For Audiophiles and Music Lovers
Recently we had a client who came to us from a now defunct clinic. He is retired now, but in his former life he was a secondary school teacher; specifically, a music teacher. He is also a musician, playing several instruments, including guitar, piano, autoharp, lute and a few other obscure and difficult to master instruments. He loves all kinds of music but is partial to bluegrass and jazz, but spends a lot of time listening to his music through his smart phone, (something I have been doing for a few years myself). He is picky – the music he puts onto his system is generally not in the typical format, mp3. you see, mp3 files are known to be “lossy”; let me explain – mp3 is a form of compression that allows large files, which raw music files generally are, to be compressed into smaller files thus allowing the storage of many more files.
The problem is, in order to compress them, some information has to be lost. The mp3 format was a compromise between minimizing loss information important to the user and minimizing the size of the file. It accomplished two important things – the first is that it allowed for close to 85% of the auditory information to be usable, while making the file small enough that it could be transferred fairly quickly to any device. Most people will never notice the difference between an original recording and its corresponding mp3 file.
Then there are the purists. Those who not only notice the difference, but can’t stand it. These are often the people who spend more on stereo equipment than they do on their car. In fact I know several audiophiles who spent more on their car stereo than they did on their car! The entire experience is important and any loss of signal or distortion of the signal is something that makes them cringe. They will not download mp3 files unless there is no other option, (which is most of the time). And when they do, they will often use software to improve the signal the file puts out. Wherever possible they will use other formats like FLAC or APP files, which are considered to be “lossless”. This is assuming that they don’t actually stick to the ancient style of vinyl discs we used to call “records” or “LP’s”, which are still the preference of most purists. These musical pizzas were the staple of the music industry in the pre-digital era, and are actually making a comeback as more and more people become nostalgic for the pops and crackles of a well worn LP.
Lossless files are much bigger, which is why, when you purchase a CD at a record store, (HMV being one of the few that remain), they are filled to capacity with only 8 to 10 songs on it. The extra space being used is to ensure the best possible output and generally triples the size of a typical mp3 file.
Now that that’s done, we now have to consider the ever-growing population of purists who also have some hearing loss, as is the case with my client, Greg, the retired music teacher. Until recently, hearing aids specifically targeted speech, the way most of us communicate on a day to day basis. It’s reasonable, talking and listening make up 90% of our day, and if we don’t hear well, then communication breaks down, as I have stressed in several, if not all of the previous articles. Therefore, speech has been the priority for hearing aid manufacturers from their inception, and remains so to this day. But more and more people are demanding that their hearing aids cover more and more territory, and it was no surprise that audiophiles with hearing loss have been complaining for years. Well I’m happy to say that, with Greg’s help, (and many others like him), the technology is starting to make some very good inroads to this niche in the market.
Based on some articles published by Oticon in the leading audiology magazines, we tried a set of Alta1 Pro open fit instruments for him. The company claimed to have the best auditory resolution for music in the industry with their new instruments and published graphs and charts and research to prove it. I won’t bore you with those details, after all, it’s usually only the most tenuous of the purists who can decipher them, but on paper it looked pretty good. But as with anything else, I needed solid proof. Well we put a set on Greg and within a week he came in to pay for and claim them as his own. The price, which I will tell you when you call, didn’t even matter, it was so much of an improvement over his previous set that he couldn’t give them up. The range of amplification, the quality of the higher registers as well as the lowest, were far superior to any previous instruments. But most importantly, the typical warble of the mid ranges, which occurs as the instrument goes in and out of compression, (something that works very well for speech, but not so well for music), was gone. Oticon attributes this to their “channel free” system of amplification, and I can see why, but again, it’s technical and if you really want to know, come in and I can show you how it works.
So if you’re a serious lover of music, regardless of what kind, I would highly recommend a pair of these instruments for you. They are the closest we have come to truly interpreting musical signals properly, and I hope Oticon, as well as every other company, keep striving for better and better amplifiers to keep improving every aspect of our sonic environment.
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