The importance of volume to a headphone's presentation.
Dec 21, 2008 at 4:43 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 12

moogoob

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Hi all. Recently I've been thinking of something while listening to my 325is. Now, I tend to listen to a wide volume range, with the majority of listening taking place at what most would probably call "not loud". Maybe "medium". Now, I know many people have stressed that phones like the GS1000s are especially suited to listening at certain (read: low) volume levels and sound unbalanced when played loudly.

I've often had trouble understanding how folks can describe the 325is as "piercing" and thought maybe it had something to do with my hearing, maybe my ears' highs are rolled off?
frown.gif
Or, (so I thought, five minutes ago after turning the volume down on a Cranberries song to ease the guitars a bit) was I simply constantly adjusting my volume to keep the 325is inside what I felt to be their ideal volume range, bringing the highs more in line with the mids?

So, while there's so much talk of the effects of amps, DACs, interconnects etc. why do we ignore the massive changes in presentation that can occur in any phones simply by turning that dial on the front of our amps an eighth turn?
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 5:09 PM Post #2 of 12

slwiser

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The place where you can see this best of all are a couple of sites from Japan where they do frequency charts and lots of them. One site has most of their charts done with respect to approx. -20 db while the other one appears to be more focused nearer -40db sound levels. What I do is compare the same headphone chart from each site.

What I see is that looking at the same headphone chart, the lower one will be less smooth in shape. The one headphone that has the best shape over the range of sound pressures is the Sennhieser headphones. Some of my favorite headphones the Ultrasones and Audio-Technica, suffer at the lower sound pressures, a loss of mid-frequency by showing dips or where they may be called having a sucked out sound. But at more normal listening levels which I think around -20 dB, they are show much smoother shape. This also may be indicative of what would happen over a long period of burn-in. In that the driver would become more flexible with a lower sound pressure making it sound better at lower sound pressures. This burn-in ideal is just speculation on my part though.

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check link on left, eight down for listing of headphone charts for the above.

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Dec 21, 2008 at 5:21 PM Post #3 of 12

zotjen

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Quote:

So, while there's so much talk of the effects of amps, DACs, interconnects etc. why do we ignore the massive changes in presentation that can occur in any phones simply by turning that dial on the front of our amps an eighth turn?


I don't think it's ignored. I believe for the most part it's common knowledge. The louder something is, the more distorted it gets. Certain headphones just happen to be a little more sensitive in this area.
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 5:57 PM Post #4 of 12

Shahrose

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Quote:

Originally Posted by zotjen /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I don't think it's ignored. I believe for the most part it's common knowledge. The louder something is, the more distorted it gets. Certain headphones just happen to be a little more sensitive in this area.


i believe the OP was referring to the differently perceived sound of a headphone at various volume levels, not necessarily the distortion at high volumes. for example, the DT990 sound harsh at higher volumes, but pleasingly sparkly at low volumes, the HD650 sound dull at low volumes, the Pro750 sound lifeless at low volumes but become very energetic at high volumes.
i totally agree with the OP, and i believe it's one of the major reasons why such a huge difference of opinions exists on head-fi about the same headphones.
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 7:10 PM Post #5 of 12

hypoicon

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Shahrose /img/forum/go_quote.gif
. . .
i totally agree with the OP, and i believe it's one of the major reasons why such a huge difference of opinions exists on head-fi about the same headphones.



Ditto. It's not just headphones. I bought a pair of small amplified Mackie monitors a month or so ago, and at first I was really dissapointed with their thumping mid-bass. I was not expecting that from a monitor speaker which purports to be flat. However, as I've lived with them I've come to figure out that these speakers response is much like having the loudness button on an old receiver/preamp depressed at all times. They are actually quite pleasant and accurate sounding at low to medium volumes, but when you turn them up they get outrageously thumpy.

The human hearing response isn't flat against all db ranges either-- so having a nice looking response curve does not always equate with the best subjective experience. If it were that easy, scores of audio writers and critics would be out of a job.

I do think that those people who proclaim that they hate the "Grado sound" are probably trying to listen to them cranked up to the point of brittleness. It's not a matter of amplifier distortion or driver control, in my opinion, but simply that these headphones were voiced with moderate to low listening volumes in mind.

The Mackie monitor instruction sheets recommend mastering at lower volumes to save the engineer's hearing, but they do not specifically state that the speakers were designed to sound more accurate at lower volumes.

Sennheisers, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. I still haven't figured out how to make them sound "right" to me-- perhaps I just value my hearing too much to turn them up far enough. I persist in trying though, simply because so many people claim that they are "awesome."
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 8:05 PM Post #6 of 12

Oublie

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Interesting idea,

I suppose every component has it's 'sweet spot' and a point when burn in is reached where it is performing at it's optimum level. I have read info regarding different electronic component performing better in certain instances when given the right current and voltage and where over or under driving them will stop them perfoming at their best. This must also be true of headphones so i think your on to something and it may have a very direct relationship with why one phone is prefered over another i.e. the grado sound etc.
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 9:09 PM Post #7 of 12

LnxPrgr3

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Quote:

Originally Posted by slwiser /img/forum/go_quote.gif
The place where you can see this best of all are a couple of sites from Japan where they do frequency charts and lots of them. One site has most of their charts done with respect to approx. -20 db while the other one appears to be more focused nearer -40db sound levels. What I do is compare the same headphone chart from each site.


All decibel scales imply a reference level -- common for digital system is to set 0dB to mean full scale. In this context, -20dB means the signal was 20dB below the max that could be recorded by that setup. It says nothing about absolute sound levels, however -- the difference between -20 and -40 could just be the recording volume.

Difference between measuring setups used by different people could wreak havoc with trying to compare graphs from multiple sources anyway. My results using the integrated mic on the Macbook might not be as reliable as, say, Headroom with an acoustic head.
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 10:07 PM Post #8 of 12

moogoob

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Shahrose /img/forum/go_quote.gif
i believe the OP was referring to the differently perceived sound of a headphone at various volume levels, not necessarily the distortion at high volumes. for example, the DT990 sound harsh at higher volumes, but pleasingly sparkly at low volumes, the HD650 sound dull at low volumes, the Pro750 sound lifeless at low volumes but become very energetic at high volumes.
i totally agree with the OP, and i believe it's one of the major reasons why such a huge difference of opinions exists on head-fi about the same headphones.



Indeed, I was talking about perceived sound. On some recordings (the aforementioned Cranberries for example) listening loudly is a real pain on my 325is. It heavily depends on the recording though. Some electronic tracks (some of NINs The Slip, most trance) can play very comfortably at loud levels, while others get into fatigue zone very quickly.
 
Dec 21, 2008 at 10:27 PM Post #9 of 12

BigTony

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I listen at very low levels, just habit, and what i've noticed is some amp/cans combo's don't work so well at low volume. I find tube amps seem to handle low volume well.
 
Dec 22, 2008 at 9:14 AM Post #10 of 12

Peter Pinna

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One of the reasons I really like the Ultrasone Pro 750 is because it maintains it's overall frequency balance at any dynamic level, low to high. Your right that some headphones can become harsh and even sibilant at louder volumes and very un-involving at lower volumes but I have found the 750 to maintain it's interesting but pleasant character throughout the dynamic range.
 
Dec 22, 2008 at 9:46 AM Post #11 of 12

iancraig10

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I adjust the volume for whatever I'm listening to until the sound starts to have a solid 'presence' and leave it there. That volume is different for each headphone that I use.

After reading this, I tried listening to the same track on Senn 650, Beyer 880 and Grado 325i. They sound best at different volumes to me.

The Senn seem to want more than the other two. The Grado is more comfortable lower in volume.

No measurements, just perceived sound.

Ian
 
Dec 22, 2008 at 3:12 PM Post #12 of 12

moogoob

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Quote:

Originally Posted by iancraig10 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I adjust the volume for whatever I'm listening to until the sound starts to have a solid 'presence' and leave it there. That volume is different for each headphone that I use.

After reading this, I tried listening to the same track on Senn 650, Beyer 880 and Grado 325i. They sound best at different volumes to me.

The Senn seem to want more than the other two. The Grado is more comfortable lower in volume.

No measurements, just perceived sound.

Ian



Exactly what I do.
smily_headphones1.gif
Seems to be a more common practice than I thought.
 

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