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How to determine if your headphones are producing accurate sound

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
It's summer time. Go into the market areas or parks and catch some outdoor acoustic live music (no room sound or reverberation), be it brass, percussion, vocal etc (preferably unamplified). Listen for a while, close your eyes, examine the sound for a while and take mental note of the basic sound balance. Now ask yourself...does this sound like my headphones sonic balance?

I think you might find that the Grado headphones (old pads) seem to capture this sound most accurately. And they will give you the proper lower midrange energy that is present in that outdoor music and not exaggerate the highs.

Yet to many people they are somewhat coloured. The Sennheiser HD600 sounds remarkably uncolored yet does not seem to capture this natural live outdoor sound. It puts you a bit too far away from the "event".
post #2 of 19
I think it may be the difference between "forward" and "laid back," or as Mike Walker might prefer it described, an excess of energy in the Grado's (I speak of my SR325's) in the region around 9 kHz, which makes instruments and vocals sound more present, but also less like the original in tonal balance. I notice the tonal balance issue the most in solo piano.

On the other hand, the Grado's may also have more of a dynamic impact than the Senn's (I don't know, never having listened to the HD600's), which might also account for the perception that they are closer to the live sound. Some people used to love the old Klipsch horn speakers which had to be placed in the corners of a large room for their (I'm told) effortless reproduction of dynamics and bass. Other people swear by electrostatic loudspeakers, and go to great pains to ensure that room reflections don't arrive at their ears prior to the main signal. Which type of speaker sounded more like the original live sound? It depends on your preference, same as with headphones.

post #3 of 19
so if it makes things feel more present, isn't that a good thing? Isn't the whole purpose of high quality audio to give you the feel of the live performance? maybe coloration isn't so bad in the end, if it gives you that emotion or realism.
post #4 of 19
else Team Grado wouldn't have been so big

but soem are going more for "true-to-the-recording"-reproduction, in which case coloration is a bad thing.
post #5 of 19
which pads are the 'old' pads?

Personally, I use the flat comfies on my 325s. the bowls make them sound so empty...
post #6 of 19
Thread Starter 
Sirwar: The old flat donut pads. Yes, coloration is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly not if it makes you want to keep listening to music. That's what it's all about. Are we trying to enjoy music or prepare for surgery?
post #7 of 19
Yes, coloration is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly not if it makes you want to keep listening to music. That's what it's all about. Are we trying to enjoy music or prepare for surgery?
I agree 100%, Beagle. Everything in the chain adds some coloration......from the microphone picking up the sound, all the way down the line to the headphones that reproduce it. I used to be one of those "accuracy" guys, but realized I wasn't enjoying the music as much......it just didn't sound good to me. Now I'm a firm believer in letting one's own ears be the final judge......damn the accuracy, full speed ahead! I hope Mike Walker doesn't see this.......if he does, I'm in for it! I'll blame it all on you.
post #8 of 19
Well, unless you are using your headphones to mix tracks in a studio or for other professional jobs. For these things you want your headphones to be as neutral as possible.

But, for home use, not only can color not be a bad thing, but it can be a great thing!

If it wasn't we would all be listening to AKG Pro Headphones and panning everything else.

It's all about the music.
post #9 of 19
I look for realism in sound reproduction.....using live music as a reference.

Because most of the music I listen to live is amplified through mics, mixers, equalizers, effects boxes, assorted amplifiers and assorted loudspeakers.....the "live" sound is not necessarily perfectly flat or even "natural".

The "live" sound of any given band will fluctuate from venue to venue....the Rolling Stones sound different in a niteclub than they do in a stadium.

Also, over a period of years, my favourite artists will perform the same songs live, but using different instruments and different sound re-enforcement equipment than they used on a previous tour. So again, their "live" sound changes.

I guess what I'm saying is that if your headphones, or loudspeakers, or amp, or cd player, or cables, or whatever, "adjusts" the sound slightly .....as long as it isn't distorting or ridiculously altering the original recording.... and is pleasing and "life-like" to you .... then that's a good thing.
post #10 of 19

Accuracy vs. "Musicality"

I actually agree that if you prefer "colored" (coloured to you Brits and Canadians) sound to "accurate", then you should probably buy the Grados. I mean, no headphones are perfect, so if these posess the imperfections you find not only easiest to live with, but actually appealing, GO FOR IT!

I, on the other hand, WILL NEVER deliberately choose non-flat headphones/speakers for listening to music. I'm NOT a "purist" when it comes to PRODUCING RECORDINGS! God knows that in my own radio production I pour on liberal amounts of equalization, limiting, compression, digital reverb, phasing, flanging, and any other damn thing that will make the sound coming out of the speakers/headphones match the sound I HEAR IN MY HEAD! That's all a part of the creative process. But I think the "creative process" ends in the studio. When I LISTEN to completed work (and I certainly consider my work to be a completed product! I don't want ANYBODY f##king with it by changing the eq to "enhance" it, etc!) I want to hear WHAT'S ON THE RECORDING! For that, FOR ME only "flat" headphones/speakers (with LINEAR frequency response) will do. So I choose Sennheiser HD-580s, or HD-600s (BeyerDynamic DT-990 pros, DT-150s, etc...you get what I'm talking about) rather than Grados (or even my beloved MONITORING/TRACKING/MIXING headphones the Sony MDR-V6/7506).

I draw this analogy to home theater. If you are one of those guys who likes the color saturation turned WAY too high because you "like the purdy colors", then it's your damn home...watch it the way you like it. But if you're a "real" film buff, you want to see WHAT THE FILM PRINT LOOKED LIKE! For that, you need your tv/video projector properly calibrated for neutrality! When I listen to a recording made by a TEAM whose work I trust (artist/producer/engineer), I want to hear WHAT THEY RECORDED! I want my HD-580 (or one of the other models mentioned). And when the recording ISN'T reference quality, I'm not above using equalization TO CORRECT bad eq/bad mastering/mixing by a DEAF engineer! If you start with a neutral sounding headphone like the models I've mentioned, it's much easier to equalize bad recordings to sound the way you think they should, than if the headphones/speakers are already imposing their own "editorial opinion".

I DO NOT think the purpose is to get "closer to the music". I think the distance we seem to be from the music is a part of the creative process determined by the creative team at the time of recording/mixing/mastering! Take it from a trumpet player. Getting "closer to the music" isn't necessarily a good thing, and can actually be quite bad. INSIDE THE ORCHESTRA playing an instrument is about as close as you can get. And it's the lousiest place in the entire hall to HEAR THE MUSIC! What you hear is VERY distorted, because you're TOO DAMN CLOSE! Acoustic music DEMANDS acoustic "space". You're not supposed to hear the "individual strands of music". It's not about INDIVIDUAL STRANDS! It's about a homogenized whole! And this homogenization largely occurs as the sounds from various instruments in the ensemble blend together in the atmosphere...the acoustic space between the audience and the performers. A device which arbitrarily pulls you MUCH CLOSER certainly isn't serving the music, IN MY OPINION!

Everyone is familiar with the term "can't see the forest for the trees". I'm afraid too many audiophiles can't hear the music for the "strands". They're too damn busy trying to dissect a recording into it's individual sonic parts that they don't realize that it's SUPPOSED TO ALL BLEND TOGETHER! Being able to hear each individual element often is exactly the opposite of what the musicians intended! Tired of my acoustic/classical analogies? Fine...I submit to you as evidence of the above PHIL SPECTOR! Perhaps the greatest rock and roll producer ever would be SHOCKED and dismayed that anyone was attempting to hear "each individual instrument". "Man you just don't get it", he'd probably say...or something similar.

You have no idea how much time I spend in producing what I hope will be a "photo realistic" radio commercial taking sound effects from many different sources, and processing them so that they BLEND together, and seem to all happen in the same acoustic space. I certainly don't want the listener to be able to tell that the bird in the left speaker and the dog barking in the right were recorded at different times, in different places. If I do my job, it all blends together seamlessly. You don't notice the "individual strands". They all fit together to form a WHOLE image. And THAT is the point of MIXING!

WHEW! Now the Reader's Digest version. It's your money. Spend it as you'd like. If you want to get infinitely "closer to the music", go ahead. But I would point out that getting "infinitely closer to the music" IS NOT about the search for greater sonic TRUTH. OFTEN those who created the recording INTENDED for you to listen at a distance! Moving in closer in spite of their wishes ISN'T "high fidelity"
post #11 of 19

wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Despite the ramblings of publications such as "The Absolute Sound" (OBSOLETE is more like it!) there is no "absolute reference". If you believe the exact tonality of ANY musical event is on a damn recording, you lack any understanding of the process! The tonality on a recording is what the producer and engineer WANTED IT TO SOUND LIKE, not what it would have sounded like unamplified in an acoustic space! (And I think outdoors is a LOUSY place to judge what recordings should sound like! Recordings (of acoustic music anyway) are deliberately made INDOORS in acoustic spaces which add their own sonic signatures to the sound of the instruments, helping them to blend into a cohesive WHOLE! Which is, of course, the entire point of ensemble playing! Most musical instruments can't, by themselves, play a chord. Take a trumpet, for example (the instrument I play). NO instrument is more expressive (in my opinion). Yet as beautiful as it sounds, it is incapable of playing more than one note at a time. To play a chord, it takes more than one trumpet....multiple players playing each note in the upper part of the chord, with lower brass such as trombones and tubas filling out "the bottom". When done properly, aided by the acoustics of the performing space, it all blends together, which is precisely what it's supposed to do. Having headphones or speakers which spotlight, and exaggerate the individual players, playing the individual notes that make up the chord certainly doesn't get you any closer to the musical truth of what the conductor INTENDED!

Outdoor music sounds "dry" because there is NO reverberant space to aid instruments in "blending" together. Things naturally found more FORWARD....closer. It's easier to hear the individual musical "strands". Sounds like a description of Grado headphones, doesn't it? But is this any closer to what the composer had in mind? I certainly doubt it. I know that composers of acoustic music hear the reverb tails of their favorite hall IN THEIR HEAD when they write the music. Pauses in the music are written in deliberately to allow you to clearly hear the lovely, BLENDED chords resonate, and fade away. THIS IS THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC!
post #12 of 19
And as we all know, Beauty is in the eye (ear) of the beholder
post #13 of 19
I remember we ran an extensive 2 part article on headphones years ago in Sound & Vision.

My editors, writers, and technical reviewers ...... Ralph Hodges, Floyd Toole, Len Feldman, Ivan Berger, Ken Pohlmann, Alan Lofft, Ian Masters, Peter Mitchell, Brad Meyer, and Ed Foster were some of them in case you recognise any....... subscribed to the more scientific objective approach to audio than the extreme high end Absolute Sound/Stereophile writers, but I can assure you were all every bit as much audiophiles as their more extreme counterparts.

I can't put my hands on those particular two old issues, but just read a section from our annual product directory which gave a glossary, buying tips and information as to how to read and understand specs. for each product category. This is a paragraph mentioning Frequency response for the headphone listing section:

Frequency Response

"The range of frequencies which can be reproduced effectively. Headphones must compensate for the modifying effect of the outer ear, since the sound from headphones reaches the eardrum directly, so a "flat" response from a headphone is not desirable. Check back issues of Sound and Vision for past National Research Council tests of headphones, showing the desired response "envelope" into which headphone response should fall."

If this is true, and I trust it to be so, then headphones are made with "intentionally adjusted" non linear frequency responses to make up for the loss of the effects of the outer ear. As all of us and our ears are different, any given set of phones will work to flatten out the perceived frequency response with various results.

This could have much to do with the fact that one person can hear harshness from a given set of phones, while another hears smoothness or one hears too little bass while another hears too much bass.

If and when I find that article, I'll post it here.

Re: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

What I was saying in the earlier thread was that a musical presentation, even when performed by the same musicians, won't sound exactly the same from venue to venue because of acoustics and because of changes in instruments, amps, loudspeakers, and the people who operate them over time.

As far as a composer, conductor, producer or a recording technician deciding what we eventually hear, that will never really happen because each of us hears differently. Our own personal frequency response/receptiveness won't be the same as theirs. We'll never hear the recording exactly the same way they hear it themselves. Not to mention that we won't be playing the recording on the same equipment they used to record/mix the recording.

Therefore, if someone's headphones, or another piece of their equipment happens to alter the sound (frequencies )a little, (notice I said "a little") it isn't necessarily a bad thing, because each of us are going to hear the same piece of music differently anyway.
post #14 of 19

I believe......

Although headphone manufacturers, particularly those of full-sized headphones mostly claim to use "diffuse field equalization", I believe that it's not actually possible, nor even desirable to deliberately equalize headphones to compensate for anything. When sound reaches your ears from headphones, particularly from circumaural headphones, it IS "equalized" by your outer ears/brain. So further "compensation" is unnecessary! Some of the WORST sounding headphones I've ever heard are those which claim to do such "equalization" (the AKG K-240DF springs to mind! What a WRETCHED, ragged midrange these things have in the name of "proper equalization").

This is one area where I believe MOST full-size, open air, circumaural headphones GET IT WRONG! What I LIKE about the sound of the HD-580 and HD-600 (despite Sennheiser's claims to use such equalization techniques), is that I hear none of this "monkey business" going on when I listen to them!
post #15 of 19
Here is how I look at it:

With current headphones it is impossible to perfectly recreate the true experience of BEING THERE. Now fidelity is a hit or miss thing; something is either true, or its NOT.
analogy: Take a gallon of pure white paint. Put a single DROP of black in there and its no longer white, technically speaking. Its a very light shade of grey.

If your not going to go the whole distance and recreate exactly what your trying to hear, just do whatever sounds best to you.

In classical music I don't believe they put a microphone in front of every instrument, but the moment they do in any type of music it has now ALREADY been devided into strands and remixed as they see fit *watches acoustic fidelity fly out the window*
Okay, now lets go from there. Almost any type of newer rock is totally misrepresented by the impactless senns.
There goes the musical fidelity.

But look at the bright side: at least your EQ is correct.

It is my opinion that loudspeakers are much better at reproducing the environment of music better than headphones. I mean, a decent car stereo can beat the **** out of headphones in pure listening pleasure with the right kind of music, even if its a a little colored.
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