While I was growing up, my father worked mostly in road construction. As a result he suffered from what they now call industrial deafness. He could hear the low notes okay, but the high ones simply didn’t register.
(In a cruel twist of fate my mother could hear the high notes but not the low ones, and so there was a never-ending battle for control of the ‘tone’ dial on our record player.)
One Christmas we got him “What Bird Call Is That?” on cassette. We lived in the country, and so we saw a lot of birds in our back yard, and heard many more. He loved it, but after playing it a couple of times he wanted to take it back because the cassettes had blank spots. Unfortunately they weren’t blank. He just couldn’t hear the calls because they fell outside his hearing range.
He didn’t take it back. He just put it on the shelf with the rest of his music collection. It didn’t get played much.
Many years later (I think I was at university), my parents got their first pair of hearing aids. And their lives changed completely. The volume on the television got lower. They listened to their music collection again, this time hearing every single note and instrument being played. And my father finally got to hear the bird calls he’d been missing since that Christmas Day so many years ago.
My hearing has always been pretty good (my wife may think otherwise), and so I’ll never appreciate how much those hearing aids changed their lives. But last night I came close to understanding how they felt when they played their music.
Ever since my Sennheiser PX40 headphones snapped in two I’ve been listening to music through the earbuds that came with my iPhone. At first I didn’t like them at all (never been a fan of poking things in my ear) but I soon got used to them, not to mention the built-in controls. Even when I listen to music I use them, because I don’t want to wake up my son.
But lately I’ve been missing the bass notes I know are there, and so I started shopping for a new set of headphones.
And then I remembered I had a pair of Sony MDR-NC60s sitting in the cupboard that I’d completely forgotten about. So last night I dragged them out, hooked them up to my iPhone, fired up some Dire Straits (the flavour of the month), and pressed Play.
The difference was incredible. I could hear sounds I’d completely forgotten were there. It was like music in high-definition. But then I realised these were also noise-cancelling headphones, and flicked the switch.
In a comment to one of my posts, my best friend Russell (who probably got me hooked on Dire Straits in the first place) said studio albums made you feel like you were the only person in the room. Well, I never felt it as much as I did last night. When I flicked that switch the outside world disappeared completely and it was just me, an audience of one, listening to some of the greatest music ever created for what seemed like the very first time.
What a way to spend an evening, eh?