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How do we know if something is actually "neutral"?

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 

I mean we don't exactly have a reference to something that sounds neutral. Can we tell by looking at a measurement graph if a headphone is neutral? Is it difficult to make a headphone sound neutral? 

post #2 of 34

I'm relatively certain we have a reference, but I don't know how it was derived. Perhaps someone more knowledgable can enlighten us?

Making a perfectly flat headphone should be pretty difficult, since you're tuning it to follow a very FR. It also is pretty unappealing to most consumers, so most companies don't usually try to make them. 

post #3 of 34
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tzjin View Post

I'm relatively certain we have a reference, but I don't know how it was derived. Perhaps someone more knowledgable can enlighten us?

Making a perfectly flat headphone should be pretty difficult, since you're tuning it to follow a very FR. It also is pretty unappealing to most consumers, so most companies don't usually try to make them. 

Hello tzjin, 

Is it really "unappealing" to most consumers? I think most people don't even know what neutral sounds like! Whether it sounds unappealing or not, I'd feel more comfortable listening to something that is neutral and flat. It's true that colored sound can sometimes affect our perception of a certain music positively. But it could also work the other way, can it not? What if colored sound hides or obscures an aspect of sound that the recorder/ producer planned in mind? It's just safer to desire a neutral sound. That's how I see it. 

post #4 of 34

neutral isn't just flat frequency response. headphones/loudspeakers are mechanical devices that re-creates sound from the movement of a resonating speaker cone. the output sound signal is an approximation of the input electrical signal at best. neutral would mean the input and output waveforms are exactly the same, which you're not going to get remotely close to.

 

amps/dacs can be pretty close to neutral, however. the most basic circuits have a frequency response that's ruler flat across audible frequencies, and there are only a few sources of distortion which can be minimised with proper design

post #5 of 34
It's much easier to find a (close to) perfectly flat and really neutral speaker rig. That doesn't mean they don't sound lifeless and boring. Million dollar setups are put together where the room is treated to make it as small a factor as possible in whatever negative aspects there were and as large a factor as need be in the positives. When it is available, and people are willing to spend $1M+ and not have a perfectly neutral room, I think it gives some indication that neutral is not too commonly enjoyed by people.

I'm assuming that even if the playback is coming out as it went in perfectly, it won't sound like it, since most consumer releases I've paid any attention to are quite far from the actual masters. Most releases I've seen are compressed either for radio, or simply due to the distribution method. They alter it to accommodate a lower dynamic range than perfectly flat reference gear could handle, so even if you could reproduce it, it would sound off. Now if you could find a great sounding master that was meant to be left flat, it may sound great, but on every "reference" setup I've heard that actually was accurately flat, it sounded horribly dry and boring on anything but a single 220g Audiophile Sessions LP with a cartridge that I'm sure added to the sound somewhat though the whole thing was really flat and boring sounding on everything but that LP. One of my favorite rigs so far was far from flat. It had a hump in the lower midbass area, it dipped in the lower treble, and it was boosted a bit up at the top end of the treble... and it could do anything from horribly compressed radio edits to original masters and sound good doing it all. It was far from an affordable rig, but it was miles ahead of the "reference" rigs in that department, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it more than the more "proper" setup.
post #6 of 34

One perspective on finding neutrality- http://www.audionote.co.uk/articles/art_audio_hell.shtml

post #7 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by NimbleTurtle View Post

Hello tzjin, 

Is it really "unappealing" to most consumers? I think most people don't even know what neutral sounds like! Whether it sounds unappealing or not, I'd feel more comfortable listening to something that is neutral and flat. It's true that colored sound can sometimes affect our perception of a certain music positively. But it could also work the other way, can it not? What if colored sound hides or obscures an aspect of sound that the recorder/ producer planned in mind? It's just safer to desire a neutral sound. That's how I see it. 

 

That is true. But a great headphone, even if coloured, should never really hide any part of the music. The presentation may be different, but everything should be there.

 

For the average consumer though, it is more about feeling the music rather than actually listening and analyzing it. That is why many cheap headphones sport the infamous v-shaped FR. The emphasized treble gives the impression of extra detail, while a strong lower end is a common criteria for a "good headphone."

post #8 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by NimbleTurtle View Post

I mean we don't exactly have a reference to something that sounds neutral. Can we tell by looking at a measurement graph if a headphone is neutral? Is it difficult to make a headphone sound neutral? 

 

Yes, measurements can definitely tell how close to "neutral" a device is. Another term for neutral is audibly transparent. But you need all the data, not just frequency response. There are also several types of distortion, ringing and, for electronic gear, noise and time-based problems like wow and flutter. My Audiophoolery article explains a lot about this.

 

I'll also mention that audibly transparent is not boring and lifeless as is often claimed. Harmon has done extensive research using loudspeakers, and they found that people universally prefer speakers that are most accurate. Hey, don't you want to hear exactly what the mix engineer and producer heard as they honed the music?

 

--Ethan


Edited by EthanWiner - 7/27/12 at 11:24am
post #9 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by EthanWiner View Post

Hey, don't you want to hear exactly what the mix engineer and producer heard as they honed the music?

 

That's not going to happen with just neutral gear though, is it? You'd need to factor in not only physical differences affecting sound perception but also the context where that perception is taking place (the listener's age, occupation, what type of music they've been into lately, their mood, the color of the wallpaper, etc.). To say a pair of speakers are neutral is one thing, but to say they let you to hear what someone else hears is another thing entirely. Could be that non-neutral gear would enable you in this or that case to hear closer to what was intended.


Edited by vid - 7/28/12 at 5:51am
post #10 of 34
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tzjin View Post

 

That is true. But a great headphone, even if coloured, should never really hide any part of the music. The presentation may be different, but everything should be there.

 

For the average consumer though, it is more about feeling the music rather than actually listening and analyzing it. That is why many cheap headphones sport the infamous v-shaped FR. The emphasized treble gives the impression of extra detail, while a strong lower end is a common criteria for a "good headphone."

I find that to be quite sad :( Just the other day, I was looking into a thread where the topic creator was asking between a Beats Solo and Beat mixr or something, asking which one had more bass. Lol. 

post #11 of 34
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by EthanWiner View Post

 

Yes, measurements can definitely tell how close to "neutral" a device is. Another term for neutral is audibly transparent. But you need all the data, not just frequency response. There are also several types of distortion, ringing and, for electronic gear, noise and time-based problems like wow and flutter. My Audiophoolery article explains a lot about this.

 

I'll also mention that audibly transparent is not boring and lifeless as is often claimed. Harmon has done extensive research using loudspeakers, and they found that people universally prefer speakers that are most accurate. Hey, don't you want to hear exactly what the mix engineer and producer heard as they honed the music?

 

--Ethan

Aren't you that guy who played a bunch of different cello clips to produce a piece? I remember this was like 5 years back. What an honor! I'll check out your article thanks. 

post #12 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by vid View Post
That's not going to happen with just neutral gear though, is it?

Good recording and mastering studios aim for their control rooms to be as neutral as possible. Not only by using flat speakers, but also by having bass traps and other acoustic treatment. So if you do the same you can at least come close to hearing the artist's intent. Anything else is a crap shoot.

 

--Ethan

post #13 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by NimbleTurtle View Post
Aren't you that guy who played a bunch of different cello clips to produce a piece? I remember this was like 5 years back. What an honor! I'll check out your article thanks. 

Yes, that's me. The original version of my Cello Rondo video now has more than 1.5 million views around YouTube. Then last year I made a new version in high-def and put it using my own account:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve4cBOnSU9Q

 

--Ethan

post #14 of 34

I almost never read threads like this, I was mostly hoping to find someone who posted info about free-field vs. diffuse-field equalization...

 

BUT OMFG THAT CELLO PIECE IS AMAZING!  Absolutely love it :)  Everyone should give it a listen

post #15 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by EthanWiner View Post

Hey, don't you want to hear exactly what the mix engineer and producer heard as they honed the music?

 

--Ethan

Yes, especially before it was overcompressed in the mastering stage?

 

e.g. is the mix for Bruce Springsteen's Magic as bad as the CD?

Does the Born To Run final mix actually sound as bad as the CD?

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