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The Anti V-Shape Sound/Pro Natural Sound and Custom Tuning Solution discussion thread

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Arysyn, Mar 24, 2018.
  1. Arysyn
    Hi everyone reading this,

    I've been on Head-Fi for quite awhile, and through my time researching audio here and on other sites, while also trying various iems - my preference is iems, though nothing wrong with over-the-ear headphones - fine by me to discuss all of them in this thread - so long as the topic remains the focus - that topic being about a common dislike of the V-Shape Sound Signature that unfortunately is present as the main feature of so many audio products nowadays.

    I thought of the idea in creating this thread from my time posting in the Flare Audio FlaresPro/Flares Gold thread. I'm a big fan of the mid-forward and lower treble-focused sound signatures, which Flare Audio features in their premium iems. Its much better sounding than listening to music that has its heart and soul pushed away to the back in favor of what essentially is like the artificial filler in food and beverage products. Both bass and upper treble are like that in music, both belonging at neutral or less in the audio spectrum merely supporting the music, but certainly not dominating it. The position of utmost presence in music belongs in the mids, along with accompanying lead support in the lower treble. Not the upper treble and certainly not the bass.

    I'll write more later. In the meantime, any thoughts on this subject are welcome here.
    McCol likes this.
  2. barondla
    Great idea for a thread @Arysyn. So we are looking for flat to slightly frowning face frequency EQ? Is there a better name than frowny face?

    Anyway, a acquaintance just ordered a new pair of headphones that has a sound description worth reading. Make sure to read down to the design brief. Haven't heard these. But these are my nomination for anti - V headphones. http://www.maidenaudio.com/about/
    Arysyn likes this.
  3. axle_69
    A smooth V shape makes some sense, we don't perceive all frequencies equally independently of pressure level, so it seems louder than actually is. A flat response (not flat but with a frequency response as a flat frequency signal would produce in the eardrum) is probably the best compromise, but may not be the best option for low listening levels. If you like flat try the Etymotic ER4 SR. If you like a superb midrange, flat and detailed, and don't mind a relatively week bass, the DT-48 (discontinued) was very good.
    Arysyn and barondla like this.
  4. Arysyn
    I want to have this thread be open to both dd driver and ba driver iems. Personally though, I find ba drivers to be an easy choice for those wanting non-v shape sound, especially in comparison with dd driver iems. It is very difficult to find a non -v shape dd driver iem. Flare Audio being one of the rarity companies focusing on a neutral to mid-forward tuning. If I were more fond of ba drivers, I could easily find an iem to suit my wants in an iem. Etymotic being one of them. While I never have heard any of their products, I've read some great things about Empire Ears, and they even have a fairly affordable, under $1,000 vocal-focused iem. I strongly support the decision EE chose to make it.

    The EVR :

    While at some point I may decide to try the EVR, there is one problem I have with ba driver iems I've noticed in all I have heard so far, from the unique "moving armature" driver iems, the Grado GR8 and GR10, and the Ortofon EQ8, all three I still own. Also, the Etymotic ER4SR, and the older ER4 models, of which I no longer have. I haven't heard any of the multi-ba armature iems yet, so I'll admit its possible not to have the same problems I noticed in the other ba driver iems I've heard. The issue being one where at least to my hearing, the ba driver iems I have heard sound as though half of the vocal and instrumental dynamism/richness is missing, like its been made artificial sounding.

    I'm figuring this might be a bass-related issue. My views on bass are a bit complex. I despise bass for what it does to music in forms of heavy thumpiness to sound, that somewhat headache-inducing boom that is like the bass version of treble harshness many people complain about with treble. I understand that, especially after hearing it for the first time from the FlaresPro, an overall excellent iem that has only one flaw in the sound that presents itself in certain songs that have cymbals and tambourines.

    Its my opinion the problem with the FlaresPro treble is in the upper treble regions being increased and extended ib that range. For whatever reason, I don't hear the same treble harshness from lower treble-focused iems, such as the HiFiMan RE800 some have complained about. I'm still in the process of learning about the elements of bass, trying to figure out the "good bass" from the "bad bass". Again, while I don't like the "boom" of bass, there still needs to be some warmth from it, in order to maintain the proper emotionality of the music. If those here with more knowledge of bass than I could better explain this, please do.

    From my figures in seeing various fr graphs, I pay attention to three critical areas to my preference. I've learned to watch out for the lines not to exceed neutrality anywhere in the bass. I'm fine with neutral level or below in bass, but only when looking for dd driver iems. I'm really not sure what to be looking for in ba driver iems that may help the problem I hear in them, if there is anything the bass levels can do. That is something I do not know, but would love to learn more about. So far, I'm just going by my experience and of course what I do know, which definitely favors dd driver iems.

    Sadly though, there aren't many dd driver iems that fit well with my preference. Despite plenty having neutral bass, it seems that from there, audio companies just love to put that recess in the mids. I've seen dozens, maybe even hundreds by this point, fr graphs for dd driver iems where there is some level of mid and vocal recess, even where bass and treble are not much increased. Those would be mild V-Shape signatures, but to me, even those are not so good to listen to. I can easily hear the recess in vocals, and it is very frustrating to me why this is so popular when the majority of music still is in the mids. Instrumental music may be fine in V-Shape iems, but having to swap iems when going from those songs to songs featuring vocals, is frustrating.

    So, besides my looking for neutrality in bass and at least that in the mids when viewing fr graphs, I also look at the treble. I'm fine with neutral treble, even some light recess - which I find especially important in upper treble to avoid harshness, but preferentially I'd like for an enhanced lower treble, so long as harshness is avoided. Still, I've yet to hear harshness in lower treble. Its only in the upper treble where it is a problem for me. I'm suppose to receive the Flares Gold by Flare Audio on Monday, and am planning on making a day of it with careful, closely precise listening so I can write a detailed review of it on Monday. Of course, I'm hoping for the best from it, especially due to the rarity of its sound signature among dd driver iems.

    Anyways, I'm also hoping for this thread to become a resource for all products not with a V-Shape sound, whether they are dd driver-based, ba driver-based, iems and over-the-ear headphones. While my preference is iems, particularly dd driver iems, I really want the focus here to be the sound signatures not V-Shaped. It can be either mid-centric or mid-forward. Heck, even the odd bass-prominant or treble-dominant ones that don't carry a V-Shape. The main interest here is to focus on making the mids not be viewed less between the two sides.

    Even if one of them be a priority in the product, having both is really unnatural, at least in my opinion. Having a product saying "Bass-focused" "Treble-focused" is better than saying all sound is more important than the mids, where clearly the mids are being ignored for the sake of something that really is not specific. Again, my opinion here, but putting an emphasis on both the bass and treble just isn't sensible to me. They are both at opposite ends of the sound spectrum. Fine if you want to focus specifically on one of them for a certain sound target, but not both where it takes a very heavy toll on what is being left out, the mids. It really messes up the sound that way.

    I'm going to have a new fr graph made for me very soon, that will show my updated sound signature preference I have since my experience with the FlaresPro and its upper treble harshness. I need to have the upper treble reduced from what I thought was a good level in my previous fr graph. I'll post the new one as soon as its made.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2018
    barondla likes this.
  5. bigshot
    I had a friend who had some minor hearing damage. He kept turning up the bass and treble on his stereo all the way because he thought that his CDs were missing some aspect of sound. I think his ears were what were lacking.
    Arysyn likes this.
  6. Arysyn
    I wonder why he chose turning up those two, rather than upping the mids by means of EQ. Not that would have helped, but if having difficulty hearing music, the mids is the main area. In keeping with my philosophy of sound, the bass and treble are just supportive areas of music, not the heart of it. Bass is like the legs, while treble is like the arms. They can help you to do things, but without the heart, you cannot live. With hearing loss, upping the bass and treble to help compensate for missing detail is like buying glasses. While glasses may help you see better, it isn't going to help your vision, only give you some slight compensation on your overall perception, but still nothing that actually helps while listening to music.

    I wonder if he might do well with getting one of the Adel iems from Empire Ears. I've never listened to one of those, but I've read good things about them from people with hearing loss. Seems like Empire Ears is one of the rare audio companies making mid-focused products, kinda like Flare Audio, but mostly using ba drivers instead of dd drivers, Flare being into making advanced dd driver technology. Although if I liked ba drivers or wanted to try them again, I'd go with Empire Ears.

    I'm not sure though of any regular headphones for hearing loss. Nothing against headphones, just that I'm not really focused on them as I am with iems. Its interesting how years ago, way before I knew anything about bass, mids, and treble, basically anything involving audio or quality of audio, my first products were Sony headphones where I specifically looked for labels saying "Extra Bass", my then equating bass to meaning "quality" in music. Wow was I ignorant!

    Anyways, looking forward : I'm surprised I haven't seen any of the larger sized iems, or even headphones for the matter having mini led screens implanted inside the shell with small labels and digits to customize the tuning directly into the driver. This would be a great, yet near endgame solution to the dozens, if not hundreds of new iems being made every year. Headphones might be another matter with them being more varied with enough differences where companies would find other areas to market their headphones once tuning no longer is a factor in differentiating between brands and models of headphones. Whereas iems I think companies would have more difficulty maintaining new models if this custom tuning were possible.

    I know there are a few iems and headphones that feature nobs and filters, but what I'm intending here is to mean a truly customized solution directly impacting the default tuning, which I believe should be neutral as standard. Then I'd really like to see these products also work through wifi and have anonymous tuning data appear online for studies testing tuning preferences.

    I'd like to see how many people actually would stick with the V-Shape sound once they have control over their current default V-Shape signature sound products, when they have the ability to change it. The way the market shows currently with so many V-Shape products, is that this actually is a common preference among people. I really hope this isn't the case, but rather that the reason people are buying and mostly keeping these V-Shape products is because the items themselves are often quite cheap to purchase.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2018
  7. bigshot
    He wasn't very technically minded, so he didn't really know what he was trying to do. He was just dialing up "more". He claimed that music sounded "thin" and didn't have impact. He said he could hear high frequency "whistling". My guess was that he had hearing damage from listening too loud as a kid and the whistling was some sort of harmonic distortion.
    Arysyn likes this.
  8. Arysyn
    Its possible the device he was listening too may indeed be the problem, but certainly not the music source or the recording itself, such as the cd you mentioned earlier. I may get criticism from some people for saying this, but I think the focus on the recording being problematic when discussed in terms of the source of sound issues, is a bit overblown. I've heard music that was recorded long ago, way before advanced recording methods, yet sound perfectly fine on newer equipment, while some newer music sound pretty bad. Instead of blaming the recording, perhaps people ought to look at the type of music being played and how the sources playing it match the particular sound structure.

    This is the problem with having so many different products focusing on several varieties of sound tuning. Not all music is going to play well on all of them. Especially problematic is the V-Shape sound signature, which goes against the natural tuning of music, which really ought to be flat neutral to begin with. However, iems have less soundstage than headphones, in which space in the sound is much more restricted. To compensate, treble needs to be adjusted from the point of flat, to where the music expands to an acceptable level, clarity, and detail - but without harshness.

    I'm going to adjust the naming of this thread's title, to include the aspect of variable tuning. I think its pretty important in going along with discussing the negatives of the v-shape signature to provide an alternative that will work for those still liking that signature, but also giving more options to those who don't. Hopefully people will get out of that style of sound on their own eventually, once exposed to more natural sound, but the issue never should be forced. If there were products with custom tuning at the device level, set to neutral by default, that would provide a fair alternative to what seems already forced by this market of people having to accept other people's tuning preference by purchase of products set to that.

    In other words, what I'm saying is that yes, the v-shape sound is unnatural, it isn't a good tuning listening to, there are an overabundance of products featuring the v-shape sound tuning on the market, much more than what are available for natural and mid-forward, and even one region specific tunings. I'm not so sure that this is by preference of the majority of audio listeners, or its because people have so little choice available based on knowledge, but rather more on cost and availability, to which those "accessible" products are abundantly V-Shaped in tuning.

    Yet, while people ought to have much more ease of access to exploring all varieties of tuning, especially neutral, mid-centric, and mid-forward tuning, neither should they be told what to like. I do feel that this already is being done though by the proliferation of products tuned in the V-Shape style. Its an extraordinary amount of them in general, and especially in comparison to other tunings. Therefore, in promoting neutral, mid-centric, and mid-forward tuning as I fully support those tunings, I don't want it forced upon people either, and in the end if some people still really like the V-Shape tuning, fine.

    So, I really want to support this idea of a custom tuning solution, while discussing the great aspects of non-V tuning, in hopes people try what unfortunately little is available that isn't V-Shaped, particularly in the range of dd driver iems, in order to hear what music sounds like when its a more natural tuning, then decide from there. A custom tuning solution is best, but until the technologies to do it exist and are implemented (Again, I'm not talking about EQ, but rather a direct tuning change to the device though digital means, on a mini display with numbers set to various level points in the audio range, or through a connected calibration system similar to how videophiles calibrate monitors and televisions.), the best is just to find something pre-tuned to the closet possible tuning to natural sounding means, or those necessary adjustments needed in iems to the treble region for space compensation.
  9. bigshot
    I play music from just about every time period. My system has an evenly balanced response, and it presents just about everything as good as it can. When something sounds bad, it's usually an engineering problem, and I can address that with tone controls and/or a DSP.

    I think the V shaped response curve comes from the "more is better" theory of sound. I remember Pacific Stereo used to turn the bass and treble way up on all their demo models because people thought a lot of bass and treble meant that it was a good receiver or speakers. It always sounded like crap to me though. I think ignorant people (and perhaps kids) tend to favor it. I lump it in with other backwards "innovations" like bass boost and pure direct.

    Audiophiles can become fixated with frequency response extremes too. I often see people talking about frequencies below 20Hz and above 20kHz as being important. Balancing the core frequencies is the real trick to great sound.

    I think that everything should be as close to neutral and transparent as possible, and give people options to adjust the response however they want.
    Arysyn likes this.
  10. Arysyn
    I agree about neutrality, at least in most situations. Where I think there ought to be some adjustment, unless of course for my custom tuning idea that ought to be neutral by default, is in iem tuning in manufacturer-tuned iems. There is a "need" or shall I say "usefulness" in enhancing the treble, but it ought to be moderate and reasonable. The problem with tuning the treble higher, is then many people start wanting more bass, which then leads to the V-Shape.

    I'm also curious as to the motivations involved in recessing vocals. That is something I don't understand of people why they'd want to hear recessed vocals. Isn't that important to get the power and emotion from the vocals by being closer to you in the sound spectrum? It baffles me that so many seem to like the sound of distant vocals while the treble and bass are in your face. Very strange.
  11. bigshot
    Recessed vocals is a mixing choice. Perhaps it's a vocalist who isn't confident about his performance. I have the Talking Heads "Brick" set and in that one I suspect that David Byrne's vocals are recessed because the guitar player in the band supervised the mix and wanted to take him down a peg.
    Philimon likes this.
  12. gregorio
    I'm not sure where it comes from. I'd always assumed it came from the analogue (vinyl and tape) days, when high bass levels could cause issues, treble response was relatively poor and therefore the V-shape compensated for these media types. Of course, using that shape with digital media can cause problems, particularly in the treble. Digital is pretty much linear in the treble and therefore this previous compensation for a weak treble response would create too much treble. A possible explanation for the "digital glare" sometimes described in the early days of digital.

    A common mistake. You are correct that human hearing is not linear, that our hearing is less sensitive in the low and high freq areas of the spectrum and with this information, your conclusion does indeed therefore "make some sense". However, you are missing another piece of information: Namely, that all music products are mixed and mastered by human beings, human beings with the same basic hearing response and insensitivities as the rest of us and therefore, these hearing response insensitivities have already automatically been compensated for during the mixing and mastering processes.

    Well not really, it shouldn't be flat to begin with. Our hearing isn't flat and music has evolved to sound correct for our hearing. If we take an acoustic music genre as an example, say orchestral music, what we would typically expect to see is frequency content more similar to the slope of pink noise than to a flat response. The instrumentation in an orchestra and the design of concert halls has evolved to create this. It's also no coincidence that the highest note (fundamental frequency) of any orchestral instrument (the piccolo flute and violins) is at about 4kHz and typically therefore falls in the small range where human hearing is at it's most sensitive.

    To complicate matters, consumer speaker/HP manufacturers often design in an elevated bass response as an elevated bass response is always required. Another often overlooked/misinformed fact is that commercial music studios themselves are often deliberately NOT designed with a flat frequency response. Typically commercial music studios are designed with a "house curve", which varies from studio to studio but this house curve usually includes an elevated bass (3dB to 6dB being common), to compensate for the elevated bass of most consumer playback transducers. As the engineers (and musicians and producer) are hearing more bass in the playback chain of the studio, the mix will therefore often contain somewhat less bass than it's expected the consumer will hear.

    All the above illustrates that there is no one right frequency response. Unlike the film industry, in the music industry there is no agreed standard response to which studios adhere. A v-shape might indeed be appropriate, especially for pre-digital era masters, depending on what compensation was applied at the time of course. For digital recordings/masters, a slightly elevated bass but flat treble would likely be the most ideal response most of the time, assuming a typical "house curve" at the studio and that your speakers/HPs don't already provide an elevated bass. Lastly, this doesn't take into account either individual consumer preference (many of whom are at least somewhat bass-heads) or music genre (some of which can also influence the expected replay freq response).

  13. tansand
    These sound pretty flat to me, definitely not recessed in the mids. I'm not opposed to owning some like you descibe at some point though.The dotted line in the lower graph is what they describe as an ideal headphone frequency response..

    Soundmagic-E50C-web frequency response 650.JPG ideal headphone curve.png
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
  14. castleofargh Contributor
    the doted line is what GoldenEars defined as perceived neutral for them, so I assume at least their graph is raw response. that target response is not far off from what later became the Harman target for preferred signature. some boost in the low end instead of electrical flat seems to be preferred in general. personally I'd say that I need more low end boost for IEMs than I do for headphones, than I do for speakers. it's only my preference, I don't know that it relies on anything scientific.

    my only slight support toward V shaped responses is that I listen to music at very quiet levels most of the time, and then I do need some extra low and top freqs just to feel like I have a balanced signature. the equal loudness contour seems to agree with that feeling of mine.
    Glmoneydawg likes this.

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