One thing that has caught my attention at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is the number of audiophiles-including me-wearing hearing aids.
I have three: a Bose “Hearphone”; a 4 year-old Kirkland (Costco) with phone control; and an Opticon, also about 4 years old. The Bose is unmatched for hearing in a conference room; the Kirkland is almost as good as the Opticon for general use, costs about 2/3rd’s less, and phone control is a big plus; the Opticon is the smallest, the most expensive, and the least controllable, but comes with a regular checkup by an audiologist, which is important.
None of them are any good for music. The reason is that each of them reverses phase (sometimes called “polarity”). While this is good for speech, it robs the beginning impact of every note and with that, much of the emotion in music. It also makes violins screechy, screws up instrument placement and depth, and weakens bass.
For Directstream DAC users, the solution is simple. Any time you listen to music, reverse the phase. You do this from the remote for the Senior, and, on the Junior, via the second menu (hold done the menu access button until the screen changes, press the button until you reach the phase sub-menu, then change the phase by turning the knob). Others can achieve the same effect by switching the leads on their speakers (red wire to black socket).
Recorded music (disk or streaming) comes in two phases: normal (0 degrees) and reverse (180 degrees). In general, music recorded in the US, Britain, and Japan is normal phase. Music recorded on Continental Europe is reverse phase. Ah! It would be wonderful if it were so simple. But, if you use hearing aids when listening to your system, try this:
- For a week, listen to music you know well recorded in the US, etc. in reverse phase. If classical, listen in particular to high violins, string basses and percussion; and image spread and depth. If jazz, listen to the pluck of standing basses and the noises that accompany the pluck; impact and depth of percussion, especially the kick drum; and depth and stability of images. If pop or electronic, listen for the clarity of the lead singer (how many words do you understand?); the beginning of all bass notes (especially if fast) and, if you have a sub, whether the deepest notes have a discernable beginning and end. Also note whether you get the same (or more) satisfaction when playing your favorite tracks at a lower volume.
- When you hear a difference, start the track again in normal phase and see whether the sound is less satisfying or needs to be louder to get (almost) the same impact.
- Now, if you have favorites recorded on the continent-especially DGG (but not Phillips)-- listen to them in normal phase and determine if you hear a difference.
- Let others know what you discover on this tread.
For me, the difference is night and day. So, I took the next step: at a chamber concert yesterday morning, I listened without my hearing aids. The piano was notably clearer, the string trio better balanced (the violin did not stand out), and no distracting overload on the loudest attacks.
There’s a lot more to all of this. I’m apparently unusually sensitive to phase (a virtue when I play with others in an orchestra). My hearing loss is just high frequencies. And I have very strong brain memory of what instruments should sound like. I see this as an experiment, not yet a recommendation.
PS: Anyone know of a hearing aid that does not reverse phase?