Our Editor has a cold. Diddums, eh?
Iam completing this issue cursed with a dreadful cold, so I’m away from the office, working down the wire from a room strewn with tissues and Lemsip sachets. Nobody likes a cold, but they can be particularly onerous for a hi-fi reviewer, because one of the first things affected is your hearing. Many is the time that I’ve been confused by a pair of headphones or a soundbar or an amplifier which sounded fine the week before, but which is suddenly sounding very curtailed in the bass. And then I realise that it’s my hearing which is curtailed, rather than the equipment — I’m getting a cold. This often occurs a day or more before any sign of the sniffles.
So reviewing comes to a rapid standstill when a cold hits. For this issue I had only one product left to review, so my apologies to Audeara, whose headphone missed out on appearing. Although perhaps I should give them a go even under these circumstances, since the Audearas are an example of a new trend in hi-fi — corrective audio. They give you a hearing test using an app, establish any deficiencies in either ear, then apply ‘correction’ to compensate, with the goal of thereby playing music the way it would sound if you didn’t have a hearing problem. So perhaps I will see what they make of a head cold (so long as they don’t upload the results to some cloud somewhere, informing the world that I’m profoundly lacking in bass response).
I use the word ‘correction’ rather than EQ, because I met the inventor of another corrective audio system when I was over in Berlin for IFA in September, and he was very keen to emphasise that their system, Mimi Defined, was more than simple EQ — indeed he suggested that simple EQ of the deficient frequencies could be dangerous, because in addition to boosting signals when they were too quiet to be heard, EQ might boost loud sounds in the same range and push them up beyond safety levels.
This Mimi Defined technology turned up at two separate launches in Berlin (it comes from a German company) — firstly beyerdynamic announced several models with Mimi’s technology (beyerdynamic is calling it MOSAYC), and then secondly in Loewe’s hall the German TV-meisters told us they were adding Mimi Defined right into their TV operating system, available not only on new Loewe TVs but rolled out as a firmware update to existing Loewe owners (for more on both these announcements, see pages 20-21).
So is this an exciting new era for those with hearing deficiencies? Perhaps, but I can see questions also.
For one thing, the brain is extremely good at making its own compensation for deficiencies — even quite dramatic ones.
There is, for example, the famous experiment where a scientist in the late 1890s wore glasses which inverted the world (or actually re-inverted it, since the retina gets everything upsidedown already). By the eighth day, the story goes, his brain had learned to correct the reversal, and when he finally took the glasses off, it took a while for his brain to realise its mistake and flip back.
Or at least that’s how I’ve always heard the story told. Before spreading it further here, however, I’ve just taken the precaution of reading through the original study (by Prof. GM Stratton of the University of California, 1897), and things weren’t quite so dramatic. For starters he used his right eye only, blindfolding the left, and the ‘glasses’ were a single tube which restricted his view to about 45 degrees. And he never claimed that the whole world had turned the other way up, only that with experience the brain could disassociate muscular movements with their result on the visual field
— so that he could turn around and manipulate objects with markedly less confusion than when he began the experiment. “Absolute direction cuts no decisive figure in perception”, he concluded, noting how the brain was adept at adapting to changes.
So, returning to audio, if you have a longstanding hearing dip, we might guess that the brain has already made some degree of correction to it, or at least has become accustomed to its manner, as it were. If we then use an app to add its own correction on top of any brain correction, are we overcompensating? And if you listen to your corrected headphones for eight days, during which time the brain decides its own compensation is no longer required, will you emerge into the real world with your hearing more deficient than when you started?
I suspect that those at Audeara and Mimi Defined have already considered these questions, perhaps undertaken studies through their proclaimed networks of audiologists, and will have good answers to them. Before finishing the Audeara headphone review, I’ll be sure to ask.
But not right now. I need another Lemsip.