Timing's everything


January 26, 2016 

Different musing going on tonight from what I had assigned myself, but isn’t that sort of inherent in the definition of musing?  What I’m thinking about now is that sound, and therefore the greater understanding and appreciation of music, is about time.  Or, I suppose to make it more musical, timing.


Because of my fascination of late with, and affection for, AudioQuest NightHawk headphones, I have signed up for, and spent bits of time on, a headphone oriented forum online.  It’s a foreign place for me, filled, very nearly universally, with evaluations and reviews of headphones in terms of “bass, mid-range and treble” performance.  To me this is as odd, and I have to say unhelpful, as reading restaurant reviews that talk only about relative levels of sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami, (and, perhaps, fat, which, like Pluto, may come and go) in a series of plates of food eaten at each establishment.  Such reviews, it would seem, entirely miss the point of dining.

Reviews, I think, should be stories of experiences, the more intimate the better, which attempt to convey, through entertaining prose, the extent to which the reviewed thing excited, pleased, emotionally moved the reviewer.  A good reviewer of a headphone, or any audio component, skips quickly to telling to what degree the thing made him or her understand, and experience, music more deeply and in new ways than he or she had before.  Or, failed to.

I call talking about bass, midrange, and treble a “fifth level” way of talking about sound, let alone music.  It’s a bit of hyperbole because I don’t carry around a strict definition of what second, third and fourth are, but first, if you can’t speak directly to how you are feeling emotionally and what you are discovering, is timing.

I talked to Richard Vandersteen for a while last week and at least a half hour was about time as it relates to audio and listening to music.  Time is a thing that is right in Richard’s wheelhouse.  In fact, I think it is his North Star.  Mine, too.  And he seems to feel as if it may be getting discovered by others, may be the “next big thing” and then some.

What it means is the order in which things happen, down to a “molecular” or nano-second level of granularity, in sound, and therefore music.  We think it is far more important in the realm of human perception, that we notice it and respond to it much more significantly, than tonal linearity (“bass, midrange and treble” to oversimplify a fifth level parameter).

I’m noticing an interesting trend lately on this headphone forum in the NightHawk section.  The naysayers about NightHawk are critiquing its bass, midrange and treble.  But the fans, and they tend to be raving and somewhat exclusionary now, are having a somewhat harder time talking about why they are so wild about this headphone, but they are talking about music, emotion, even addiction to this one headphone in stead of being “collectors” of numerous ‘phones prior.  In fact, some of them seem to have left the forum altogether, which I take as a really good thing.   Why talk about NightHawks on line if you could be listening to music on them?  And, whether they know it or not, what they are liking about them is all to do with timing.

Kaitlyn Herzog