Sound+Image - - Contents - Jez Ford, Ed­i­tor

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.

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