You are probably equipped with ears as sharp and precise as the world’s top sound professionals. What you lack, then, is training.

In instrumental music education, the very first thing you do is teach ear training and keyboard skills. And you do that with students who are, frankly, terrible. But anyone can learn perfect pitch (or something close to it, at least). You couple those ears with an understanding of theory, and you’re able to navigate common musical practice.

Yet in audio, I’ll bet the vast majority of people making music and working in sound have never had an equivalent training. And yet the essentials of sound, and tools like compression and EQ, are just as dependent on training your ears. You need to couple that training with a sense of theory.

Right in your browser, listen to equalization by band and amount with actual recordings.

Right in your browser, listen to equalization by band and amount with actual recordings.

And music software developers are starting to realize that the more you know, the more you’re likely to use their tools.

iZotope had already added extensive education to their offerings – teaching you how mastering works being a great way of getting more mastering customers. But now, they’re doing something much further-reaching, which they call Pro Audio Essentials.

And it’s not just lessons – it’s also a game.

You start with tutorial content. At the helm for iZotope is their education director, Jonathan Wyner, who has a Grammy nomination under his belt. (It’s for work on a “Best
Classical Crossover Album” nominee, in case you’re wondering. See also his article on mastering.)

Video tutorials cover the basics.

Video tutorials cover the basics.

If you’re entirely new to this stuff, you’ll start at the very beginning – like what equalization is. You can get deeper into stuff that you might be a little shaky on if it’s been a while since you studied audio (like the difference between dBFS, Peak Level, and RMS). Those videos are all on-demand, so you can skip them if you’re not interested.

What I suspect almost everyone might be interested in is the Explore, Practice, and Challenge tools.

A series of tests lets you practice and challenge yourself - starting with equalization as a topic.

A series of tests lets you practice and challenge yourself – starting with equalization as a topic.

These let you play with tools like equalization directly in your browser window, and hear the results. Then, you can actually test and train your hearing. So, with equalization, this means the ability to try to detect difference in amounts of attenuation (in dB), and specific frequency bands.

In Challenge mode, you can not only test yourself, but actually try to make targets, matching existing files by ear.

And yeah, that could be a fun exercise even if you’ve got a fair bit of experience.

Quiz your ears.

Quiz your ears.

It’s kind of a wonderful reversal of current trends, if you think about it. We’ve got plug-ins that purport to match EQ for you; cloud tools that are supposed to replace the mastering engineer. In this case, you’ve got something better: you can actually train your own ears so you can take control of getting the results you want. And since the ability to hear amplitude and frequency matters in creative work, too, that means the power to make your own choices as you produce, too.

So far, lessons on equalization, compression, and digital audio basics are all available as videos. There’s a practice and challenge mode for equalization (the others aren’t done yet).

It really isn’t an advertisement for iZotope products. It’s really something you could apply to anything; it’s just likely to build your hearing confidence in such a way that might make you a better customer.

It seems like a great idea. And it’s terrific to watch this industry wake up to education as being part of what they do. (Ableton’s efforts with Loop and a book on creative strategies also spring to mind.) I expect that trend will spread.

Give it a go, for free:

  • andruss is also a cool free training app for mac and win. PS! you can change the audio files to your favourite music just by renaming the files to the same as in the app folder and copying them there.

    On the Izotope thing tho. Isn’t 1db change kinda hardcore for this kind of app? Level 1 and Level 2 challenges were really easy and then Level 3 is like, boom.

    • James

      Yes, it’s difficult, without a doubt. Easier with headphones, I think, perhaps because in my case the cross-over frequency on my sub-bass may not be suitably selected, and I only have room for near field monitors. That’s going to mask most discernible differences of 1db at those frequencies. But whatever rationalization, I’m floundering with level 3, even with 6 nodes. With silence and the chosen instruments, not all the music is ideal for every exercise, and the tracks start feeling like old socks after failing the test too many times.

      Also, level 3 is arguably more abstract than 4. In level 3, you could reverse the logic and ask, “If B is the default, what did they change to A?” Then listen back to A to hear the difference. Whereas the exercises is set up to ask “How do I make B sound like A?”, and I believe starts you off listening to A. From logic alone, I regularly fail the question by taking the same 1db away when I was supposed to add it in, for example.

      • James

        BTW, I couldn’t even get the beta software to work at the link you mentioned. Trashed it almost immediately. I’m going on tour with some grammy winners this Fall, so this is a good topic for me

  • Polite Society

    It’s interesting how the challenges also highlight the weaknesses of your headphones. i found that the 300khz changes were almost impossible to hear, even in the 6/8db ranges. Will have to try on my mixing cans at home.

    • No Kidding – I love my Sony X1s for fun and for shows and my kids have Beats- the tests are almost impossible to take with those. had much better results with my AKG k240s

  • mach1beats . com

    I forgot the name of the company, but something like this already excisted. Either way, gonna try it out!
    Buy Beats Online

  • pert bug
    • James

      except studio-ears is really quite crude and I’m not sure how actively supported. You pay for an app which then restricts the number of times, as well as the number of modules, that you can access. Not to mention, some of the tools and exercises are more for the musician and less for the engineer…