This past week Harman International quietly released a public beta of How to Listen, a freeware application used in-house at Harman as part of a listening course for train staffers in product research, development, and testing. The application contains a set of listening exercises, meant to fine-tune your awareness of the timbral, spatial, and dynamic characteristics of the material you hear.
The exercises themselves are presented as a series of increasingly difficult A/B tests of your ability to hear changes in EQ, reverberation, amplification, and position of sources within the soundstage. A brief manual spells it all out. The complexity and level of difficulty of the tests is selectable, and you can make things unreasonably hard on yourself if you like (you can test your ability to distinguish between boosts and cuts in up to 14 frequency bands, for instance), and you can also configure all of the exercises for any number of playback channels, from mono through 7.1 (with the ability to compensate for the placement angles of the speakers in your own system.)
The software suite is a big download at nearly 120MB, though that includes a set of 24-bit audio files at both 48 and 96k, prepared by Bill Schnee, who won engineering Grammys for Aja and Gaucho.You can substitute your own files, of course, but you're in pretty good hands right off the bat. Being a beta, you'll run into a few installation quirks (these are well detailed on Harman director of acoustic research Sean Olive's blog).
If you're at all interested in having a better understanding of just what it is you're hearing, downloading this is a no-brainer. You may not get the full benefit of taking a class in critical listening with senior audio engineers, but it'll definitely open your ears.
— Michael Berk
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