TwoEars HD800 to HD650 Sound Signature Conversion (incl. Dolby Headphone)
(I can almost guarantee you've never heard your HD800's quite like this before!!!)
(just extract to desired location and use the foobar2000.exe to play your flac files)
Q1: What is this?
A1: This is a ready-to-use Foobar2000 EQ Package that gives you as close as possible the lovely and forgiving sound signature of the HD650 headphone on the HD800. It is tweaked a little on the safe side so that the HD800 is a little closer to a "reference presentation" than overly dark or forgiving. It is also setup with Dolby Headphone by default, which can be disabled at your discretion. But if you haven't heard it you're in for a treat.
A2: Because to me the HD800 is the best headphone transducer I know (although I've never heard a stax rig I must admit). The HD800 has outstanding soundstage, details, clarity, texture and bass control. It is also very comfortable and well built. However - as so many others I also feel that it can a bit cold analytical and unforgiving. It is a hard headphone to connect emotionally with. And while the HD650 is technically inferior it is much better at portraying emotion and establishing a connection to the artist. So by this reasoning the perfect headphone in my mind would be a HD800 with the HD650 sound signature!
Q3: Alright, so what does this mod do exactly?
A3: Elementary my dear Watson. It is the Foobar2000 which we all know and love. Then I have added the Dolby Headphone tweaked for the HD800, a channel mixer similar to something like the phonitor and then last but not least an EQ to transform the sound signature of the HD800 to something along the lines of a HD650, but maybe not quite after all. The end result is quite impressive if you ask me. There are many other filters and mods I could have added, as I've played with several, but I wanted to keep it simple. KISS you know.
Q4: Isn't this need for EQ'ing just a result of bad gear? Such as using the wrong DAC or AMP?
A4: No - a tube amp with a very rolled off treble can lessen the problems that the HD800 is suffering from. But matching the HD800 to a slow and warm tube amp is not the best idea. The HD800 thrives on speed, detail and clarity. Take away that and what's the point? Similarly a very smooth DAC can make that harshness seem less painful, but it will be at the cost of detail and clarity. A forgiving DAC is often a veiled DAC. A surgical precision EQ-effort is a much more effective solution that cuts right to the core of the problem. With an EQ setup like this one here you can run a fast neutral amp and highly resolving sabre chip dac no problem. You will be amazed at the detail and clarity.
Q5: What is the deal with the HD800 anyway? Why is there so much talk about it being harsh and fatiguing?
A5: The HD800 uses an innovative ring driver technology. It is a very good transducer and has a big surface area, it has great control and is fantastic for soundstage. But this was a brand new technology for sennheiser and like all speakers and materials it has what is called an eigenfrequency, or resonating frequency. This is the kind of oscillations that makes it so that you can shatter glass with your voice (well - maybe not *your* voice, certainly not mine).
Q6: Ok - so this eigenfrequency something, is that a made up word or do you actually have some kind of proof for this?
A6: In fact I have. Please see graph below courtesy of HeadRoom (http://www.headphone.com/learning-center/build-a-graph.php):
This is the freq. response graph of the HD800 vs the HD650. That blue mountain you see there to the right at 6-10 kHz isn't really supposed to be there. What you're looking at is a mountain of evil eigenfrequencies that doesn't want anything but to make your life miserable. The engineers at Sennheiser are cursing in German right now, and I feel their pain. But it is what it is.
As you can see in this graph the maximum difference between the blue and red line is upwards of 8 dB in some places, if you know anything about how decibels work you will know that this is an absolutely huge difference. No wonder the HD800 and HD650 sound nothing alike. If you really want to dive into the depths of this, and also have a look at a simulated ring driver, I highly recommend this blog: http://rinchoi.blogspot.se/2013/01/sennheiser-hd800-part3-in-depth.html
But for us the more practical application right now is to look the graph above and realize two things:
First: On the HD800 the oh so important midrange where most of the vocals live between 1k and 3k is significantly lower on the HD800 than on the HD650.
Second: We really should find a way to cut away some of that blue mountain over there to the right, 6k Hz really is a very high tone. Try a sine wave generator and you will see what I mean. It's not going to do anything good for our music.
So how do we do this then? With Foobar2000 Electri-Q EQ plug-in of course!
By looking at the graph above we can guess good starting points for our EQ'ing. And as it so happens I also have one pair of HD800, one pair of HD650 (silver driver) and a very good DAC and a large collection of Flac handy! So let's get cracking!
Well... it wasn't as easy as I thought.... those graphs are good starting points but it took me upwards of 30 iterations and a couple of days to get the desired sound I wanted from the HD800. The tricky part is lifting up the mid range the right place, and by the right amount, and also cutting off that peak by the right amount. It was easy to get the mix too dark, I wanted to be careful not to take away too much of the sense of space and air the vocals.
So keeping the balance right, adding more presence to vocals, and allowing female vocalists to carry their high notes while at the same time cutting away that blue mountain of undesired sound proved a little tricky. But I think I got it pretty right and I'm happy with the results, I've achieved exactly what I wanted. The final sound signature is a bit more "high-end reference hi-fi" than the HD650 if you ask me. But all things considered that's probably a good thing.
Below are also my notes I did while carrying out A/B/C comparisons during the last iteration of this mod. The idea was to have songs with different vocal range, and also emotional tone, and see if everything came across the way I thought it should sound.
The way I did it was that I first listened to the entire track without EQ on the HD800, I took notes of what I liked about it and what could be improved. I then moved on to the HD650 without EQ and tried to see "how it felt different". And finally I moved on the HD800 with my current EQ filter to see if I was happy with that EQ setting or not. Sometimes I went back and forth between the HD800 with and without EQ as well just to see if it had the effect I "imagined it to have":
RAW TEST NOTES:
Army of Me - Bjork
HD800: Too bright, not enough guts. Bjork feels like a little girl telling her mother she's upset because someone stole her sweetroll.
HD650: Technically messy and not very well reproduced, or maybe the original mix just isn't that good either really? The tonality and feel of the track is however much better. The drums have weight, there is anger in Bjork's voice. You can tell she isn't joking around, better not get in her way.
HD800 with EQ: Much better, there is more weight in the bass, Bjork has a stronger presence, technically better reproduced with more control. The message of the song comes through. Still overall a little brighter presentation than the HD650. But that's ok. The HD650 is already a pretty dark headphone so I'm no going to EQ something to be even darker than that. Overall happy with mix.
Pink Martini - Sympathique
HD800: Very good. This is a beautifully track and very clean. Could happily leave the HD800 un-eq'd for this track. Perhaps her tonality is a little bit too bright to be realistic? She lacks a little bit of presence compared the HD650, like she's standing further away up against a wall in a big hall. The presentation feels a little bit cool, a little reserved and professional. The trumpet and cymbals take up more attention than they do with the HD650. It doesn't feel very intimate.
HD650: Fantastic. This is what the HD650 does best. Glorious midrange. Very good presence. No part of the presentation dominates but yet every instrument has its part to play. Great music. I can honestly say that HD800 is good here but it's bested by the presence and life-like presentation of the HD650. She's pouring her heart into the microphone and connecting with the audience.
HD800 with EQ: More presence. She's no longer hiding up against the back wall. She's now standing in the middle of the room and connecting with us, she's turning around looking us in the eyes one by one as she sings. There's still a bit less intimacy and presence than the HD650, but there is a fantastic delicacy to the overall presentation that even the HD650 lacks. You can hear the slightest breath. Her message is definitely coming across and it feels personal.
Dio - Holy Diver (remasted)
HD800: This is a fantastic rock track. Lots of details and great rythm. All instruments are presented with fantastic impact and texture. Vocals are somewhat recessed, struggling to really break free and lift from the drums and guitars. Giving the impression of a somewhat flat presentation. It feels a little bit like something recorded in a studio by a very "correct" mastering engineer.
HD650: Yes, this is actually better. Right away the the guitars and vocals have much more presence. The vocals are no longer crammed in between the drums and high flying guitar riffs. The vocals take a center stage accompanied by the instruments. Much more enjoyable. This mastering enginer is a headbanger.
HD800_with_EQ: Yes, that's better. Just like with the HD650 the vocals now take the center stage again. Great overall balance and snap, the drums really hits hard and soundstage is nigh on perfect. Very enjoyable and impressive. The HD800 is still a little bit more "high-end reference hi-fi sound" than the HD650. The vocals actually still have even more presence on the HD650, might be mid-range distortion. But there is great presence here and either presentation is fantastic and very enjoyable.
Type O Negative - Black Nr 1
HD800: I love this track. The lyrics are a bit silly when you analyze them but such a great rock song. Same problem as with Dio really. It sounds great really and I could happily live with this if I know nothing else. However the vocals lack a bit of presence and are drowned a bit in the rest of the mix. It sounds a bit noisy and busy.
HD650: The HD650 struggles a bit with the deepest notes and bass here, it really is a pretty demanding track. The vocals however have fantastic presence when Steele really clears his throat, there's much more of a "heavy metal" feel. Me likey. However - the bass can't really keep up and becomes a bit muddled and undefined.
HD800_with_EQ: Oh yes, this is better. Steele can finally really breath again and all that subterranean bass is rendered in all its glory. Easily better than both previous options.
That's it folks! Hope you try it out and give some feedback.
If you don't like Dolby Headphone or channel mixer you can remove it.
I should also give a warning that the Dolby Headphone plug-in doesn't like anything over 16-bit 48000 I think. So if you have really high-res files you're going to get some loud noise or hiss. Don't do that, it sounds bad. But you're 100% fine with cd rips, which is what my collection is anyways.
Also remember to set your desired output device (wasapi push or event) for best sound quality and to bypass the windows drivers. It's really easy, in Foobar2000 just go "File --> Preferences --> Output" and select the correct device for you. Probably wasapi usb if you have an external usb dac. Also set the the output to 16-bit if you plan on using this configuration since you can't play higher anyway with Dolby.
I also want to give a big shoutout to RPGWiZaRD who led me down the path of the Dolby Headphone mod which I've been enjoying and playing with ever since!
Edited by TwoEars - 3/19/14 at 10:49am