I must also disagree with panda. Listening critically, for me, is an essential part of listening to music and I'll explain why...but first some background information. I am a mastering engineer and sound restoration specialist. I feel I am quite good at my job and feel that while my ears may not be the best, they are damn good and among the best. My ears and ability to perceive, interpret and manipulate sound is what makes me great at my job. My enjoyment in listening come from recognizing the difficulty of producing a recording, from performance to mastering. I enjoy listening to single point recordings that sound spacious, to multi-track recordings and their immense detail to well mastered recordings that sound natural and organic. I really have fun knowing that my ears are resolving the sound of an electronically captured performance that may have been recorded decades ago. I love hearing the ambiance of the recording hall, the walls of the studio or the occasional talking that most people never hear. All those little nuances are part of a performance and something I really cherish. Most of all, I love natural and organic recordings that, even for a small time, tear down the walls of reality and put you inside Capitol Recording Studio A with Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra or some other great artist. Having recorded sound sound so real that it puts you THERE - that's awesome. That's what I want when I listen to music. I want to hear Nat King Cole breathe in before he opens his mouth. I want to hear Bing Crosby lean forward in his chair just before he sings. I want to hear Frank Sinatra jingle some change in his pocket as he finishes singing. I love to hear the controlled breathing of Janos Starker as he plays a Bach piece or hear Lee Morgan cheer on Art Blakey on a drum solo. I crave that from my music - to be THERE. Of course some people say that what I do is analyze music and not listen to music. I disagree. I like to say that music is the language of the human soul and that all I do is attempt to understand that language a little more everyday. In short...I love music. As Sidney Lanier once said, "Music is Love in search of a word". Now to answer what I do before/during/after music. Before/During: Listening Research: Know a little about the music. Composer, period, artist, etc. Mental Preparation: I like to relax and not think about anything else. Sound Room/Environment: Can be anywhere but I prefer a cold, dark room. Equipment levels: Not loud. Just loud enough to where the vocalist sounds natural. Mental Focusing: None. Just listen to the music. Exercises: For work I often compare different eq's and settings. For casual listening - none. After: Put away my recordings carefully. Go to sleep.