And with that, this study is bullshit.
Human beings don't listen to linear sine sweeps. We listen to music. Recorded music has 8+ octaves of frequency range (the bottom octave plus a little extra is almost always rolled off in real-world recordings, to ease stress on downstream components that can't reproduce such low frequencies anyway), and 20-50db of useable dynamic range.
Sine wave measurements of audio gear ignore impulse response, intermodulation distortion, phase shift, and a host of other real-world physical device responses to real-world musical signals. Scientific, reductionist thinking is inadequate to get an accurate picture of the factors that matter to human listeners.
Frequency response and total harmonic distortion aren't measured in these cases because they're useful or relevant. They're measured because they're easy to measure. It's like looking in the wrong place, because the light is better there. And the results? It's like measuring a car's performance by how well it can drive in a straight line at 60mph. Acceleration, braking, and turning are too hard to measure, so we ignore them...
I'm a musician and record producer. I've engineered and produced numerous albums, and rely on multiple different types of headphones for different purposes. The article's claim that one headphone can be easily morphed into another through mere equalization is, frankly, bullshit. The two headphones I rely on the most (Beyerdynamic DT880 and AKG K240) sound wildly different. Neither is "accurate". Neither are the Tannoy System 12 DMT midfield studio monitors I use for mixing, or the stock Subaru car speakers I use for reference to check the mixes from the Tannoys.
Audio reproduction is incredibly complex and difficult stuff. Trying to isolate one factor and saying "That explains everything!" is bad thinking.
This is irrelevant. They're measuring frequency response, not trying to map the entire world of psychoacoustics. Log sin wave sweeps are a perfectly adequate way of measuring a transducer.
> Sine wave measurements of audio gear ignore impulse response, intermodulation distortion, phase shift, and a host of other real-world physical device responses to real-world musical signals.
No, when you do a sin sweep and measure the impedance you can recover all that. Pick up a basic textbook on loudspeaker testing.
> Scientific, reductionist thinking is inadequate to get an accurate picture of the factors that matter to human listeners.
You are completely mistaken. Here's the research itself: http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=12847 You can find blog posts covering a lot of the same material informally on Sean Olive's blog: http://seanolive.blogspot.com/
I strongly recommend you pick up the book Dr Toole wrote for a non technical audience: https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Reproduction-Psychoacoustics-Lo...
Learning from it will require you to shed the chip on your shoulder, but it will put you miles ahead of your peers in understanding what's actually going on when we listen to music vs all the commonly repeated mythology.
I second this recommendation. Chapter Two of Dr. Toole's book is titled "Preserving the Art" and directly addresses the concerns you're raising. He uses a great quote at the end of this chapter:
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted".
Dr. Toole then spends 500 pages addressing how you can correlate objective and subjective evaluation of loudspeakers. It's a great read.
Can you really quantify nonlinearities from a sin sweep of any sort? Not that I'd expect a decent set of headphones to have material nonlinearities unless seriously overdriven.
You can using a properly structured log sine sweep but not with a linear sine sweep. This is why the paper mentions "Log sine sweeps rather than linear sine sweeps were employed to allow verification that non-linear distortion components were virtually absent."
You can read up more on why here:
It seems like JBL thinks one can, and has started to build hardware that tries to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55tJzO-_D10
Not that I'd expect a decent set of headphones to have material nonlinearities unless seriously overdriven.
"Material" is just a way of dismissing the current imperfections that we can't economically do anything about. Headphones and speakers are certainly good enough to let us enjoy music. But listening to recordings on them is like watching cinema. It's certainly enjoyable, but no one thinks it's a duplicate of the real thing. They're just the performance hardware of particular media.
I said material nonlinearities, not material imperfections. I've never researched this for real, but I would imagine that your average imperfect set of headphones is mainly imperfect in that it has poor (or inconsistent) frequency response, poor transient response, and/or poor noise characteristics. But maybe headphones do commonly have significant nonlinearities -- I don't really know.
Precisely what I said.
But maybe headphones do commonly have significant nonlinearities
Dynamic drivers have these. Most cases and housings introduce these. Amplifiers have these. Until recently we could only determine if people can consciously hear things or not. Determining if something affects your perception is something else entirely. Also, with something you wear like a headphone, it's more expensive to do blind comparisons.
Basically, the system we're dealing with (including the human hearing apparatus) is pretty complex. While we've made significant inroads into the science, we still don't understand everything that goes on when someone listens to reproduced music. I think this is about to change, however. There are some things coming down the pike, where we are going to have unprecedented control of variables we didn't even think to address.
Here's one of the first baby steps: A headphone that does a frequency sweep inside the cups to compensate for the acoustic filtering of your particular ear!
Sine sweeps are a good method to measure frequency response. That's what they were trying to do after all: measure frequency response. That was the stated goal of the test: find a correlation between frequency response and another parameter. They were playing a signal into a dummy, capturing the sound and measuring it; they were not trying to determine how pleased the dummy would be with the beautiful music.
However, I share your overall assessment that present-day transducers are far from perfect accuracy.
Now, that happens in any industry where consumers don't have an easy way to quantify what they're buying. TV screens in showrooms all have color saturation turned way up. Etc.
It should be said, however, that "megabass" or a V-shaped frequency response tends to be the case with intensely advertised, mass produced brands. The kind of stuff you find at Best Buy. It is much less of an issue, or not an issue at all, with brands aimed at people who pick transducers specifically for accurate sound.
E.g. I would expect to encounter "manufacturer fuckery" with Bose or Beats phones, and the like. I would not expect to encounter that with Sennheiser (at least their top models), AKG, Beyerdynamics, Audeze, Hifiman, Stax, Focal, Mr. Speakers, Oppo, etc. Okay, maybe a bit with Beyer. :)
That's not to say that some of these brands are not messing with the response at all. But when they do it, they do it in very subtle ways. The frequency response might be super-flat (or, rather, following the Harman curve which is appropriate for transducers placed on your ears). But they might "brighten" the sound a little, very subtly.
And then when another manufacturer comes along and says "screw those tricks, let's aim for perfect honesty instead", they sound a bit "veiled" in comparison. I'm talking about this in much greater detail here:
Anyway, we are still pretty far from perfect accuracy when it comes to transducers. All other parts of the audio chain have been figured out long ago. But transforming sound into electricity and vice-versa is still a hard problem.
i'm not an audiophile, but have a connection in that i wrote their first business plan (as a consultant).
Even then, I think they really, really care about the HD600 / HD650 / HD800 succession of flagships. They might care a little bit about classic workhorses such as HD280 and the like. The rest I feel they are treating a bit more like crowdpleasers and moneymakers. I could be wrong.
The study doesn't say "that explains everything!". It measures one component in isolation. That's what good science does. The existence of other factors in headphone performance is irrelevant.
Besides, would you really not consider it news if 0-60 time in cars didn't correlate with price? Yes, a luxury car can justify its price in many other ways, but, on average, there should still be a correlation.
I wasn't talking measuring 0-60 time in cars. I was talking about measuring steady 60mph. No one does that, because it's useless (although it would be easy to measure). 0-60 time would correlate somewhat to impulse response in audio, which is a useful measurement, and much more rarely seen.
I'm reminded of an experimental example a professor showed us in my college audio recording class. He hooked a square wave generator up to both analog tape and digital recorders, and recorded the square wave. Then he played back both sources on an oscilloscope. The tape had a sharp lead spike followed by a shrinkage on the tail of the square, from compression. The digital recording had a rippled top, from frequency-related distortion. Both were inaccurate, but they were inaccurate in very different ways.
With a 0OH you'd gain the ability to potentially reconstruct a infinite bandwidth signal (the squarewave), which is irrelevant in the audio case: With a 10kHz squarewave, the next harmonic would be at 30kHz which is already waaaay out of the human range of hearing.
But limiting the bandwidth of a DAC (or ADC) is the fundamental property which causes it to be able to perfectly reproduce the frequencies within its bandwidth (~up to 20kHz in HiFi Audio), so that's desirable. And the "ripples" on top of a squarewave are just the manifestation of this property: If you cut away the frequencies above Nyquist, you get a rippled squarewave. And conversely if you compute the difference between the perfect squarewave and the "rippled" squarewave you get out of an Audio DAC this only contains (non-audible) energy outside of the bandwith of the DAC!
All the limitations are in the analog phase. As you point out, it depends on the design tradeoffs in the DAC, amplifiers, etc, and that's an important lesson to learn in the class that was being taught. Nevertheless, the point I was replying to is the claim that the digital representation could not represent a square wave. That's certainly not true, and no Fourier transforms are necessary to demonstrate it. A PCM recording is just a series of impulses, not a series of sine waves.
Because all real systems are bandlimited.
The only non-ideal thing about music is that it's not band-limited because time matters - that's why compressing music with a lot of cymbals etc smears it across time.
Then again, is "accurate" in some mathematical sense the right term? Which one sounds more like music? Among audio professionals, there's a broad consensus that tape sounds better - enough so that there is a strong market for digital plug-ins that emulate the (mis)behavior of tape.
(I know that many analog systems have soft-rolloff allowing you more leeway in setting your headroom, but modern ADCs have so much dynamic range that it's a poor operator who doesn't allocate themselves sufficient headroom).
Actually, this is kind of a thing: speed measurement and reliability for cruise control. We can get close enough to be useful and quite comfortable. However, most cars don't directly measure their own speed anymore. Instead, it's inferred from other measurements.
By naming a bunch of things that should be measured, but aren't?
> Besides, would you really not consider it news if 0-60 time in cars didn't correlate with price?
What they said was "how well it drives at 60mph". Acceleration testing would be akin to the untested impulse response.
Humour me - what are some/any of the "bunch of things that should be measured" that were not, for a study titled "No correlation between headphone frequency response and retail price"?
I notice they also failed to test for "soundstage" "musicality" "warmth", or waterproofness, taste, and availability in a range of colours to suit your decor. Another "bunch of things" they didnt set out to test nor made any claims about.
But it's a bad way to test frequency response. And don't pull out those weird undefined words when this was a discussion of important objective audio-quality measures being ignored.
> it's obvious that this is NOT about being a proxy for quality
"Interestingly, sound quality does not seem to be a major attribute for purchase decisions."
"Root-mean square errors (RMSEs) were calculated across frequency for each headphone with respect to an assumed target curve to assess an objective quality metric."
"assuming that the perceived audio quality is largely determined by the spectral magnitude response of headphones"
Are you sure?
"Scientific, reductionist thinking is inadequate to get an accurate picture of the factors that matter to human listeners"
I think you're noting the difference between good and bad science -- science is certainly capable of putting together a picture of the factors that matter to human listeners. It may not have done so, but it's not a failure of the scientific process, it's a failure of the study(ies) involved.
Making up important-sounding quasi-science "objective" data (like the ever-popular THD) is an industry marketing ploy. People are insecure and want the "best", so pretend-science lets them think they're buying "best", rather than actually listening and judging subjectively, which is scary and hard and full of weird biases.
To be fair, the far more common trap is when people believe they're getting a better experience via the price-quality relationship. Or due to false authenticity. Or general brand marketing, etc.
Often these things fail the sniff test, and people who swear their $500 headphones are noticeably better will pick the cheaper headphone in a blind test.
The entire "audiophile" industry is more quasi-quality than quasi-science, though there's a healthy dose of whatever it takes to make the people with $ spend $.
Which is to say, the scientific method isn't capable of answering all questions. It doesn't appear to be able to answer why I prefer this artist while disliking that artist.
I'm not even sure if things like preferences for art can be quantified. I'm all ears, if you've a way to study this.
As an artist, I firmly believe we can at least quasi-objectively say "good art", or "bad art". However, this does not correlate well to personal preference. My love of White Castle sliders in no way suggests that they are actually good burgers. I can dislike a work of art and still know it's good.
Popularity can be a good proxy, too. Any hit song is a good song, even if you hate it.
Perhaps what he meant was "scientific thinking which is reductionist is inadequate ..."
His continued responses in this thread do not sound like the same old magical-audio-snake-oil ... but then again I have no expertise (or even experience) in this area.
I... don't know what you're talking about. Apply a log scale to linear data and it too represents a log scale.
> Recorded music has 8+ octaves of frequency range (the bottom octave plus a little extra is almost always rolled off in real-world recordings, to ease stress on downstream components that can't reproduce such low frequencies anyway), and 20-50db of useable dynamic range.
So? We all know that listening to an instrument live sounds "different" from a recording, and it's up to us to figure out how to improve both recording and listening fidelity.
Now an argument can be made that because audio formats today tend to have caps on fidelity that headphones only be measured against the maximum fidelity that the recording produces, but that is neither the argument that you are making nor is this a weakness in the data presented by the paper.
> Frequency response and total harmonic distortion aren't measured in these cases because they're useful or relevant. They're measured because they're easy to measure.
Yes and what should we measure? Phase graphs? Third order components? You're not making a meaningful argument here.
> The article's claim that one headphone can be easily morphed into another through mere equalization is, frankly, bullshit.
First of all this paper used novel methods to back the original assertion made in . Also, let me quote the exact line from the conclusion:
"PCA can account for 90% of the variance across all measured headphones with six eigenvectors. The first eigenvector is similar to published target responses, while the second eigenvector represents a global spectral tilt."
> Audio reproduction is incredibly complex and difficult stuff. Trying to isolate one factor and saying "That explains everything!" is bad thinking.
And so is your appeal to non-authority. The gist of your entire argument is that linear sine sweeps are useless, and therefore the entire validity of the paper is moot and your non-scientific opinion is now superior.
They flat out say that out of the two easily-measured factors, distortion and linear response, linear response correlates the most with subjective measures of audio reproduction according to prior research. I don't think they said that they had developed a foolproof methodology for absolutely determining the subjective reproductive quality of a headphone.
I think your description of the performance of headphones is based on soft, unscientific nonsense. Sure, there's more to headphones than single frequency response curves, but frequency response between the ear canal and the headphone is the only differing factor in audio reproduction quality.
If anything is flawed with the methodology, it would surely be with the lack of broad spectral testing or something equivalent. The fundamental characteristics of the driver are the diaphragm geometry, the mass of the driver, and the resistance of the suspension. The suspension changes, probably not linearly, with temperature. Frequency sweeps completely miss the point that the movement of a headphone driver is linear actuation, not some mystical frequency-domain process.
Subjective experience is not science, but neither is it irrelevant. If someone's "science" does not explain observed subjective experience very well, then it shouldn't pretend that it does - and it really is not grounds to dismiss the subjective experience of experts by saying "BUT THOSE DUDES HAVE NUMBERS AND STUFF!!!!"
Look, if you want to point to well controlled studies, etc, that say "these factors do not correlate well with subjective experience", that's awesome.
I'd then agree 100% "whatever we are measuring doesn't matter, we should measure something else".
But in your rage, you are conflating two issues here, and they shouldn't be conflated at all:
1. Was this study science, and properly performed science?
All available info seems to point to "yes, it was"
There is no reason for you to put air quotes around science, etc.
They set out what they are trying to measure and why: "This study quantifies variability of measured headphone response patterns and aims to uncover any correlations between headphone type, retail price, and frequency response."
They did not set out to say whether that has any bearing on subject experience.
In fact, they point out "The preferred response however seems to be listener, content, and headphone dependent <cite omitted>"
2. Does the thing they measured matter in any way to the subjective experience in the world?
You vehemently suggest "no".
I'm going to suggest if you want to convince people the answer is no, you should point them to data that says "the thing they measured, properly, doesn't matter", and not appeal to anecdote and authority.
They cite at least three studies thinking it matters:
"In particular, research suggests that the frequency (magnitude) response is a major factor in listener preference scores (Olive and Welti, 2012; Fleischmann et al., 2012; Olive et al., 2013)"
(and they are super careful not to suggest that listener preference scores completely correlate with subject experience)
but at the same time, admit
"Research suggests that factors influencing consumers' choice as to which model to purchase are mostly based on wireless functionality (Iyer and Jelisejeva, 2016) and attributes such as shape, design, and comfort (Jensen et al., 2016)."
They also admit the studies usually are small and that the body of work is not huge.
So, from my perspective, i feel like they are doing a fairly reasonable job of trying to present a relatively objective perspective on whether this matters or not.
You may want to try to do the same :)
I dunno. I think headphones track price-to-quality pretty well in the $20-250 range. Above that, it starts turning into luxury/status symbol stuff. This is my completely subjective opinion. What isn't opinion is that increases in quality are usually a matter of diminishing returns. It becomes increasingly expensive to get increasingly small incremental improvements.
Additionally, I think "sound quality" in headphones is very subjective. There are fine quality headphones that I really, really dislike (Grados, for example). I find a lot of expensive hi-fi headphones overly bright, too.
A good price/performance example is two headphones I keep around... my Beyerdynamic 880s, which I love, and the Sennheiser HD280. The 880s cost about twice as much, and fill the same role for me - closed-ear phones with very strong isolation, for performers tracking vocals or instruments. They can put a loud backing signal into the ear with only minimal leakage into the microphones, and easily block out other loud instruments in the same room. But the 880 sounds far better. It's flatter and more detailed. It's also much more comfortable for extended wear, better built, and more repairable. That's the $100 to $200 difference. But $200 to $400? Smaller change.
If well-recorded music sounds bad on an ideal headphone, the recording is set up for a non-ideal headphone.
You'll notice in those response curves, there are common characteristics in the response of almost all the headphones they tested, within a fairly small margin (considering). Maybe for a mastering technician, the right thing to do is master for the average suboptimal headphone, and not for a linear response listening instrument; but that doesn't mean a headphone closer to the ideal is wrong, it just means that you need to filter audio that wasn't intended for its response profile.
Sure, nonlinear distortions are not covered and also sure that the measurements won't cover everything which will influence the perceived sound. But nevertheless frequency response measurements are a very solid tool which allows objective comparions between various systems.
Yes, mathematically, you can get impulse response via Fourier transform. In practice, you're using a current to push a coil against a magnet into a spring. A real current, a real magnet, a real spring. You get all sorts of non-linear behaviors. On top of that, the spring (that is, the driver) retains impulse energy as mechanical energy, and then emits it back in a nonlinear way, by moving that coil in the magnetic field - turning a motor into a generator, producing seriously nonlinear signal back into the amplifier that produced the original signal, where it's picked up by the distortion-correcting negative feedback loop, and...
Yeah, that's not a simple Fourier transform anymore. If you had enough data points, it could be modeled mathematically. We don't have all the data, and don't yet have a good way to measure all that stuff.
For example, consider a system that just squares or cubes its input. The unit impulse response will look the same in both cases. The frequency response isn't even defined, since the steady state response to a sinusoid is not itself a sinusoid.
Microphones really struggle with this. So do mic preamps, recording media, amplifiers, and especially speakers. Recorded instruments sound wildly different from live-in-a-room instruments.
edit: I should add here that fast impulse response isn't necessarily what we want. Consider the common use of the relatively sluggish Shure SM57 on snare drums, rather than the much faster response of a small diaphragm condenser. The condenser usually just sounds harsh. The SM57 smooths out the sound. This is good, because nobody in their right mind actually sticks their ear one inch from a snare drum.
"Recorded instruments sound wildly different from live-in-a-room instruments." Yes, they do.
In the best case, you have two nearly perfectly accurate transducers located inside the not-quite-ear-canals of a dummy head doing the recording, and you play those two signals back to transducers located similarly in the head of your listener. This is the best case for accurate reproduction of instruments. You can get a recording that sounds nearly the same as being in the room where it happened.
In the most common "purist" method, recording engineers are using two or three mics arrayed in free space somewhere near where the audience would be, and hoping to capture the sensation of being in the room. This is problematic because the instruments are complex, moving three-dimensional shapes producing sound in a field which interacts with all sorts of things before being sampled by those 2-3 points. That throws away nearly all the available information. Then playback emanates from two not-really-point sources in a completely different room.
In the normal non-purist methods, engineers close-mike each of the instruments, take direct input from some electronic instruments, and may or may not try to capture some room ambience. Then they process everything to the point where they are as much a performer as the recorded players, and work on it over and over again until (hopefully) everyone is happy with it as a work of art. There should be no pretense that this is going to get you an accurate rendition of the feeling of being there, though.
I don't really care if a recording is accurate. I care if it's enjoyable.
When I think of "the feeling of being there", I don't think of the feeling of being in the room with the musicians. I think of the feeling of what you're doing when you experience that music - where does it take you? I'll never be able to separate Pink Floyd's The Wall from making out with the girlfriend who introduced me to Pink Floyd, for example. Music has strong sense-memory, almost as strong as smell. That's what I want to engage - I want to make music you remember.
It's true. It should be added, however, that when the frequency response is complex (and it always is with transducers) and the measurement conditions are not very repeatable, it's probably beneficial to also get an impulse response.
> Phase shift can also be measured through this approach
I thought headphones are zero-phase-shift devices? This is because of the very small volume of air between the membrane and the eardrum - they both move in lockstep, hence zero phase shift.
Audio engineers routinely choose transient response over frequency response, hence the popularity of Yamaha NS10 and Auratone 5C monitors in professional environments.
For the curious - here's the story of how the budget NS-10 ended up as a reference standard:
"Why have I included a frequency-response curve here? I mentioned earlier that the frequency-response curves in a sales brochure are typically meaningless in terms of providing information that's useful to an end user. Actually, though, I'd go further than that, and suggest that in many respects making any judgment about the worth or likely value of a monitor by examining its frequency-response curve is not far short of pointless."
His science-based analysis of why the NS-10 is successful and popular is very enlightening, and a much better example of how to do audio science, imho. I learned a lot. I really wonder how it compares to the Tannoys that I use? My biggest gripe with the Tannoys is that they're too nice. In particular, they have a very sweet, non-fatiguing upper midrange. I worry that nasty things are sneaking by me.
Yes, and actually one of the challenges physicists face, is that looking by the lamp is not self evidently reasonable for most people. Of course you start with the easy case and then you build on that foundation, otherwise your analysis just hangs in thin air. (Plus you have to deal with the easy case anyhow if you want to do comprehensive work, you can as well start were you have a chance.)
Instruments themselves are imperfect, there is long chain of devices (recording, mixing, playback) until the signal reaches speakers (and then room until signal reaches ears), at higher quality levels it is quite often the case of how well all the inaccuracies of the system interact with each other, rather than how accurate certain components of the system are.
Is this what they're doing, though? Seems to me their conclusion is that frequency response doesn't explain price.
We've evolved our senses around the signal components the pay off the best: the "easy" ones. Thus it isn't surprising that "subjective quality is mostly correlated with linear (spectral) attributes instead of non-linear (distortion) metrics," a claim supported by peer reviewed papers that have vastly greater credibility than you and your anecdotal vitriol.
> It's like measuring a car's performance by how well it can drive in a straight line at 60mph.
No, it's like comparing several cars and their MRSP based on their 0-60 performance, which is certainly a reasonable thing to do. Just because they didn't measure stopping distance, it doesn't invalidate the entire comparison.
It's not sufficient that a car can drive well in a straight line, but it's necessary. Isn't that at least one of the things you should measure?
Mixing music is very, very difficult. You have to deal with the inaccuracy of your equipment, the inaccuracy of your ears, and the ability to drift into boiled-frog mode, making something terrible that sounds good to you because you got here gradually.
Another kind of related tool I use extensively while mixing is reference recordings - listening to someone else's music on the same system, in alternation with what I'm mixing, to make sure I'm not boiling my frog.
But yes, listening to other reproduction systems - especially bad ones, like my Subaru speakers and older iPod earbuds - is critical. It helps me insure that what sounds good on my multi-thousand $$ studio monitors in a decent room sounds good everywhere else, too.
So, does this mean that it's a bad idea to use studio-grade equipment for personal listening of commercially-released (and so, presumably, mastered for consumer equipment) tracks?
And, if so, are alternate mixes of the same tracks that are sometimes released any better? A "club mix", for example (assuming you don't care about the changes to the track itself)?
And, one more question—given that mastering somewhat distorts the pre-master for a particular listening profile... is there any way for someone who wants to sample a track in their own production, to get access to the pre-master copy of the track they want to sample from, so they don't "accumulate mastering artifacts" the way that JPEG-recompression accumulates compression artifacts? I've seen, every once in a while, a band that has a "remix competition" release e.g. a Garage-band project with all the raw tracks embedded. Is it common to make a deal with a producer to get access to something like this on a one-off basis? Is it even technically feasible, or is pre-master track data lost/discarded after completion of mastering often enough that such requests don't make sense?
(Sorry, I never realized there were so many of these questions on my mind. Is there a sound-engineer Quora?)
I like to think of a recording as a miniature of a real-world musical experience. I love cranking up my old Mesa Mark I guitar amp to the threshold of pain and wailing on it. It's an amazing sonic experience. But I cannot reproduce that sound on a pair of $20 Skullcandy earbuds. So instead of going for accuracy of reproduction, I'm trying to reproduce the feel, the vibe. Kind of like how a painting represents a landscape differently than a photograph, and neither really represents the landscape well. I'll take the painting, when it's truer to the feeling of the landscape.
This can be seen in dynamic range. Human hearing has tremendous dynamic range, and live acoustic instruments do as well. But your average modern record has no more than 20db, probably far less (often less than 6db). The "loudness war" of RMS vs peak volume is at play here, but more importantly, it plays to the dynamic weakness of consumer audio gear. Less dynamic range sounds "better", up to a point.
You don't want to listen to un-mastered mixes. You really don't.
I understand that a log sine sweep means that the set of frequencies that are tested is itself logarithmic; e.g. you'd check 20Hz, 200Hz, 2KHz, 20KHz instead of 5Hz, 4005Hz, 8005Hz, etc. That makes sense to me. But I don't understand why log sine sweeps would allow you to check for non-linear distortion?
Former Psych major here whose studies specialized in perception (audio and visual)... Without validation using the scientific gold standard of a double-blind listening test, this is merely a belief that can easily be attributed to confirmation bias (see: popularity of Beats headphones)
I get the rest, but phase shift? Are you taking about the shift between different frequencies producing a fake doppler, or something else?
Don't be so quick to think the top post is always right. The top comment of many HN threads are usually critical and sensationally written, and the child comments are usually in argument against the parent.
To generalize more, those critical/sensational top comments are often written by experts with a very different perspective on the subject (as was mine), and most of the child comments are ignorant, angry howling about someone's sacred cow getting gored. On the other hand, a good child comment (and there are several here) can be really enlightening.
There are many articles posted here it will improve your very personality to read. Read them and don't make excuses not to. There will always be someone saying "XYZ article is bullshit". Many people here are actually pretty smart, and more than a hundred of them felt otherwise. Make your own decision.
Upvotes on an article don't mean endorsement of all the claims.
I stand by my assertion that this is an unhealthy, and lazy, attitude.
> Upvotes on an article don't mean endorsement of all the claims
It's pretty close. Certainly if I upvote an article I am basically endorsing it. What else do you think people upvote for?
You're not exactly disagreeing with me, are you?
The stupid thing is I actually happen to agree with "beat" that this study is basically bullshit. I just can't condone the attitude of the first replier. It worked this time but he or she has learned the wrong heuristic IMO. I guess I don't know how to express myself well but I think it's the wrong lesson to learn from criticism of the articles we see here - even if the criticism is (currently) right.
I definitely disagree with "Many people here are actually pretty smart, and more than a hundred of them felt otherwise." An article upvote is not necessarily a statement of "this is not bullshit". Most of those people have likely not performed a critical analysis and decided on that issue. And there are no article downvotes, so there's always the possibility of an invisible majority against the article's conclusion.
> I don't even go to articles anymore
You're endorsing this as best practise. Right? Because that was my argument, that this is not best practise. Note that if everyone followed this practise, this site would fall apart.
edited - turns out i do want to continue arguing about it
In other words, you can get a good idea of whether something is bullshit without reading, but you should still give it a look anyway. I agree with part of what you said, but not the other part.
Wish you'd look at it from the other direction though. Skipping reading articles because of assertions of the currently-top comment's dismissals is a recipe for groupthink and circle-jerks. Upvotes at least reflect a general consensus that an article has some merit. The top comment may indeed credibly refute an article - but the attitude of "I don't even go to articles anymore" is not that of someone seeking the truth. Instead, it's that of a lost soul looking for his "team" to join, and avoiding any contradictory information.
This is signals and math, nothing more complicated. Sorry if that means that your prejudices are bullshit--but that's how most audiophile stuff goes.
The complicated, handwavy stuff occurs when you try to map the measurements on to what people think is good. Maybe some day we'll have a good enough handle on that (psychoacoustic perceptual models, and so on) to call it just "signals and math", but right now it isn't.
We don't have enough data points. At a certain point, we perhaps can't have enough data points, just because the interactions are so complex.
Try reading Dekker's Drift into Failure. It's about failure analysis in complex systems (and why reductionist thinking is often a bad idea when trying to understand such failures), but it certainly applies to trying to "explain" the audible behavior of real-world sound reproduction with mere math.
edit: As a for-example... a speaker driver (like a headphone) is basically an electric motor attached to a spring (the diaphragm suspension). The suspension (spring) holds it at a zero point, and the motor moves it from the zero point, pushing air in the process. An electric motor consists of an AC-charged coil moving against a magnetic field. Now, if you look the other direction, a coil moving inside a magnetic field is an alternator, generating AC power.
So when the signal from the amplifier drives the motor that moves the speaker driver, energy gets stored in the spring - and then released back into the alternator, and pushed back into the terminals of the amplifier. That back signal is subject to serious nonlinearities from the suspension, including distortion, frequency response variations, and frequency-dependent group delay and phase shifts.
Most - but not all - of the back current from the speaker is absorbed by the output devices from the amp (which have high but not infinite impedance). What gets through is then picked up by the global negative feedback loop that is supposed to keep the amplifier linear, injecting it as phase-reversed signal into the input. Um.
This has a number of effects. First and foremost, it makes the amp/speaker interface much more sonically colored that it seems on the surface. Second, it blows up amplifiers when under enough strain - this is a real-world effect that any PA engineer has observed.
But go on, tell me again how my objections are just unscientific mystical hand-waving.
It's really cool hearing what they heard in the studio control room for the final mix. And often surprising.
You can get a range of other precalibrated pro audio headphones or correction profiles from sonarworks.
Consumer headphones are just silly IMHO. Artificially boosted frequencies with prices up to $400. A set of precalibrated MDR7506's is around $220.
If you don't care about truly flat response with correction, you can get a set of AKG K240's for $100 bucks and they're super comfy, amazing sound and loved universally by audio pros.
I bought one pair more than 15 years ago. Followed quickly up with another one so I could have the same crisp sound both at work and at home. Both are still in active use. Replacement earpads cost a few pounds a pair, and you need to buy them every 4-5 years.
My wife loves them too, so these days our household has four pairs of K240. (One of them a Mk2. I'm not golden eared enough to detect any difference. The same reason I originally didn't bother to pay the Sennheiser markup.)
Oddly enough I experienced something similar when hunting for proper loudspeakers. I spent some time in specialist shops and actually tested different pairs with my own selection of music. I eventually ended up getting Amphion Heliums. The things were not exactly cheap, but they still sounded a LOT better than notably more expensive competitors. Similar B&W speakers would have cost 40% more - and those babies are not bad but they never got even close to the clarity. Or the price.
I later learned from couple of audiophile friends that the loudspeakers I chose were known to be "frighteningly accurate" and as such both revered and often avoided by professional studios. The friends were correct. Every mixing and recording mistake became painfully clear. Both me and my wife have been able to spot badly done recordings in 80's and 90's TV shows. (Have you ever tried to watch a nostalgic TV show episode and realise that the left and right channel balance is constantly fucked?)
0: http://www.amphion.fi/en/products/helium-410/ [note: this is a MUCH more recent model. The ones I bought have not been in production for maybe a decade.]
1: €300 a piece might be peanuts to audio pros but for a home user it's not an easy purchase. Especially as you still need a good amp to go with them.
The Sonys you mentioned are great headphones and a super deal at $60. They are actually used in the pro world for stuff like location sound work and in studios. Another popular studio headphone which is a "a good deal" are Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros (~$175 street, you've probably seen them before). Giving either of these to someone who has no experience with nice headphones is a treat they won't forget if they're into music. I was lucky to get my first pair of nice headphones when I was about 14, some MDR-V700s. They hurt my head after about an hour of wearing them but they sounded way better than anything I had heard before (this was also in the 90s before headphones were a common hobby).
It is for sure a game of diminishing returns beyond a few totally-great headphones which are actually used for making music. Other equipment also plays into this; the difference between a JDS Labs O2+ODAC and Chord Hugo + Cavalli Liquid Gold is there but probably not worth the price difference of a decent used car for most people. Go to a hi-fi store and listen to some setups with your own music. There are also headphone meets all over the place, and huge events for this stuff: http://www.canjamglobal.com and of course there is https://www.head-fi.org if you're interested in getting into this stuff.
They are flat, so not elevated bass, which may take a little getting used too (I play a little bass and I really like it). Very clear. You need to replace the ear padding every 4 years or so, because they used a material that doesn't age well and starts flaking off everywhere...
Hey, they even have a wikipedia page!
Without going thru a lot of setup to shape the audio response, I'm not sure flat frequency response is ideal- in my environment, using a VST plugin seems problematic.
The only way to figure out what you like is to listen to a bunch and see what you like best. Read head-fi reviews or whatever and find out what's worth your time, and then just try a bunch. Listen to something with really delicate sounds (think strings or some kinds of classical), stuff with really loud rocky sounds, stuff with deep bass, and then listen to that song you know every single note of that you've listened to countless times and would be able to hear weirdness.
I use somewhat more expensive headphones now (the B&W P7 Wireless) but I mainly upgraded because I wanted the optional Bluetooth support. The B&Ws cost more than twice as much, and they do sound better than the Audio-Technicas to my ear, but the difference isn't huge. For me, like you, upgrading from cheap headphones to the Audio-Technicas was a revelation, and I suspect another quantum leap in quality like that simply isn't possible.
They're also significantly colored headphones; The cheaper m40x are actually more neutral.
I love the M40fs headphones so much I bought 10 from eBay when I learned they'd been discontinued. Should be a lifetime supply, I hope.
Often the above guy says the opposite to:
I watch both.
But that's not quite what you're hearing - you're typically hearing what happens after the final mix is shipped to a mastering engineer who listened to the recording on a variety of intentionally flawed sound systems (probably including the "car test" - playing the tune on a car stereo with road noise, which is about as hostile an environment as people will expect to enjoy music in). Then the engineer threaded the needle to come up with the most pleasing sound they could muster for the intended market.
In the process the recording will have been compressed and EQed quite a bit, and likely will sound a good bit richer at a given loudness than it did when the mix was done - you should be able to "hear through" the mix better than before, unless the mastering engineer was simply going for loudness-at-all-costs, in which case, it might just be loud.
Anyway, not to take away from your point - good headphones, or even just headphones with different frequency response than you're used to, will open up different details of a mix, for sure, and flat response will give you the best chance to hear any details that weren't pushed to the fore intentionally, which can indeed be eye-opening.
Is there no generic feedback-loop-based calibration tool for audio EQ, equivalent to "monitor calibrators" for display gamma ramps?
That's not the standard? I'm shocked, shocked!
I later bought Symphonized Wraith headphones and they sounded much better to me.
But flat? Ugh. Try a set of AKG K240 headphones! They're cheaper, much more neutral, and much more comfortable. They also leak sound into your surroundings pretty freely, so everyone else can enjoy your tunes, too...
I use both. Horses for courses.
Also, you can just buy Sennheiser 600s or 650s with a good reasonably priced DAC/amp and you will get a very good value and can probably just stop there. Satisficing this way is probably the best thing in the larger scheme. Being a can-head is an endless and expensive hobby.
I had those. Gave them to my girlfriend's brother. Didn't like the highs and made my ears sweaty. But I know lots of people who like the sound and the isolation. I suspect that individual differences make a huge difference, and the industry just doesn't have the technology to cheaply compensate for those (yet).
Known to be psychological.
>not really coloring the sound
HD600 make a good reference. Notice the raised bass and general shakiness on the HD280. The HD380 are sadly not plotted there, but there's this:
>I've sweat through 2 sets of ear cushions and the headband. I've bought a replacement headband but just left it off.
Only 2 sets in 15 years? That's pretty durable. What happened to the headband?
And a set of almost identical noncalibrated Sony V6 is a whopping $60 on sale right now.
And for measuring your room for correction: http://www.roomeqwizard.com/ (find yourself a good tutorial on this one)
- Someone with online alias NwAvGuy put the whole AV industry (ok maybe not the whole, but some big players) in a loop by showing in online forums that a totally inexpensive DIY DAC (with a free design he/she shared) could be built with quality rivaling elite products worth thousands of dollars.  (well a hazy version of the story goes that he/she exposed various audiophile review sites and forums as being full of sponsored reviews, and that eventually lead to his/her ban from head-fi.org I think)
- As for capsule mics (commonly known as condenser mic), market is flooded with DIY designs and DIY kits which let you build/buy one for $200-$400 (the dominant cost being that of the capsule itself) that will rival the quality of multi-thousand dollar mics. They go by the names Neumann clones, etc.  (no affiliation), .
In retrospect, and given the shady things AV sellers do, like trying to sell you a USB or HDMI with gold-plated pins, claiming it to be superior, it should come as no surprise.
Though, no offense, but audiophile consumer base is filled to the brim with hipsters who judge the quality of a product by its price (and some of the "experts" were busted after they failed blind tests; I think opus vs flac, I'm mixing a lot of things now).
There's a recount of the story by some company NwAvGuy did shit on, for contrast.
Chapter 12: Schiit Goes Evil?
There are "audiophiles" out there who claim they can discern the difference between a 96-kHz (sampling frequency) encoded audio vs 48 or 44.1 kHz encoded, which is a mathematical impossibility, given a source with 20 kHz max analog, let alone a biological one. But then some prefer 192 kHz over 96 kHz!!!
Here is one reference on the non-linearity of the human ear: http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2013/jan/31/human-h...
JEDAC (http://users.abo.fi/jskata/JEDAC/) is a good example of a cheap DAC that is reasonable quality. I don't think that TI does their free sample program any more, but at one point as a student, it was possible to build it for a few bucks.
I guess if you're paying full price for your ICs and you're factoring in labour, it's not any cheaper than buying one, but if you don't value your time and you're handy with a soldering iron, it's definitely worth it.
Headphones also have a serious empiricism issue. You can probably pass off one high end Sennheiser for another in an A/B test. But you couldn't pass off an Audeze for one and have a valid A/B test. Also, you will often read or hear an expert say, if the measurements say something is bad, but it sounds good, or vice versa, then it means we're measuring the wrong things. I'm not saying that the Harman response curve isn't valid. It's just not the whole story.
tl;dr -- Buy the cheapest headphones that you really like, and ignore whatever your coworkers say. ( Hell, there are actually Beats that are good headphones! https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/time-rethink-beats-sol... )
Things are going to change in significant ways in the future as the price of signal processing, compensation, and active correction drops, however. Combining those with advances in the cheaper manufacturing of better drivers will result in the headphones of 10 years from now making the high end headphones of today seem "meh" and today's typical headphones seem trashy.
In my case, what I've got is HD598 vs HD600, and the HD598 do now sound seriously bad to me.
But currently it is predent to go for something cheaper that works just as well and that way, later on when that price point offers you something better or you break the existing ones. You can spend the same token amount of money and still of spent way less than something with some fancy PR around it. So double win.
There is already a modular headphone out there:
Just for the record, I had a nice pair of headphones break at a very awkward location, and a packet of Sugru (https://sugru.com/) fixed it up perfectly. I was really impressed.
We need objective benchmarks for everything. Especially when marketing is growing bigger each year. Even "Tech websites" are biased and not objective anymore.
You might want to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which digs into this fallacy.
You might also be surprised how misleading objective IQ benchmarks are; the post processing in the camera's JPEG (and RAW processing... raw hasn't been raw for a long time) does a lot of stuff which is not well reflected by photographing a Siemens star.
(Yes - some will not meter properly, and a couple of rare ones may damage mirror - but the vast majority of Nikkor lenses are still usable, many of which can be bought for a pittance.
This may or may not be important to a user.
Canon EF lenses go back to 1987 and are compatible with modern DSLRs. Not as far back as Nikon, but probably far enough for most working equipment you'd buy or rent.
(I guess it could be argued that everybody makes excellent cameras and lenses nowadays - the cheapo end of the market being all but taken by camera phones, whatever is left of 'real' camera makers all have excellent quality sensors and glass, leaving your choice more to features and ergonomics than image quality as such.)
New Sony lenses are for example quite good.
The situation is different if Obe has (access) to an existing collection of great lenses, obviously.
(It's important to consider how something fits into your daily life, too. No camera is useful if you don't have it when you want it, and I wouldn't have chosen any DSLR did I not already carry a satchel with enough room to tote it along every day.)
I have been close to upgrade my old DSLR since I want a better sensor and some really good glass for indoor photos, but I'd use it twice a year. I might buy one when I retire.
They use those exact test images for tuning all their algorithms, and as a result end up with a camera which is great for those exact things tested, but might be lousy for the real world.
Well, it's not like actual test images are exactly microbenchmarks.
All this said, DxO might be a perfectly credible source, but it's still doesn't reflect real world performance . There are so many additional factors to consider when actually taking pictures.
Personally I've found I enjoy purchases more by making fewer of them and worrying less about specification minutiae.
Does the product do what I want? Do I enjoy using it? Is it reliable? Done.
Edit: To be a little clearer, lower case "b" is the unit for a bit. Upper case "B" represents a byte.
And if you're relying on "program mode" or "scene mode" to automagically compute your exposure for you, all bets are off. The sensor doesn't matter nearly as much as the decision-making software.
As a mostly-manual shooter, what matters to me is good ergonomics. One of these days, I'm going to bite the bullet and invest in a new Fuji rig, just for the superb manual-shooting ergonomics. But then I'd have to switch my brain from its familiar Nikon-shaped ruts...
I went in to buying a camera last year wanting a Fujifilm X100T. Not least of which because it reminds me of the Minolta camera I learned to shoot on. But I ended up with a Sony RX100 IV instead, based on perceived image quality and video capabilities.
(Incidentally, that 70-300 has a surprising resale value! I traded mine in at Service Photo toward a 70-300 VR II, and was very surprised to get $120 for it instead of the $50 or so I was expecting for an unstabilized kit lens with no meaningful secondhand market. Granted, that's one small shop in one town, but if anything I'd expect it to be low, considering that Service Photo is very much geared to the professional end and likely has the revenue problems of any small business.)
(Further incidentally, I had a chance for a hands-on with a D5500 recently, and found it rather distasteful. The touchscreen seems nice, but would easily be nose-triggered when using the viewfinder, so you'd need to fold the screen in and out all the time, and it does not offer any of the PSAM modes on the selector dial! It's light and easy to maneuver, but all the same, I was glad I'd gone with the previous model.)
If you can find a shop that sells used gear and has an 18-140 in stock, you might be able to trade the two kit lenses toward it - I can't recommend buying used sight unseen, lenses being the relatively delicate creatures that they are, but certainly the trade I mentioned before worked out really well for me! If my experience is any guide, you might reasonably expect to pay about half the new price for a gently used model with a few wear marks but perfect functionality, and the kit lenses together, if they're both in like-new condition, probably have enough resale value to cover most or all of the cost.
The consumer Market needs to know these kind of things, but there's no user-friendly website for comparing objectivly products. Just Amazon reviews, "Tech websites" and the Wallmart seller.
If you want video you should really be using Canon's dedicated cameras or something more video focused like Panasonic's GH4/GH5. Even the 5D MkIV is very limited when it comes to video. It has some nice lenses but for the $3300 price of a MkIV you can get a Panasonic GH5 and an Atomos Ninja Inferno, which allows you to do 4K@60p 10-bit ProRes and HDR. Even without the Ninja Inferno, you can do 4K@60p 8-bit, 4K@30p 10-bit or 1080@60p 10-bit at 2/3rds the price.
It's very easy to say, "I can hear so much more of the song out of my ATH-M50's than I can a pair of Beats", and you may be right. But something objective to back it up would be great, too.
If you're ramen profitable and sharing an apartment with 8 other entrepreneurs, keep in mind that many libraries have online access to subscription resources that can include both CR (and other publications) and a variety of online learning resources like Lynda.com.
When I was a kid, my friends and I would kill time in the library by flipping through Car & Driver, Motor Trend, and Road & Track magazines trying to figure out what car is best. The Camaro might be two tenths faster in the quarter mile than the Mustang, so clearly anybody that buys a Mustang is an idiot, right? This is what a lot of headphone evaluations sound like to me.
Do Oakleys block the sun better than $5 checkout counter sunglasses?
Not all sunglasses, especially cheap sunglasses, block 100% of the UV spectrum. If sunglasses are just tinted but don't block UV light they're actually worse because the tint causes your pupil to dilate more than it otherwise would, allowing in more UV.
You won't find a pair of brand-name sunglasses like Oakleys or Ray Bans that don't block 100% of the UV spectrum.
That said, the lens quality between cheap and expensive sunglasses is significant. Clarity and contrast are improved with good lenses. They're noticeably worse with cheap ones.
Say the tint of your glasses reduces outdoor light levels to what would be comparable indoors. You'll see worse outside with your cheap sunglasses than you would indoors without. Cheap lenses distort. A good lens doesn't, and make things look sharper and better defined by increasing contrast, optimizing for desirable light wavelengths (e.g. yellow lenses when skiing in flat light), polarization to cut glare, etc.
Added bonus, sports-oriented glasses like Oakleys are shatter-proof. This is a significant consideration for me, as I participate in many outdoor sports where eye protection is mandatory.
Bottom line, price does make a significant difference in sunglasses.
Safety Works (used to be MSA) on Amazon are my go-to.
But yeah, after that, probably not :)
Headphones on the other hand - I go through maybe 3 or 4 pairs a year so buy fairly cheap ones because I know they are going to be destroyed or lost.
The HD650s sound nice - but I think they feel pretty cheap.
It's not that different than watches. Some people will spend thousands of dollars on a mechanical watch with fewer features and less accuracy than a cheap watch you can buy at a gas station. But the mechanical watch works well enough and it looks nice.
And this is the same guy that did this...
Holding them up to another $200 pair of headphones and listening to them side by side makes the difference obvious. The case molding is poor quality, lacks removable fasteners that make most expensive headphones repairable, and the leather isn't as soft. They don't get as loud as headphones with nice drivers. These things are obvious to anyone that tries them out.
The only thing Beats has going is the branding image of Dr Dre and now Apple. They're trendy and its the only reason they sell, besides that they're crap in almost every way.
Things might be better now that Apple owns the brand, as I haven't held a pair in a while.
No, it doesn't. First, a lot of people like the Beats audio profile. Second, people aren't using them in a quiet space with a good amp and high quality sources. They are streaming Pandora on a noisy bus with the volume kind of low so they can still hear the announcements.
Those removable fasteners that make the headphones repairable, also make them uglier. That's not a trade-off many people will accept, especially on a consumer good that people expect to be disposable anyway.
> The only thing Beats has going is the branding image of Dr Dre and now Apple.
That's a big part of it. I would wager that professional athletes wearing them is a bigger factor, but that's just a guess. Social signaling is a big part of anything you wear and I don't think there's anything special about headphones in that regard. People are buying shoes because they like how they look, why would you expect anything different for headphones? Since they frame your face, I would expect aesthetics to be the number one factor for headphone choice.
>No, it doesn't. First, a lot of people like the Beats audio profile.
I'm no audio expert, but I believe I have a good ear and I use decent gear. I would argue that (most, maybe not all) Beats headphones are objectively worse. I don't mean worse in that people who only listen to pop and R&B are going to like them less, but rather worse at reproducing audio.
I think the way you objectively measure something that reproduces sound is by how accurate that reproduction is. Sure, some listeners are going hear the bloated bass and treble and think it sounds better than a quality pair of headphones. But bloated bass makes some music sound horrible. It works for pop, rap, etc... because there isn't much going on musically. I mostly listen to progressive metal, and it just sounds like shit on Beats headphones. The bloated bass makes everything sound muddy, the treble is way to harsh, and the mid-range is drowned out. Guitars live in the mids.
AudioTechnica M50s have a little extra bass and treble, but metal still sounds great on them. The instruments sound clear and separated. It's punchy. I know what people like is subjective, but I would consider the Beats (again, maybe not all beats) I have listened to objectively bad at reproducing music.
To use a car analogy: a Ferrari might be an amazing sports car, but I would still probably prefer a Mustang because it has better cup holders. The performance characteristics past a certain level just aren't all that important. Where that level is, varies.
BTW - I also use AudioTechnica M50 headphones daily. My kid has Beats Solo 2 (or is it 3) headphones. The Beats sound better, are more comfortable (the M50's are hot), and aren't as ugly. If my M50's broke today, I would probably pick up some Solos.
That being said, speakers and headphones all have a sound (unlike any properly designed amplifier); there is hardly any right or wrong there, and while the best approximation of a flat response might seem technically most correct, people will probably prefer different sounds.
That brain-training game on the Nintendo DS -- the one that had you distinguish two voices saying things simultaneously -- your score on that game is a great way to evaluate headphones for vocal accuracy. Be careful though: the DS can't adequately drive all headphones, so you'll need an amp for high impedance headphones.
A better conclusion would be "headphones with poor audio quality exist at all price points"
> Research suggests that factors influencing consumers' choice as to which model to purchase are mostly based on wireless functionality (Iyer and Jelisejeva, 2016) and attributes such as shape, design, and comfort (Jensen et al., 2016). Interestingly, sound quality does not seem to be a major attribute for purchase decisions.
I worked for an outfit that had a similar problem: we tried differentiating ourselves on quality, only to find out that all customers expected that the vendors in that space already had high quality as the price of entry into the market (a fairly accurate assumption). As a result, they didn't care about "we're better quality than those guys." They cared about "those guys make equipment that's easier to use than yours."
For vocals and vocal-like instruments such as saxophones and lead electric guitar, the NS-10 is downright evil. And that's why it's popular. If you can make a mix sound good on the NS-10, it'll sound good on almost anything else.
> meaning that a "flat" or otherwise non-average frequency response would distort music in an unintended way.
Not sure how to make sense of this. A flat frequency response is by definition the one that does not distort the recorded music.
If for the sake of the argument bass-heavy headphones and speakers were all the rage and a sound engineer set out to record music compensating for such devices' frequency response, then they wouldn't sound "bass heavy" anymore.