Transduction and music as it's "supposed" to be heard
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Matt

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A fact that was easy to hear when comparing HD600's/Max/Blockhead and Stax's Omega system at my local HeadRoom Tour stop was that with, say, vocals, the HD600's presented them with body and a fairly good amount of life, but from a more distanced perspective, whilst the Stax's gave a very "close to the ear," very-lifelike, detailed presentatition of vocals.

This raises an interesting question for me: when you hear a singer in an ultra-detailed, ultra-intimate setting like with the Stax's, there is no real-life, performance-based corollary to that. The singer is never going to be standing right next to your ear nor will you ever be shrunk to fit inside the microphone. Likewise, some of the perspectives on instruments (ultra-closely mic'ed and mixed instruments) sound "weird" in a headstage without that "naturalistic distance." However, with the more distant but still lifelike sound of the HD600's, there is a corollary: your typical acoustic concert or whatever it is you're listening to. It seems that the Stax/Ety "perspective," though I personally like it, is an odd one, considering.

When an engineer mixes, he/she probably figures that more than likely, the listener will be doing so through speakers in his home and so, they figure in your carpeting, your distance from your speakers, etc. and mix it in a way that will arrive across that room and into your ears "as intended." Either that or a CD is mixed to sound good on some teenybopper's cheap stereo, where the sound is expected to go through various levels of masking and trashing, restuling in the engineer exaggerating unnaturally various parts of the sound (e.g. overemphasized treble).

With this in mind, does anyone know how an engineer, say, records an artists and with what intentions with regard to the final transduction for the listener? Wouldn't it be more "true to the intended experience" to listen through the more distant, not-as-utterly-terribly-intimate HD600's?

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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You raise an interesting point. I do know that the trend lately has been to go towards the HD600 specifically, and away from the older "standards" like the 7506. At least this is true for some mastering engineers (Bob Ludwig - or so I've read) and classical recording guys (Telarc - since a friend of mine worked there). I think what keeps more engineers from using these headphones is that they are open. Thus, 'phones like the 7506, 280, etc. still have a purpose where isolation is needed.
 
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An utterly valid and interesting point, IMNVHO.

I have sometimes wondered the strong emphasis many headphone aficionados place on "detail". I have also wondered if "detailedness" is anything else than just treble or upper-midrange emphasis.

An analogy (a poor one if you insist):

You are admiring a Rembrandt in a gallery. Is it correct to assume that looking at the painting through a microscope would give you a better or impression of that painting ("truer to the source")? More detail, certainly, but still...

I do not think we should let quantity rule over quality here. Sometimes less is definitely more.

Regards,

L.
 
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Matt

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...like, for instance, on my Stax's, I can hear what the spit in the back of the singer's throat is doing better than on any other headphones I've ever heard. However, is this a natural listening "position" to be in?

While listening to the HD600's and Blockhead combo, I was very, very pleased with their overall musicality. When I listened to the Stax Omega II's, though, while the overall musical picture wasn't as full, rich or "natural," it was more detailed and vocals were far more intimate (listening to them one after the other on the same CD track).

I love my Stax's very much. They offer way too much for the price. When I had HD600's myself, I hated them (listening on an EarMax Pro). It was awful: the music sounded close to my head, utterly reproduced, a bit screetchy or strident with an unpleasantly whomping bass, etc. I liked the HD600's much better on the Blockhead.

I think that probably the HD600s' purpose was to recreate a more speaker-like experience, rather than trying to shoot every last detail directly into your ear. Everywhere I've heard them, they have sounded relatively "laid back," even on top-end amps, so clearly this was intended. I really like the HD600s' sound, but I'm afraid I'd have to dump at least $1300 + on a Max to get anywhere near the general level of overall performance and versatility I'm getting out of my Stax classic rig.

Another good point is that I can sit in my car and "groove" along to a CD just fine. I can listen to it on a boombox and enjoy it thouroughly. I can listen to the song on the radio and still enjoy it. Naturally, none of these are even nearly "as detailed" as any headphones we've mentioned here. So, if we don't have every last bit of detail, but rather have the "more speaker-like" sound of well-amplified HD600's, is that worse than something that reproduces vocals with stunning intimacy and detail, but from a very unnatural, clearly reproduced perspective? That's an interesting problem: electrostats can reproduce a recording exactly and so voices sound natural, but they offer no natural distance, so the sound is unnatural. This conflicting natural/unnatural perspective leaves me in doubt. Of course, it's not always like that: if a recording was done in a room, say, and the microphone placement was such that it preserved the integrity of that room, without mixing the different elements weirdly up front or back or to the sides, etc. then it's not bad at all. When you do have that odd, pop-style mixing, though, that "naturalized" distance and perspective seems more appealing.

Really, they both sounded good at what they did. I mean, if I could have the vocal clarity and intimacy of the Omega II's with the overall musicality of the HD600's/Blockhead, it would probably be the exact sound I crave.

Argh!

- Matt
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by Matt
When I listened to the Stax Omega II's, though, while the overall musical picture wasn't as full, rich or "natural," it was more detailed and vocals were far more intimate (listening to them one after the other on the same CD track).


Hmm, how do your Lambdas fair against the Omegas in this aspect? Are the Omegas indeed more detailed and vocals more transparent as their price says they should be? Or are the Omegas more "forgiving"?

I personally dig the intense, upclose revealing experience that some headphones are capable of. I mean, it's why I bother using headphones at all nowdays, now that I have a capable speaker system. If I want a natural, far off feel to the music, I'll use the speakers. But when I'm on headphones, I want to hear everything. I'll usually use speakers on my first run through a new CD, followed by a second run through my headphones to catch things I totally missed on the speakers. One let's me experience the music, the other let's me experience what makes up the music. Both are a necessity to me.
 
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Perhaps this is one of the reasons I love the R10. You get all of the detail, and yet it creates the illusion of being in an actual acoustic environment better than any other headphone I've heard. It allows the detail to be heard without undermining the emotional response that is the real impact of the music.
 
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Matt

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...the Omegas are indeed better. However, they are better at the "Stax sound" than the Lambdas. They also have that really nice tube amp (which pairs well with Staxs, IMO), where I'm running their mid-end SS.

What I really liked about the Orpheus is that they give the HD600 treatment (a natural perspective and still-detailed distance) to the electrostatic sound, which the Omegas don't, relatively speaking. This makes for the incredibly musical sound while somehow retaining oodles of detail.

It seems like you're somewhat interested in knowing this, so I'll tell you: while the difference between my Lambdas and the Omegas are pretty big, the Lambdas, at their price point, represent an incredible value. They are far more versatile than my previous EMP/W100 rig (now I'm listening to more than just slow, syrupy music) at a lower price. They are versatile as hell and that's great. They do equally well with jazz, rock (crunchy fuzz guitar never sounded better...even on Grados!), pop, classical (ooh, that separation and air-around-instruments!), etc. Moreover, they sound *amazing* with vinyl, two times better over my DI/O sourced digital rig, and that says a lot, I think.

They're an even bigger value if you get a Japanese version, unscrew the case cover, switch a couple of easily accessable contact bars and "make" yourself a U.S. or U.K. version.

Overall, it's definitely a "for the price" equation, but I feel the Lambdas are a better value.

- Matt
 
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...see, that's how I felt about the Orpheus. I've never heard the R10, so no comment. But that Orpheus sure did what you just described, and it did it really well. So, perhaps Orpheus/R10 are the true answers to the start-of-thread question...

- Matt
 
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I think there are two kinds of 'detailed':

1. Extra detail obtained from pushing up the response to some frequencies (particularly high frequencies)

2. Extra detail obtained simply from the phones having high ability to resolve details.

I think we all want (2)
 
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Interesting theme and good contributions!

There's more than one level affected. First the soundstage: You may aim a speaker-like ore free-field perspective even if that's hard to achieve. Or you may accept the artificiality of headphone listening... Both possibilities have their full value, because they find their aficionados – and me in both camps at the same time, represented by HD 600/my own electrostatics on one hand and Grado SR 80/Etymotic ER-4S (the latter as an extreme).

I don't know the Omega, all I can tell is that my self-built electrostatics with their Stax-Signature and -Lambda drivers, which represent a sort of in-between of Lambda/Signature and Sigma (the ugly «headspeaker»!), provide an exceptionally wide soundstage, even wider than the one the HD 600 are capable of. I really was reminded, the first time I listened to it, of the Orpheus, which seems to be the «best» headphone I ever heard. The other extreme is the Etymotics. I like them exactly the same, though their soundstage is nearly inexistent at first listening. But they just require a certain adaptation to their very own perspective – one thing that's easy to do for me in the meantime –, then the virtual soundstage appears in its full splendor and width, together with the very special Ety magic of direct involvement, so that nothing is missing anymore.

I really don't think there's any need to care about «right» or «wrong» reproduction. The right one is the one you prefer (at the moment). And there's no chance to measure up to the sound engineer's intentions, as far as the soundstage is concerned.

The other level is the balance and the «quality» of the sound, including resolution and transient response. I would say the same as Joe Bloggs: as much details as possible without exaggerating any frequency area is a reasonable motto. There's no sense in the postulation of the opposite: not too much details to prevent breakup of the entireness. Nobody seems to wish to blind out details of the real acoustical world, a real orchestra, in order to create a higher measure of entireness. In the reproduction through headphones, such a scheme would surely be a corruption of the sonic truth and be heard as a fault. The only thing that's reasonable is not to push details to the disadvantage of the sonic balance. But all other factors which could constrict the reproduction of a maximum of details must be flaws.

This said, I'm not sure if the lots of details my electrostats deliver are really a merit of a minimum of transducer faults and inaccuracy or if there's a kind of exaggeration in the form of an artificial sublimation of the treble range, maybe caused by the reflexions between the stator grids and the diaphragm (as a hypothesis...).

JaZZ
 
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You deviate from what the sound engineer had in mind the moment you purchase a good set of speakers at all. Studios really aren't all that and it's not hard to outdo them.

The reason you hear these details is because the recordings are heavily mic'd. Since some engineers like Chesky record from 10th row center with the minimal necessary mics, this effect does not occur and a more natural sound is recorded.

Personally, I want to hear every detail that is on the recording. If it is a close-mic'd recording where I can hear the fourth chair violinist's chair creek, I want to hear that because it's there. When you sacrifice the creeking chair, you lose other stuff too. I'll take the whole thing and let my brain sort it out rather than purposefully obscuring the details with the hardware.

And um, Vertigo, believe it or not there are speaker systems that can have the same level of resolution as headphones. The problem is that they cost as much as a decent sports car.
 
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...then, would seem to be something like this:

Chesky-style recording (high-end equiptment, cables, mic'ing, etc.): most revealing can possible (a Stax- or Ety-type can).

Studio pop/rock record (where their focus was not on signal purity or natural placement of musical elements): a can that will do it's own measure of glossing-over the sound, putting it at a speaker-like distance, etc. (whatever that may be to you...for me that would be HD600's with a mid-end SS amp with mid-end cables and a mid-end source or something like that).

Closely-mic'ed instruments/vocals (that ultimately assume that there will be a distance from point of emanation [speaker] to listener in order to distance-naturalize that lack of recorded distance): HD600's, well-amped, sourced and cabled or not. What I mean by this sort of material is one where, for instance, the electric bass guitar was plugged right into a preamp and sent right to the board (as opposed to a bass plugged into a bass amp and then that amp's speaker recorded by mic from some sort of disntance) or every instrument in a chamber string piece had mics right on them, giving no real distance-perspective (the end result will sound like the instruments are right next to your head through headphones, due to the lack of room resonance/clues).

In this case, you'd want that distance to more closely approximate the real experience, where the musicians would be "at" your speakers and your room does the rest. It is sort of a "reconstituted" experience.

Haven't you ever listened to a track where everything else seems to come from some sort of realistic distance, except for a bass guitar or vocal that sounds like it's right in your earcup? The reason it sounds that way, if I'm not mistaken, is because it lacks those clues (resonances, reflections, etc.) which allow us to perceptually pin a location on a sound).

Of course, the first two bolded examples speak very little of peoples' real-world experience and sonic preferences, which to me signals a general affinity for "the headphone sound," which, by our definition in this thread and in absolute terms, is an unnatural, unrealistic perspective in many ways (the intimacy/ultra-detail, etc.)

I mean, I'll be the first to admit that I find the "headphone sound" great, but the reason it's so great is because it is basically giving you "special effects," i.e. things that wouldn't normally happen in stereo speaker playback, that being the intended, agreed-upon, generally-recognized-as-how-it's-going-to-happen playback method. Headphones can only be a sonically hyper-realized (and perhaps, as this thread might suggest, over-realized for some music) attempt at that.

- Sir Mister Matt
 
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