Mental Tune-Up

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“Too much rock and roll” is one of the common refrains heard at crowded cocktail receptions, on busy trade show floors, or anyplace where members of the professional AV industry find themselves unable to hear properly.

But one wonders if the issue is not that they can’t hear, rather it’s that they can’t hear with the full bandwidth they prefer. The experience is similar to photographers who seek absolute clarity in their prescription glasses because their ideal world has a sharper focus. Where many people are fine with missing the occasional comment or visual nuance, experts in sound and vision set higher standards for their audio and visual experience.

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Hearing damage is a very real concern in the audio industry, but new research suggests there are benefits that come with the pitfalls of being exposed to an abundance of sound. Last month, several studies presented in Chicago at the Society for Neuroscience revealed that musicians exhibit a more fine-tuned ability to perceive and remember sounds. This applies in the speech domain as well as music.

It seems that along with the potential for harm, life-long experiences with sound affect the your hearing system’s level of function. If listening with precision is part of your job description, you are actually fine-tuning your ability to hear, and maybe even improving your focus and mental acuity. This is even better news than the “classical music makes you smarter” maxim of a few years ago.

Further to hearing more accurately, the studies found that musical experience influences the brain’s interaction with sound, making it more effective at extracting meaning from what is heard. While this research was specifically related to musicians, it seems possible to extrapolate the effects of hearing one’s own instrument among other sounds to the precise listening required in tuning a sound system. Or more generally, to the critical thinking required across the audiovisual integration spectrum. Let’s go ahead and extrapolate upon that extrapolation and say that AV makes you smarter. As flippant as that sounds, there is merit to the notion that there are benefits to working in a field that constantly stimulates the mind and provokes new ideas.

So when you flinch because a video display in a sports bar is set to the wrong aspect ratio, or grimace at the tinny sound of a poorly implemented background music system, you’re merely exhibiting your finely honed mental abilities. You see and hear the world more clearly than most. So turn up the music and rock your brain cells.

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