Why does music give us 'chills'?

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When your playlist hits all the right sounds, your body can go on a physiological joy. Your heartbeat increases and your pupils dilate. The body temperature rises, and blood redirects to your legs. Your forebrain — part of the brain that controls body movements — becomes more active. Your brain floods with dopamine and atingle chills run down your back.

Fifty percent of people get chills while listening to music. Research shows that it happens because music stimulates some part of our brain, encouraging dopamine to fill the striatum — a part of the cerebellum activated by motivation, addiction, and reward. Music seems to have some effect on our brains in the same way that sex, gambling, and tasty food do.

Those dopamine levels can climax seconds before the song’s special moment. That proves that your brain is a good listener—it’s continuously predicting what’s going to happen next. It has something to do with evolution – a handy habit to make reasonable predictions is essential for survival.

But music is tricky. It's often unpredictable, teasing our brains and keeping those dopamine triggers imagining. And that’s where the chills can come in. When you finally hear that long-awaited chord, your brain sighs with dopamine-saturated satisfaction and — BOOM — you get the chills. The greater the accumulation, the greater the chill.

Gray Areas

There are competing theories. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp discovered that sad music triggers chills more often than upbeat music. He claims that melancholy tunes activate an ancient,  mechanism—a distress reaction our ancestors felt when separated from their family. When a ballad makes us feel nostalgic and wistful, that evolutionary pattern activates.

A visualized X-Ray of a brain with some electric waves and headphones

What’s interesting about Panksepp’s theory, though, is that chills can't make people sad. The experience is extremely positive. Recent research reveals that sad music evokes positive emotions — sadness experienced through music is a bit more pleasant than the sadness you experience from a shitty day at the office.  

And this may hint at another theory. The amygdala – part of the brain that processes our emotions, responds oddly to music. A somber tune can activate a fear response in the amygdala, causing your hair stand on end. When it happens, your brain immediately reviews whether there’s any real danger. When it understands there’s nothing to worry about, that fear signal becomes positive. The fear fades, but the chills remain.

Anything Goes

You can feel chills from any kinds of music, whether it’s Bach, Beyoncè, folk, or techno. It’s the structure that values. The chills usually occur when something unexpected happens: a new instrument enters, the bridge starts, or the volume suddenly dims. It’s all about the surprise. However, the most powerful chills can occur when you know what’s coming. When our expectations are being matched, the nucleus becomes more active. This is related to that dopamine-inducing guessing game our brain enjoys so much. As a result, the expectation of the known can enhance the excitement for the chill.

Your personality matters, as well. Scientists at UNC Greensboro discovered that people who are more open to new experiences are more likely to feel goosebumps. Meanwhile, researchers in Germany saw that people who felt chills were unlikely to be thrill seekers, but were more reward-driven.

Continue readingNov 27th 2017

7 Things No Audiophile Should Have

A man sitting on a chair in front of a loudspeaker
I know how exhausting it might be to make the most out of your listening experience, but you should never go over the limit in your efforts and moreover, avoid some of the things trying to optimize your music sources. To make sure that only clean and distortion-free sound surrounds you, promise never to have the following things. At all costs. I mean it. 

Shower CD player

Shower audio player
For Hendrix's sake, listen to your music in the shower, it's beautiful. But don't waste your money on gimmicks that can't provide decent listening experience. There're plenty of ways to set up an audio system in your bathroom without making your ears suffer from audio pain. A portable JBL will work fine.  

Cheap iPhone dock

An iPhone dock
Even the pickiest audiophile can't help it but have some MP3, however, when it comes to filling a room with your Hi-Res collection, a shitty iPhone dock won't help. Lossy audio formats always sacrifice quality for convenience. Such sound can't be better using a poor dock, it can only make it worse. Instead of a dock, try a Hi-Fi system. Even an ordinary one can get decent results. 

Complicated equalizer

Elaborate equalizer
Remember a simple rule – you must spend more time listening to music than you spend preparing to listen to it. With the right equipment, the record is likely to sound exactly how the producer intended. Excessive use of an equalizer can oppose it. Don't be very obsessed with it, limit the adjustment time and focus on listening. 

Lightweight turntable

Lightweight turntable
If you decided to switch to vinyl, I'm super glad for you. But a 12" record is worth it only if you have a decent equipment for playing it. A cheap turntable with a light platter can add some unwanted noise due to audio vibrations. Moreover, modern turntable use ceramic cartridges which are usually heavier. They result in damaging your records over time. Those scratches won't make it sound old-school or whatever, more like dubstep.

Overpriced cables

Expensive audio cables
Audiophiles are famous for spending money on supposedly pointless items. Don't be a stereotype by throwing hundreds of dollars on luxury cables and wires. To some extent, higher-quality cables may help you reach a better listening experience, but after some point, they're a waste of money that you can spend on equipment that does make a change.  

Mediocre earbuds

Apple Earbuds
A great way to maximize the audio quality is to always give preference to Hi-Res audio formats. Sadly, cheap earbuds aren't designed to complement the benefits of that decision. It doesn't mean, though, that you have to be opting for trendy, opulent headphones, or bass-heavy buds. It could work out were you a naive teenager, but most people agree such buds only distort the sound. Find the happy medium.

CD wallet

CD wallet
If you know what it is, you must have been born before 1995. This is a rare object nowadays, but if you want to protect your CD collection, don't try to stick them in that hideous case. Such wallets fit better for kids who don't know what to do with their porn DVDs. There's a big chance of scratching your disks, and you can no longer read the packaging and notes that complement the album listening experience. 

Continue readingNov 22th 2017
A vinyl record with 'vinyl kills the mp3 industry' written on it
Greetings, audiophiles! You can't be listening to MP3, I'm sure. I'm pretty sure you know a lot about why Hi-Res music, however, I still believe I must tell you there’s another cool way to enjoy music. It’s called vinyl.
No, no. Vinyl didn’t die when Jimi Hendrix did. It’s very much alive and is much more preferable than listening to music in a digital format. Let's take a trip to a record store, and I’ll tell you the four reasons why 12″ vinyl records are better than digital MP3.

1. Vinyl Improves Your Taste In Music 

Let’s play a game. Go to your local record store and try to find One Direction's Made in the A.M., which sold  2,400,000 copies in 2015. Nothing?
Okay, try again. See if you can find anything by Justin Bieber. Nope? Okay, now check if you can find anything by Pink Floyd. What, a whole shelf’s worth? Why would you think that might be?
It's economics, my friend. People who prefer vinyl tend to be quite picky about what they listen to. 
Vinyl recorder on a bed playing 'A Collection of Beatles Oldies'
They don’t listen to airy, mass product kind-of-music. They listen to bands that have artistic honesty, and compose their own songs and play their own instruments. They listen to great songwriters and have an ear for production. Bands who meet those criteria are the ones you can find in a record shop. When you listen only to vinyl, you unconsciously decide to never, ever face One Direction and Justin Bieber. And that’s lovely.

2. Buying Records Is an Experience

There’s something magical about buying records. It’s the type of experience that got lost in iTunes and Spotify generation. It’s the kind of experience where can spend hours aimlessly searching for music. 
Vinyl records store
You take gambles, and you give money on albums having no idea whether they are worth it or not. You talk to people, and ask their opinions and suggestions, and ultimately make friends.
It’s a more of a social experience than any app or online music shop could ever be.

3. Vinyl Sounds Better

Sorry, friends. This one isn’t up for dispute. Vinyl sounds better than MP3s ever could. 
Most of the music is broadcast in some lossy format, where details are missed, and the overall quality is reduced. It happens because audio files get compressed to make them small enough to store thousands of them on the phone, and to stream online. Regardless whether you listen to music on a streaming service like Apple Music or prefer MP3s or even the radio, you can't get the full picture of that track. Vinyl is far more high-quality. No audio data is lost when pressing a record. It sounds just as great as the producer or band intended.
A collection of vinyl records and headphones on it
There’s another, far superior reason why vinyl is better than lossy digital formats. Vinyl, for the most part, avoided the ‘loudness war.' With the rise of digital music (CDs included), it's possible to make a track sound louder than it naturally should. The problem here is that it had a tremendous result on the audio quality. It caused songs to sound distorted and unpleasant and removed their depth and texture. Since vinyl is an analog format, it can suffer from the same problems. 

4. You Can Make Money  

When you buy an MP3 on iTunes, you don’t really own that particular MP3. You simply license it. But, vinyl? That’s an entirely different story altogether. There’s a huge community of people buying, collecting, and reselling vinyl, because it always keeps its purchase value, and even increases in value. When you acquire a record, you’re not just buying some album. You’re making an investment that you can later sell, or maybe pass down to your children. Some apps and websites make the process much more convenient. 

Vinyl Is Not Going Away

Vinyl is indeed an old technology and one that has remained relatively unchanged over the past thirty-forty years. But that's because it's the closest to the perfect device for listening to music. 
Continue readingNov 21th 2017

What is the Equalizer in VOX and how to use it?

The ugly truth: everybody knows what an equalizer is, but nobody knows how to use it. 

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Most decent audio players include different variations of equalizers, starting with some primitive ones concluding with too elaborate and confusing ones. The equalizer in VOX Music Player for Mac offers a 10-grid equalizer with an enhanced algorithm for frequency adjustments for Mac users. 
Before we go into details, let's answer a simple question

Why do we need an equalizer? 

  1. Adjust the frequency components of music material to desired balance – not all recordings are of the same frequency balance, and they can’t be so because music is creativity. Sometimes we may want to adjust frequency balance for better listening experience.
  2. Compensate for imperfect loudspeakers/headphones frequency response – earbuds always lack low frequencies but have abundant high-mid. In-car audio systems vary significantly in the low/bass output while computer speakers need more EQ than serious hi-end loudspeaker systems
  3. Compensate for changing acoustical background noise (in the subway, in a car, in crowded places) to avoid the need to increase the total volume.
  4. Timbre perception depends greatly on the loudness. If you listen at a low volume, you might want to raise low and high frequencies. When you are listening to it loud, you will probably benefit from reducing the hi-mid region as most sensitive.
  5. You can use Apple Audio Units as a creative tool in a party/DJ situations.

How is VOX Equalizer different? 

In each band, you can control gain (more/less volume) and frequency (where/what to adjust). This gives you the absolute control over the sound. Instead of displaying ten sliders in a row to move up/down VOX provides the ability to raise/lower any frequency by moving it in both dimensions. And it’s not in 1-octave steps in frequency like in 10-band EQ but also anywhere in between. Flexibly, continuously, just by moving finger over the screen, you can change the sound in real time. And smoothness of curves is guaranteed by the fact that bands are relatively wide.

Unexperienced users sometimes think it's better not to interfere with the recorded sound not to spoil the original recording but listen to what artists wanted to share with us. However, the equalizer is not about ruining but highlighting vital senses. Equalizer should be gentle to the music, the effect should be noticeable just as much as required. Large choice of presets gives you the ability to quickly find the sound you would enjoy without sliding frequencies most of the time. Keep in mind that VOX presets' names are only for identification, they don’t always reflect what they are for (“Rock” isn't necessarily for rock music, “Deep” will be deep on some track, on some - not). 

VOX Equalizer Presets explained:

The Equalizer and the list of its presets open in VOX Music Player for Mac
  • More Bass - slightly brings up low end and bass frequencies;
  • More Highs - gently highlights hi-end (crispness) of music (cymbals, overtones in all instruments, presence);
  • More Low Mid - amplifies the body of the sound when listening to rock music;
  • Voice Lift - improves the clarity of vocals, makes voice frequencies appear closer to the listener;
  • Less Cymbals -  makes cymbals and other highest-frequency sounds bit quieter, without lowering the overall volume;
  • Kick - picks up the kick drum or other similar instruments from the mix, especially effective on rock/pop music;
  • Smile Curve - enhances the overall sound quality, especially helpful when listening through low-to-mid-cost loudspeakers or headphones;
  • Soften - brings down frequencies that ears are most sensitive to, making listening experience less tiring; 
  • Drive - make it more aggressive and crystallized, try this on rock and funk;
  • Small Headphones - designed for earbuds which usually sound too harsh and lack bass range;
  • Darken - for loudspeakers and headphones that emphasize cymbals and guitar too much
  • Underground - for listening in noisy places, when natural lows block music lows (subway, loud places etc.); 
  • Emulate Subwoofer - for loudspeakers without a subwoofer but with reasonable amount of low frequencies;
  • Boomy Room - for rooms that have this inherent acoustical low-frequency ringing.


Before using the equalizer, you need to enable it – use the switch at the right top of the EQ pane. The equalizer consists of ten vertical sliders each corresponding to a designated frequency, displayed at the top of every slider. The middle slider position (zero or null dB) means that no signal processing is applied at a frequency – neither addition nor reduction. 
The Equalizer open in VOX Music Player for Mac
Moving slider above zero position increases the level at a given frequency, and moving slider below zero reduces it. The sad part is, when you slide the frequency up above zero you will most likely create some noticeable distortion of the sound. It happens because nowadays music is usually recorded at max loudness, and if you try to raise it, it usually results in the sound overflow hence, distortion.
To compensate for gain changes caused by boosting or cutting frequencies in the equalizer, use the gain slider at the left side. If you raise up 100Hz at 6 dB, lowering gain to corresponding 6 dB will ensure that no distortion will occur.  Yes, this will result in a volume drop, but you will get a distortion-free equalization. You can later add volume using device volume controls.


Doesn't sound that easy? Well, that's the price for the high-quality sound. The final advice: adjusting the equalizer, always try to cut, not boost so that sliders stay at 0dB or below. This helps ensure that levels don't exceed the “clipping” point in the digital domain.
 
Continue readingNov 20th 2017
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