Should *all* sonic capabilities of headphones go up with price?
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Sean_MR

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Hello! I know there are certain aspects of headphones that are more subjective and preference based, as opposed to technical, that don’t necessarily scale up with price. Like tonality and sound signature. In certain circumstances, can instrument separation and detail retrieval be one of these as well?

My intuition would say no. But I recently sold my Aeon 2 Open ($900) and Focal Clear ($1500) to buy the RAD-0, which is $2600. And on my usual test songs the RAD-0 doesn’t distinguish each instrument as clearly and cleanly, and also doesn’t seem as detailed. My gear is the exact same as it was with the previous 2 headphones.

I don’t want to jump to “I have a faulty unit,” because Rosson Audio says they have thorough testing process and I want to believe them. So can instrument separation capabilities, for example, be a decision an audio company intentionally chooses to tune differently (as opposed to just “better”)?

Thank you for any help :)
 
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IEMusic

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Hello! I know there are certain aspects of headphones that are more subjective and preference based, as opposed to technical, that don’t necessarily scale up with price. Like tonality and sound signature. In certain circumstances, can instrument separation and detail retrieval be one of these as well?

My intuition would say no. But I recently sold my Aeon 2 Open ($900) and Focal Clear ($1500) to buy the RAD-0, which is $2600. And on my usual test songs the RAD-0 doesn’t distinguish each instrument as clearly and cleanly, and also doesn’t seem as detailed. My gear is the exact same as it was with the previous 2 headphones.

I don’t want to jump to “I have a faulty unit,” because Rosson Audio says they have thorough testing process and I want to believe them. So can instrument separation capabilities, for example, be a decision an audio company intentionally chooses to tune differently (as opposed to just “better”)?

Thank you for any help :)
Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), price often does not equal capability or quality. First of all, there is no perfect headphone, even if there were no price limit. There are always some tradeoffs objectively. Subjectively, it becomes even more complex. For instance, there are quite a few people who prefer the Focal Clear to the Focal Utopia. It is true that the best products tend to be costly, but usually not the most expensive.

Qualities like instrument separation and detail retrieval do tend to also be quite subjective, as it is perception, and we often have different definitions of what “clarity, resolution, micro detail” are. Multiple well respected reviewers can easily have a different opinion about these topics, when discussing the same item. It can be frustrating, because I have been seeking multiple opinions on what the most detailed products are, and while there often is a general consensus, there still is no definite answer. Ultimately, only YOUR ears can answer that question for you.
 
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Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), price often does not equal capability or quality. First of all, there is no perfect headphone, even if there were no price limit. There are always some tradeoffs objectively. Subjectively, it becomes even more complex. For instance, there are quite a few people who prefer the Focal Clear to the Focal Utopia. It is true that the best products tend to be costly, but usually not the most expensive.

Qualities like instrument separation and detail retrieval do tend to also be quite subjective, as it is perception, and we often have different definitions of what “clarity, resolution, micro detail” are. Multiple well respected reviewers can easily have a different opinion about these topics, when discussing the same item. It can be frustrating, because I have been seeking multiple opinions on what the most detailed products are, and while there often is a general consensus, there still is no definite answer. Ultimately, only YOUR ears can answer that question for you.
Thank you! I agree that price doesn’t always equate with quality. What frustrates me currently is that when I did my research for this headphone, ~95% of the reviewers and people were in consensus. Everyone seems to agree it has superb detail and resolution, etc. So now I’m wondering if I’ve actually been misinterpreting what I thought “detail” was this whole time? And same with instrument separation. I mean the words seem pretty self explanatory, but the only options I can really see are I got a bad unit, or maybe I don’t actually know what those really sound like. Or maybe something else entirely 🤔
 
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Thank you! I agree that price doesn’t always equate with quality. What frustrates me currently is that when I did my research for this headphone, ~95% of the reviewers and people were in consensus. Everyone seems to agree it has superb detail and resolution, etc. So now I’m wondering if I’ve actually been misinterpreting what I thought “detail” was this whole time? And same with instrument separation. I mean the words seem pretty self explanatory, but the only options I can really see are I got a bad unit, or maybe I don’t actually know what those really sound like. Or maybe something else entirely 🤔
Sorry about that. It is very frustrating b/c the only way we can make sure we like something, is by listening to it ourselves. That is rarely feasible :disappointed:. That happened to me with another universally praised HP. Is it possible to exchange it? That way you can know for sure if it is a faulty unit.
 
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Price has a clear impact on the subjective impression of the buyer, you will almost never find a majority of people saying they don't like the very expensive headphone they bought. And that no matter how it sounds. Sadly I'm inclined to believe that it is more related to some loss aversion bias or not wanting to admit in public that the purchase was a mistake, than it is to expensive stuff almost always being great. One reason for me thinking so, is that actual listening tests(those where only sound is the variable known to listeners) do not suggest a good correlation between price and listener preference.

It's always dangerous to take small sample size studies and draw conclusions about something as vast and complicated as headphone pricing like I'm doing now, but I do feel that we should at least consider price as an easily misleading variable instead of a reassuring one like our intuition tells us.
 
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Price has a clear impact on the subjective impression of the buyer, you will almost never find a majority of people saying they don't like the very expensive headphone they bought. And that no matter how it sounds. Sadly I'm inclined to believe that it is more related to some loss aversion bias or not wanting to admit in public that the purchase was a mistake, than it is to expensive stuff almost always being great. One reason for me thinking so, is that actual listening tests(those where only sound is the variable known to listeners) do not suggest a good correlation between price and listener preference.
Well said.

I do feel that we should at least consider price as an easily misleading variable instead of a reassuring one
Until this is widely acknowledged and observed, price of HPs, in particular the flagships, will continue to rise irrelevant to actual improvement in sound quality. Deceptive marketing fueled by misguiding information mixed with biased reviews with predetermined conclusions based on perception, attitude, behavior. Hel why not! If I could develop a mediocre product, throw some good packaging, spend good money on marketing and sponsorship, charge the heck out of it, and chuck it up to R&D cost, I would probably do the same. Not implying that's the norm in this industry, but sadly, that is the accepted business practice of many so called boutique companies that are spewing out new products every 6 months, advertised as "sonic improvements."

That is why measurements (easier to do on component gear than HPs) as dull as they sound, can sometimes be a fair indicator or a good starting point to gauge the value of headphones. Although not the benchmark to absolute auditory pleasure, they reveal to listeners and viewers a "consistent" story.

To answer OP,
Should sonic capabilities of headphones go up with price?
Absolutely.

Do they?
Not by a long shot.

Why not?
Because you can always point the finger at subjectivity of human perception of "good sound."
 
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Thank you for the responses! Very insightful and helpful. I would return them but the 15% restocking fee is a bit steep. So I think I’m just going to keep listening and hope my brain burns in haha. Shame they didn’t live up to the hype :/
 
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Excellent responses, folks. Your thoughts helped me realize that I think I'm in a little too deep lately and I need to maybe step back a little and reevaluate some of the precepts under which I've been operating. For example, I've been allowing myself to be swayed by the often overwhelming praise in the individual gear "Impressions" threads. After a couple hundred pages of such praise I tend to forget my own preferences & experiences, and have made some poor decisions lately myself. Not to accuse any fanboys of being disingenuous or anything, being one myself for my most beloved gear. But in those circumstances I tend to forget that people hear things very differently, and there are not too many things that are objectively awesome to everyone.

Anyway, I'm sorry you're not thrilled with your recent big purchase. I really hope it all works out for you in the end. Good luck!

Fwiw, I actually do believe in brain burn-in. Or more accurately, change of outlook and perception. I certainly hear things differently than I did nearly 8 years ago when i started this hobby.
 
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Price has a clear impact on the subjective impression of the buyer, you will almost never find a majority of people saying they don't like the very expensive headphone they bought. And that no matter how it sounds. Sadly I'm inclined to believe that it is more related to some loss aversion bias or not wanting to admit in public that the purchase was a mistake, than it is to expensive stuff almost always being great. One reason for me thinking so, is that actual listening tests(those where only sound is the variable known to listeners) do not suggest a good correlation between price and listener preference.

It's always dangerous to take small sample size studies and draw conclusions about something as vast and complicated as headphone pricing like I'm doing now, but I do feel that we should at least consider price as an easily misleading variable instead of a reassuring one like our intuition tells us.
This is definitely not a true statement. I mean, it can be true for some, but it is way too sweeping and general.

I used to own the Abyss Diana V2. It retails for $2999. I pretty much hated that headphone and couldn’t sell it fast enough. It sounded decent, not great, and was one of the most uncomfortable headphones I’ve ever owned. The Sennheiser 800S, which costs over $1000 less, is a much better headphone in both sound and comfort.

Likewise, the Audeze LCD 3 retails for $2000. And I’ve always said the LCD 2 ($995) and LCD X ($1199) sound much better. And yes, I’ve owned them all, including the 4Z. And the 4Z is also not worth its price.
 
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