Hello, Head-Fiers! I've been a lurker on these forums for about a year and finally decided to join as a member. I'm quite new to the world of headphones and the users and posts here were great resources for me to get a little up to speed on things. Along with this short introduction, I'd like to bring forth a discussion of "good sound" and what brings it about (pardon me if this is the wrong place to start something like this). The reason is because until just recently (no more than maybe two hours ago) I just couldn't pinpoint what "good sound" was, or more specifically, what you should hear from a quality pair of headphones. It's a long read, so I apologize ahead of time for that. For those wanting to just get to the discussion, my topic can be summarized in a few parts: how would you describe "good sound" in your terms (in as layman terms as possible. I've found that audiophile lingo is frequently contradictory because of differences in interpretation)? What factors do you think contributes most to "good sound" from your headphones?
Over the year, I spent a good amount of time going through threads and resources partially to absorb as much as I could about the audiophile lingo and the different types of sounds that exist, and otherwise, because it was fun to read about other people's experiences. Because of the subjectivity of sound, I found myself confused with how people described sound, seeing some terms used in contradicting ways and, other times, just flat-out not hearing what some people were gushing about. As I made my way through budget IEMs and portable/full headphones, I grew more and more curious about the kind of sound that would get people raving on their toes, just completely enraptured with what the headphones were sending off into their ears. My purchases became more and more expensive (relatively anyways) until I finally decided to take a leap and poke a foot out of the budget world. I bought a pair of Beyerdynamic DT1350, hearing about its detail, clarity, and overall neutral tone. With each purchase I made before, the level of detail in sound grew, but at a certain point, there seemed to be diminishing returns. With the DT1350, I hoped that it was a large enough leap that perhaps I could get a taste of what "good sound" was.
Hearing about amps and USB DACs, I also purchased a FiiO E5 w/ LOD for my portable music players and an Audioquest Dragonfly for my PC. My purchases were all easy to drive on even an iPod, so I sometimes wondered if the amp and DAC were excessive. I took to some casual comparisons and, of course, found that differences were far more noticeable in a quiet setting, even with decent noise isolation. When first using the amp and DAC, I noticed sounds that I hadn't heard before and levels of detail that surprised me. However, as time went on, I realized that these sounds were always there, it was just that I hadn't taken the time to focus enough to coax them out. In multiple listening sessions, I found that the E5 and the Dragonfly didn't seem to make much difference, nor did using different sources ranging from FLACs to low bitrate MP3s. These were all issues that had been debated to death in the forums, so I was still unsure of whether I was just not taking the right steps to get the full performance out of these variables.
Getting the DT1350s, I was surprised again at the jump in SQ. The whole package seemed to be exactly as people described it. The tight clamping force squishing my ears to oblivion in as small a timespan as 30 minutes. A compact soundstage, but rich with detail and something that I had rarely heard (or perhaps felt?) before: sub bass. Although I had planned to listen to them mainly at home, the relatively amazing sound quality convinced me to endure the pincers on long bus rides and walks. For a good month or two, I was convinced that I had finally experienced a healthy portion of what "good sound" was and that I could use these as my new standard of excellence.
As time went on, other people were curious to hear the DT1350s (Beyerdynamic is relatively unknown in my community; one friend even described it as insanely obscure). The general consensus was that they sounded like good headphones, although I could see that there was reluctance in believing the price tag (not the retail price, as I had gotten these for around $180). Comparing with other people's headphones, I still believed that the DT1350s were superior in SQ, but what exactly was superior was starting to elude me. I found it harder and harder to describe exactly the better points of the headphones and began using the excuse of the DT1350's tricky positioning to convince myself otherwise.
I fiddled with the DT1350s constantly, thinking that I was never hitting the sweet spot, finding that the sound felt almost muffled at some points, that the crisp details I had heard before were nearly indistinguishable from a pair of JVC HA-RX 700s. The bass was a hit or miss and it took me a while to realize that any differences I was hearing was because of the original music source. Some songs had stronger mids while others were more bass heavy. Using the E5 made more details come out, but again, only those that were already apparent in the song from the start and could be heard with anything at a loud enough volume. I grew more and more wary with reviews and comments on headphones, skeptical whenever someone doled out praises like breadcrumbs to hungry birds. I decided not to make any more purchases, believing that there was nothing more to gain. How much better could anything be, if something retailed at over $300 and well-regarded by the audiophile community sounded so similar to a pair of $50 budget cans? That I had to strain my ears to hear any difference, differences so slight that it could easily pass off as imagination? Perhaps more of an effect could be found if I invested in $500+ amp setups and cans. Maybe. Skeptical.
Disillusioned, I continued on with the DT1350s as my main, stubbornly telling myself that the mids were far more clear, the bass more than just a one-note bump, the treble sharp, but not ear-piercingly so. But was that all good sound was? Just a balanced mixture of the holy trinity? What else could it be, I thought. And even if it was, a part of me knew that the DT1350s weren't producing what I was envisioning as "good sound." The bass was just a bump. The treble felt immensely rolled off. The mids felt like I had cotton in my ears (all relatively speaking, though. not that I had ever heard anything better, but my brain was telling me that this wasn't what I should be hearing). And so it went for another few months. By this time, I couldn't blame something like burn-in with hundreds of hours of use on it. Music source didn't help, amps and DACs did nothing but improve my volume levels. The idea of a seal was just making me poke and prod my headphones, to the point that the clamping force actually began to lessen as the band bent.
"Good sound" seemed like an overstatement, a hyped up phenomenon that was created for marketing and largely powered through conviction and exaggeration.
I decided to forget about achieving "good sound" and just enjoy my music. It was nice to listen to, but I didn't feel much passion for headphones anymore. They were just a vehicle for songs. I used what I had and didn't have much preference.
Then today, as I got off the bus with my DT1350s on, my portable music player (an outdated Android phone) crashed and did a hard reset. I calmly turned it back on and then repositioned my headphones again, purely out of habit. Then, looking absentmindedly at the passing buses, I went back to the song I had been playing and zoned out.
It was like seeing someone with a new haircut. You can tell something is different out of the corner of your eye, but don't bother to look. But when you do, your mind just ****s out a reaction.
A drum beat started. It wasn't a bump. It wasn't even a loud boom. It was a blow that shot into my ears, rattling everything behind it, then dispersing like smoke. Powerful? Punchy? I could only describe it as having energy.
A guitar riff began. Each strum was distinct, bringing to mind being slapped by hard bristles. Was this clarity? Sharpness? Detail? The vocal came in and this time, I knew the culprit. The voice was so loud, so close, I mentally slapped my face in realization. I must've turned the volume up. But even as I brought my phone out, I could hear the slight tremors in the singer's voice. Breaths being taken, light echoes lighting, then vanishing, whispers that came somewhere in the direction of my shoulder. Instrument separation? Opening up the soundstage? I unlocked my phone and looked. The volume was the same as it always was.
Another song began. The strings swelled, reaching the peak that I had always hoped for, that pitch that I knew should've been in the song, but it never reached. I wanted to start laughing at this point. Was I trembling from the cold? What the hell was going on?
It was like my songs had been scrubbed until a hole had appeared in them. Like when you squint to look far into the distance, I focused my hearing on the faintest detail I could get. But everything else stayed distinct, all parts of the song grabbing my attention without getting blurred or being overpowering. It was like changing from a macro lens to a wide angle deep focus. People always say "I heard things I never did before" when they get to the next level. This was it. This was what I had been looking for all along.
To top it off, these headphones had been on my ears for over 5 hours. My ears were screaming with pain, begging to be released before they got flattened into pancakes. But I didn't give a damn. Screw my ears, who knew if I could come back to this happy mistake? At the very least, let me imprint this into my mind, this amazing amazing experience.
Currently, I've had to take them off. It's a bit disappointing, but my ears are still aching even after being exposed to freedom for a good hour. But it was well-worth the pain. Finally, what I perceived as the sound quality had touched the ideal that had been building in my head for the past year. This level of difference was so huge that it couldn't be ignored as a figment of my imagination. After all this time, I finally figured out what "good sound" was and it had been damn worth the wait.
So, fellow Head-Fiers, in concluding this long narrative, adding some questions to the ones from above. What do you think was the cause of this sudden transformation? Was it because I had unwittingly gotten the "perfect seal" in callously repositioning my headphones? Did something happen to my phone to turn it into a super accurate sound system? Did some headphone god float over and bless my headphones (hopefully for all eternity)?
Edited by watsupoll - 1/31/14 at 6:20pm