Do we all hear different? Even Live?

Its been said many times on this forum, that we all hear differently. Members pretty much concede that our preferences in top equipment often vary between two or three options. We always chalk that up to the unproven (to my knowledge) that we all hear differently.

Now fast forward with those same folks, and sit them in a concert hall, or a small venue with live music and natural instruments–not a lot of amplified, not special effects. I wonder if we hear differently when listening to live music. We of course all prefer different genres, but I don’t remember anyone characterizing life music, the way we characterize reproduced music.

Makes me wonder about the “We all hear differently thing”. Of course we are not the same so its obvious that we do hear differently, but for some reason, we rarely characterize life music the same way as reproduced.

Just food for thought.


An interesting question, and perhaps those who have hearing aids could say more. IIRC my acoustic studies, a person’s frequency response, hearing in other words, is not an individual trait. Ears may be damaged through accident, disease or injury, and the FR deteriorates with age. Thus it is inevitable that we all hear differently. On top of this is personal preference, which may have social, environmental and cultural influences. Therefore, the cumulative effect will be different for everyone.

I think the mind and the life of an individual is far more important than the ears.

Over the years I have observed myself, my wife and the 4 kids and everybody hears and sees things different. My wife and eldest kid are the smartest and they don’t need to rely on observation, but rely on the spoken word and logics. My eldest daughter and myself observe stronger, hear and see much more.

It’s the mind - I would still hear and see more if I’m almost deaf & blind.

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“Hearing” in the context of music listening is not just the ability of the ear to convert air vibrations into neural impulses, but far, far more than that in terms of what the brain does with the information it receives. Part of how the sound is perceived may be through training, maybe in musical interpretation and music making, or, differently, trained in the identification of sound differences - but even with training there may be genetic or psychological predispositions or limitations in what the brain may do well. And all of course modified by the individual’s life experiences, desires and expectations. So I think it very likely that people hear live music differently from one another, of course some more so than others.

The visual comparison is similar, but perhaps easier to recognise: you can have several people with identical visual acuity, but each may “see” differently from, or more/less than another: E.g. look through an open doorway into a room, than recount what you saw. One person will say it was a room full of well-to-do people, some sort of family gathering perhaps, adults and a few children conversing and enjoying themselves. Another person will say it was a bright room with a red carpet and ornate plaster cornices, beautiful paintings, and some people sitting in the rather grand chairs, and a pair of Tannoy Westminster Royals at the far end. Another could tell you the precise number of people, where exactly they were, and what exactly each was doing at the moment of looking in, and furthermore three of the people in the room were security staff just posing as part of the group, constantly scanning everything and sitting like coiled springs ready to leap into action.

But in terms of descriptions of the live music event, everyone absorbs it as is their want, with no reason for differences to be apparent. But differences would become evident if conversation afterwards strayed into, say, how a singer put particular feeling in her voice, or how the violinist used rather excessive vibrato. Against that, with hifi, people are often trying to express their feeling about how a particular piece of equipment, or combination, sounds, which forces thought into descriptive terms that others might recognise.

That , at least, is my take on the question.

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