What is sound quality, really?
May 18, 2009 at 5:13 PM Post #16 of 29

h.rav

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Quote:

Originally Posted by charlie0904 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
one thing i believe is "SQ is judged by individuals, not data/research."

if you heard what you like, that will be your standard.
your "perfect sound" would be the sound "tweak" by you and no one else. IMO



+1

I read others opinion, but I ultimately buy/judge things based on my own opinion.
 
May 18, 2009 at 5:21 PM Post #17 of 29

twylight

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I find headphones pretty easy to judge.

Listen to it on a $10k+ dedicated system and then try the same with your headphone rig...see whats missing.

I think the thing I like the most about a good headphone rig is getting most of the music correct and putting the imaging right in your skull or off your nose. Its REALLY a pain to get a 2 channel system to image what you want (ie the singer being in the middle of the room like he is really there) and headphones can do that with alot less effort.
 
May 18, 2009 at 5:43 PM Post #18 of 29

voon

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An subjective thing within a certain "class" of sound quality. I think you can objectively separate a very dull sounding 5$ earphone from a 500$ one, they're all better than the 5$ one. But that's obvious. But an AKG701 is not better than a DT880 and vice versa. That's where it's purely up to the listener and nothing else. I mean, there's people in the threads liking a headphone better than another, because of its design, colors etc ... valid points, to that person (not to me though).

Personally, I have very little experience. That's why I don't udnerstand, when people tlak about soundstages, broader stages etc. But it's the same with oenophiles for me etc ... I don't get the "flowery bouqet" descriptions. If someone was near me, handing me a "broad stage" sounding equipment, I can probably understand, what he means. But it will be an agreed upon definition between him and me, and nobody else will think the same, when he hears "broad stage". It's as with the term "love" ... what's it to you? What to the one you just told to, you love him or her? Probably different opinions
smily_headphones1.gif


All I had so far is the iPod 3G with Koss PortaPros. Now I'm listening to Trance on a DT880, powered by an iBasso D10 and the SoundBlaster X-Fi optical out feeding into it. And I'm quite fascinated. Is it 10000x better than an iPod on PortaPros? No. But yes, way better. How many points better? I dunno ... eleven maybe.

(On that topic: Can somebody suggest songs to test my headphone with? Classical, Rocvk, Jazz, Trance, anything.... I wonder what people use and why).
 
May 18, 2009 at 6:01 PM Post #19 of 29

pdupiano

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I'll try to keep my se530 bias out of this post but please be warned that it may creep up here and there.

I think that sound quality is a very gray term and its thrown around quite often around here. We all have different ideas on what sound quality really is (and I still don't really understand what quality is in the first place). But I've come to realize that rather than determining and comparing "sound quality," we're better off comparing what can compose sound quality. By in large, sound quality can be separated into various aspects:

1. Frequency response
2. Build "Quality"
3. SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio)
4. Sensitivity
5. Harmonic Distortion
6. Head State/ Sound Stage
7. Forwardness
8. Tonality
9. Low/mid/high impressions

From above, we can do scientific based measurements on elements 1 - 5. We can do psuedosubjective/objective comparisons 6 - 8. But the last is entirely subjective. The reason why we can do psuedosubjective comparisons for 6-8 is because we can have the same person test multiple headphones and do direct comparisons between them. I've posted on several threads criticizing people for making blanket statements about a particular headphone without having a comparison. If you don't have anything to compare elements 6 -8 to, then they are purely subjective. The last one is truly purely subjective. And in many ways can hinder people from really getting a good objective view on any equipment. The sad/difficult part is that it is the one that matters most or at the very least what should matter most to people.

The catch is, the last element is also what determines what's going to be good or bad to a person. And when I looked through the headphone website, they had numbers for frequency response isolation etc... But the problem is they assign numbers for frequency response but for what purpose? Here's the thing about any and all scientific "experiments." The data is purely objective... The conclusion is purely subjective. The conclusion does not have to be true, it just has to be valid, meaning that it comes from the objective data. Take for example, if I got all the records of every american that ever lived. At the end my friend concludes from the data, that there are 50% females and 50% males in America. I conclude that the average american as 1 Ovary and 1 Testicle. Our conclusions come from objective, (think of the most possible objective way to collect the data, it really doesnt matter) but our conclusions are vastly different. They are both valid, but the conclusion I came up with is pointless and stupid.

Don't get "amazed" or wowed just because a site provides objective data and gives ratings on the numbers. Look at the numbers and decide for yourself. As far as I'm concerned the number/ranking /ratings posted on that headphoneinfo site are all subjective and quite frankly unreliable for me based on my own impressions from headphones and the numbers I've gathered from Headroom, Ety's website, UE's websites etcc (I'm referring to frequency responses).

So point is. Take the data, read it yourself make your own conclusions. Science CAN be just as subjective as everything else, so be careful when you evaluate information just because it comes from a "scientist."
 
May 18, 2009 at 6:26 PM Post #20 of 29

bixby

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There are a number of intelligent responses here to guide you. Pdupiano, Arjisme, Eshepler to highlight a few. What this hobby has taught me over the last 30 years is to trust your ears more than any printed material, learn from nuance and detail in printed material and see if you can hear what the numbers intimate, test yourself to see if you are really hearing a difference.

And by all means listen to lots of stuff. Reading about it is great but small minute details become big differences when read or talked about and may not translate into big hearing differences. And remember lots of people may have less listening experience than you!

I like to think of this hobby like wine. If you have only ever had a decent box wine then you might be perfectly happy with that, but there is lots of variety out there. And a Lafite Rothschild may not be your idea of a good value. You may prefer to top out with a good California Cab.

Cheers
 
May 18, 2009 at 8:25 PM Post #21 of 29

barleyguy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by bixby /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I like to think of this hobby like wine. If you have only ever had a decent box wine then you might be perfectly happy with that, but there is lots of variety out there. And a Lafite Rothschild may not be your idea of a good value. You may prefer to top out with a good California Cab.
Cheers



I agree with everything you said above. My response on the faults of the measurements were based on "even if you assume that you can objectively measure sound quality, their methods were faulty". That is, of course, a big assumption.

Even based on that assumption, that the frequency response graphs etc. mean something, there are things that are very difficult to measure with instruments:

- Imaging/sound stage (i.e. How well can you hear the spread of instruments left/right/up/down/forward/back). A set of speakers with excellent sound stage will have a sense of depth and height as well as left/right. Great headphones should have this as well, though it generally will be a little smaller.

- Attack and release of different frequencies, micro-detail, and perception of bass. Can you hear little micro-details within each instrument, do the instruments sound natural, does the bass "slap" or "rumble"?

- Overall "character" of the sound. Fun, analytical, larger than life, lifelike?

There are probably plenty of things I missed, but those are just a couple of examples to illustrate things that could never be measured objectively.

People do argue wines, just like they do headphones, and will try to objectively defend why one is better than another. Personally, I'm partial to sweet smooth German wine. Many people would call that an uncultured view of the situation, and it probably is.

EDIT: I wonder if someone has invented a machine that you can pour wine into and it will tell you if it tastes good.
tongue.gif
 
May 27, 2009 at 2:33 AM Post #22 of 29

rinski

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Quote:

Originally Posted by charlie0904 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
one thing i believe is "SQ is judged by individuals, not data/research."

if you heard what you like, that will be your standard.
your "perfect sound" would be the sound "tweak" by you and no one else. IMO



I agree. You can't objectively test something like sound quality by definition. You can, however, objectively test certain qualities of sound. The question then seems to be the degree to which such test results will be valuable.

For lower-to-middle-range headphones, I think these results are valuable. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of people reseraching headphones in these categories are sick of packaged-in headphones and are simply looking to buy headphones that "don't suck." These people have an idea of what bad audio sounds like, but probably aren't privy to the sort of nuances an audiophile would be looking for. While I think most people could definitely tell the difference between, say, a set of packaged-in iPod headphones and the SE530s, I'm equally confident they would not hear much of a difference between the SE115s and SE530s (at the very least not enough difference to merit the gap in price).

High-end headphones are a different story. If you're looking for a set of reference headphones, I think standardized testing is still valuable. If you're not looking for reference headphones, I'd think they'd be valuable for base judgments and not much else. You can only get so much information from a frequency response graph, just like you can only get so much from someone else describing a soundstage. Both are useful to a certain degree, and the purpose of both is to educate the reader to allow them to make a better-informed decision. *everyone holds hands in harmony*
beerchug.gif


Quote:

Originally Posted by astroid /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Overall I like the site, it reviews in depth and not enough sites do. The one thing I don't agree with is the use of the word better in respect to bass performance , they seem to think that a larger bass hump is 'better'.


You're right, the site's use of better/worse is misleading in many instances.

Also, [SPOILERS] [size=xx-small]as managing editor of HeadphoneInfo.com, I maintain the site is utterly perfect and beautiful in every conceivable regard and would like to inform you all that it currently holds the land speed record for awesome. I also am the person you should PM/email for HPI-related questions and derisive mockery, because I sincerely appreciate both.[/size][/SPOILERS]
 
May 27, 2009 at 3:11 AM Post #23 of 29

Sinocelt

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Quote:

Originally Posted by astroid /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Overall I like the site, it reviews in depth and not enough sites do. The one thing I don't agree with is the use of the word better in respect to bass performance , they seem to think that a larger bass hump is 'better'.


I didn't get that feeling:

Quote:

Originally Posted by www.headphoneinfo.com
There is no ideal response for headphones, so there is not a single response curve that we test against. Instead, we set a range of +/- 6 dBSPL in the frequency range of 500Hz to 9Khz, and our testing system puts these these limits against the response curve of the headphones. Our scores are then based on how much the headphones go outside these limits, so we are not scoring on the exact curve, but rather on the smoothness of the curves. Although headphones are often regarded as being a matter of personal taste, a good pair of headphones should produce a good, clean frequency response that does not overly exaggerate or diminish nearby frequencies to accurately reproduce the music you are listening to.


But then, individual reviews are still written by individual reviewers, most of them of the human persuasion, and I haven't read them all! My experience is, if anything, opposite to yours, though: they say of the ADDIEM that they have a strong bass response, but some might find it a bit too strong. I don't consider myself a bass-head (I love my Etys!) and don't think the ADDIEM especially bassy (even if, okay, the mids do sound somewhat recessed in comparison).

Interestingly, while the bass of the HF5 isn't very heavy, it is very clear and impactful. For the first time, I heard drums that reminded me of my own experience with them. Best bass of the few IEMs I own. Which begs the question, of course: how do you quantify that, scientifically?
 
May 27, 2009 at 3:58 AM Post #24 of 29

mambo5

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I think sound quality is in the ear of the beholder.

But mainly I think it really just comes down to personal taste. No two sets of ears are alike. Something that would sound absolutely horrible to one person could sound like pure sonic bliss another. For example, on this forum, some people might like a cold and analytical sound while many others prefer a fun, colored, and warm sound. I know I prefer the latter. And what really defines these words that describe sound quality? Of course there is that glossary of words that describe sound, but what may sound "dark" to one set of ears, can sound "bright" to another set of ears. Among other things.

It also comes down to what we're accustomed to. If you give a pair of etymotics for listening to rap, hiphop, trance, techno, etc music to someone who usually uses a pair of skullcandies, they would be incredibly underwhelmed. But over time, they would become "accustomed" to the sound of the etys and over time, the quality of the etymotic sound signature would be the listener's preference and standard of sound quality.

A small, sometimes big effect of a person's perception of sound quality is the placebo effect (I think that's what it is). For example, If you read a review, which is the opinion of someone else based on their preferences and tastes and perception of sound quality on an amp/source/headphone/etc before you buy it or listen to it yourself. You'll be thinking that the amp/source/headphone/etc sounds THIS way, just because that person who reviewed the product THOUGHT it sounded that way. I'm not saying it always has an effect, but sometimes it does, although it is small. But it makes a big difference sometimes when you base YOUR OWN preferences, tastes, perception, and standards really, on that person's own thoughts and opinions. I know for a fact that I've listened to a headphone and made an opinion on it, then read someone elses opinion then CHANGED my opinion thinking they were correct and I wasn't. As a result, it changed my thoughts on how a certain sound characteristic sounded. An example of that was when i bought my first decent headphones, the AKG k81. Before i bought it, i read the reviews, impressions, and all of that. A common opinion on them was how the bass was bloated, or it had too much bass, or it was muddy. Then when I finally listened to the k81s, I concluded that it was muddy, or bloated, or it had too much bass (even though i thought it didn't have too much bass and I didn't know what bloated and muddy was) since that was what everyone else said. Well, placebo effect or not, it still can make a difference, small or large.

Preference, taste, perception, sound quality, whatever you want to call it. Thats my opinion. And JUST my opinion. A 14 year-old boy's opinion.


And my 2cents.
 
May 27, 2009 at 4:17 AM Post #25 of 29

nkk

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Although I have heard no high end IEMs, I can relate from experience that you can quantify as much as you would like, but preference does play a role that is anything but negligable.

For example, with fountain pens, I like mine sliky smooth, and I can quantify that by analyzing the bumps and their magnitude on the surface of my nib. However, some people like 'feedback' as it is called, and thus my quantification of smoothness means nothing, as they do not like the hot butter on glass feeling. This applies to the vast majority, if not all, hobbies.

Also Sincelot, you made waiting for my HF5s so much harder. Thank you very much. That is just what I needed, as I also wait for speakers and a compass and an amp.
smily_headphones1.gif


-Nkk
 
May 27, 2009 at 4:46 AM Post #26 of 29

Uncle Erik

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Quote:

Originally Posted by ClieOS /img/forum/go_quote.gif
...yet till this very day, some among us totally dislike Ety's cold analytical sound.


That's much the same reason why the major food conglomerates add sugar (or, more likely, HFCS) to everything these days. Look at the list of ingredients of any processed food: sugar, sugar, sugar. Or sugar equivalent.

It seems that people prefer sweetened food.

People also like their sound sweetened. Put some bloom in the bass, make the highs sizzle, and push all the other buttons humans like.

Bose is the extreme example, but other manufacturers pull the same trick.

Accurate sound is unsweetened and when the ear is accustomed to exaggerated bass, something that reproduces bass without the exaggeration sounds "off."

Similarly, switch your diet over to whole fruits and vegetables and items made from scratch. They'll taste bland at first. But give it a few weeks and they'll start to taste good. Fast food and junk food will start tasting artificial and fake.

The same happens with audio gear. The most faithful reproductions aren't sweetened for appeal. However, if you've fed yourself a diet of live music or start playing an instrument, you'll begin to appreciate what the accurate gear does right.

The other benefit is that this so-called "cold," "sterile" and "analytical" gear does is let you focus on the music, rather than look for the new musical gimmick pulled by whatever gear you're using. Which is why you'll find relentless upgrading and so much almost new gear in the For Sale Forum. The exciting new flavor became routine and dull, leading to a search for the next flavor.

The only way off the perpetual upgrade wheel is with gear that's true to the music. It won't sound sweet and colored, but once you acquire that taste, then it's only about the music.
 
May 27, 2009 at 4:58 AM Post #27 of 29

VoLTaG3

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Quote:

Originally Posted by mambo5 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I think sound quality is in the ear of the beholder.

But mainly I think it really just comes down to personal taste. No two sets of ears are alike. Something that would sound absolutely horrible to one person could sound like pure sonic bliss another. For example, on this forum, some people might like a cold and analytical sound while many others prefer a fun, colored, and warm sound. I know I prefer the latter. And what really defines these words that describe sound quality? Of course there is that glossary of words that describe sound, but what may sound "dark" to one set of ears, can sound "bright" to another set of ears. Among other things.

It also comes down to what we're accustomed to. If you give a pair of etymotics for listening to rap, hiphop, trance, techno, etc music to someone who usually uses a pair of skullcandies, they would be incredibly underwhelmed. But over time, they would become "accustomed" to the sound of the etys and over time, the quality of the etymotic sound signature would be the listener's preference and standard of sound quality.

A small, sometimes big effect of a person's perception of sound quality is the placebo effect (I think that's what it is). For example, If you read a review, which is the opinion of someone else based on their preferences and tastes and perception of sound quality on an amp/source/headphone/etc before you buy it or listen to it yourself. You'll be thinking that the amp/source/headphone/etc sounds THIS way, just because that person who reviewed the product THOUGHT it sounded that way. I'm not saying it always has an effect, but sometimes it does, although it is small. But it makes a big difference sometimes when you base YOUR OWN preferences, tastes, perception, and standards really, on that person's own thoughts and opinions. I know for a fact that I've listened to a headphone and made an opinion on it, then read someone elses opinion then CHANGED my opinion thinking they were correct and I wasn't. As a result, it changed my thoughts on how a certain sound characteristic sounded. An example of that was when i bought my first decent headphones, the AKG k81. Before i bought it, i read the reviews, impressions, and all of that. A common opinion on them was how the bass was bloated, or it had too much bass, or it was muddy. Then when I finally listened to the k81s, I concluded that it was muddy, or bloated, or it had too much bass (even though i thought it didn't have too much bass and I didn't know what bloated and muddy was) since that was what everyone else said. Well, placebo effect or not, it still can make a difference, small or large.

Preference, taste, perception, sound quality, whatever you want to call it. Thats my opinion. And JUST my opinion. A 14 year-old boy's opinion.


And my 2cents.



This is very true. I'm really beginning to dislike my Shure SE530's for their lack of sparkle in the treble.
 
May 27, 2009 at 6:52 AM Post #28 of 29

Laokid18

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Uncle Erik /img/forum/go_quote.gif
That's much the same reason why the major food conglomerates add sugar (or, more likely, HFCS) to everything these days. Look at the list of ingredients of any processed food: sugar, sugar, sugar. Or sugar equivalent.

It seems that people prefer sweetened food.

People also like their sound sweetened. Put some bloom in the bass, make the highs sizzle, and push all the other buttons humans like.

Bose is the extreme example, but other manufacturers pull the same trick.

Accurate sound is unsweetened and when the ear is accustomed to exaggerated bass, something that reproduces bass without the exaggeration sounds "off."

Similarly, switch your diet over to whole fruits and vegetables and items made from scratch. They'll taste bland at first. But give it a few weeks and they'll start to taste good. Fast food and junk food will start tasting artificial and fake.

The same happens with audio gear. The most faithful reproductions aren't sweetened for appeal. However, if you've fed yourself a diet of live music or start playing an instrument, you'll begin to appreciate what the accurate gear does right.

The other benefit is that this so-called "cold," "sterile" and "analytical" gear does is let you focus on the music, rather than look for the new musical gimmick pulled by whatever gear you're using. Which is why you'll find relentless upgrading and so much almost new gear in the For Sale Forum. The exciting new flavor became routine and dull, leading to a search for the next flavor.

The only way off the perpetual upgrade wheel is with gear that's true to the music. It won't sound sweet and colored, but once you acquire that taste, then it's only about the music.



I pretty much agree with this but, sometimes we all crave sweets.
 
May 27, 2009 at 3:11 PM Post #29 of 29

rinski

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Sinocelt /img/forum/go_quote.gif
My experience is, if anything, opposite to yours, though: they say of the ADDIEM that they have a strong bass response, but some might find it a bit too strong. I don't consider myself a bass-head (I love my Etys!) and don't think the ADDIEM especially bassy.

Interestingly, while the bass of the HF5 isn't very heavy, it is very clear and impactful. For the first time, I heard drums that reminded me of my own experience with them. Best bass of the few IEMs I own. Which begs the question, of course: how do you quantify that, scientifically?



Out of all the subjective qualities of headphones, clarity seems most like it could be tested or measured in some way. I mean, if you listen to a set of headphones with great detail and ones that are less detailed, you can readily tell the difference between the two, regardless of your experience with high-end headphones.

For example, the Beats by Dr. Dre aren't the best headphones, but they do have some solid detailing. I let a bunch of my buddies try them out, none of whom know a lot about headphones. Everyone pretty unanimously thought the Beats were the best headphones they'd ever heard. Just about everyone gave the cliched "I'm hearing stuff I never knew was in this track!" speech.

I've been talking to guys who know far more about electroacoustics and psychoacoustics than I do, and all of them pretty confidently agree that detailing is an utterly subjective construct. It's strange that such a qualty can be so obvious and dramatic and still be unquantifiable.

Another factor that muddies the issue of scientific quantification is fit. In my experience, this can sometimes result in tremendously different sounds, for cans and IEMs alike. Inserting a set of IEMs too far into your ear can cause the bass to sound muddy. This is likely because they were designed to be worn further out, which creates a poorer seal and results in more bass being lost, so the headphones have to over-compensate by boosting the bass more than they should. Likewise, a set of on-ears or over-ears that don't create a flush seal will likely lose some of their high-end. Even something as benign as positioning the ear cups dead center on your ear can cause some perceptual differences, as minor as they might be.
 

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