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Why do my headphones sound better louder?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hi All

 

I'm trying to buy some headphones that I can play at very low volumes without the sound quality falling off a roof. I have a pair of igrado's which sound fantastic as soon as I turn them up uncomfortably loud, but at lower volumes are disappointing and loose all detail- my £15 pair of speakers give a much nicer sound at equivalent volumes. So, what do I need to do to get a good sound at a low volume? Preferably for very little money?

 

I have also tried out a pair of px200-ii's, which have no bass at any volume level....

 

Sound coming straight out of a laptop.

post #2 of 16

I can't answer the "science" part of your question (why do headphones sound better louder), but if you want to use 'phones at low volume levels, I have just one word for you:

Isolation

 

Whether you're getting big headphones that cover your ears, or small ones that sit inside the ears, that's the way to go. 

post #3 of 16

The reason I can think of is all the minute details in the music have low energies, and unless you crank it up those details dont have enough energy to move the membrane in the earphone at a sufficient level for you to perceive it.

 

post #4 of 16

If you're using your laptop as source, control your volume through software and have sensitive headphones requiring very low volumes, you might have some serious loss of resolution at low volumes as digital attenuation done carelessly can be pretty destructive.

post #5 of 16

basic psychoacoustics - Fletcher-Munson Loudness curve - when the volume changes the perceived frequency response changes = at low levels you need "smile" equalization - like Grados

 

but buying headphnes to apply EQ - which you may want to vary seems a little inflexible - look for a good EQ/Loudness curve plug-in for your playback sw

post #6 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by jcx View Post

basic psychoacoustics - Fletcher-Munson Loudness curve - when the volume changes the perceived frequency response changes = at low levels you need "simile" equalization - like Grados

 

but buying headphnes to apply EQ - which you may want to vary seems a little inflexible - look for a good EQ/Loudness curve plug-in for your playback sw


Very well put!

 

Another thing worth mentioning - the quality of the headphone amplifier plays a role in this as well.

With most of my headphones and amplifiers I have noticed the biggest changes particularly at low level listening. The better the amp the better the sound (regardless of source).

 

post #7 of 16

The better the synergy between headphone and amp the better the sweet spot where the detail and dynamics of a track will come through. It can be difficult to get that at low volumes.

post #8 of 16

In my opinion, it's a matter of headphone construction. I experience this issue with akg k242hd, but not with k530ltd. They have the same drivers, a bit different construction, but the earpads are totaly different. The small space for ears on k242 makes that feel. When I swap earpads, the problem is gone on k242. But that's how I hear it.

 

Try some closed or semi-open circumaural headphones.

post #9 of 16

I have been playing about with my headphone collection and there is a huge range from 7 to 1 o'clock on my amp as to where the volume sweet spot is for each headphone. As a rough guide the lower the ohms and the higher the SPL, the less 'volume' is needed to have the headphones at a good listening level. I also find open backed headphones tend to need a higher volume setting than closed backed ones and with IEMs and buds you need to be careful using them with a powerhouse of an amp!

post #10 of 16

 

Originally Posted by 00940 View Post

If you're using your laptop as source, control your volume through software and have sensitive headphones requiring very low volumes, you might have some serious loss of resolution at low volumes as digital attenuation done carelessly can be pretty destructive.


We're in the science forum and surely enough, the guys at the back of the bus will call me/us on it...but I tend to agree w/ you, the more I improve my source, the less loud I have to listen in order to be able to hear the very fine -hardly audible- details. Less is more, as it forces the brain to go fetch for details as well...I love to listen at the lowest possible volume off a very clean source.

post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by leeperry View Post

 


We're in the science forum and surely enough, the guys at the back of the bus will call me/us on it...but I tend to agree w/ you, the more I improve my source, the less loud I have to listen in order to be able to hear the very fine -hardly audible- details. Less is more, as it forces the brain to go fetch for details as well...I love to listen at the lowest possible volume off a very clean source.


I am in total agreement with you on this one. I am sure that upgraded volume controls, if such were possible would make a 'night and day' difference to many hifi systems. I had a Rega Mira amp which had a terrible volume pot which could go from too quiet to too loud in the slightest of turns. The same was true of my X-CANS, and I subsequently had the volume pot changed. It was very difficult to find the sweetspot of full dynamics and resolution.

 

My grandmother had a Beocentre which could play beautiful music at very low volumes indeed. It was what got me into hifi in the first place.

 

post #12 of 16

The best volume pot is no volume pot...that's one thing I like about Firestone Audio's DAC's, they can easily drive headphones on their RCA output(provided that you've installed an opamp w/ high current output). Keep windows fully bit-perfect and use 64bit float digital attenuation, that's the most ideal scenario IMO.

 

Either no pot or a high quality stepped one(like on the Burson's), anything else will ruin the SQ big time(ALPS go home) and force you to listen louder. The Rega you mention has a very high gain I think, like 8 or so.


Edited by leeperry - 3/2/11 at 7:36pm
post #13 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by leeperry View Post

The best volume pot is no volume pot...that's one thing I like about Firestone Audio's DAC's, they can easily drive headphones on their RCA output(provided that you've installed an opamp w/ high current output). Keep windows fully bit-perfect and use 64bit float digital attenuation, that's the most ideal scenario IMO.

 

Either no pot or a high quality stepped one(like on the Burson's), anything else will ruin the SQ big time(ALPS go home) and force you to listen louder. The Rega you mention has a very high gain I think, like 8 or so.


Sorry for laughing but "64bit attenuation" haha, ymmd! A 24 bit DAC doesn't give jack. Unless a pot is crap it won't ruin sound quality... this is audiophile FUD gibberish.

 

post #14 of 16

Ah, volume and perceived quality. That's why DBT must be volume-matched within 0.5dB. It's darn fun to look at the two little mounds on the screen.

It's the whole Fletcher-Munson curve that has already been mentioned above. A long time ago, those awesome silver-faced walnut-veneered home receiver/amplifiers all had Loudness compensation buttons to add some "realism" to low-level listening. Although this adds a whole lot of noise, at least my receiver does this.

Speaking of high-low frequency boost and noise, Dolby NR, anyone?

post #15 of 16

Loudness curve, as mentioned previously, is the biggy.  You can compensate at low volume levels by boosting bass a bit and highs.

 

The other thing is the ability of the amp driving the headphones to supply sufficient current to keep the signal clean, with no clipping.  And power is needed for bass frequencies.

 

As you turn the volume up (or boost bass) the current draw can reach the point where the amp can no longer provide the required power.  Then distortion comes in. 

 

So if you keep the sound lower, the headphones will have less distortion (unless you really boost bass).  But then, you need to compensate for loudness response, boosting bass, and.........

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