocial, and (b) it damages my hearing. I remember when I was involved in student radio, which was ideal because you got shut in a soundproof box with broadcast quality equipment and monitors that went really loud. You had to be a little bit careful playing vinyl though, as it was very easy to cause the record to skip from the pounding bass… and once or twice I got feedback from the needle!

But I digress. The point is that this philosophy of mine extends to listening to things on headphones. I don’t want to be able to hear the outside world, but rather be completely enveloped and surrounded by the sound. Come to think of it this is probably why I like surround sound. I like to be able to hear every nuance of the production without outside distraction. My dream is to have a soundproof basement when I can crank up the surround-sound without fear of annoying neighbours or waking children.

A. on the other hand is completely the opposite. To the extent that she doesn’t actually like wearing headphones when she listens to the radio, as it blocks out too much of the “real world.” This is fair enough when you’re driving, and need to be able to hear sirens, horns, etc (and don’t want to be distracted from the road), but when you’re listening to the radio as your sole activity…

I did actually splash out on some in-ear headphones, by Shure, which I mainly brought to be used as an in-ear foldback system when I play at church, but actually I’ve grown to love using as a matter of course at work (plus I don’t really seem to play at church anymore). They block out nearly all the ambient sound even before any music is piped through, which means the volume level can be much lower (indeed, anything above about 75% on my computer is uncomfortable!), and, being Shure, the fidelity is awesome. I’m looking forward to using them on the flight to Utah in June! Although my work-mates take great delight in walking up to me and giving me a heart attack by tapping me on the shoulder when I can’t hear them coming.

… but all this does beg the question about why we have these preferences? Is it just a gender thing – men are generally disposed towards one task at a time, so I like my music listening to be my sole focus of attention, whereas women are generally disposed to multi-tasking, so A doesn’t like not being able to hear what else is going on? Or is it situational? I work in an open-plan office that’s very noisy, especially lots of white-noise and colleagues coughing or chatting, so I try and shut it all out.. Whereas A is typically at home which is (a) very quiet, and (b) any noise is likely to be in need of investigating (e.g. Ben chuntering). Or is it just down to personality – I want to be absorbed utterly in the music, she doesn’t.

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