Originally Posted by IEMCrazy
I think that faction is relatively new and comes from the geek realm introduced by the obsessive-compulsive measurement-driven engineering crowd that bringing computer audio into the fold dragged with it....when formerly they lived at a certain forum named for an elemental gas and religiously bashed Head-Fi'ers.
Ironically they bash the "hostility" of subjective audiophiles, versus their well balanced measurement based opinions, but in my experience tend to be the far more hostile group to those who disagree. Yeah, there's a lot of audiophile mysticism out there that's just a little more crazy than nuts, but that element takes it to the extreme and anything that doesn't measure "flat zero like on the recording" is horribly "flawed."
This made me chuckle, I don't know if it's because it's so true, or I know exactly who we're talking about, or what. But yeah. I will add that yeah, the "crazy tweako audiophiles" (I don't mean that in a mean or bad way, I don't know how else to categorize those folks - you know, the guys who have cable lifters, burn-in their in-wall wiring, draw on their CDs with felt pens, etc) generally are pretty laid-back and don't tend to want to start a huge fight unless you start stepping on their toes. But the chart-warrior, meter-maid crusaders who just want to reduce everything and everyone to a sum of benchmark scores and SES, those guys are a bit...fanatical.
I always get amazed when audiophiles start going off on either the ills of tubes and warmth in "neutral sound", or on the other hand the ones that insist on horribly sterile-to-treble-tilted&sterile headphones when listening to classical to hear it properly. I've never seen a concert hall with neutral, sterile, or dry sound, and most of them spend a few hundred million padding and wood-cladding the room to try to warm up the sound. The cold sterile art nouveau glass & steel cage halls tend to be the constant grumble of conductors everywhere who practically apologize for the SQ of the building.
But you have to remember, most of those chart warriors have never heard live, unamplified, music, and a lot of them are under 25. Their experience is limited to a bunch of boom-boom car stereos and cheap HTIBs, and whatever is contrary and different from that MUST be good. Right?
Absolutely, it happens all too often, and there's way too much ease in selling people "more detail" with just more peaky treble. Even with HE-6 while I was playing with tone controls, I'd left it at max treble for a while (it worked well for a particular album which, IMO, was recorded somewhat poorly with too warmed over a midrange.) after listening to half of it in the neutral position, I listened for a while with the treble cranked. When I flipped it back the mids felt muddy and congested and it had such a huge "veil". It of course didn't, it's just how the brain reacts to overexcited treble compared to balanced tonality, it perceives a loss of detail as the mind recalibrates. Which explains why it's too darned easy for an overaggressive treble headphone can sell so easily when A/B'd at demos, stores, meets, etc. The brain will always hear more detail versus a veil when switching back and forth. So it makes the sale easy. It makes living with the headphone hard.
Absolutely. Bass sells, and so does jacked treble, for the exact same reason. If you take a bass jacked headphone (let's pick on the Beats for a minute) and compare it to something that's treble jacked (we'll pick on the K550 here) - the treble jacked set comes out more "detailed" or "revealing" or "fast" especially if you have frame of reference for music, good speakers, whatever. And because it's from an obscure brand that isn't talked about a lot, that obviously lends to street cred, and you should buy two. Neither is really "right" but being able to show up your high school buddies on the way to Algebra and feel like the smartest kid on the block since Irkel is probably worth something, right?
There's also the whole question of what music you're putting into it, and how you think or know that music should sound, and so on. If you are trying to hear "flat" you will end up preferencing a big'ol smiley face unless you know what truly flat sounds like (this is an example).
And that's not to say that a balanced or neutral presentation shouldn't be fatiguing if played accurately if the recording (or the instrument(s) being recorded are fatiguing. HE-6 so far for me has been wonderfully fatigue free. But I got rather fatigued listening to an album the other day with three screaming violins at once. The headphone wasn't fatiguing, and the recording wasn't hot. It just so happens that three screaming violins really are fatiguing. One volin with new enough wood strung at high tension with something like Pirastro Eva's is enough to pierce the ears. That's something else I think a lot of audiophiles get confused about: The gear versus the recording. I think many would scream "that headphone is too bright" if they heard that album when in fact it was very neutrally representing a bright instrument. And that's coming from someone that hates aggressive treble with a passion. Even that was more listenable to me, than D5k for any kind of aggressive instrument which just spikes the upper mids and treble to ear crushing levels for me. And more than K702. While it's a wondefully "sterile-neutral" headphone I think there's some grain/distortion up in the treble at times that makes them a very difficult listen, despite having a lot of great attributes. It's not a very treble-tilted headphone, but what it does in the treble can be very painful if it's not tamed with warmer amping etc. But it never struck me as "more detail" the way some go on about it.
This too. Good extension and impact aren't the same thing, but the material going into the speakers/headphones/whatever absolutely makes a difference. And I think that's lost on people for some reason. Personally I won't tolerate any headphone (or speaker) that sounds harsh, ever, because if it's simply not aggressive or harsh with some material, but is with others, it means that's always flawed, you just aren't exciting those flaws or noticing them as fully at a given point. A good headphone (or speaker) should be able to translate shrill, clash, and sizzle just as it should be able to translate smooth, romantic, and tubby. The whole "speaker for a genre" thing is kind of nutty imho (and no manufacturers actually jump into this boat, with the exception of "bass boost" headphones). Good should be good across the board. This is where I agree with Currawong on 'stats - neither of the ESPs I have will ever drive nails through your skull unless the recording is meant to drive nails through your skull. But there are plenty of very expensive, very popular, "high end" audiophile cans that will burn your eyes out from the back just because a guitar happens to appear in the song.
I'm surprised at what you say about AT IEMs. And I listen to a lot of older jazz & classical and I find piercing treble every bit as problematic there as anywhere else. If not moreso. The only time it's not a problem is when the recording is so old that higher frequencies are simply missing from the original recording so the spikes don't matter. But most half-decent stuff of that era has been remastered anyway unless you're listening on vinyl. I have one SACD, I forget which artist, that's the old recording mostly unedited. Honestly i don't know why they bothered making an SACD of it, the resolution, dynamics, and noise floor are so poor anyway.
I would think the vinyl and age requirement come into play here - as you replay an LP it shreds up the HF information, and as you age you lose HF acuity, so it's entirely plausible that after 30-40 years of listening to the same LP on repeat every day with your bright-as-the-sun headphones, it starts to sound pretty flat to your old ears. The problem is when those "old guys" translate their experiences down to the kids, and the kids pick up on it simply because it's contrary to popular thinking, and that of course makes it the best thing since sliced bread. I'm really noticing more crowd psychology and sociocultural phenomenons here than a quest for good sound, as an aside.
This trend of "more treble spikes, reduced bass = more detail" is one of those frustrating trends for audio that I'd love for it to pass, but I know what the result will be, a pendulum swing to "it's all about bass, not treble!"
There's surprisingly few headphones that seem to actually go for balanced sound that isn't sterile.
I don't see it as a pendulum swing either way - if you go back and find speakers, headphones, whatever from "the olden times" they are usually either very N-shaped (if they're really old) or relatively flat (or otherwise not jacked up). But if you've already sold someone the last TV they will ever need to buy, how do you stay in business as a TV manufacturer? You have to invent some new reason for them to buy another TV. So you make something that has a "wow" factor and sells units. You create a High-Definition experience that's beyond reality.
I see the "bass boost" headphones as making sense for a lot of mobile use - a lot of people make a lot of noise about how horrible Beats or SMS or whatever other headphones are, but after riding on a bus the other day with my R/80 I was kind of wishing for a Beats headphone. The amount of low-end rumble that just destroys any low-end in the track was pretty annoying, and the headphones ended up sounding very poor (they're normally relatively balanced). Of course at home they'd sound screwy, but I don't think Beats Audio is worrying about the guy sitting in his Barcalounger with a collection of vinyl, they're thinking about kids walking around on college campuses or riding on trains or what have you.
The super treble spike stuff contrasts to that, because it will let the brain think those are "muddy" or "slow" or "tubby" when they're A/B'd. Neither is really "good."
But again, if you go back historically, neither of these flavors was really pushed. But given that speaker technology basically hit a brick wall in the 1970s, and the only real advancement for headphones since then was Neo magnets and improvements in polymers and metallurgy that made very light-weight sets possible, they gotta do something to keep moving units. It's all a cup game. I absolutely see the trend continuing simply because it seems to sell so well, and the notion of relatively flat headphones to be a thing of the past. The measurement crusade does nothing at all to stand in front of this shift; if anything it perpetuates and perpetrates it.
Originally Posted by IEMCrazy
+1. I often disagree with the "dynamics are inferior" mantras (even if in some areas they genuinely are), but I agree, dynamics hit their real peaks of performance long ago. Which isn't a bad thing. Sure for an extra million or ten you can design just one more etch in the diaphragm to reduce distortion just another bit, but in practical terms, there's only so much you can do with a tech that's so established. And they do very well, for relatively little money.
The reality is, we (as the industrial world) have been able to produce a very low distortion, high efficiency, good sounding dynamic driver for at least 50 years. If not longer. The advancements have come in terms of weight, cost, and so on. For example the Koss PRO4/AA cost the equivalent of something like $400-$500 when it was released in the 1970s (they were like $50 or so), and the big-brother ESP/10 was closer to the equivalent of $1500 (it was like $350 in 1977). We can do roughly equivalent performance for comparatively less outlay (for example the ESP/950 are only $1000 today), but that doesn't mean all of the old stuff should be the final word. There's preference and all that which goes into the discussion as well - nothing sounds like a Grado, and various radiative pattern alignments from Sony and Audio-Technica did not come about until the 1980s. But it's all "minor" advancements in the grand scheme of things - genuinely good sound has existed since at least the time of Eisenhower. When you spend a billion dollars on new RD to drop from .01% to .001% THD, you're just burning money in a pit.
People will often point out "well, many great speakers are dynamics!"...which is true...but speakers are also relying on distance, air, and room treatments which headphones don't have, and the dynamic drivers handling the low bass are physically 10, 12, 14 inches in diameter. When you're down to a few mm's there are sacrifices in air flow. That piercing treble a dynamic speaker may put out isn't very piercing by the time it gets to you. In a headphone, it is. It's like Bose syndrome. Few seem willing to comprehend that sound waves = airflow, and there's no real way around physical size of the driver (or a whole lot of little drivers working together) to achieve a certain low frequency without distortion or muddiness and the kinds of compromises needed in damping etc to make it really work. Sure, we're moving less air with a headphone, but low frequency still needs a good bit of airflow and that's very hard to do with small dynamics. There's benefits to be had there, but the amount it costs to R&D and sell them is so impractical for what you get out of it.
I'd agree and disagree. It all depends on the situation, driver motor, and so on. I have a huge issue with the American "no replacement for displacement" argument that drives a lot of discussions about why you "need" massive woofers or even headphone drivers - because it doesn't quite work that way (just like it doesn't quite work that way for cars or bikes either). Bose (since you brought them up) is probably one of the few designers that seems to comprehend this reality, and exploits it to the full limit of the law. With a headphone, or even a speaker, the problems of damping, resonance control, etc are not rocket science to fix - all of the exotic and insane solutions that a lot of audiophile types champion are just that, exotic and insane. Again, good box design dates back at least half a century, and nothing is really "new" beyond that. Absolutely none of it should be expensive is the other thing - but if you can get by selling tap water for $6.50 a gallon, why not charge $10/gallon or better for lemonade?
And you're right about the "new high end" often being 'treble clashres' and 'bass blasters' versus the goals the older cans were aiming at. There's a lot of "spin" to the audio industry, always has been, but headphones were formerly safe from the brunt of it. Not any more!
Headphones didn't used to be popular.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the only manufacturers (or people, really) who wasted time and money on exotic headphone designs were basically tinkers with enough economic capital to fund it. Like Koss. The ESP series was not done because it made them a ton of money, it was done because it was hard (to paraphrase JFK). And if you watch the video interviews with JK, he'll flat out say that the ESP are a proof-of-talent product, they did it to show everyone that they can, not because they expect to sell a billion units (and they haven't - I think I'm pretty close to the mark in stating that since the original release of the ESP/6 in 1968 through current production of the ESP/950 they have sold less than 200,000 total units across all models and markets; and they've put a lot of hours into figuring out each and every set). But by the late 1980s, headphones became more popular (thank you Sony), and from there on it became more of a profit-margin game. If it wasn't Dr Dre, it would've been someone else, it was inevitable that headphones would become "trendy" just like everything else. It's very interesting to watch historic companies try to weather it though - look at how Bose, Koss, STAX, Koss, Audio-Technica, and Sony have responded to changing market trends.
I get a kick out of the Denon "Music Maniac" new line (that name makes me shudder every time I hear it.) They keep advertising them as "designed to achieve the true flat response audiophiles demand"....yet everything about them screams of a V-shaped curve. Being V-shaped isn't a bad thing, it can be a great listen, lots of fun, and more importantly it would hold true to what anyone expects from a Denon. But how can they advertise a "V" as "flat?"
Because it will sound "flat" to your average buyer, and their target market (as well as the target market of Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, etc) is the modern head-fi'er, the kid who has owned Beats since 2006 or 2008 and has now just graduated high school, or college, and has more disposable income. And they want to buy something higher end, to make a statement about their liquidity. It's the same behavior we see from BMW and Acura. They're both jalopies, but they push out "premium finishes" and "premium branding" to try and appeal to that ~20-30 something crowd that has more credit than sense. Veblen said it first, but I'll say it now - conspicuous consumption is fun to watch. (On a side note, most of the customers of these products get pretty defensive of their purchases, I've had a couple of people nearly bite my face off for calling their Lexus a Toyota (they all look the farking same); same idea with the Denon Beats (because they totally look and sound different and are an entirely different and unique product that defines me as a special individual for owning them/it)).
Honestly the most "recent" product I own as a headphone was released in something like 2006 or 2007 (I don't count the "i" revision Grado cans as "new products"), and I'm perfectly content with that. Everything newer tends to suck pretty bad. And to be completely honest, if the ESP/10 weren't such a nightmare to restore properly, I'd gladly be using 35 year old headphones and not think anything of it, and I'd challenge all comers to produce a better pair of cans. It was done once and it was done right, all they did with the next model was make them lighter, cheaper, and sleeker looking.Edited by obobskivich - 8/24/12 at 8:42am