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Help - Developing my audio knowledge and understanding of my own preferences

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

Hey guys,

I jumped into higher than average audio equipment when I purchased a pair of Ultrasone HFI-700 headphones after reading reviews on this site about 4.5 years ago. I also own a pair of Shure IEMs but I don't know what the model is. They are 5+ years old, have a large phone/music switch on them for back when cellphones were using smaller jacks than the 3.5mm so they have 2 permanent jacks one 3.5mm and the other smaller size. Since then I have been pretty content with my gear but have recently started looking at new headphones and/or IEMs as well as portable & desktop amplification w/ DAC. I'm 22 now and working enough to make a purchase or two even being a broke student.

 

Basically I come  to the forum for my first post in hopes of finding some literature/articles/posts that will help me develop my understanding of particularly my own preferences when it comes to sound. I've read that different audio setups are described with words like airy, warm, and cold. Often times certain reviews and opinions seem to conclude that the equipment is great if you like a certain type of "sound signature". I want to learn how to explore my preferences.

 

I listen to a large variety of music and I fear that my desired sound signature will be different depending on what I'm listening to. Any links or time taken to point me in the right direction will be greatly appreciated. I especially desire to learn the -correct- terms involved in describing certain characteristics of sound so that I can better assess what equipment may be right for me as well as identify these characteristics in my own listening experiences.

 

Thanks,
Brent

post #2 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperCruncher View Post
I've read that different audio setups are described with words like airy, warm, and cold. Often times certain reviews and opinions seem to conclude that the equipment is great if you like a certain type of "sound signature". I want to learn how to explore my preferences.

In my opinion, the "best" system is one that's neutral with no added coloration of its own. That's the best way to experience the intent of the artist and recording engineers. Sean Olive of Harmon Kardon has done extensive research into "preferences," and he found that people overwhelmingly prefer a system that's flat and with low distortion.

 

--Ethan

post #3 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by EthanWiner View Post

In my opinion, the "best" system is one that's neutral with no added coloration of its own. That's the best way to experience the intent of the artist and recording engineers. Sean Olive of Harmon Kardon has done extensive research into "preferences," and he found that people overwhelmingly prefer a system that's flat and with low distortion.

 

--Ethan

 

Is it also not reasonable to assume that at least the highly regarded headphone and speaker manufacturers test their equipment on gear that measures flat (in other words, is as close as possible to the 'industry standard' - if that is the right way to describe good measurements)?

post #4 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperCruncher View Post

Hey guys,

I jumped into higher than average audio equipment when I purchased a pair of Ultrasone HFI-700 headphones after reading reviews on this site about 4.5 years ago. I also own a pair of Shure IEMs but I don't know what the model is. They are 5+ years old, have a large phone/music switch on them for back when cellphones were using smaller jacks than the 3.5mm so they have 2 permanent jacks one 3.5mm and the other smaller size. Since then I have been pretty content with my gear but have recently started looking at new headphones and/or IEMs as well as portable & desktop amplification w/ DAC. I'm 22 now and working enough to make a purchase or two even being a broke student.

 

Basically I come  to the forum for my first post in hopes of finding some literature/articles/posts that will help me develop my understanding of particularly my own preferences when it comes to sound. I've read that different audio setups are described with words like airy, warm, and cold. Often times certain reviews and opinions seem to conclude that the equipment is great if you like a certain type of "sound signature". I want to learn how to explore my preferences.

 

I listen to a large variety of music and I fear that my desired sound signature will be different depending on what I'm listening to. Any links or time taken to point me in the right direction will be greatly appreciated. I especially desire to learn the -correct- terms involved in describing certain characteristics of sound so that I can better assess what equipment may be right for me as well as identify these characteristics in my own listening experiences.

 

Thanks,
Brent

 

The famous AES (society for professional recording engineers and audio equipment designers) panel debunking audiophile myths:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYTlN6wjcvQ

 

The follow on book - I'm about to order it myself:

 

http://www.sonicscoop.com/2012/06/14/infamous-myth-buster-ethan-winer-rewrites-the-audio-rulebook/

post #5 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by EthanWiner View Post

In my opinion, the "best" system is one that's neutral with no added coloration of its own. That's the best way to experience the intent of the artist and recording engineers. Sean Olive of Harmon Kardon has done extensive research into "preferences," and he found that people overwhelmingly prefer a system that's flat and with low distortion.

 

--Ethan

Umm... I just recommended this gentleman's book without realizing he was here.

 

(That's an extremely recognizeable cat.)

post #6 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SunshineReggae View Post

Is it also not reasonable to assume that at least the highly regarded headphone and speaker manufacturers test their equipment on gear that measures flat (in other words, is as close as possible to the 'industry standard' - if that is the right way to describe good measurements)?

Electronic devices are usually very flat and with very low distortion. What varies the most are transducers: microphones, loudspeakers, and headphones. So unless a headphone maker is using inadequate power amps and music sources, their own headphones are surely the larger variable.

--Ethan
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 

So is we go from the understanding that "electronic devices are usually very flat" then how come most reviewers on this site speak of certain head gear being lacking or robust in highs, mids, lows? Or is this a different issue entirely from being airy/warm/cold?

post #8 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperCruncher View Post

So is we go from the understanding that "electronic devices are usually very flat" then how come most reviewers on this site speak of certain head gear being lacking or robust in highs, mids, lows? Or is this a different issue entirely from being airy/warm/cold?

 

Because these people are a self-selected group who are particularly susceptible to the placebo effect, particularly invested in the idea that the above is true, and that being able to detect differences where others can't gives them status, and then because marketing people and their shills then manipulate these dupes like crazy. Plus some "audiophile" gear is built to sound unflat - it's engineered poorly to increase marketing appeal. I'm pretty sure that most people here think that a class A amp must be better than a class AB ("because, they're like grades, man!") and that no feedback is a good idea (when actually negative feedback is very useful.) So you can get class A feedbackless "audiophile" designs costing a lot of moolah that are inferior to a cheap mass market amp that has used an AB negative feedback design, but human nature being what is, the poor idiot who has bought the more expensive amp will hear the distortion it produces as highly cherished "character".

post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 

You lost me scuttle, I'm just trying to learn how to take the information given by reviews of gear on this site to make my own purchase decisions.
 

post #10 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperCruncher View Post

So is we go from the understanding that "electronic devices are usually very flat" then how come most reviewers on this site speak of certain head gear being lacking or robust in highs, mids, lows? Or is this a different issue entirely from being airy/warm/cold?

There could be some interface issues.  An amp by itself, lightly loaded with a pure resistor may measure very flat, but it may not be able to supply a flat response to a complex reactive load, like some headphones.  That would result in an audible change that may be interpreted as airy/warm/cold, whatever that means.  

 

What you will find is that if one amp measures flat with a certain load, and another also measures flat with the same load, they'll sound the same.  

 

Reviews are also subjective, and their impressions are driven by a lot of other sensory and psychological input.  Their observations are not invalid, just not based only on the actual sound of the device.

post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperCruncher View Post

You lost me scuttle, I'm just trying to learn how to take the information given by reviews of gear on this site to make my own purchase decisions.
 

I don't think there's a great way to answer your question without you first testing out some headphones with known sound signatures. If you try a headphone that is known to be really bass-heavy and like the sound, then you know you like extra bass. Going back to your original questions, the sound signature I like does change a little from genre to genre. I have modded Grado SR 225is that have peaks in the highs (more treble than normal). I love this feature for some rock and latin music where its nice to hear all the detail of the cymbals and drums etc. There other genres where I prefer a flatter response and have spent about 10 hours with an EQ to get pretty close to flat. Natalie Cole is one example, her voice sounds horrible with the Grados stock sound. It sounds like she's whining instead of singing, but with the flatter EQ *BAM* she has a beautiful voice. Generally, I like a mostly flat response with a little bit of extra bass, but it took a lot of time and work to EQ my phones to "near" flat so I would have a reference point.

 

On the upside you can, like me, buy a good (maybe not great) pair of headphones before you know exactly what kind of sound you like and work with a good EQ to fine tune things over time. If you EQ correctly and are using a good headphone to begin with you won't really lose any noticeable sound quality.

 

If you don't like the idea of EQing, then you'll probably want more than one pair of headphones in the end, so you won't waste money getting your first set.

post #12 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperCruncher View Post

You lost me scuttle, I'm just trying to learn how to take the information given by reviews of gear on this site to make my own purchase decisions.
 

 

It's pretty simple: you can't trust them, certainly not with DACs, DAPs, and amplifiers. Headphone reviews you can trust somewhat, because there are genuine differences to be found there. But you'll still find some hyped to an unrealistic degree because of branding or groupthink.

post #13 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by mnarwold View Post

If you don't like the idea of EQing

 

..Then really, you deserve to have to spend hundreds or thousands of extra dollars for no good reason. 


Edited by scuttle - 2/27/13 at 12:31pm
post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by jaddie View Post

There could be some interface issues.  An amp by itself, lightly loaded with a pure resistor may measure very flat, but it may not be able to supply a flat response to a complex reactive load, like some headphones.  That would result in an audible change that may be interpreted as airy/warm/cold, whatever that means.  

 

What you will find is that if one amp measures flat with a certain load, and another also measures flat with the same load, they'll sound the same.  

 

Reviews are also subjective, and their impressions are driven by a lot of other sensory and psychological input.  Their observations are not invalid, just not based only on the actual sound of the device.


Question about this: when it comes to measurements, and assuming the measurements are 'very good', what do they influence? Is it just frequency response and the ability to maintain it as required power increases?

Just as an example: I stopped believing that amps could improve soundstage long ago, but do they for instance affect the quality of the imaging? Or, to better put it, do they influence it? That is to ask, can an underpowered and badly measuring amp fowl up things such as imaging?


Edited by SunshineReggae - 2/27/13 at 1:50pm
post #15 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by scuttle View Post

 

..Then really, you deserve to have to spend hundreds or thousands of extra dollars for no good reason. 

Well, mostly true :) There are some down sides to taking a pair of headphones and making them flat via EQ. The biggest is that the EQ doesn't accompany the headphones everywhere they go. I use J.River as my media player and have an EQ within that, but all the sound that doesn't go through J.River isn't eq'd. No parametric EQ on my iPod or friends laptop, etc. etc. but you have a point, the scientific, tested, and objective perspective is certainly the far cheaper one to have.

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