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What Makes "Great Detail" in TOTL Headphones?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by billqs, Nov 2, 2019.
  1. billqs
    I am wondering from an Objectivist perspective what produces the "extraordinary detail" in really expensive headphones? How much of it is a simple manipulation of the frequency response, versus driver construction or other design engineering choices?

    I think it's no surprise that many of the "most detailed" headphones, are also noted for extreme mid treble peaks. I'm just curious as to what goes in to make extremely detailed headphones.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2019
  2. bigshot
    What audiophiles describe detail as and what it is sometimes are different. A treble boost is described as detailed. But a balanced frequency response with no masking is what reveals detail.
    CoryGillmore and billqs like this.
  3. castleofargh Contributor
    if taken seriously, this is a very complicated question. but bigshot is right that the impression of detail and getting the most details are 2 completely different paths. ideally a rather flat frequency response(to your own ear!!!!) is indeed a massive improvement as it's when our hearing would mask the least frequencies. but typically such a response is called boring or dull by audiophiles, while as you mentioned, some well placed treble boost can really increase our impressions of clarity(also give a more pinpoint position for the instruments in space, even if that position is nonsense, we do place things better with shorter frequencies we can still hear). I guess that can play a big role for some listeners who like to focus on this type of feeling.
    for the rest it's hard to tell. at least for me it is ^_^. because we could consider a bunch of variables that one some headphones could reach audible levels(at least sometimes), but how would those be interpreted by the brain in term of details? it's really hard to say, because AFAIK it's not even sure that everybody would respond the same way to the same change. it's fairly easy to assume some general idea where better fidelity simply leads to better resolution which in turn leads to more perceived details. and while at audible levels this might hold as an objective principle, it's a lot more difficult to declare that actual fidelity is consistently going to be perceived as an increase in details. I remember someone arguing that a given playback system was more detailed because the bass had "texture". which to me sounded somehow grainy and I personally associated that with noise and distortions so of course I never considered that extra audio information as more details. but the guy certainly did, and he loved it. on headphones, some type of distortion could give that gritty sound that will make it, if not very euphonic, at least very clearly perceived at some frequencies. I suspect that some people are taking that as detail, while others take it as degradation of the signal. hard to give a final verdict on subjective interpretations.

    I personally wonder if the typical love for open back headphones is due to how perceiving outside noises almost unaltered has the ability to anchor our brain into reality and make it more accepting of the headphone sounds as also being part of that reality? or of maybe this is completely irrelevant for the brain and what we feel differently are the increased distortions due to limited airflow of closed back headphones, and internal reverb or whatever? or maybe if it's something even less related, like how hot our ears get, having an impact on our experience? it's fairly easy for me to correlate open back designs with a fairly consistent preference of mine(and many others), but when it comes to suspecting a plausible cause for that preference I honestly don't have a clue. but I feel that closed headphones offer me a less detailed experience, despite how objectively I should jump on any opportunity to reduce the outside noises. on IEMs I strangely have the opposite take. I still somehow feel like open designs are overall better, but in term of detail retrieval, the high isolation of my ER4 seems to win over anything vented. and many abx tests support that idea. so maybe I'm wrong about headphones and closed designs would also get me better retrieval of just noticeable differences which by extension could count as better perception of small details? IDK I'm guessing headphones just don't isolate that much in general, so maybe that's why the difference in term of outside noise isn't as self evident for me when seeking small details. but then again, it could be that closed back designs typically have a different FR that more than counter the outside noise reduction? our subjective experience being that pudding of variables, it rapidly becomes a mess to try and guess which one is responsible for what. often there simply isn't one variable doing one thing for the brain. we're based on patterns, if those patterns are complex, then we remember the all complexity as something and another complex acoustic event as something else. changing one or 2 variables might sometimes make us feel more like the first memorized pattern we could associate with great details in our head, or it could just as well completely disrupt the pudding and make it impossible for the brain to accept the experience as any of the pudding versions it learned about.
    not sure if my highly technical pudding explanation means something to you, but that's about the best I have.

    so personally, in term of real detail retrieval(as sometimes opposed to impression of details), I'd stick to the part I do understand, that got confirmed with experiment many times. frequency response, and remaining below a given amount of distortions. a relatively stable FR, one that extends well all over our own hearing range, one that feels as neutral to our ears as possible. and trying to avoid having above 1%THD at our listening level(might not matter much if it's above 1% in the subs and if the amount of newly generated frequencies are loud only in the low end, but it could be worth looking that up just in case).
    along with that idea of stable FR, maybe having left and right driver well matched could have some impacts in some listening tests, but I have no idea how much of impact that would have on typical subjective impression of details. probably none or close to none. but in term of objective fidelity, it's not irrelevant.
    billqs likes this.
  4. billqs
    These are helpful replies. I currently have some mid-level offerings and am wondering about pursuing the higher end cousins of them. One is the Fostex THX00. I know it's not particularly linear, but as preference I love the sub-bass I get with them. The treble is a little hit and miss and I get what I would say are a decent level of detail out of them. This has me wondering if I really like the sound signature of these, should I go for the TH900. This got me wondering just how different the drivers in the phones were, or if it were more a matter of tuning, since the only real difference i can see from stats is a stronger magnet used in the 900 vs the X00. Both are the same 50mm biocellulose design.
  5. bigshot
    You can probably EQ your mid range cans into sounding as good as the high end ones. The difference between expensive headphones and midrange isn't quality. They both have basically the same parts. The difference is manufacturing tolerances. If you are willing to EQ, you can correct for manufacturing deviances.
    billqs likes this.
  6. bfreedma
    It’s brand dependent. Grado, for example, uses largely the same parts. Others like a Focal and Audeze use completely different drivers and magnetic structures in their mid tier and TOTL models. Not sure you could EQ those into sounding as good as the differences are more than manufacturing variance.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2019
  7. bigshot
    I think you could get close enough that the difference wouldn't matter. Obviously you can't EQ open into closed, and they might react differently to very loud volumes, but you can probably get very close to the tonal balance. I was able to improve my Sennheiser HD-590s a lot with EQ.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
  8. kkl10
    There's more to sound quality than FR and low distortion. Backwave reflections and resonances create odd colorations and contribute to the perception of a "noise floor" or 'dirtiness' to the sound. The best way to overcome this is a design that is as mass-free, simple and open as possible.
    will f and billqs like this.
  9. billqs
    That's the basic argument for Electrostats which I love.
  10. castleofargh Contributor
    your 2 examples will directly affect the frequency and distortion measurements, so you're not really presenting a strong argument IMO.
    mass free, simple, and total airflow freedom are of course good targets. if I'm making my list to Santa in advance, I'd also ask for the weightless membrane with absolute stiffness despite a fairly large surface. and for a driving force that can efficiently offer perfect control where electrical damping overwhelmingly dominates all other forces. but Santa might need to rely on a great deal of magic every time the laws of physics disagree with the design :disappointed:
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
  11. bigshot
    Sound basically consists of frequency, amplitude and time, and any error is basically distortion.
  12. kkl10
    One could consider the things I mentioned distortion, yes, but they don't necessarily show up in the way distortion or FR are typically measured in headphones. They are more apparent in cumulative spectral decay graphs.
  13. iridium7777
    hmm, the Harman Curve for headphones:

    these guys spent a lot of money testing hundreds of headphones on hundreds of people to find what was the most pleasing sound combination across as many people as possible, then they came up with the curve that represents that sound signature.

    any headphone coming closest to it, should in theory, produce the most pleasing sound, be it cheap or expensive. i actually think it's true, i mostly listen on n5005 and i love the sound signature -- maybe there is a tiny bit of of too much bass for my taste, i suppose i can swap out the included filters -- but otherwise i'm a big fan of the sound across many genres of music.

    interestingly enough, for truly portable situations i use my beats wireless -- and i'm saying it only here because it's sound science and i feel safe saying it -- i think they're extremely underrated headphones and sound amazing. i looked up some of their sound profile and when compared to the Harman curve they were very close. there are internet posts that you can look up if you search for "headphones closest to harman curve".
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2019 at 11:26 AM
  14. manueljenkin
    Filter compatibility, tonal compatibility.

    A binaural recording made in df Equalized mic will sound more accurate in a df toned headphone.

    A proper unfiltered recording will sound most detailed in a good headphone with fast transient attack and quick CSD.

    A band passed (grainy) recording will sound most detailed in a low passed system like electrostats or a good headphone paired with a dac that has fast roll off. Think of the effect as similar to wearing cooling glasses to view overexposed images.
  15. bigshot
    Assuming your transducers are capable of producing detail, then achieving it is primarily related to frequency response balance. All recordings sound more detailed when there are no spikes or dips, and there's no auditory masking. Timing errors aren't generally a problem with digital audio, neither is distortion. Good quality transducers should be fine for both timing and distortion as well. The wild card is the response. EQ can work wonders.

    More detail might reveal more noise in the recording, and that might not be desirable. Introducing a bed of high frequency hiss might help recordings without upper frequencies, like pre-hifi recordings. But those are different subjects.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019 at 3:14 PM

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