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Testing audiophile claims and myths

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by prog rock man, May 3, 2010.
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  1. analogsurviver
    Regarding electrostatic vs dynamic speakers, and headphones in particular : if you can live without prodigios heavy low end and CAN power them correctly, decent electrostatics will win over dynamic counterparts. Detail, precision, HF extension well past 20 kHz, etc,etc. If really high SPLs are required, electrostatic speakers may well not play loud enough and/or go low enough in frequency. In that case, dynamics will usually win.

    Regarding "digital" components, if we overlook all already covered above, there ARE two categories that really should be capable of delivering - bradly speaking - the source signal quality. Speakers and headphones. At the launch of CD, there were very few end transducers capable of dealing with wider dynamic range. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatone . It was one of the very best speaker systems ever - but one that came over to the West in exceedingly small quantities. About 5 are known to ever hit non Japanese shores ...
    AudioThief likes this.
  2. bigshot
    I'm using studio monitors from the early 70s and they deal with digital dynamics just fine.
    WoodyLuvr likes this.
  3. analogsurviver
    OK, I will rephrase the statement from above :

    Very few end transducers have been capable of dealing with dynamic range offered by CD at the launch of the CD; that, in particular, holds true for low frequencies, and in particular below 40 Hz. Live music can have an even greater dynamic range, with an even greater frequency response, particularly above 20 kHz. The later has been - again, at the introduction of SACD - addressed by "downstream" components, capable of at least 50 kHz "flat" response - and preferably beyond 100 kHz. That's why the Sony flagship speakers from the SACD introduction time are held in such esteem and sought after in the used market - IF they ever appear for sale.

    Hit any studio monitor from the early 70s with an uncompressed live mic feed of a symphony orchestra with organ - and try to play it at real life SPL. It will fall to pieces - or, more likely, protect itself from destruction using any safety measures - achieving perfect - silence.

    There is often cited the monitors used by various top labels - and, for classical music, Bowers & Wilkins have been used quite extensively. The "big" Diatone moped the floor with just about any western loudspeaker ever made, regardless of price. Here just a few musings ( inevitable in case of language, but more importantly, marketing barriers ) about Diatone - consider it as only a starting point for the online search about Diatone speakers : https://audiokarma.org/forums/index.php?threads/diatone-speakers-any-good.341817/page-2 They are somewhat "available" in Japan in used market - but shipping would deter all but the most determined. No Diatone speaker I have ever heard of has been a lightweight relative to its size - these are VERY sturdily built.

    Most will be familiar with Yamaha NS-1000 monitor speakers. It was a Diatone design , somewhat pared down to make it more affordable. The cabinets for NS-1000 have been in fact produced by https://www.alples.si/en/ - a long time established Slovenian furniture manufacturer in the valley below Jelovica https://sl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelovica, where Stradivari has been frequently known to travel to in search of the best wood for his violins.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
  4. gregorio
    This highlights another problem that I've mentioned previously. The technical/factual side of the audiophile world is largely based on over-simplified statements of fact, which are easily digestible, and then conclusions/other facts (and a larger "framework of understanding") is logically extrapolated from these statements. This is where we run into difficulties; this "framework of understanding" is therefore entirely (or at least very largely) logical but also virtually certain to be flawed/faulty, potentially massively so, because it's based on over-simplified statements of fact which by definition omit information/details and which are therefore almost certain to be at least somewhat inaccurate. And then, the act of extrapolating conclusions/other facts from these oversimplifications is entirely likely to compound/amplify those inaccuracies! So what we end-up with is a conclusion or understanding of something with a very large range accuracy, from: Entirely accurate, somewhat accurate (or accurate only under certain conditions), generally inaccurate/wrong or so completely inaccurate/wrong that it's the exact opposite of the actual facts! Refuting a wrong/inaccurate audiophile "fact" is therefore not only challenging a belief but a logical belief and one that is probably shared by many others (audiophiles). The solution would be to not base conclusions/understandings on easily digestible over-simplifications but on the actual facts, which by definition are neither so easily digestible, nor simple!

    What has this got to do with your questions? Actually, quite a lot:

    More precisely defining "best" (as "high fidelity") is great, now we're dealing with an actual property, rather than a whole bunch of properties, biases, personal preferences and value judgements, all combined. However, we can still run into a problem because the term "high fidelity" is itself somewhat of an over-simplification, it omits some details, details that can result in it being somewhat imprecise/ambiguous under certain circumstances. The word "fidelity" comes from a Latin word meaning "faithful" or "to have trust in". In the case of say a DAC, "fidelity" is relatively straight forward, how faithful/accurate is the output signal relative to the input signal, the same for an amplifier, storage media and cables. What they have to do to achieve their job might (or might not) be complex but their actual job is straight forward, in the case of a DAC, nothing more than convert digital audio data as accurately as possible to an analogue signal. When we come to final output transducers however their job is not quite so simple, it's to convert the analogue signal to an acoustic signal and present that acoustic signal to the listener/s. The first part is tricky because we have to mechanically create physical sound pressure waves, a process which is inherently inefficient and we have a bunch of new scientific facts to deal with which will affect/reduce fidelity, inertia for example. The second part of their job is arguably even more tricky and brings us to the paragraph above: In the case of say speakers, the accuracy/fidelity of their output isn't so vital, what's vital is the fidelity of the signal that is presented to your ears and the two can be quite different due to various factors, for example; dispersion/diffusion characteristics of the speakers, the listeners' position relative to the speakers and room acoustics. In the case of headphones it's even more tricky still. Almost all commercial music/audio recordings are created primarily (Eg. Often but not exclusively) on and for playback on speakers. To explain/illustrate the point, let's imagine a master has been created exclusively on speakers and exclusively for speaker playback: The artists/engineers have positioned the instruments/sounds, processed and balanced them according to what they heard, which was the speaker output + the room (studio) acoustics and this is going to affect what the master contains. For example, when the engineers/artists are adding reverb (sound reflections) to the instruments/sounds, the mix itself is going to contain less reverb than intended because what the engineers/artists heard in the studio was the reverb they applied plus the reverb (sound reflections) created by the room acoustics of the studio. This isn't a huge problem though because when played back by consumers, they're going to hear the output of their speakers plus the acoustics/reverb of their listening room and the net effect is more or less what the artists/engineers heard and intended. However, if you play back this recording on headphones, you're not going to get these additional room reflections/reverb and this is a "certain circumstance" under which the term "fidelity" is imprecise/ambiguous: Is "fidelity" the accurate reproduction of the signal (master) or is it "being faithful to the artists/engineers intentions"? If it's the latter, then you would need to change the accuracy of the reproduced signal, in this given example by adding some reverb. So, using the typical meaning of "fidelity" (accuracy), you would have to reduce fidelity in order to attain higher "fidelity" (faithfulness)! And, the amount of reverb is just one example of many audio properties and perceptions that are likely to be affected!

    To answer your second question then: As FR and/or the perception of it is also one of the things almost certain to be affected, then the headphones with the flattest FR would likely be the most accurate (higher fidelity) but are also likely to be less faithful (lower fidelity). For example, the reproduction of low frequencies from speakers creates fairly high amplitude sound waves that impact our entire body, which creates the perception of more bass and therefore a mix created on speakers (for speaker reproduction) will have contain a little less bass than intended. Obviously the sound produced by headphones does not impact our entire body, just our ears. So, if a particular set of headphones tries to compensate for this by reproducing low frequencies a little louder (and therefore not having a flat FR) are they higher or lower fidelity (or both!)? The success of such a compensation (and potentially others) would largely come down to our individual perception, hence why so many are basically saying that the "most high fidelity" headphones is a matter of perception.

    Please bare in mind that even this more detailed explanation, still contains various over-simplifications! Sorry, audio is really quite a complex thing, though still far simpler than quantum mechanics IMHO! Again, not sure if this helps?

    AudioThief likes this.
  5. AudioThief
    @gregorio It does help - well, it didn't answer my question, but I guess my question was impossible to answer.

    I guess what I am thinking about is what exactly differentiates a high end headphone from a low end headphone. Lets say, for the sake of argument that we take the Stax SR-L300 and compare it to the Skullcandy - we want to have the flattest FR. Now on Innerfidelity there are a bunch of measurements that I don't understand. But to my eyes, I can't look at them and say one headphone is better than the other. But I can look at the FR graph and say that one is probably a bit flatter than the other.



    Now I am assuming, having heard the L300 and headphones in the same range as the Roc nation Aviator, that I would prefer the L300 over the Skullcandy's. If we were to tune the skullcandy to share the FR of the L300, would they sound the same? Probably not, since there are differences in driver distance from ear, driver size and shape etc. And I guess you could measaure the L300 transient response to be quicker since its an estat.

    So how do the headphone engineers go about creating a high end headphone like the Stax L300, 009S etc? If you let me indulge in some audiophoolery, there are some general perceptions people would likely share if we compared these two headphones to each other - The L300 being more "detailed", "true to life" and having better "imaging and soundstage" - not to forget "quicker". Is this purely an effect of the L300 being an openback electrostat with a flatter FR? In that case, what if we took a (somewhat) closedback, dynamic headphone like the Fostex TH610?


    Here, we have the same driver type (dynamic) and a closed back design with a more similar FR. If we tuned the Skullcandy FR to match these, would they sound VERY similar/almost identical?

    I guess what I am asking is, what exactly are engineers doing when they create a high end headphone? Not all high end headphones are the flattest in FR, but they seem to share some characteristics that are often not commented in this sub forum - typical perceptions like speed, soundstage/imaging, clarity, detail etc. Now these are subjective impressions, so if we were to say that they were close to factual I guess we would have to survey a lot of people - but its not far fetched to believe that if we took 1000 people, trained them to look for those "qualities" (detail, soundstage etc) and then blind tested them and asked to rate a host of headphones ranging from the cheapest iPod IEMS to the SOTA electrostats, I would assume there would be a correlation not only in flatness of FR, but in a host of other measurements and perhaps also price (up to a point).

    Typically, the frequency response will be posted to say something about how a headphone sounds. Sometimes, a square wave or a waterfall plot may be posted as well. Would these measurements be enough to comment on the sound of a headphone?

    Again I am reminded that each person is different, which accounts for the many differing views you will have on a given headphone - but generally speaking, if you crawl the internet you will understand some basics about a given headphone - electrostats are "fast", HD800 have a "wide soundstage" and are "bright", the LCD 2.2c are "liquid" and "tight bass". So clearly, at least to me, it seems that there are perceptions about headphones that are generally shared, but that may or may not show up in measurements.

    I guess the reasons I am asking about this is, well, I am a bit confused as to:

    - What do we understand about headphone engineering? Are the engineers just somehow getting a flat FR and good measurements, and then audiophiles mass delude themselves about soundstage, realism, detail and so on? Or do high end headphone makers actually try to create headphones that are percieved by many if not all of the audiophiles as having such qualities?
    - If a team of engineers was given infinite amount of money to create the objectively best pair of headphones known to man, would they just use all that time creating a flat FR, and barely bother listening to the headphones? And if they did achieve a record flat FR, would these headphones as a matter of fact be higher fidelity, and thus having every bit as much "soundstage", "detail" and whatever other audiphile superlatives you could throw at it compared to the host of headphones that exhibit such traits but that do not have such a flat FR?

    I guess, to sum all of this into one question so its easily digested:

    - Are there qualities in headphones that are not typically measured / possible to analyze in a meaningful way right now? I know measurements can tell us about frequency response, THD and transient response. But I can't help but looking at two different headphone graphs, feel they look pretty similar but sound very different to my ears - confident I could easily tell them apart in a blind test. Yet measurements doesn't explain to the lay man the typical audiophile terms - terms that are used to describe our perception and ultimately our experience with the headphone.

    I am truly sorry for exposing the fine members of this community to this insane rant, but I am just a very confused young man.
  6. analogsurviver
    In a word - no.

    Electrostatics ( and in recent times, the best orthodynamics joining the party ) have MUCH less moving mass than dynamic drivers - and even that low mass is driven uniformly across the entire surface of the diaphragm ( down to the molecule level in electrostatic, damped perfectly by the mass of the air trapped between the diaphragm and stator(s) - and to MUCH more crude, but still FAR smaller "sections" of diaphragm than on any conventional coil driver ) - their transient behaviour is MUCH different = better than conventional dynamic moving coil drivers. Existing DSPs are FAR too slow to be able to correct for the dynamic driver defficiences without imparting their own sound signature.

    That said, there is (was) a dynamic IEM costing peanuts having a GREAT transient response - Xiaomi Piston 2. https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/low-cost-high-value-25-xiaomi-piston-2 .
    It has to be EQed for overblown bass ( and some other more minor issues ...) - but generally , it is>was one of the better offerings.
  7. KeithEmo
    You're actually asking several different - and complicated - questions there.....

    First off, there are obviously things that can be easily agreed upon (seemingly), and measured, which we would expect to be "better" in a "high end" headphone.
    We have simple measurements like frequency response and THD - which will obviously cause a headphone or speaker to sound different if they vary.
    Bear in mind that "frequency response" is actually a very crude measurement of purely "how much sound amplitude is present at each frequency".
    However, things like "transient response" and "sound stage" are all really aspects of the same one complex question...
    Beyond simply delivring the correct "bulk amounts of sound at each frequency"... how well is a device able to replicate the actual pressure waveform of the original sound.
    (What we call sound is the result of our brain's analysis of the variations in air pressure that reach our eardrums.)
    This part is complicated because we cannot actually hear the shape of a waveform; what we hear are the results of our brain detecting specific characteristics of a waveform.
    For example, what we normally term simply "transient response" is really a collection of "measurements"..... all relating to how well something can follow a complex waveform.
    And a lot of the different terms we see relate to different ways in which a device can FAIL to faithfully reproduce the actual waveform - and what those failures sound like to humans.

    In the case of a speaker, the diaphragm could be too heavy, and so be unable to accelerate quickly - which could cause it to be unable to follow rapidly chaging waveforms.
    Or, if the diaphragm stores energy, then releases it later at a specific resonant frequency, short sharp sounds like drumbeats tend to become audibly less sharp.
    Or if, for one fo a variety of reasons, different frequencies are delayed by different amounts, then we may percieve a difference in sound stage.
    We cannot "hear where something is"; we hear a difference in the time when the sound from it arrives at our two ears, which our brain then analyzes and uses to calculate the original location.
    If the speaker has "inaccurate phase response", then some of the reproduced sounds reach our ears at the wrong times, causing our brain to miscalculate - so "the sound stage seems wrong".
    A "simple error" could cause us to thing that source in in a slightly wrong place... however, if various errors cause conflicting information, then our brain may simply register the location as "imprecise".

    The point here is that the actual waveform that arrives at our ears through the air is very complex and carries a lot of information...
    Most of that information is actually ignored or lost, but our brains pick out certain parts of it, based on very speficic characteristics of what we do manage to detect and analyze.
    However, determining in detail which parts are important, and how our brain will react to specific errors and omissions, can be very complex.

    Here's one example - just to demonstrate that point.
    We often see arguments about whether "a few degrees of phase shift are audible"...
    In fact, compared to electronic gear, a typical loudspeaker reproduces phase relationships incredibly poorly.
    Some common commercial loudspeakers have a "phase error" of many HUNDREDS of degrees between 20 Hz and 20 kHz.
    (You can find published phase response specs in many reviews... note how much they vary between seemingly similar speakers.)
    However, luckily, phase errors between frequencies, as heard by a single ear, don't seem to matter much...
    (So a speaker whose phase accuracy is incorrect by many hundreds of degrees can sound "just fine"...)
    BUT our brain uses the RELATIVE phase shift between what our two ears hear as an important cue when determining the apparent location of the source.
    So a phase error that was different between the left and right ear by even a few degrees, at the wrong frequency, could cause us to hear a certain instrument as being "in the wrong place" by several feet.
    (Even worse, if what we hear offers conflicting cues, due to different errors at different frequencies, our brain may become somewhat confused - and we may "hear" an "indictinct sound stage with imprecise instrument placement".)

    And, in this case, we can test the phase shift at various frequencies quite easily, but relating that to "how many inches of error a particular phase error will cause in the sound stage location of a particular instrument" is far more compicated.
    Audiophiles may TALK about "sound stage" as an abstract concept.... but you won't see anyone trying to measure "how many inches too far to the left the third violin is positioned by Speaker B".
    The problem is that doing so would be somewhat like trying to quantify and provide an actual measurement for "how realistic a certain painting is".
    (Instead we show the graph - and then provide a subjective description of "what the sound stage sounded like" - and leave it to the person reading that review to relate the two.)
    And, of course, not everyone agrees on what "the ideal sound stage" should be anyway (is "wider always better?" or is there such a thing as "accurate?")

    To make all this even more complicated....

    Each of us have differently shaped ears, and brains that are slightly different, so how well we pick out specific sorts of errors, and how much priority our brains assign to each, also varies.
    And, to make matters worse, because of these differences, it is impossible to even agree on a standard way of measuring headphones in particular.
    (Do you measure the sound level at the diaphragm, or at the outside edge of the ear, or at the eardrum... and, if the latter, whose eardrum and ear canal shape do you pick as "the standard one"?)
    Most people seem to agree more or less that, when measuring headphones, a certain frequency response graph shape, as measured by standard test gear, "sounds flat", even though the graph itself is FAR from flat.
    Therefore, you can compare measurements between various headphones, or you can compare each to this "assumed standard for audible flatness", but you cannot directly measure "accurate frequency response".
    (And, as you might expect, not everyone agrees on the exact frequency response that they should be aiming for.)

    It's also worth pointing out that, in answer to your question, that, especially when it comes to headphones, there are other aspects of 'the user experience" that make a significant difference.
    For example, you would expect "high end headphones" to look somewhat attractive...
    More importantly, you would expect high quality construction, and for them to provide a reasonable service life...
    And, obviously, you would expect "high end headphones" to be reasonably comfortable to wear...
    And, in the real world, consistency is important (a headphone that sounds great, but only to the 5% of the population that they fit properly, isn't going to last long in the market)...
    And, beyond that, more than even with speakers, different people have far different preferences.
    (One person may enjoy a headphone that is "very revealing" - while another may find that same headphone to sound "fatiguing" or "bright".)

    The measurement that we rarely see, but which I would find useful, would be a waterfall plot.
    A waterfall plot shows "frequency response over time" to a specific test signal....
    (You input a test impulse.... or a static test signal.... then plot the output at all frequencies, over time, as a 3-dimensional surface, after the signal stops.)
    So it provides a lot of information about both frequency response, transient response and energy storage, and even some aspects of distortion performance.
    (This is the result I would expect to show obvious differences between typical electrostatic and dynamic headphones....)
    However, while these are sometimes published for speakers, ther are rarely if ever published for headphones.
    (Waterfall plots are not typically used to eveluate electronic gear because, compared to loudpeakers, most electronic gear would deliver a near-perfect waterfall plot.)

    To get back to your original question though.....
    I'm going to give you a very circular - but almost certainly also very accurate - answer......
    When designing a pair of high end headphones you try to make them sound the way you believe most of your customers "'expect high end headphones to sound".
    Like it or not.... products are designed to appeal to customers..... and not to appeal to standards.
    (And, with headphones, there really aren't any widely accepted standards about how they should sound or be measured anyway...)
    And the fact that some listeners expect high-end headphones to sound "smooth", while others expect "incredible detail", or "ruthless accuracy", is why so many so-called high-end headphones sound so different.

  8. bigshot
    My 1970s studio monitors have JBL 15 inch woofers with the cloth surrounds. They do fine above 40 Hz or so. Below that, they probably don't produce much at all. But I use a Sunfire sub to get to the last octave and to take some of the power load off the mains. Many people think it's fine to just cover above 40 Hz or 50 Hz and not sweat the super low stuff. It's more important for modern movies than it is for music

    Modern speaker designs are more efficiently designed and compact, but given enough real estate in your living room, 70s speakers can do a fine job too.

    The primary difference would be frequency response. How close does it get to your target curve (whatever that is)? A low end headphone night have limitations of material and design that may make the reproduction of very low frequencies greatly attenuated. Or high frequencies might have big peaks and valleys in the response. With low end headphones, compromises are made because of economic reasons. Those compromises would probably affect sound quality.

    The other factor is manufacturing tolerances. A mid range set of headphones might have response variations of as much as +/- 3dB or more from one copy to another. That is in the range of audible differences. So even one set might sound different than another of the same make and model. High end headphones have tighter quality control. My PM-1s were manufactured to +/- 1dB, which would not be an audible difference. You have to pay extra if you want a precisely calibrated set of cans like that. I suspect the PM-2s are just the PM-1s that didn't meet the tight manufacturing tolerances... same basic cans, just a wider tolerance for response imbalance.

    Distortion levels and dynamics also factor in, but those aren't nearly as much of a problem with modern headphones. Speakers perform an order of magnitude worse than mid range headphones on these aspects, yet they still sound better than headphones do.

    Yes, you can EQ decent headphones to sound as good as much more expensive ones as long as they are capable of producing a full range of frequencies without distortion. And that isn't hard. Midrange cans are very good today, just not quite as well balanced. As I said, having the calibration hard wired into the cans costs money. EQing is a much more affordable way of achieving the same basic results.

    Speed, soundstage, imaging and clarity are non-specific audiophile terminology that all are covered by frequency response, distortion, dynamics and timing. Sound is basically frequency and amplitude arranged in time. If you get the response and timing correct, you've achieved all of those more non-specific terms. As a sidenote, soundstage and imaging are more a function of the mix itself than they are playback in headphones. People often use those terms to describe placebo effect and bias.

    The "common knowledge" descriptions of certain headphones like "liquid" and "fast" and "wide soundstage" are just people reading other people's vague descriptions and parroting them. If you can't describe things accurately, you have to use vague terms. Those vague terms become a "lingo".., "buzzwords" that eventually end up with even less meaning than they had originally. If you want to describe sound, it's good to understand how sound works. Then you can use more precise terms for describing it.

    Yes. Those involve the fit and the way the individual head shape and ear canal interact with the drivers in the headphones. There's no point measuring this because everyone's noggin is a different shape, and even shifting cans forward or back a tiny bit can create audible differences. When they measure headphones, one of the biggest challenges is coming up with a consistent orientation of the cans on the dummy head. Skull shapes affect sound, and skull shapes vary. What may work for one person might not for another. The only way to deal with this is to listen for yourself with your own peculiar set of ears.

    There's no reason to get too anal about headphones though. It isn't the way music is intended to be heard. Music is mixed for speakers in a room, and headphones don't come close to reproducing that quality of sound. If you are going to go that deep into splitting atoms, it makes sense to at least do it in the way that the music was intended to be heard. And of course there are compromises to be made with speakers too when it comes to room acoustics and furniture arrangement. The transducers are always the wild card because they are mechanical and are subject to real world physics. The front end is easy. The front end is just a matter of fidelity- making sure the sound going in one end is the same as the sound coming out the other end.

    I always try to keep things real world and practical. Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
    AudioThief likes this.
  9. gregorio
    KeithEmo's last response covered very well your main question about the design of headphones but as you say, you're still a bit confused and I'll try to address that. Your confusion appears to be exemplified by the statements;
    "So clearly, at least to me, it seems that there are perceptions about headphones that are generally shared, but that may or may not show up in measurements." and
    "Yet measurements doesn't explain to the lay man the typical audiophile terms - terms that are used to describe our perception and ultimately our experience with the headphone.".

    Your confusion appears to be based on the original issue I discussed, the difference between an audio property and a perception and then, how they are related. This last part is extremely complex to answer because there is no one answer! The "typical audiophile terms" are all over the place; some are A. single actual audio properties, some are B. perceptions that are based on single actual properties, some are C. perceptions that are based on an amalgamation of several different properties, some are D. perceptions that are not related to any audio property (are effectively just inventions of the ears/brain) and some/many are E. a combination of these last two (C+D). For instance, "Bright" is an example of "B", it's based on the single actual property of mid-high frequency content. A good example of "E" is the perception of loudness. "Fast" appears to be "B" effectively transient response, "tight bass" "C", a combination of transient response, lack of resonance and some other factors and I don't really know what they mean by "liquid", which illustrates another common problem of audiophile terminology, it's often very vague/ambiguous.

    Your difficulty/confusion, the difficulty of most audiophiles and the difference between us, seems to be the fundamental reference point. The fundamental reference point for the vast majority of audiophiles is, unsurprisingly, the audiophile world (and it's terminology). While my fundamental reference point is actual audio properties. Therefore, you are looking for measurements of audio properties that "explain to the lay man the typical audiophile terms", while I (for example) am effectively doing the opposite, looking at how (or even if) the "typical audiophile terms" explain/describe audio properties. In other words, "soundstage, realism, detail and so on" are just accepted facts, because firstly you can hear (perceive) them and secondly, pretty much all you've ever seen/heard is the audiophile world discussing them as accepted facts, so you're looking for measurements of audio properties which explain these facts. To me though, the ONLY attributes/facts I accept are the audio properties and "soundstage, realism, detail and so on" are not facts, they're pretty much anything from a somewhat vague description of an audio property/properties to nothing more than complete (typically marketing driven) nonsense!

    From an audiophile standpoint, my position effectively means that they are deluded and that the whole audiophile world is effectively based on mass delusion, and for most audiophiles that's an impossible pill to even contemplate, let alone swallow. However, even most audiophiles recognise that the audiophile standpoint has some logical inconsistencies, so if they refuse to contemplate the pill there are just two choice left: Just pretend these logical inconsistencies are irrelevant (or don't exist) or create a justification for them, but the problem with the latter is that the deeper you dig, the bigger/worse those inconsistencies become and to justify them invariably leads to contradicting some of the most indisputable scientific facts and a reliance on even more logical fallacies. For example, you are looking for measurements that explain audiophile terminology/qualities/etc., and we can't give them to you, so the logical conclusion would appear to be that we (science) can't measure everything. However, this is an obviously false conclusion or rather, it becomes obvious that it's false once you know and think about some of the indisputable facts. In this case it's summed up by the question; What is it that you're listening to? If the answer is a digital audio file then what you're listening to is a single measurement, the measurement of amplitude over time. The "bits" which comprise a digital audio file are just binary numbers that represent amplitude values, that's it, nothing more and nothing less. Therefore, "Everything" your DAC, amp and transducers are reproducing is entirely defined by this single measurement, or to put it the other way around, if there is something/anything (some quality or other) that can't be entirely defined by the single measurement of amplitude over time, then we can't record it and you can't reproduce it! As this is an indisputable scientific fact, then "everything" you are hearing (when you're listening to a digital audio file), think you are hearing, perceiving, preferring, judging or whatever, must either be: A. Entirely defined by this single measurement of amplitude over time (or some other measurement derived from it), B. A complete/pure invention of your brain/perception or C. Some combination of "A" and "B". There is simply no factual, rational or logical escape from this fundamental truth/fact of digital audio and therefore any questions or beliefs you have which contradicts this fundamental fact must be wrong (or at least, require some adjustment in their definition/understanding), regardless of how widespread that belief is or what the consequences are.

    In practice then, most of your questions are somewhat "wrong", they require an adjustment in their definition and understanding: "Qualities", most of the other audiophile terms you've quoted and even "deluded" for example. Turning much of what you think/believe/know on it's head is an extremely difficult pill for anyone to swallow but your only other options are to just try to ignore it all (ignorance is bliss!) or justify it some other way which will invariably end-up with major logical inconsistencies and having to deny a raft of incontrovertible/proven scientific facts.

    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
  10. AudioThief
    Thank you very much @gregorio & @bigshot

    I have to say, its been many years since I've had to reevaluate my stance and belief on something in such a large degree as I have done the last few days. At times, audio, audio equipment and audio reviews has been one of my main hobbies. While I have always had some vague stance on DACs, cables amps and so on, I've always been a firm believer that differences between headphones and their quality is factually significant. Having shown non audiophile friends my rigs, they have often times just acknowledged it sounded "pretty good" and thats about it. I always just told myself "oh well, if they just loved music as much as I did", or "if they had the time to really soak in the nuances!" - then they would understand, I thought.

    I am now thinking that all my different headphones just plain didn't sound that different from each other after all.

    I am also, quite embarassingly, thinking back when I purchased a DIY amplifier from a Norwegian engineer. It is a powerful SS amp for a cheap price. I read about it on a Norwegian audio forum, and people talked about how great it sounded, that it was "somewhat dark-sounding" with "powerful bass". I remember asking the creator when I was contemplating purchasing it about its sound quality. I was a bit taken aback when he said something akin to "I don't comment about "sound character" or anything like that. This amplifier is up to spec to drive (headphone x y and z) and thats about it". I bet he thinks his customers are a bunch of lunatics, lol.

    It all lines up so perfectly as well - I didn't really believe in interconnects, so when I bought some they didn't really make a difference. I did believe in DACs, so it made a difference. Same with amplifiers. I never once actually took the time to critically think about it - even more embarassing, I've been permanently banned on the headphones subreddit because I was adamant about people misinforming others on there with their "extremist objectivist views". And now I understand that they were right all a long - at least more right than I was.

    I've worked a part time job at a supplement store that sells vitamin supplements, protein powders etc - but also a bunch of alternative stuff like diet pills that doesn't work, flower remedies, anti hair loss drugs (that doesn't work) etc. And for years and years I've always told myself that the people believing in this stuff is either stupid or crazy. Today I read about a woman who recommended taking some essential oils and mixing it with water to help with "calmness, stress relief" - laughable, I thought. Well, it makes perfect sense because she is a victim of placebo. Just as I was with my DAC.

    I am a bit surprised that people who have had their eyes opened to the reality even bothers writing about gear anymore. DACs aren't interesting, amps aren't interesting, and once you've bought a decent headphone, why care about all the others? Audiophiles are always chasing perfection - I always knew that didn't actually exist, but it seems even more ridiculous considering that audiophiles perception of everything audio is essentially plain wrong.

    I can't help but feel that its all just a giant scam. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be without the gear I do own. But I was completely blindsided by the audiophile community - there is not nearly enough talk about FACTS. I had no chance, I had no reason not to believe the people on the internet about this stuff damnit. I consider myself interested in knowing the truth, yet it took me over 2 years being into headphones before I actually got a reality check. Now we have more and more headphones, DACs and amps than ever. People are collecting gear like mad men - well meaning people that just enjoy audio, wasting thousands of dollars again and again on something they believe is significantly different or better - when its all in their head.

    I am honestly just embarassed, but also happy. Happy that I can at least consider the realities - I don't need to understand them. I am well and truly finally free, because what I thought was an exciting hobby was in fact simply an illusion. Back to enjoying the music :)
  11. bigshot
    Amps and players have largely inaudible differences, but headphones do sound quite different from each other and the differences are clear in the measurements. Google up frequency response measurements on various headphones and you'll see what I mean. Many people say that the Harman Curve is the ideal. When you are judging by measurements, it's good to refer to that. But if the differences aren't too far off the ideal curve, you can certainly EQ to get closer, or close enough to do the job. But out of the box, there are audible differences. Incompatibility, particularly with impedance, can create differences too. It's important to understand enough about stuff like that to avoid problems.

    As for there being nothing left to discuss if all amps and DACs sound the same... that isn't true. The problem isn't that there is nothing to discuss, it's that people spend all their time talking about things that don't matter. There's a lot to talk about when it comes to room acoustics, equalization, multichannel, sound processing and features. But most of those things require compromises and adaptation to an individual's personal situation. It requires more thought than just saying, "Hey! Go buy the Dynamo 4000 EX DAC! It sounds great!"

    I've got a kick ass system, but there are still things I might like to do to improve it when I get the money and time. It isn't like interest in sound stops when you figure out what is true and what isn't. But you're correct. It is a scam. Salesmen try to play on their customers' vulnerabilities. But not everyone is like that. We used to have a great guy here who made high end cables. He was totally honest about the fact that his cables sounded the same as any others. But he could explain how nice the fabric coverings were and how durable the connectors were. There are reasons to buy things other than sound. It's just human nature to assume that if something is pretty, it must function better though. That's why they used to build fancy oak and mahogany cabinets to put the same basic spring motor and sound box into old phonographs, and that's why McIntosh has a pretty aqua colored light. If you really want bling, you should buy bling. The only problem is when people go into internet forums and try to convince other people that there is a sound difference when there isn't one at all.

    You don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water. Just think critically, ask the right questions and be able to recognize the right answer when you're offered it. That advice works for all kinds of subjects in fact. The internet is unfiltered. It's up to you to figure out who knows what they're talking about and who is full of malarky. The comments in this thread are a great place to practice that discernment. You've got extremes on both sides to choose from!
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
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  12. gregorio
    Be careful not to fall into the same audiophile trap but in the opposite direction. IE. Reduce what I said into the easy to digest over-simplification that all audiophiles are just plain wrong/deluded about everything and the entire audiophile world is a giant scam. This isn't the case either, they are often wrong and a large part of the audiophile world is just a scam but not always. There's no alternative, if you want to get to the truth, to judging each situation on it's own merits. Audiophiles use the same sort of flowery language about say cables as they do for headphones, in the case of cables it's all nonsense, there are differences between cables but assuming both are designed for the job and are decently made, these differences are way, way below audibility. However, that's not the case with headphones, the measurable differences ARE within the range of audibility. That doesn't mean of course that all those flowery descriptions about different headphones are correct, just that some of those descriptions are not contradicting the basic science/facts and therefore could be correct (and could apply to us). This is where we have to make a value judgement based on what the facts actually are and which category their flowery language/terminology falls into (the A, B, C, D or E described in my previous post).

    To respond to your actual point then, your different headphones do sound somewhat different. Maybe/Probably not as different as you might have previously believed and maybe not different enough for some people (who aren't accustomed to listening critically to headphones) to really notice a difference. Of course though, assuming you are sensitive to the audible difference then whether that difference is enough to justify their price is a judgement only you can make.

    As bigshot said, careful you don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

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  13. bigshot
    I think the big takeaway is that if we can hear it, it's pretty certainly measurable, and it is possible to look at measurements and have some idea of what kind of sound quality they represent. Those are pretty big ltruths that many audiophiles are clueless about.
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  14. AudioThief
    Thanks guys.

    Yes, I'll make sure I don't just make this knee-jerk switch - I'll just be more skeptical in the future - and be aware of the strong effect of bias.

    I have a question -

    I've always wanted a Stax tube amplifier. I guess because I thought they would sound great with my lambdas.


    This one, for instance. Well, tubes doesn't make any sense... It looks like the distortion rating is pretty good - so it should sound identical to a solid state? And if it doesnt, it just sound plain worse, right? This is essentially the one upgrade I would be looking to make in the future, but it probably doesn't make too much sense.
  15. bigshot
    Well the price is ridiculous, but if you have the money handy, there are worse things to spend it on I suppose. I would bet that it sounds just as good as a decent solid state amp. The advantage would be that it is specifically designed for your headphones that have a unique set of impedance requirements. I'm sure you could find a solid state amp to do the job just as well for much less money, but it wouldn't have the pretty glowing tube. I just hung Christmas lights over my amp to get that effect.

    I like how they labelled the outputs PRO ONLY. It inspires confidence and weeds out the riff raff. Trouble is, I don't know any pros who really use headphones. There may be no one qualified enough to plug anything in to it.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
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