What Is Sound Quality?

In April of 2016, Indiana Sound Quality asked the question "What is Sound Quality and what does it mean to you?" ISQ posed this question amoung our members to see who could come up with the best answer. Unfortunately, the answer is somewhat subject to interpretation and personal preference. Either way, we received several entries and read through them all very thoroughly. After much debate, we selected our winner.

Meet Ben Zimmerman, our winning entry. We feel he had the best answer to our question and we wanted to share it with all who may be interested or learning about sound quality. ISQ would like to personally thank Ben for taking the time to explain his perception of sound quality and sharing it with all of you!

Ben Zimmerman

Active ISQ Member

What is sound quality? What does it mean to me?

That’s a deep and loaded question…two, technically…

Sound quality…you know it when you hear it. It’s sonic purity. It’s when a saxophone sounds like a saxophone; it’s when a violin sounds like a violin.

You have to understand a little bit about my background to understand why that sentence is the epitome of what “sound quality” means to me.

I started playing the violin at age 5. When I was in kindergarten a very kind woman came to my classroom and introduced the class to the violin. She was there to recruit kids for the Suzuki string program – a program using a method that teaches music by ear training. The premise of the method is that children can learn to play instruments just like they learn to speak – by listening and repeating what you hear. You start out simple with little songs like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. …and then you advance through the program to songs like the “Bach Double” – a concerto for two violins… all taught by ear, through listening to the songs over and over. I learned at a very young age to train my ear for music.

Eventually I progressed in the program throughout grade school, and in 5th grade picked up the saxophone in band. Of course I already had experience playing music on the violin, so I quickly advanced ahead of the other kids in band who were just starting to play music the traditional way – by reading music. In 6th grade I was bussed over to the Junior High School to play with the “big kids”, and quickly earned first chair spots in both band and orchestra…and also picked up playing other instruments quickly. I continued my music performance pursuit through high school and went on to college to study music performance and studio engineering. I spent a lot of time in the mid ‘90s in the state of the art recording studios at Belmont University in Nashville, on both the microphone side and the mixing board side. I had found a new love – recording music and mastering mixes that sounded real. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I dove head first into tweaking my mixes to “perfection”. I learned a lot about frequencies…cuts and boosts…left and right panning to place the sounds where I wanted them in the mix…all with a passion one might expect from a kid let loose in a musical candy store.

I guess I’m saying all this to explain the roots of my passion – impeccable music reproduction…in a car… I’m not going to get into the other side of that bit – being a car nut…because I’m sure you all understand that part. But – suffice it to say car audio intertwines two passions.

When I hear bad audio it’s like nails on a chalkboard… The ability (or curse) to pick out the good from the bad is just a part of who I am.

All this SQ competition nonsense is fun, but it’s not about that to me - it’s all about the music, and pleasing my own trained ear. If in perfecting my audio system for myself I happen to win some competitions along the way – hey, by all means I’ll take it. But really…it’s all about the music. I attribute my ability to tune a stereo system to the ear training I had growing up. It all goes back to being exposed to real music – and real instruments – all through growing up. Real live music is the ultimate reference, and I've been blessed to have plenty of exposure to the real thing.

Ben Zimmerman

April 4, 2016