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A different kind of AD700 review (EQ'd v. Flat)

post #1 of 52
Thread Starter 
Let me start by saying that I'm a pro audio guy more than an audiophile. I have no philosophical aversion to EQ. If you do, you might as well stop reading, if you believe EQ is cheating and/or that it can't possibly ever be good.

My goal with headphones has always been to get as good of a sounding rig as possible, as cheaply as possible, regardless of how that was to be achieved. I know that frequency response isn't the be all and end all to headphones. but the more I read head-fi, I realized that while there are these other concepts to a headphone's sound, they almost never get talked about. 99% of what is talked about on here is almost completely based on a headphones frequency response curve. Even when people think they're talking about something else, like soundstage depth, most of the time they are actually talking about frequency response.

This was further enhanced by the fact that 99% of people's (and my) complaints about the AD700 had to do with frequency response. The bass is too weak to be neutral. There is a noticeable drop off at around 3800 Hz. 1000 Hz is too hot. Yes, in many ways these 3 things give the AD700 its character as well. Part of the amazing depth of the soundstage comes precisely from that 4 kHz dip. the 1000 Hz bump is the main reason the mids sound so prominent. The lack of bass is a major reason they are so crystal clear. Sound, and especially headphones, are about tradeoffs, and the AD700 made its choices. That being said, I think the fundamentals of the headphone, notably its transient response, lack of THD, comfort, amazing imaging, low cost, ease to drive them and extension high and low made them great candidates to just "fix with EQ."

So first, let me talk about source. It's a hotaudio hotusb1 external DAC -> 3.5mm to XLR -> Samson D-2500 EQ -> Millett SSHM. Even though I don't think there's an audible difference between well encoded, high bitrate mp3 and lossless, just to avoid this argument in a situation I don't want to have it, everything I'm using here is FLAC. I will also try to use very popular tracks as much as possible, for the simple reason to aid people in having a clue as to what I am talking about.

My first step was to EQ it to completely flat. I used Equal loudness contours and audiometry - Test your own hearing to generate a flat equal loudness curve. What I did was simply messed with the EQ until it was totally flat at an average listening volume. That is, going straight across all tones sounded the same loudness. The Samson allows you to save settings, so I saved this as "AD700 flat". My next step was to EQ it how I like it. I like a touch more midbass than totally flat and a tiny bit more 6k-14k than flat. Nothing drastic, but the additional bass makes up for the lack of impact that headphones have naturally, a little. And the 6k-14k boost makes up for a tiny bit of high frequency drop off in my ears. that bump is VERY subtle, around .5 dB at its peak point. I saved this as "AD700". Since the difference between the AD700 Flat and AD700 settings were virtually identical, I will only use the AD700 setting for this review. Also, when I refer to "flat" in the review, I mean with no EQ, not the Flat setting. This could be confusing, so I am trying to clear that up here. So if I say AD700 flat below, I mean unEQ'd. It's "natural" sound.

Essentially with the AD700 setting on my EQ, I had 64 Hz boosted to 6dB, with a plateau there down to about 44Hz, after which I gradually rolled it off to 0 dB at 20 hZ (to avoid clipping and slowing the headphone down unnecessarily for extremely low tones, with infinite current I would have left this boosted though) From 64 Hz to 500 Hz I gradually backed it down, trying to make as smooth of a curve as possible, to 500 Hz it was at 0 dB. from 500 Hz to 700Hz I maintained a very slight taper downward and then a sharper curve down to -2 dB at 1kHz. Then slowly back up until its back at 0 dB at 2kHz. Then a pretty sharp rise to 3500 Hz where I had it at +6 dB, then a small plateau to 4200 Hz, then a sharp fall back down to +1.5 dB at 8kHz, then back to 0 dB from that point out.

Now to the meat of this, the comparisons:

1) The first thing is just a much greater sense of tonal balance with both the adjusted EQ settings. AC/DC's Back in Black now hits correctly in the opening. Whereas before it felt "neutered" and off. You can tell how poorly the hi-hat was recorded. Angus Young's guitar is in your face, just as it should be. The kick drum is both powerful from the added bass, and in your face, with the 4 kHz boost, just like it should be. This track is not supposed to sound laid back, but with no EQ on the AD700, it almost does. Things that are forward and aggressive with the drums and rhythm guitar and riffs sound laid back and flat with flat AD700's. Al Green's voice on Let's Stay together now sounds full and powerful instead of overly nasaly and weak. The thunder on Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms sounds powerful and real instead of like a cheap sound effect. But more than anything, the EQ'd version is indescribably more balanced. Everything just sounds more right and natural.

2) Soundstage. By now, some are probably wondering "the AD700's soundstage is more amazing, this guy is lying if he says its improved." Yes and no. It's not as deep when EQ'd and not as wide really either. BUt only slightly less so. I say it is improved slightly, because I believe that it's more "natural" now. Before I felt that the soundstage on the AD700 sounded artificially big. Miles Davis's So What shouldn't sound like they're playing 50 feet apart. But flat, it did. It's a small group that's supposed to sound like they're playing on a medium small stage. Before it sounded like you were about 20 rows back watching 5 guys play on the superbowl half time stage. Now it sounds like you are sitting in the 3rd table back at a medium sized jazz club. The imaging is so accurate that I can tell exactly where the microphones are placed to record the drums. I can actually hear the horn players move their horns around towards and away from the mic. The bass is there in the right amount. Before you almost had to struggle to hear it clearly, as its mastered low, like small group jazz is. The lack of bass and the forwardness of the horns previously pushed it almost out of the recording. Now its always there holding everything together. Whereas before the soundstage was wide and accurate, now its just right and hyper accurate. Classical recordings may suffer a tiny bit, but only because many classical recordings struggle with getting the soundstage wide enough in the recording. This now reproduces that trouble. If I was listening to classical, I'd be torn as to what setting to use.

3) Speed: Now let me say that the headphone's speed suffers a tiny, tiny amount EQ'd. Basically, with the added bass it seems that its now having to work harder. With an amp that delivered more current than my SSHM this might not be an issue. Muse's Hysteria sounds much more right with EQ, but unEQ'd the bass is ever slightly more crisp on the hard transients. It's very slight though and definitely not worth the tradeoff that the song otherwise sounds totally neutered without the EQ. When there is a ton of deep bass and hard transients, the headphone has a slightly hard time keeping up. But it's a $90 headphone, not an HD800. I don't think it's particularly noticeable unless you're looking for it and picking music that specifically challenges this aspect. To be clear, the unEQ'd version still has this issue, its just not as much of a problem, because it isn't "weighed down" by the demands of pumping out the bass. It kind of points out that most of what is viewed as "fast" headphones are also bass light. It takes a tremendous amount of power to adequately provide correct amounts of bass and maintain the hard transient edge.

Overall, I'd say its night and day better EQ'd. I think that everybody who isn't philosophically opposed to EQ should buy a good graphic EQ (at least 16 bands, but 32 is better, mine is 31 bands). Even better is a really, really good parametric equalizer, however they get really expensive really fast, and if you have enough bands on your EQ, it's good enough to change the overall things you want to solve with headphones. If nothing else you will learn exactly what frequencies effect sound and exactly how they do it. Also, you will want to look for one with a master gain level, so that you are free to EQ up and down without worry of clipping. If you get clipping, you can just pull the master gain down.

Anyway, this was really long, but hopefully someone found it interesting and/or helpful.
post #2 of 52
how bout a picture of the EQ settings for those who- tl;dr.

Now, the thing about EQ's is that they have to distort the signal by definition... which means they may be losing resolution. However, are the AD700's detailed enough for this to matter? maybe, maybe not.

When I first got my AD700's, I didn't think they were anything special. They didn't seem anymore detailed than my D1001's.. but in reality, they are. I had to listen to them for quite a few hours before I could realize this though.

Because of this, I would really discourage anyone from EQing a phone off that bat, and to wait at least a week of listening before even touching it. If you EQ a phone off the bat, you'll never be able to tell whether you're losing details.

The AD700 is a very detailed, and very grainy phone...
post #3 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nullstring View Post
how bought a picture of the EQ settings for those who- tl;dr.

Now, the thing about EQ's is that they have to distort the signal by definition... which means they may be losing resolution. However, are the AD700's detailed enough for this to matter? maybe, maybe not.

When I first got my AD700's, I didn't think they were anything special. They didn't seem anymore detailed than my D1001's.. but in reality, they are. I had to listen to them for quite a few hours before I could realize this though.

Because of this, I would really discourage anyone from EQing a phone off that bat, and to wait at least a week of listening before even touching it. If you EQ a phone off the bat, you'll never be able to tell whether you're losing details.

The AD700 is a very detailed, and very grainy phone...
Unfortunately my dog chewed the battery to my camera, so no pics for now I have a new battery on order though, so maybe in 5 or so days.
post #4 of 52
Thread Starter 
Additionally, i wouldn't make too much of where my particular EQ settings are, level wise, because that is going to vary based on your particular DAC and amp. It will also vary depending on how many bands your EQ has as well.

The best thing is to just give a general idea that the entire bass range starting at 500 Hz needs a gradually arcing boost. 1K needs a slight cut and 3500 Hz needs a slight boost.

I'd say post EQ its slightly less detailed, because part of the reason it was so detailed was because it took the bass and 1K out, which are the frequencies that "cover" things up the most. ie vocals and bass cover up a lot of details. But that was just unnatural, an amount of detail not in the original recording. Post EQ they're still very detailed, but not in an unnatural way, like they were before.

Graininess seems to be helped a tiny bit, but I can't really say why, as I honestly am not totally sure what graininess is, why its caused or even if what I think graininess is is actually what other people mean by graininess. It's not a term that's used in pro audio. Only in audiophile land, just like PRaT.

Also, yes, EQ, by definition distorts. But so does everything else. Headphones without a completely flat response "distort" in the sense that they don't accurately reproduce the original sound accurately.
post #5 of 52
this is the best way I can describe graininess-
we all know what film grain looks like, right?
Film grain - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Imagine you have a 480p image, there's no grain, but obviously the low resolution makes it kind of blurry...

Now, you get a HD image, now it's 1080p, and whatnot, obviously it has a much more detail, but imagine it's grainy.. like a film could be.
The grain isn't that bad.. It's still obviously preferable to the 480p image.


This is how the AD700 sounds. It's very detailed for it's price range.. but the details come with.. grain.. as in there is a random texture attached to the sound.

It's hard to explain in terms of sound, but it's like there's a very FINE layer of static attached to the sound. actually.. thats a pretty good way to explain it.. isn't it.
post #6 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nullstring View Post
this is the best way I can describe graininess-
we all know what film grain looks like, right?
Film grain - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Imagine you have a 480p image, there's no grain, but obviously the low resolution makes it kind of blurry...

Now, you get a HD image, now it's 1080p, and whatnot, obviously it has a much more detail, but imagine it's grainy.. like a film could be.
The grain isn't that bad.. It's still obviously preferable to the 480p image.


This is how the AD700 sounds. It's very detailed for it's price range.. but the details come with.. grain.. as in there is a random texture attached to the sound.

It's hard to explain in terms of sound, but it's like there's a very FINE layer of static attached to the sound. actually.. thats a pretty good way to explain it.. isn't it.
Yeah, I mean that's kind of what I've heard, but it doesn't really tell me exactly what people mean in audio terms.
post #7 of 52
Nice write up. I generally don't use EQ, but sometimes I EQ up the bass very slightly with the PH100/MS-1 combo. Actually I first reduce the overall gain and then EQ up to reduce the chance of distortion. Done that way, I haven't noticed any sound degradation at all, only a slight enhancement. Alternatively, you could also EQ *down* all the other frequencies accordingly to be left with what you want "enhanced," which would at the most be left at 0. That method theoretically, and maybe even actually, would completely eliminate any chance of distortion being added -- from the EQing, at least.
post #8 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by userlander View Post
Nice write up. I generally don't use EQ, but sometimes I EQ up the bass very slightly with the PH100/MS-1 combo. Actually I first reduce the overall gain and then EQ up to reduce the chance of distortion. Done that way, I haven't noticed any sound degradation at all, only a slight enhancement. Alternatively, you could also EQ *down* all the other frequencies accordingly to be left with what you want "enhanced," which would at the most be left at 0. That method theoretically, and maybe even actually, would completely eliminate any chance of distortion being added -- from the EQing, at least.
Yeah, though I like to mess with as few sliders as possible, so I tend to leave everything at 0 and then adjust based on what I hear. Then if I get anywhere near clipping territory I pull down master gain. Really I pull down master gain some regardless, just out of habit. I come from the school of "let your power amp do the work" and err on the side of less gain early on.
post #9 of 52
Thanks for sharing the info. I also tried EQ with ad700 and it does make difference. With more bass, sound more full and engaged.
post #10 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by fjrabon View Post
Yeah, though I like to mess with as few sliders as possible, so I tend to leave everything at 0 and then adjust based on what I hear. Then if I get anywhere near clipping territory I pull down master gain. Really I pull down master gain some regardless, just out of habit. I come from the school of "let your power amp do the work" and err on the side of less gain early on.
Another thing is - and I'm not trying to insult your gear - but some of that graininess could be coming from your DAC. I used to have the HotUSB1, and while it's a good basic laptop/soundcard replacement dac - very neutral, and with pretty good clarity - it is not as refined as you would get by upgrading (which you will definitely notice with those phones, esp. in the highs). I think it also lacks a bit of extension in both the high and low freqs. It's more neutral than the uDAC, for ex., but doesn't quite have the low extension, at least, or the high end sparkle of better dacs. That could be contributing to some of your bass and graininess issues, imho.

If you wanted to upgrade and stay with Hotaudio, I would definitely recommend the DAC-Extasy over the HotUSB1 any day of the week. Believe me, you would notice a significant overall improvement right away, especially if you compared the two side by side. It's like the Extasy "cleans and polishes" all the notes and brings an extra dimension of sparkle and clarity to everything, nice airiness, etc. not to mention extending both the high and low frequencies. The bass isn't overwhelming or artificially boosted, but it's overall of a higher quality, imo. I think you would notice a pretty big difference by upgrading your DAC, perhaps to the point where you wouldn't even need to EQ anymore. Those AD700s have a pretty good high end, and the Extasy would do them much more justice, I believe, and without that graininess that sometimes comes through with the HotUSB1.

Anyway, just a suggestion from someone who took that upgrade path and noticed a difference.
post #11 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by userlander View Post
Another thing is - and I'm not trying to insult your gear - but some of that graininess could be coming from your DAC. I used to have the HotUSB1, and while it's a good basic laptop/soundcard replacement dac - very neutral, and with pretty good clarity - it is not as refined as you would get by upgrading (which you will definitely notice with those phones, esp. in the highs). I think it also lacks a bit of extension in both the high and low freqs. It's more neutral than the uDAC, for ex., but doesn't quite have the low extension, at least, or the high end sparkle of better dacs. That could be contributing to some of your bass and graininess issues, imho.

If you wanted to upgrade and stay with Hotaudio, I would definitely recommend the DAC-Extasy over the HotUSB1 any day of the week. Believe me, you would notice a significant overall improvement right away, especially if you compared the two side by side. It's like the Extasy "cleans and polishes" all the notes and brings an extra dimension of sparkle and clarity to everything, nice airiness, etc. not to mention extending both the high and low frequencies. The bass isn't overwhelming or artificially boosted, but it's overall of a higher quality, imo. I think you would notice a pretty big difference by upgrading your DAC, perhaps to the point where you wouldn't even need to EQ anymore. Those AD700s have a pretty good high end, and the Extasy would do them much more justice, I believe, and without that graininess that sometimes comes through with the HotUSB1.

Anyway, just a suggestion from someone who took that upgrade path and noticed a difference.
Thanks. And DAC is definitely my next move, I think its probably the weak link right now, but I'm generally fine with it too. However, I've tried the AD700 through much higher systems than mine and I still thought it was bass deficient, still thought it was rolled off at 4K and still thought it had a hump at 1K.

I think sometime next year I'll probably upgrade the DAC and move over to AD900's, but I'll still likely EQ them. I'll likely also look for a amp that gives a little more current than the SSHM, but that's likely well down the road.
post #12 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by fjrabon View Post
.....If nothing else you will learn exactly what frequencies effect sound and exactly how they do it......
I agree with you. I occasionally play with one just to teach myself what frequencies translate to which instruments. Reading it on a chart just doesn't cut it. When I read another Head-Fier say something like "I hate the spike at 7khz", I can add that spike to my setup to get a better idea of what he's referring to. Thanks for the great post.
.
post #13 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin Uthadude View Post
I agree with you. I occasionally play with one just to teach myself what frequencies translate to which instruments. Reading it on a chart just doesn't cut it. When I read another Head-Fier say something like "I hate the spike at 7khz", I can add that spike to my setup to get a better idea of what he's referring to. Thanks for the great post.
.
Yeah. Doing that makes audio seem much less like magic. You can go from using vague and not usefull terms like "sparkly" and "warm" to actually just calling out the frequencies.
post #14 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by fjrabon View Post
Yeah. Doing that makes audio seem much less like magic. You can go from using vague and not usefull terms like "sparkly" and "warm" to actually just calling out the frequencies.
Those are actually useful descriptive terms. Not everything is about frequency. In reality, frequency is only a very small part of the overall sound.

For pages of more examples, as well as an explanation about why subjective description is often more important in audio than "objective" measures like frequency, see this glossary for instance:

Stereophile: Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary
post #15 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by userlander View Post
Those are actually useful descriptive terms. Not everything is about frequency. In reality, frequency is only a very small part of the overall sound.

For pages of more examples, as well as an explanation about why subjective description is often more important in audio than "objective" measures like frequency, see this glossary for instance:

Stereophile: Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary
well, that could be true, except for the fact that nobody ever means the same thing by those terms. And in fact, when people use the terms sparkly and warm, they're almost always entirely referring to frequency. The thing is that a lot of audiophiles want audio to be this sort of "magic" and they can kind of hide behind vague terms such that nothing they say can be empirically verified or refuted. In the end, audio is science, and as science, precision in terminology is best if you want to solve the problems.

Saying something is too sparkly never leant itself to an easy solution, whereas saying something has too much 7 kHz does.
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