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You always like the sound you’re used to…  

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Every once in a while a person has a life experience that changes the basic philosophies and assumptions they live their life (or hobbies in the case of headphones) by. I’ve recently had one of these experiences with headphones so why not blog about it as it might help somebody.

For a long time I’ve supported the idea that people tend to prefer the sound signatures they are used to and that people can get used to most any sound signature apart from ones that are painful to listen to because of physiological interactions (e.g. an extreme resonance with the ear) between the ear/head and the headphone. I did, however, believe that this was limited by an overall preference for certain types of sonic signatures. For example, I’ve been drawn to headphones that are somewhat heavy in the bass area. I’ve found, given some time to acclimate, I could easily adjust to most headphones with this particular sonic feature. I’ve tried a lot of headphones that are tonally different (e.g. K701, ATH-AD2000, SA5000, K240DF, HD800) but never found them worth keeping. Yes, they had a good sound – they just didn’t suit what I wanted.

It was through this I found and fell for the Denon sound. I started with the D2000, moved to the D5000, and finally grabbed the D7000 not long after they were available. The more I listened to the various Denons, the more I was convinced I had found “my sound.” No other headphone compared and I was quite happy to have found the place where I didn’t really have an urge to upgrade. I was fully convinced the Denon sound was my preferred sound and I would probably always have a Denon at my desk.

I even pictured myself listening to the same headphone in 10 years! As the D7000 served as my primary can, I kept a D5000 in the closet, neatly packed in the original box, as a spare headphone. I even suspected I would one day buy a second D7000 incase my original pair broke and the D7000 had been discontinued. I hope by this point you understand how much I liked the Denon sound.

Then, not too long ago, I decided to go for a month long vacation out of the country. I’ve never been a fan of IEMs (I have my reasons) and never seriously considered buying one. But I couldn’t take the full sized Denons on a trip (well I suppose I could have) and this gave me a reason to buy an IEM. I tried and was very disappointed with the UM3X so I decided to just spend a minimal (in the headphone world) amount of money on the Audeo PFE. These are well regarded by people whose opinions I value (Bullseye, dfkt, JaZZ) and I wasn’t overly concerned about their “neutral” sound since they were just a travel headphone. I just wanted something that would sound decent, fit comfortably, and provide good isolation in an airplane.

As I imagine most headphone nuts do, I tore open the box when the PFE as delivered. I listened for a bit, wrestled with the fit, listened some more, and concluded they had a decent sound and would work well for traveling. The sound was quite a bit different than the Denons and the DT880. The PFE were bass neutral or bass light (to a person used to Denons). Unlike the DT880 and Denons, the focus of the PFE is the midrange and they came off as bright compared to what I was used to.

My trip started a few days later. I used them on the plane (both ways) and sporadically during the month. It was just an hour here and there, but as I listened to them I grew increasingly fond of their sound. By the end of the month I adjusted the bass a bit (+~3db at 50hz) and was listening to all of my favorite music with it. I even began to wonder if the PFE could replace the “neutral” DT880s as my secondary headphone. Also, as I grew to adore the sound of the PFE, I became increasingly curious about how my Denons would sound now. I had visions of the Denons being a PFE with more bass quantity, impact, and texture.

When I got back home I quickly unpacked the DT880 and Denons from where I had hid them from dust, sun, and whatever other evils conspired to take them away from me. I was first curious about how I would now feel about the DT880 soundstage (a large one) in comparison to the “in your head” sound of IEMs, so I tried the DT880 before the Denons. I loaded up my favorite tracks, hit play, and expected sonic bliss.

I can’t describe what I heard with any word other than crap. The midrange was thin, recessed, and it sounded like everything was missing. The bass sounded muddy, slow, and horrid. I was just shocked by the sound. I couldn’t listen for more than a few minutes before taking it off. Then I plugged in my trusty D7000 (I had been waiting an entire month to listen to these again) and listened. Where was the midrange and why did it sound so weird? The bass sounded bloated beyond comprehension; there was no texture or details, just mud, mud, and more one note mud. About the only favorable point I could find was a visceral feeling of impact during drum hits. Even this felt exaggerated and comical.

On that day I thought the PFE was quite literally at least an order of magnitude better than the Denon D7000 and the DT880. I couldn’t even listen to the D7000 and DT880. Two days later (simply in terms of clock time, not listening time), some of my love had returned to the D7000 and DT880. I can listen to them again and enjoy what I’m hearing.

But suddenly a lot of the romance of these two headphones is gone. Forget the DT880, let’s talk about the D7000. I’m now aware my “I plan to keep these forever” and “Will I ever find another headphone like this if they discontinue them” D7000s are suddenly not so special. After listening to the Denons for so long I had simply grown accustomed to their sound and wrongly concluded some magic existed between the Denon sound and my own ears and brain. I now knew if Denon the company vanished off the face of the earth and took my headphone with them, I would be just fine. All I would need to do is find another decent sounding headphone and listen to them for a while, allowing myself the time to adjust and learn to like them. Then suddenly, one day, these new headphones would have “my sound.”

There’s nothing magical about one particular sound signature. The real magic occurs between my ears, in the oddly shaped blob that learns to love what it’s used to. Suddenly the spare D5000 sitting in my closet seems like nothing more than some weight missing from my wallet. As I write this I’m listening to all my favorite tracks (and many I haven’t heard in a long time) with the PFE. On the desk to my left is the DT880, a full sized can costing twice as much as the PFE. To my right is the Denon D7000, a headphone I once thought I could never live without, a headphone costing a lot more than twice the PFE. I am still curious about how this music I’m listening to will sound with both of them. But that crazy urge to listen to the Denons is gone and I find myself shaking my legs to the sound of Nina Simone through the PFE as I tap away at this keyboard.

Now some readers (assuming somebody actually reads this) might assume I’m saying the PFE is better than the D7000 and DT880 or the PFE is a giant killer. I’m not saying this at all so don’t read it that way.

Maybe in some time the romance of the PFE will wear off and the Denons will sit back on my head. However, I don’t think I’ll be attached to them the same way I was before. If the time comes when I decide to sell them and buy a spare pair of PFEs, I think, for now, I could do with without much remorse.

Actually, I don’t think I’ll ever get overly attached to any particular headphone again. Even if Audeo collapses and a dog eats the last PFE on earth for dinner, I know I just have to find a decent pair of headphones and allow myself to find the magic in them.

Who would have thought - an extremely neutral sound signature sounds damn good!
post #2 of 6
This was an extremely nice article to read, thanks for posting it. I think you're very right in your assumptions on how the brain works - I've found myself in the same situations as you, but couldn't have worded it so well.
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks dfkt!
post #4 of 6
Really liked to read that. Finally someone wrote in words what I was feeling lately.
post #5 of 6
Excellent post and a supreme example of what the brain does to headphones and to music. I find the DT880 the headphone I attach the most significance to and come back to it all the time.

The CK10 and the FitEar 333 are the other ones I just love, but if I give myself long enough with any earphone, I begin to really fall in love with a particular sound or character of it.
post #6 of 6

This was a good read.

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