Sponsored by TrainYourEars

You Can Hear, but Can You Listen? Inside the TrainYourEars Ear-Training Program-overview.jpg

In their pursuit of sonic excellence, audio engineers must be masters of a lot of things—from understanding exactly how sound interacts with spaces and systems to knowing every feature of every piece of gear in their arsenal to being confident about making informed judgments about manipulating sound to express ideas.

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for innate talent, but the truth is, these are learnable skills. And, audio engineers are expert self-starters. You’ve no doubt invested hundreds of hours perfecting your go-to miking methods, learning the ins and outs of your tools, honing lightning-fast editing techniques. But how much have you invested in your critical-listening abilities?

An audio engineer’s ears are his or her most important tools—it doesn’t matter how incredible your gear is or how acoustically perfect your space is if you aren’t able to make objective, educated decisions about sound. Engineers must be able to identify sonic issues impacting every phase of production from tracking to mastering and objectively evaluate and articulate those issues in the context of a mix.

Critical-listening skills are actually easy to master. Nobody was born with the ability to call out a 3 dB cut at 500 Hz, but with practice, you’ll get better at judging tonal balance, isolating individual sounds within a mix, and understanding how a track was recorded. You’ll become competent at replicating successful techniques, detecting artifacts and anomalies, and speaking about sound in objective (“a 6 dB boost at 8 kHz”) versus subjective (“sibilant”) terms. Ultimately, you’ll communicate more effectively, you’ll work more efficiently, and you’ll make better mixing decisions.

A New Generation of Training Tools

For decades, ear training was a passive, rigid discipline. While effective, classic programs such as Moulton Laboratories’ Golden Ears and the great audiologist F. Alton Everest’s Critical Listening and Auditory Perception required students to invest hundreds of hours listening to vinyl or CD recordings of sine waves, noise, distortion, and panning, following along with big books packed full of charts and waveforms.

Contemporary programs offer those traditional methods with a modern, interactive twist, adding games, scoreboards, customizable features, and exercises based on real-world sound scenarios. They’re more flexible, portable, affordable, and, let’s face it—a lot more fun.

One of the most popular programs, TrainYourEars EQ Edition, is a software application for PC and Mac that’s designed to help sound engineers understand equalizers and frequencies. It’s used by thousands of engineers, musicians and students around the world and is available in eight languages.

TrainYourEars was founded in 2011 by producer/engineer Luis Herranz, who saw an opportunity to create something that went beyond the constraints of the classic ear-training programs he knew. “When I was training with the CDs, I saw the potential, but you could not use your own music reference,” he says. “You could not design your own exercises, and at some point you end up sort of memorizing them. So, it was very limiting. With the software, which is super simple, you can load any music and you can design any exercise and practice with a nice, simple interface; you don't have to write down your answers in a notebook.”

Herranz, a coder from an early age, decided to build his own program. “I had this idea like, ‘Okay, I can code, I like to design things. And I am myself the target user for this.’”

Inside an Innovative Application

TrainYourEars is based on a quiz format that uses either noise or your own sound source as a reference. A series of simple, self-paced exercises present random equalizations applied to your chosen sound source. Your job is to compare the EQed version to the original version and guess the parameters of applied effects, including frequency band, Q width, and boost/cut amplitude. The program then compares your guess with the correct answer. A frequency plot window provides a visual reference, helping users learn to dial in frequency bands and curves fast.

Quizzes are based on real-world scenarios: Examples include graphic equalizer simulators, narrow and wide Q factors, synth-style resonant low- and high-cut filters, and live feedback simulation. Users can edit the existing exercises or create and share their own exercises; custom packs designed by pro engineers are available on the TrainYourEars site. “The exercises that TrainYourEars opens with are only examples; you should learn how to create exercises, and you should be your own teacher in that sense,” explains Herranz.

You Can Hear, but Can You Listen? Inside the TrainYourEars Ear-Training Program-exercise-editor.jpg
Use the Exercise Editor to create custom quizzes.

Herranz says following the exercises develops frequency memory, “which will allow you to connect the sound you imagine in your head with the parameters you need to dial in, more quickly and easily than ever,” he says. “TrainYourEars has been designed to be a powerful and limitless tool, because you can feed it with any music or sound and configure the exercises to a level of diversity and detail that wasn’t imaginable before.”

You Can Hear, but Can You Listen? Inside the TrainYourEars Ear-Training Program-guess.jpg
Using the Guess method, students guess which EQ parameters have been applied to the signal.

Because TrainYourEars is so customizable, it can be adapted for career niches (say, mastering, or voiceover work) or specific audio applications: “I try to encourage people to really learn to use the tool—spend maybe a couple of months on the basic exercises, but then go and design your own and tweak them,” says Herranz. “Maybe you're working on a mix and you're having trouble with a hi-hat, something about the EQ. You can go to TrainYourEars and load some hi-hat sounds and design exercises for that specific use that you've had trouble with.”

In addition to Guess mode, TrainYourEars offers a unique “Correct” mode—suggested by legendary mastering engineer Bob Katz—that lets users apply corrections to an EQed signal, rather than simply guessing the effect. (Explore tutorials on TrainYourEars’ YouTube channel.) Future versions may include dynamics lessons or universal editions that would let engineers train using their own VST or Audio Units plug-ins; Herranz says stay tuned.

You Can Hear, but Can You Listen? Inside the TrainYourEars Ear-Training Program-correct.jpg
In the Correct method, students attempt to correct EQed program material.

An Ongoing Education

Your ears are your most important tools. Why not take them to their fullest potential? With daily ear-training practice, you’ll identify frequencies faster, more consistently, and more accurately—if you stick at it. “With Moulton’s Golden Ears, the suggestion was to train between 15 and 20 minutes a day, hopefully every day,” says Herranz. “I found that to be great advice. So I'm kind of passing that advice down. In a couple of weeks or so, or a month, you should start seeing the benefits of the training.”

Ear training is an ongoing process; whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned professional, there’s always room to grow. When you develop critical listening skills, you’ll gain skills to make mindful production decisions and eliminate guesswork, and be confident in your choices. You’ll focus a lot less on troubleshooting and a lot more on the creativity of your craft. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Visit www.trainyourears.com to learn more about the TrainYourEars program.

Click here to watch a video introduction.