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A golden ear is a term in audio circles referring to a person who is thought to possess special talents in hearing. Golden ears claim to be able to discern subtle differences in audio reproduction that most inexperienced and untrained listeners cannot, much like trained wine experts claim to discern differences among wines inexperienced tasters cannot.
The term has also been lent to titles of ear training CDs, which contain drills which teach the audiophile to identify different frequency boost and cuts, differing compression values, time delays, and reverb times. The Absolute Sound, a monthly publication of audio products and production techniques, gives out the "Golden Ear Award" for superior sounding audio equipment.
An ongoing blind loudspeaker listening program developed by Floyd E. Toole of Harman International has demonstrated that listeners can be trained to reliably discern relatively small frequency response differences among loudspeakers, whereas untrained listeners cannot. He showed that inexperienced listeners cannot reliably identify even large frequency response deviations.
Toole's research also indicates that when participants can see what they are hearing, their preferences often change profoundly. If the listener and test administrator don't know which sound source is the favored-to-win candidate, the differences often disappear (or the favorite loses).
Skilled listeners who claim to be able to hear differences among various pieces of audio gear assert that the ability to do so is no different from discerning picture quality differences among cameras, or discerning image quality differences among video display devices. However others argue that there are fundamental differences in the way audio and visual reproductions such as a photograph are compared, photographs can be compared side-by-side and simultaneously whereas audio must be compared sequentially.
- Kamlet, Rick (November 1, 2005). "Listening Evaluation". SVC Online.
- Blind Testing in the Audio Realm, by Dave Moulton
- The Audio Critic, issue 26, page 3, letters to the editor, R. A. Greiner "Photographic results are much more definitive and easier to compare than are audio results. (...) In the first case a time-sequential comparison is made, and in the second the comparison can be and usually is simultaneous."
- Labaratory For Human Brain Dynamics, Brain Science Institute, RIKEN research institute: Echoic memory.
- Music and the Human Ear, Art Ludwig "Subjectively, a 2-3 dB change in sound level is barely perceptible; if someone asks you to "turn up the volume a little," you will probably increase the sound by at least 3 dB." "This is a logarithmic scale where power doubles for each 3 dB increase"