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Is there specific music for testing and comparing various in-ear monitors?

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

Hello — Mike here from Ultimate Ears again. As promised, I wanted to follow up with part 2 of the educational article: What’s the best way to test and compare in-ear monitors? Just like last week, this segment comes via the UE University but is posted in its entirety here.



Last week we talked about comparing in-ear models based on isolating individual frequencies through tone generators. That makes sense as a starting point but I doubt you spend the majority of your time listening to pure tones. The important take-home lesson was to familiarize yourself with the relative pitches of each frequency and to hear how various in-ears handle them without any additional frequency interference.


So now’s a good time to talk about why we used a tone generator rather than simply listening to individual notes on a piano or a guitar. The computer generated sine wave that creates the tone is pure. There are no harmonics. There is no color. No amplitude or time-profile of the resonance frequencies. Basically, there’s nothing musical about it at all. And that’s precisely the point.  No timbre.


All instruments play the same basic notes but a note from an instrument is never just simply a note. It’s the reflection and personality of the instrument. A guitar string may vibrate at the same frequency as a violin string but the overtones are different. The sound will amplify differently in the larger guitar body or maybe it will reflect differently off of the tone wood in the violin. Regardless of the why (although this is one of the most fascinating aspects of sound) what’s important to keep in mind is that while A440 has the same frequency across all instruments that play it, the total sound profile is different for every instrument. So to fully enjoy the nuances of your favorite piano piece, you need to be 100% confident that your monitors can seamlessly handle multiple competing frequencies at once. 


Now’s a good time for another listening test. Pick out a complex piece of music but one that only features 1 instrument. I’d recommend any classical piano prelude or étude. If you’re not so familiar with the genre, I’d recommend anything by Chopin or Debussy. You want a piece with space and breadth between the notes. Audition your monitors with this piece and pay close attention to everything that you learned while listening to the pure tones. What do you notice? How does the sound decay? How does the space sound? How do the individual notes and the chords feel? Now listen to the same piece with a different pair of headphones / in-ears? What differences did you hear? OK. Now listen to the same piece but with a different bitrate or codec. Can you hear the file limitations? 


Even if you never listen to piano pieces, this exercise will teach you amazing things about your in-ear monitors or headphones. Since the piano is one of the only instruments that covers nearly the entire audible spectrum, you’ll be listening to hear where your monitors shine or where they may have holes. How did they perform in the lowest registers? And the highest? Was your listening experience musical or analytical. And since you’ll be focusing on just one instrument, you won’t get distracted by the mix. Which is what we’ll cover next week.


This is part 2 in a 4 part series dedicated to objectively testing and comparing monitors.


It is my sincere hope and belief that when we combine all these topics, we will slightly change how we listen / judge / evaluate phones — or better put, we'll be able to better focus our energy and attention on the frequencies and parts of the mix that matter most to all of us. For you see, there is no one [absolute] perfect in-ear or headphone out there. But there is a perfect solution for you based on your particular desires. And having the terms and concepts of what to listen for down pat will help you find what's best for you. So with that — I hope that everyone finds this as endlessly fascinating as I do.
Can't wait to read your thoughts. 


Edited by Mike Dias - 12/2/13 at 10:49am
post #2 of 3
Great stuff!!

So fascinating, this sound stuff is, huh?

A bit off topic, but check out "DLZ" by TV on the Radio. The organ coming through about a minute in is so awesome!!

Back on topic, in my limited experience with iems I feel like they are pretty clear cut. Right in your ear, and no bs. You hear what you hear. Whenever I test new gear or mixes I usually go to my iems 1st.
post #3 of 3
Also, "DLZ" IMO is a good test for prat as well. One of my reference songs, obviously. That organ that sounds so awesome a minute in on nice systems isn't heard well in most run of the mill car systems, just as one example.

That's one of the great idiosyncrasies of music/sound engineering/production in my eyes. Artists/producers will go through hell and back boosting, cutting, panning, arranging, layering, hyper editing, etc.

In the end, a lot of times if they get it just right in their own eyes, so much can be missed by a quick listen on a car system in an mp3 format or with some ****ty apple buds, (or worse,which is how most people these days listen to music, right?)

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