First post in this forum and a question
Jun 6, 2007 at 6:51 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 4


New Head-Fier
Jun 4, 2007
I posted my first message over in the amp forum, since that's what I'm working on.

In brief, I'm not a headphones first kind of guy. I mainly work on my own recordings of my own music and have a high resolution monitoring rig and monitoring space for that. Headphones are what keep me going late at night when I have to work quietly, and of course, when I'm overdubbing tracks in sync with previously recorded tracks.

My ancient HD540s have finally gotten to the end of the line. One capsule has a bad internal connection. While consistency is very important in monitoring for music production (I'm using the same full-range monitors and power amp I've used for 26 years), I decided not to try to keep the old HD 540s alive and bought rocktboy's modded HD580s, instead.

The question I thought I'd post here relates to headphone use in general. I'm struck by a quote in The New Stereo Soundbook on this issue. This text is written by Ron Streicher and F. Alton Everest and is one of the best sources of information on the stereophonic illusion and is intended primarily for recording engineers. Indeed, I wish more of them read it.

At one point, he talks about how binaural recording and playback avoids the crosstalk problem of loudspeakers and wonders why binaural listening isn't more popular. Beyond the comfort and movement issues, Streicher gives the following explanation: "Perhaps the most negative aspect of headphone listening, however, is that the perceived image is usually confined into the space between the two earphones, resulting in an image crowded inside the listener's head instead of a wide, spacious, and external sound stage. This effect is the result of standing waves and resonances set up between the eardrum and the membrane of the earphone and in the irregular cavities between the earphone and the pinna. Such standing waves and resonances alter the shape of the composite transfer function, destroying the open, free-field perception. The listener is unable to associate an external location to the sound, so that the only remaining location is inside the head - resulting inthe "musical hat" effect."

I think there is little doubt that this is probably the biggest problem with typical headphone use. I omitted Streicher's internal references to the graphs showing the typcial transfer functions for the auditory canal and outer ear. Directional information seems to be encoded in those directionallly unique frequency responses and clearly the enclosed space of the typical headphone will make utter hash of those complex functions.

Now, I don't have as broad a range of listening as many of you all. Are there headphones or "ear speakers" that really go a long way to eliminating those standing waves and resonances and allowing open, free-field perception? It looks like something like the AKG K1000 might be in that category.

Of course, the other big problem is that most 2-channel sound is mixed on loudspeakers for loudspeaker playback. Spatial distortion results when those recordings are heard through headphones.


Jun 6, 2007 at 8:20 AM Post #2 of 4
Instead of believing in what people say, simply trust your impressions. Mine say that sounds from headphones almost never go through my head. This aspect strongly depends on type of headphones, sources, cables and headphone amplifiers. Human perception of place and distance from the source of the sound is strongly based on phase shifts of tones and their harmonics. Those depend not only on the recording but also on harmonic distortions added by electronic components and cables. I experienced it while building DIY headphone amplifiers. The soundstage might be of different shapes and dimensions just because of different parts or schematics used in the assembly. Connecting cables also have influence on headphone listening impressions but not so spectacular.
I agree that binaural recording made with use of an artificial head are "superior" but IMHO they are intended for headphone listening because of microphones being installed in pleaces where a listener receives the sounds. And yes, old recordings like i.e. Miles Davis sound very realistic from headphones when properly amped. It's like being there.
Jun 6, 2007 at 12:18 PM Post #3 of 4

Originally Posted by majkel /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Instead of believing in what people say, simply trust your impressions. Mine say that sounds from headphones almost never go through my head.

Uhhh.... it's not just "some guy saying something". F. Alton Everest (then ancient and now deceased) was one of the premier authors and researchers in audio and Streicher presents this information in an accessible way, but it's really just a friendly but comprehensive summary of the psychoacoustical research on all aspects of stereophonic sound. It's based on the best of our current knowledge on this question and we ignore the research at our peril. In this case, he presents graphs of the transfer funcitions, but of course gives references to all the key research on transfer functions and directional cues.

My own impression is decidedly that my high resolution monitoring space gives a convincing sound stage. I have a qualitatively different sense of sound cues from my headphones. It's detailed and beautiful, but seems internal when compared to the open, free field cues from the monitors. This is probably one of those "digital vs. analog" type issues with no resolution, and I understand that relatively few people (even in the audiophile world) have access to such a controlled, high-resolution monitoring space and may not have that as a point of reference. I'll be interested to see what differences I notice with the HD580s and if I get a head amp or can get my Hafler amp to work properly to drive headphones instead of my M-Audio interface.


Jun 6, 2007 at 1:12 PM Post #4 of 4
Trying to account for the anatomy of the ear in a headphone design was Mr Jecklins primary aim when he developed the float chassis. The AKG K1000 was born in part out of that development.

As for this "musical hat" being an explanation for why binaural hasnt become popular, that makes no sense. The entire point of binaural recordings is that they dont have any of that effect.

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