For many audiophiles, listening is a lengthy endeavor. Hours on end are spent blissfully in the listening chair, enveloped in sound. A common experience is listener fatigue, a feeling of tiredness or a unconscious switch to tuning the audio out or to passive listening.
What causes this feeling? Is it simply too long to continue being entertained or interested, or is it a change that occurs in the ear or the brain? Is there a way to prevent this from happening so we can continue to listen for hours on end? User, B_limo, consulted the Forum for an explanation.
B_limo: Okay, so I used to think that listener fatigue meant that your ears just kind of got tired from listening to speakers that were overly bright. I don’t have a good understanding of the make up of an ear, but I believe there are muscles in an ear that, I guess, expand and contract while we listen to music and I figured that’s what it meant to have listener fatigue. Now, I’m thinking that listener fatigue is maybe more than your ears just getting tired, but actually, your whole body getting tired and feeling drained. I experienced this time and time again listening to my paradigm studio’s. They are somewhat bright and provide quite a bit of detail in my opinion, so I’m wondering if, since there was such a great amount of detail coming through, that it was physically draining because I’m sitting there analyzing everything that’s coming through the speakers. I would wake up and first thing in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and start listening to music (my daily routine) and 20-30 minutes later start nodding off and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I’ve been sitting here this morning listening to my new vandersteen’s for two hours and can’t get enough. I feel like I could listen all day and that I’m almost energized from listening vs. drained. Soooo, what are your opinions about what listener fatigue is and why it’s caused?
Tom6897: You have the right idea and are on the correct path. The most common denominator for me is that the system does not sound natural, involving and lacks emotion/feeling. There are many adjectives used to describe a system that can lead to fatigue, Among them: bright, harsh, lean, clinical, analytical, forward, cool/cold, sterile, un-emotional, tipped up, Hi-Fi. When you find yourself listening for a system to do all the “Audiophile Gymnastics” it is already too late. Emotion and musicality to me should be first and foremost. Either you are listening to MUSIC or your EQUIPMENT. The equipment needs to be a window that is transparent and allows the musics to flow through it without being artificial.
Brauser: Listener fatigue can be brought on in a number of ways. Here’s a couple of common ones. 1) Overdrive your system by turning the volume up just a little bit too high. Most systems have a threshold volume level that is comfortable from which even a modest increase will introduce an annoying effect that reduces the pleasure of the experience to some degree. 2) Incorporating system elements that move the system to the bright side of neutral. I recall some years ago trying out a new pure silver interconnect. Nothing against silver, but this particular one was great in capturing detail but also added a hardness to the sound that I just couldn’t handle. Being involved in this hobby for over 40 years now I’ve seen a lot of system elements come and go. The one thing that I will not tolerate is listener fatigue.
Schubert: Listener fatigue is just your brain trying to translate something it knows is not real into something that sounds real. The harder this is for gray matter, the harder this on you. When you get to 3-4 hrs of listening still feeling good, stop spending money.
Geoffkait: It’s the distortion. The problem is, even when you get rid of as much distortion as you can, there’s still a great deal of distortion in the sound. We tend to assume that’s what it’s supposed to sound like, that any remaining distortion must be the fault of the recording.
Blueshirt: I experienced some sort of fatigue today. I’ve been building my system up incrementally. Today I finally got my new DAC, and the change was enormous. It think I was so emotionally connected to the music and probably had some sort of adrenaline rush that after a few hours I needed to take a nap.
It seems this fatigue may stem, in part, from all of these factors. Surely it is some sort of strain on our senses to try and put together all of the unique elements of these sounds into a complete aural experience, and the less natural the sound, the more difficult it could be for our brains to process. High volume and high emotional content can also work to put us over the edge.
Do you think it’s possible to avoid listening fatigue? What changes have you made that helped to prevent it? Sound off in the comments below!