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Positive Feedback ISSUE 29
january/february 2007


When to listen and when to take a nap?
by Mark Wagner


I am very well aware that some experienced readers of PFO will find what I'm about to say rather silly, or, ridiculously obvious. But then again, what I offer here may help some readers better enjoy their recordings. Now, most everyone knows the importance of good cabling, quality gear that is protected from extraneous vibrations, and good recordings. Also, more and more people are starting to learn how important it is to have a properly designed room so that the gear does not fight with the acoustical environment. Yes, these are the obvious things. But what about how one feels?

Well, I learned something profound some time back (actually, I had been toying with the idea for some time). This is something that probably most people take for granted, but sometimes I wonder. There are quite a number of things going on in my life that can easily detract from my enjoyment of the music that I listen to. I will not bore you with those things in this article, but I can tell you how these distractions caused me to make a major discovery in my listening experience.

Some time back I had one of those nights where I lay in bed tossing and turning thinking about a million things, surfing the Internet until roughly 2:30AM, and wondering if I would ever get to sleep (sounds like an Ambien CR® or Lunesta® commercial). Later that same morning I checked my mail and much to my pleasure, my first review sample from Pentatone was here. I have about 55 or so Pentatone SACDs in my library and have always been impressed with the high sound quality of that label. However, the first time I put this SACD in my player I was dismayed! In listening to it three times, I was faced with my first possible ethical quandary about writing a review of a release that just was not happening! Should I just stick it on my shelf and forget about it? Should I send it back to the distributor not reviewed?

Well, about 2:30 PM that afternoon I realized I was bone weary tired. I decided to do the smart thing and take about a half-hour nap (gad, at 44 I sound like an old fart). After the nap, I felt much better and decided to sit down and listen to the Pentatone again. Can we say I had an epiphany? Well, I am not sure it was that profound, but let me tell you what folks; my impression of that Pentatone did a serious about-face! Gone were my former misgivings, bad impressions, and general worries. What I was now listening to was a transfigured recording. Well, not a transfigured recording, rather, a transfigured (aka, a wide awake and feeling MUCH better) listener!

As I said, I had been toying with the idea that less than great moods or lack of sleep can affect one's ability for critical listening. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these same things can seriously affect the way I listen to music, even when I was not fully aware of them. Had I not done something simple like taking a nap that fateful afternoon, I might very well have sent that SACD back to the distributor un-reviewed and never appreciated.

So perhaps the next time you sit down with some new recordings, make sure you are ready to listen, not tired, moody etc. Someone might actually be surprised to learn that how you feel can truly affect your enjoyment of a recording!