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No correlation between headphone frequency response and retail price (scitation.org)
356 points by robmiller on June 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 350 comments

"Log sine sweeps rather than linear sine sweeps were employed to allow verification that non-linear distortion components were virtually absent."

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.

> Human beings don't listen to linear sine sweeps. We listen to music. ...

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 strongly recommend you pick up the book Dr Toole wrote for a non technical audience: https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Reproduction-Psychoacoustics-Lo...

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". - Einstein

Dr. Toole then spends 500 pages addressing how you can correlate objective and subjective evaluation of loudspeakers. It's a great read.

> No, when you do a sin sweep and measure the impedance you can recover all that. Pick up a basic textbook on loudspeaker testing.

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.

> 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: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/abc8/3f1297e5c033b8322f3d90...

You can characterize the degree of nonlinearity in the transducer by injecting two tones and looking at the strength of the intermodulation products.

Can you really quantify nonlinearities from a sin sweep of any sort?

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.

> "Material" is just a way of dismissing the current imperfections that we can't economically do anything about.

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.

I said material nonlinearities, not material imperfections.

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!


You are way over-reacting.

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.

Sure, but the non-linear effects he's listing are probably not an issue for headphones. First, they're generally crossover-less and usually single-driver designs and they have very low moving mass which eliminates a host of issues that loudspeakers have. All those things are still there, and probably quantifiable, but I'd imagine that they're all low enough in headphones to be inaudible or 'not a problem.' What absolutely is a problem is manufacturer fuckery with frequency response ala 'megabass' and the like which is what really moves headphone sales. So it makes sense to me that that is what this study focuses on

> What absolutely is a problem is manufacturer fuckery with frequency response ala 'megabass'


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.

enjoyed the audeze review, since they came out on top. =)

i'm not an audiophile, but have a connection in that i wrote their first business plan (as a consultant).

Agreed, but I have returned a pair of sennheiser phones because they butchered the sound too much ... think it was one of the first in the momentum line if I recall

Well, when it comes to Sennheiser, there's the HD line and then there's everything else.

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.

It bothers me when they call them "monitors" and then go ahead and fiddle with the frequency response anyway. Look at the difference between the HD 280 pro and HD 380 pro, both labelled as monitoring headphones. The 380 sounds like a muddy mess in comparison, with everything below around 300hz turned up way too high. I think it's fair to ask: if you're going to make MegaBass headphones, mark them as such. Don't advertise flat response and then hand us this.

It absolutely looks to me like you're just trying to keep this field unscientific. Misrepresenting the article, then throwing out a bunch of jargon without explanation, then coming to the conclusion that people here shouldn't even try to understand.

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.

Read for content.

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.

You can't accurately reproduce a square wave by using a Fourier series even mathematically in the infinitely wide frequency response limit, ignoring all physics:


Why are we talking about Fourier series? Uncompressed digital audio doesn't need them, it just records the raw voltage level samples. You still can't produce a perfect square wave, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to reproduce whatever wave was provided as input (which by definition was produced by something), other than hardware limitations of the playback system.

You are quite wrong about that statement. As the other comment mentioned, both analog and digital systems are bandwidth limited and can not reproduce infinite slopes like in a square wave. Fourier expansions are one of the easier ways to study bandwidth, even if there are other formalisms.

But that's the analog system which is band limited, not the digital! The problem is poor analog components after the digital decode phase in this case. A time domain digital representation absolutely can represent a perfect square wave. (There are other waves it can't represent.) That's completely different from a digital encoding that causes ringing in the square wave.

A DAQ that reconstructs a perfect square wave (or a perfect stair-step function) is employing a "Zero Order Hold", and it would make a god-awful audio DAC.


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!

Sure. But you're still talking about the analog portion of the circuit. If the analog output of a digital recording - supposedly the input was a near-perfect square wave - is different from the analog output of an analog recording, and neither looks like the input signal, then it is a) certainly possible to make an analog output stage that produces a more precise output that better matches the input, and b) possible to make an output that better matches the analog output. Remember, the input was supposedly a perfect square wave, and contained inaudible components. The recording/playback component had nothing to do with the fact that you can't hear the entire spectrum.

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.

> Why are we talking about Fourier series?

Because all real systems are bandlimited.

You should take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIQ9IXSUzuM to get a better idea of how digital audio works.

Absolutely wrong.

Inaccuracies visible on an oscilloscope might not be audible to humans. Try applying a 10Hz high-pass filter to some music and comparing the waveforms. There's obvious visible changes but it sounds identical.

True. And it certainly doesn't explain "better" or "worse". But it explains why music recorded on tape sounds different from music recorded digitally. And it puts a torch to the claims that digital is somehow "accurate", and all we like about analog is just evil bad naughty distortion.

Square waves are impossible to reproduce because they have infinite numbers of frequencies, but you don't listen to square waves. You listen to music with all its content below 20KHz and anything above that doesn't matter.

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.

More simply, square waves are impossible to reproduce since they would require infinite velocities

What, you don't like it when your speakers cones blow a hole through the wall and possibly the neighbor's roof on their way to Saturn?

This is why you low-pass audio before quantizing. If you put the square-wave through a low-pass filter before recording it digital and on high-quality tape, the digital recording will be more accurate than the tape.

This was a digital recording onto a professional digital system. It was put through a Nyquist filter.

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.

If a pure-digital master can emulate tape, then isn't it superior to 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).

I realize you weren't talking about 0-60 time, it was an analogy I introduced. Not meant to be technically similar, only a similar fraction of the whole. I think "driv[ing] in a straight line at 60mph" is a smaller fraction of car performance than frequency response of headphone performance, and 0-60 time more similar.

I was talking about measuring steady 60mph.

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.

> It absolutely looks to me like you're just trying to keep this field unscientific.

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.

Granted, it's the middle of the afternoon, so I might be braid dead... but which "bunch of things that should be measured" are listed in that comment?

"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." Plus discussion of dynamic range; I don't think they were tested at different volumes.

Note that the article make no claim to be determining which headphones "sound better when stuck in human hears listening to music". And the article draws some specific conclusions and points out some of it's known limitations.

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.

It's obvious from the title that frequency response is being used as a proxy for quality, and it's outright stated multiple times such as "assuming that the perceived audio quality is largely determined by the spectral magnitude response of headphones".

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.

I don't think it is obvious. I have headphones I use for mixing, because of the frequency response. I don't use them to listen to music. Quality depends on what you are measuring, and no one claims a perfect frequency response necessarily means it sounds good. Often the opposite, since we use those types of headphones to find the flaws. So to ME, it's obvious that this is NOT about being a proxy for quality, and I'm inclined to believe that it is about what it claims to be about.

A sine sweep is still a very narrow and incomplete way to measure frequency response.

> 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?

Should those things be measured in a study called "No correlation between headphone frequency response and retail price"?

I'm not going to disagree with you on the technical details, since I'm not knowledgeable enough in the area. But I'm going to take issue with one thing:

"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.

Yeah, OP swerves towards subjectivism there at the end, which the audio industry loves because it's not quantifiable or easy to compare.

I'm swinging to subjectivism not because I'm buying audio industry fluff (frankly, the self-styled objectivists are far more guilty of that), but rather because it at least covers the observed data. I'm listening with my ears.

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.

> 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 $.

That's true too, good points. And let's face it, this whole endeavor is about entertainment and artistry, so the subjectivist viewpoint is totally valid!

The factors that matter to human listeners is likely to be subjective. It seems likely that even such things as fidelity are likely to be subjective.

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.

I think a lot of art preferences can be quantified (kind of like how frequency response is actually an okay proxy for audio quality in headphones). My gripe is taking this common-sense case and trying to turn it into a universal theory of everything, dismissing actual human experience.

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.

Do you think the article is guilty of "trying to turn it into a universal theory of everything, dismissing actual human experience" anywhere? It's very specific in it's conclusions and discusses several of your objections in it's limitations section (at least from the Abstract - perhaps they're reaching much further in the full paper?)

"I think you're noting the difference between good and bad science ..."

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.

> And with that, this study is bullshit.

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 [1]. 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.

[1]: http://asa.scitation.org/doi/10.1121/1.4984044#

They do justify their methodology, I didn't think it sounded that unreasonable.

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.

Oh, it's soft, unscientific nonsense. It is also direct experience as a semi-pro in the field.

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!!!!"

"Subjective experience is not science, but neither is it irrelevant." Ah, anecdata.

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 :)

All completely fair criticisms.

So just to try to drag this back to apples-to-apples comparisons, what measurable criteria would you say correlates with price?

Packaging quality?

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.

Fundamentally, there is nothing in the sound of a headphone other than specific spectral response (for a given head fit and ear). If you have an "ideal" headphone, you can emulate any headphone which is less than ideal.

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.

There may not be a measurable criteria that drives price in all cases. Headphones are manufactured and priced for wildly different reasons. For instance, Beats are expensive because they're a status symbol. It has little to do with sound quality.

The frequency response and the impulse response are correlated. You can just get one from the other through fourier transformation. Therefore it's perfectly fine to measure whatever is easier to measure, which is frequency response through sine waves for audio equipment. Phase shift can also be measured through this approach (and is required for calculating impulse reponse).

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.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, however...

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.

That's really valid only in the case when the frequency response and the impulse response completely characterize a system--that is, only for linear and time-invariant systems. I know you covered this base by mentioning nonlinear distortions, but I think that's the big issue. Otherwise you could just correct the frequency response with equalization (assuming the frequency response isn't literally 0 ever).

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.

Came here to respond with something similar to the first paragraph. I was wondering if perhaps audio engineers mean something different when they're talking about impulse response, since my expertise is in signal processing for electromagnetic signals (vs. audio).

Yeah, I think we do. When audio engineers talk about impulse response, we're really talking about how accurately components can reproduce sharp-attack sounds. Snare drums, acoustic guitar strings, some synth sounds - these are examples of fast impulse response.

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.

No, you're not talking about different things. You're talking about exactly the same thing in two domains: a signal which is transduced from air pressure to voltage in real time, and then later goes back in the other direction. Audio engineers should know that, and many of them do.

"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.

Good points. Purist recording methods are almost unused in popular music; they're for classical or solo instruments only. There are few rational musical situations where an acoustic guitar is as loud as a drum kit, but we hear it all the time on records. Likewise, sounds aren't panned hard left or hard right, we don't record in giant churches, etc. Not to mention multiple overdubs by the same performer...

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 sometimes amazing to hear the albums which didn't have all that processing work done at the end. I love the sound of the DMB Lillywhite sessions which was leaked after recoding but not turned into an official album. I much prefer those versions to the later official ones.

> The frequency response and the impulse response are correlated. You can just get one from the other through fourier transformation.

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.

Human beings are remarkably good at compensating for deviations in frequency response. You can very quickly acclimatise to deviations much greater than +-10dB. The main shortcoming of mid-priced headphones is transient response, which we are acutely sensitive to. Heavy, flexible and poorly-damped drivers in highly resonant enclosures might look reasonably accurate in the frequency domain, but they have absolutely dismal real-world performance.

Audio engineers routinely choose transient response over frequency response, hence the popularity of Yamaha NS10 and Auratone 5C monitors in professional environments.

So you use your Subaru instead of using a pair of the Yamaha NS-10's like many studios use?

For the curious - here's the story of how the budget NS-10 ended up as a reference standard: http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/yamaha-ns10-story

That is an awesome article! And this quote from it I find rings true relative to my criticism of the OP article...

"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.

I'm not an expert - I was into car audio back in the late 90's so some things got remembered.. But one thing about sine-wave frequency sweeps was that you'd have standing waves from interaction with the car environment (the famous Honda Civic "buzzing trunk" scenario). So they're really only good for first-pass level setting, and you should quickly go onto real music.

It's always helpful to listen to your mixes on a very familiar system, regardless of (or particularly due to) its inaccuracies. You have to remember that your music will be listened on almost everything - from alarm clock radios over default iPhone earplugs to the occasional proper system.

Wow, that was interesting. I've never liked ported speakers -- now I have a better idea why!

> It's like looking in the wrong place, because the light is better there.

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.)

Well said.

I once heard a story in audiophile community, I don't recall the particularities, though. Guy went to audio exhibition and there was one booth with curtains covering the actual product. This is a new WIP product, we want to hear feedback without you actually seeing what it is to get a bit more objective response. Audience listened to some music playing from behind the curtains, discussed various strengths and weaknesses of the audio system. After a while curtains were raised to reveal live acoustic band playing.

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.

Trying to isolate one factor and saying "That explains everything!" is bad thinking.

Is this what they're doing, though? Seems to me their conclusion is that frequency response doesn't explain price.

>> 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.

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.

They're doing a comparative study. To a large extent, it doesn't need to reflect reality. It just needs to be good enough to make a determination within the given sample.

> 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 like measuring a car's performance by how well it can drive in a straight line at 60mph.

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?

Question: when checking the reference output, do you sit in the Subaru, or do you just have the speakers in a room with you? I would imagine the acoustics are fairly different.

In the Subaru.

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.

Another question: if it comes down to a choice of making something sound worse on consumer hardware, vs. sounding worse on studio hardware, you'll favor the consumer listening experience at the expense of the monitor output, right?

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?)

Listen on whatever you like! I feel it's the mix/master engineers' jobs to create a final-product recording that sounds good in as many different environments as possible. Just my opinion, of course, and there are certainly recordings that will only sound good on fine hi-fi gear.

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.

It's common to use a boombox, Auratones (or similar), and Yamaha NS10Ms for this purpose, but cars do have their own audio quirks that make driving tests a good thing to do once you're close to finalizing the mix.

Like completely trashing the stereo image, for example.

By necessity, but sure.

I'm trying to understand what "Log sine sweeps rather than linear sine sweeps were employed to allow verification that non-linear distortion components were virtually absent" actually means.

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?

> The two headphones I rely on the most (Beyerdynamic DT880 and AKG K240) sound wildly different.

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)

Why and when would you pick the 880's and when the 240's? I have the 880's and they're pretty good so far, I compared them to a few AKG's in the store and I liked them a lot better for mixing.

Comfort and fatigue. I can listen to the 240s for longer, and they sound subjectively "flatter" to me. I actually like the sound of the 880s better. Plus the 880s are almost total isolation, which is really useful when tracking in the studio, or when working in a cubicle.

> impulse response, intermodulation distortion, phase shift, and a host of other

I get the rest, but phase shift? Are you taking about the shift between different frequencies producing a fake doppler, or something else?

Some systems reproduce waveforms with a small delay that varies by frequency--i.e. high frequencies are slightly delayed relative to low ones, or vice versa, so the frequencies are out of phase with each other, relative to the original. Phase isn't intrinsically audible (though the brain does use it in stereo imaging) but it could be indirectly perceivable when it interacts with other aspects of a system, especially nonlinear aspects.

Comments like this are why I don't even go to articles anymore. Thanks.

Why do you trust the OP's claims? How about all the people disagreeing with the OP?

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.

Good advice, even though in this case it's totally wrong, because I am absolutely right and not to be questioned. :)

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.

This attitude might have served you well this time, but who's to say every other time will be the same? I detect a far too eager appetite to embrace the brisk dismissals of others. It won't serve you well in the long term.

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.

Most articles don't have someone calling them bullshit.

Upvotes on an article don't mean endorsement of all the claims.

> Comments like this are why I don't even go to articles anymore

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?

I upvote a lot of things I think are interesting but would not state full confidence in. I'm not an expert on most things.

Me neither of course. And an upvote is not an ironclad endorsement. But at least you look at what you upvote - or at least I hope you do.

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.

> You're not exactly disagreeing with me, are you?

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.

And so exactly how is the top-most comment more reliable than the article then? Same people voting, same lack of critical analysis. At least the bloody author probably spent more than 5 seconds making up his mind.

> 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

It's good to read the articles, but that's not the part I objected to in your comment. I objected to the idea that there is always someone claiming bullshit and it's white noise, or that upvotes imply not-bullshit.

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.

Fair enough. On the face of it I don't disagree with your points. I should have expressed myself more clearly from the beginning.

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.

If you can't back your accusations here up with math, instead of handwavy "but it's so complicated and human ears are just, like, different, maaaaan", you're in no place to call the article bullshit.

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.

Beat is criticising the specific (and sole) measure used in the article, and has provided a list of specific measurable properties that also have bearing on the issue of sound quality. I think your criticism is unfounded.

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 have excellent knowledge of psychoacoustics; it's why audio compression works so well. It's pretty straightforward actually. Psychovisual tuning, that's the one we're not good at.

Excellent knowledge of one specific aspect: frequency masking.

Give me enough data points, and I could explain it all with the math.

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.

I've spent some time on frequency correction for headphones and reference monitors in my home studio. If you'd like awesome headphones that have a truly flat frequency response, that you can then adjust with EQ to your taste, one option is to get Sony MDR 7506's and run the audio output through a VST plugin (Using soundflower, ableton, etc) which corrects the EQ. You can either buy precalibrated headphones from sonarworks or use a generic but headphones specific calibration profile for the plugin.

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.

AKG K240 is a marvel of audio quality.

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[0]. The things were not exactly cheap[1], 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.

This is like saying that the Tesla P100D is the best car, and any other car more expensive is silly because the Tesla has the best acceleration. Frequency response is one aspect of sound, but it's not everything. Much about sound is subjective. I personally didnt't like the way Audeze LCD-2s sounded when I listened to a pair a coworker brought in, greatly preferring my Shure 1540s. There are, to be fair, plenty of headphones in the $150-$400 range which try to do something to the music (like add xxtreme bass) and end up not doing a very good job of it. Sony even made some, check out the MDR-XB500 and the super over-the-top MDR-XB1000 which apparently actually sounds pretty good.

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.

When I needed a new pair of headphones, I went to guitar center and the salesman pointed me to the DT770s. Much better than going to the Apple store or Best Buy.

I love my DT770s. Reasonably priced, well-constructed, comfortable (if a bit warm after a while), no sound leakage, and of course they sound fantastic. I often see artists of the music I listen to wearing them too, must be a good sign.

would you mind listing those totally-great headphones used for making music?

I know of two: Sony: MDR7506 and their cheaper siblings (which I've been listening at work to for 10+ years) the Sony MDR V6.

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!


How would you compare these to the Audio-Technica M50x, a popular headphone, that for me, after years of cheap devices was quite a revelation-- hugely better audio quality.

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.

Consider the Sennheiser HD 380 Pro. In the same ballpark price wise, but I think the sound quality is much higher. In particular it's less bass heavy.

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.

The Audio-Technica M50x is an amazing headphone for the price. I'd highly recommend it to anyone.

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.

"was" would be more accurate. The price has gone up significantly due to its popularity, and there are far better options at the pricing range where it sits now.

They're also significantly colored headphones; The cheaper m40x are actually more neutral.

The M40fs headphones are great. The M40x headphones that replaced them are terrible.

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.

M50x is bass heavy. 7506 are flatter/more accurate.

From the hype I got a pair of Audio-Technica M50x, but find them really uncomfortable. Now I only wear my Bose Quiet Comfort or IEMs. I notice ear comfort a lot more than sound differences.

You might check out this guy's reviews. He prioritizes comfort and imaging over everything else. (Despite what he says.)


Often the above guy says the opposite to:


I watch both.

> It's really cool hearing what they heard in the studio control room for the final mix. And often surprising.

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.

> You can either buy precalibrated headphones from sonarworks or use a generic but headphones specific calibration profile for the plugin.

Is there no generic feedback-loop-based calibration tool for audio EQ, equivalent to "monitor calibrators" for display gamma ramps?

There is, but getting good microphone placement for headphones is difficult. http://www.roomeqwizard.com is the standard for this with home enthusiasts, and many affordable measuring mics have calibration files (typically provided by the mfg), but the frequency response of a headphone on YOUR head will be much different than having them free-air with a mic between the sides. They have model heads made from various materials to help with this, and measuring rigs of varying effectiveness have been used for a while. IEMS are even harder to measure, and here as well we see a market from the free earbuds you get at promos to $3k JH Laylas. The accuracy doesn't go up that much above a few hundred dollars, but they do sound different, and some people like + are willing to pay for it.

Ah, and here I was picturing something that combined vacuum bottles, sound baffling, and battery-powered DACs and ADCs so that no wires would have to cross the vacuum barrier. And also, de-wiring the cans of a headset from the headband so you could test each can individually.

That's not the standard? I'm shocked, shocked!

I had very similar headphones - Sony MDRV6 and I guess I never understood why they are so well regarded. They didn't sound very good on any of the music I listen to - some parts seemed way too quiet, while others were too loud. I am not an audiophile, but I mostly agree with this review: https://www.head-fi.org/f/threads/my-sony-mdr-v6-review-extr...

I later bought Symphonized Wraith headphones and they sounded much better to me.

Wearing my K240s right now, I highly recommend them (especially for comfort, I can't wear most cans for extended periods without suffering, but the AKGs are great).

My Sennheiser HD280 Pro cans, about 15 years old by now, are about as flat and 2-3 hours wearable at a time as I could ever need and/or afford. Something amazing about learning how things "should" sound in a reference mode, and then go take it to other systems to try it out...burn CD, play in car, laptop speakers, earbuds from SoundCloud on an iPhone...

For me, the joy of the H280 is that a: it leaks little sound in or out, and b: they can be played REALLY REALLY LOUD. Handy for putting on the drummer who needs to hear the acoustic guitar when tracking.

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.

Beyerdynamic dt770 pros. They won't break your bank and have good isolation. They're decently detailed, comfortable to wear, and pleasant to listen to hours on end. Not neutral, though. Good for bassheads.

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.

It shouldn't be. Didn't you read that you can just turn one headphone into another with eq? HAHAHAHAH!!!

Well, for one thing, you can't equalize your way into better build quality and comfort.

My Sennheiser HD280 Pro cans

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).

15 years is a lot. I own some HD380 Pro (reasonably flat for something closed, and supposedly a huge improvement over the HD280 which I haven't tested) and HD600 (flat as an ironing board), both purchased recently. I'm curious... how well have your HD280 Pro endured through these 15 years?

Fantastic, I think they've "broken in" and given me that impression of not really coloring the sound a lot. I've sweat through 2 sets of ear cushions and the headband. I've bought a replacement headband but just left it off. They've been so trusty I consider them my go-to even though I don't really get the chance to formally sit down in the old ways anymore (more on the go sketches).

>"broken in"

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:

http://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/report/hp/sennheiser-... http://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/report/hp/sennheiser-... http://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/report/hp/sennheiser-...

>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?

I second the 380s. They're pretty great, though they can get more fatiguing than I'd like after a few hours of listening due to the horizontal snugness. 7 5/8 hat size, YMMV. I use them every day despite that.

>they can get more fatiguing than I'd like after a few hours of listening due to the horizontal snugness They get quite loose over time. I've had mine for a while, and I can barely feel I'm wearing them.

> A set of precalibrated MDR7506's is around $220.

And a set of almost identical noncalibrated Sony V6 is a whopping $60 on sale right now.

On sale where?

They're $100 on Amazon and $80 at B&H. $100 looks like the normal street price for them.

There is a very popular site that tracks deals of that kind. Don't want to name the site here. There was a deal on V6 posted there a couple of days ago.

For windwos you don't need an vst for a global EQ with this: https://sourceforge.net/projects/equalizerapo/

And for measuring your room for correction: http://www.roomeqwizard.com/ (find yourself a good tutorial on this one)

Harman did a large study of frequency response preference, and came up with the harman FR target as ideal. Sennheiser HD600 (from 1997) is closest to this, has reasonably low THD, and is generally considered very good. It doesn't cost all that much, either, at $280 in amazon.com last I checked.

I got myself a pair of the MDR7510s. I believe they are an "improved" version of the 7506s. I like them a lot.

Thank you for this comment, definitely gave me a different perspective.


- 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. [1] (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. [2] (no affiliation), [3].

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).

[1] http://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/profiles/nwavguy-the-audi...

[2] https://microphone-parts.com/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtNH46jpwJo

>NwAvGuy head-fi ban

There's a recount of the story by some company NwAvGuy did shit on, for contrast.


Chapter 12: Schiit Goes Evil?

Thanks for that link, the tale of Schiit is great.

(replying to my own comment) Just looked up the issue related to audio encoding [1]

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!!!

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/3ixkjt

I hate snake oil as much as the next guy, but not everything in life (and music) is linear. Percussion instruments produce a highly non-linear sound wave (and if you run it through a Fourier transform then you'll need all frequencies up to infinity to reconstruct the signal). We don't know how the human ear perceives percussive sounds and how the brain forms an impression of it (at least I've never read anything about it). Just because the ear doesn't hear linear, continuous frequencies above 20kHz does not mean it cannot perceive sudden, non-linear pressure changes at a much lower time-resolution. Admittedly this is a bit speculative, but you can't write it off without justification.

Here is one reference on the non-linearity of the human ear: http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2013/jan/31/human-h...

It's not hard to build a good quality (not top level, but good) DAC for less than $50.

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.

Of course not! For one thing, as one's earning power increases, one's high frequency hearing deteriorates. So market forces could well be emphasizing features and capabilities other than frequency response. Fashion, build quality, social signals...these are all very significant factors in something you wear, the practical priorities of audiophiles and enthusiasts notwithstanding. In fact, those are probably stronger factors for that set of people! (Of which, I am a member.)

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.

I'm approaching 50. I can't honestly tell the difference in sound quality between Senn HD598SE and HD650 even thought the HD650 is $200 more (actually $500 more if I consider the external DAC and AMP to drive the higher ohms HD650).

If your HD650 is new, I'd suggest using only it for some month or two. Then you'll hear the difference.

In my case, what I've got is HD598 vs HD600, and the HD598 do now sound seriously bad to me.

Also approaching 50. I'd have bought the HD600 or HD650, but I still have these old Sennheiser HD580s, and they're just as comfortable and sound pretty darn good. As for amp, I still have an almost 20 year old NAD receiver, and the headphone output of that is still the best sounding headphone amp I've ever heard, flat out.

If only there was a headphone maker that allowed you to upgrade parts (or offered the ability to) and break free of this cycle of obsolescence thru technological steps. More so when the ability to upgrade the processing is offered, or the easy ability to replace the various parts. After all how many of you have had to write of a perfectly good pair of headphones as you dropped them and one of the over-ear connections broke.

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.

If only there was a headphone maker that allowed you to upgrade parts (or offered the ability to) and break free of this cycle of obsolescence thru technological steps.

There is already a modular headphone out there:


> After all how many of you have had to write of a perfectly good pair of headphones as you dropped them and one of the over-ear connections broke.

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.

DSLRs got the same problem : just compare the Canon 70D ($900) with a Nikon D3300 ($400) on DxOMark. The Nikon has better image quality despite its low price and bad reviews.

We need objective benchmarks for everything. Especially when marketing is growing bigger each year. Even "Tech websites" are biased and not objective anymore.

> We need objective benchmarks for everything.

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.

I'm curious, do you mind expanding on the fallacy? I read the book you mentioned some years ago but don't know what you mean.

Nikon has better sensors, but not so much better that it makes a noticeable difference. For a camera body you are looking for many things: features, durability, ergonomics, etc, but most of all you are looking for what glass works. If you've got a collection of Canon lenses, that Canon is what you should get. Lenses are easily the most important part of a photography rig, and Nikon is not the clear winner there.

-At least one thing which counts BIG to Nikon's advantage in the lens market is the backward compatibility; just about every Nikon F lens made since -uhm- 1959? will mount on a current Nikon DSLR.

(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.

I should be clear that I'm not criticizing Nikon. They make excellent cameras and excellent lenses.

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.

My apologies, I didn't read your comment as an implicit criticism, and surely didn't intend to come across as if I did.

(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.)

It's probably also worth noting that with advances in manufacturing, new - relatively cheap - lenses can be quite good, even compared with older "high end" lenses.

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 was important to me, which is why I have a D5300 - I like shooting the same late-60s, early-70s glass on which I first learned. But the DSLR market is relatively niche, and odd therefore; most casual users not satisfied with phone cameras (and most are!) go for a point-and-shoot due to their relative simplicity.

I bought a DSLR and almost never use it anymore. (Obviously not a photographer.) Should've bought a mirrorless with a pancake lens and WiFi/BT so I wouldn't have to juggle cards or cords.

Mirrorless is another good option, but unless you plan to take advantage of the interchangeable lens capability, P&S is cheaper and easier. The Nikon Coolpix A900 in particular I can recommend based on your use case; I had one before the D5300 and, had I not needed a full-on DSLR to support long-range wildlife photography and the like, it would have done me just fine.

(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 found that a Sony RX100 is a rather nice compromise between picture quality and portability.

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.

I think in practice most of the market don't care about using 30+ year old lenses. And if your using manual only lenses, you have many options on which body you want to use.

It's pretty easy for camera makers to game dxomark.

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.

>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.

[citation needed]

I think DxO Mark's credibility is easy to call into question. First of all, they offer services to "improve" manufacturers scores. Second of all, they rate their own equipment. Finally, and probably most importantly, they are just flat out wrong sometimes. Look at how highly they rated the Xperia Z5 camera, which was a horrible camera for actually taking pictures.

All this said, DxO might be a perfectly credible source, but it's still doesn't reflect real world performance [1]. There are so many additional factors to consider when actually taking pictures.

[1]: https://www.theverge.com/2016/4/29/11535102/smartphone-mobil...

In France a retailer similar to BestBuy has a "Lab"[1] that usually has objective reviews, using a set of standards to compare items of the same category. Here's an example: [2], you can scroll to the conclusion to see the grades, but you also have an explanation behind it.

[1] http://labo.fnac.com/

[2] http://labo.fnac.com/video-photo-numerique/appareil-photo-re...

Aren't spec sheets objective benchmarks? Image quality can be subjective too. Also, the 70D might be $900, but that doesn't matter so much when someone has $4k worth of Canon equipment.

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.

It depends of the specs covered. It can lead to some kind of Cargo Cult. Think of the 128 bit consoles, the 128Gb of RAM and the 12 Cores CPU for Gaming PCs. It's meant for advertising, but useless for the end user.

True — it would be more useful to the user as "Can it run Crysis"

Is there a more recent game that has taken over that position, or is Crysis still the benchmark? It's super old now! (not really into games anymore so no idea myself)

Crysis was hard on systems partly because the graphics were good and partly because it was not well-optimized. Game graphics have improved since then but they don't tend to take your system down as hard because they are better written. That's why Crysis is still a joke.

It really became a meme, not sure if there's a de-facto replacement.

I assume by "128Gb", you meant 128GB. 128Gb of RAM is only 16GB, which can be found even in regular consumer PCs.

Edit: To be a little clearer, lower case "b" is the unit for a bit. Upper case "B" represents a byte.

Oh come on.

Image quality is extremely subjective. We don't shoot test patterns. We photograph the real world. And even within that ground, the basics of exposure (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) matter tremendously. The same subject, shot at f/2.8 and 1600 ISO, can look very different when shot at f/5.6 and 6400 ISO.

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...

This is one of the reasons I like DPReview over DxOMark. They have both sample images and a standardized studio image. The studio image lets you compare the same picture over multiple cameras, while the sample images give you a better feel of the camera in several scenarios. Pick the pictures that look better to you, because that's what you're going to be looking at after you use the thing!

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.

I went through the same thing and ended up with the X100F. I noticed that the T was on sale and realized that the F was up for pre-order. I waited a while but it was worth it. I take it hiking with me all the time now, since it's small enough for that. I really wanted a full-frame DSLR, but the RX1R is expensive and others are too big for convenient travel (for me).

Yea. My main use case for it was my then-newborn son, so a compact was a good choice for me. I needed portability and quick pickup-to-use time, because image quality doesn't matter if you've already missed the moment. And 4k video really just sealed the deal. I would still probably pick the RX100 IV or V over the X100F for that alone.

I feel the D5xxx series 5300, 5500 hit the sweet spot for me as a quasi casual photographer with its price, picture quality, amazing battery life and lightish weighing body. Felt slightly overpriced at $800 with 2 lenses for my budget. So far so good.

Which body and kit did you get? I found the D5300 kit (18-55 VR, 70-300) for $600 new on Amazon.

(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.)

I got the 5500 with the 18/55 VR2and 55/200 VR1 lens from B&H. In hindsight though I feel a 18/140 vr2 would have suited me better. The touchscreen is always off for me when using the viewfinder. Never was an issue.

That's reasonable - I have my 5300 configured the same way, and hadn't thought about that in relation to the 5500.

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.

As a videast it's the sweet spot too. I shoots at 1080p 60fps while most of the <1000$ Canon DSLRs can't.

70D vs D3300 is not a fair comparison. 70D has features geared towards enthusiasts such as articulating screen, more AF points, weather sealing, mg-ally body, pentaprism viewfinder, etc. If these features are not important to you, you can choose the cheaper 700D for about ~$600. However, I do agree that for entry level cameras, Nikon cameras tend to provide more value for money.

But why the 70D still not filming at 60fps in 1080p ? Canon is in such market dominance, they probably do this to keep the semi-pro market on the prohibitive 5D Mark IV.

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.

> But why the 70D still not filming at 60fps in 1080p ? Canon is in such market dominance, they probably do this to keep the semi-pro market on the prohibitive 5D Mark IV.

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.

Ken Rockwell, whatever one may think of him otherwise, does a very good job detailing the characteristics of pretty much all the camera gear. He's not to be taken too seriously in general, but I have yet to find a case where he's genuinely wrong on the facts, and I found his website very useful in deciding which DSLR would best suit me.

There is no such thing as a truly "objective" benchmark, even for something as simple as a set of headphones. A DSLR camera is an order of magnitude more complex - it seems even less likely we'd be able to establish one for them.

There is a lot more to a DSLR than the image quality. Ergonomics and other features in a number of cases are much more important.

The problem with truly objective benchmarks is that it has both value and cost, meaning there becomes a market for the information itself, separate from the product.

It would be nice if we knew which headphones they tested. Since so much of a headphone's reputation these days relies on largely anecdotal evidence from self-professed audiophiles, some kind of objective rating on frequency response for major brands or well-known cans would be highly welcomed in the audio world.

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.

Consumer Reports? Granted it's premium content, but I would imagine their reviews would include more than just frequency response.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/headphones.htm http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/headphones/buying-guide

And to be clear, you have to pay for it because they buy all test products at retail and don't accept any ads or include any affiliate links. I don't always 100% agree with CR, but they are super committed to objectivity.

When I know a subject well and then read a consumer report article, I'm yet to agree with them. Their other irritating trait is the strange battles they pick that seem aimed to get them in the news.

Most libraries have copies of consumer reports magazine.

If you have the cash, subscribe and support a great resource.

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.

For a lot of people Beats sound good enough, they are affordable (but still expensive), and built fairly well. Clearly, it's subject but to lots of people they also look good. For just about anything worn on one's head, aesthetics and comfort will be the dominating factors.

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.

beats are built REALLY badly, look at any of the teardowns. They also use garbage no-name drivers that are identical to what you get in $20 headphones, again look at the teardowns.

Correct, they are a fashion item. The point is to be seen wearing them, not to sit alone in your silent apartment with a nice headphone amp and concentrate on your music.

Do Oakleys block the sun better than $5 checkout counter sunglasses?

> 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.

I've been happy wearing safety glasses with tint. Unlike fashion glasses, safety glasses must adhere to ANSI z87.1 standards that test things like impact and UV protection.

Safety Works (used to be MSA) on Amazon are my go-to.


At this point, I only buy my sunglasses from the fishing aisle in the sporting goods section of Walmart. The Ugly Stik pair I got most recently is the best pair of sunglasses I've ever owned, and only cost about $10 (must have been on sale) - they are polarized and block glare great, are comfortable, and cover enough to work as safety glasses in a pinch.


All the brands you mentioned are owned by the same company, luxotica. Even some knock off brands (piranha and the like) are owned and manufactured by them.

I get your point, but sometimes those cheap sunglasses have poor UV protection which could end up being WORSE for your eyes than no sunglasses, since your eyes dilate when it gets darker, letting in more UV.

But yeah, after that, probably not :)

Oakleys are more scratch-resistant and comfortable than the checkout counter sunglasses. It's probably cheaper to just buy 15 pairs of the checkout counter sunglasses if you only care about durability.

I have a pair of Oakleys (Juliets I think) that are about 15 years old and must be on the fifth pair of lenses. Been hit directly by a dinghy boom more than once and survived fine.

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.

As a counter to this my $400 Sennheiser HD650s feel like plastic crap I could snap in half while the beats headphones are metal and feel solid.

The HD650s sound nice - but I think they feel pretty cheap.

I have ATH-M50 headphones. They sound pretty good, but they are all plastic, not terribly comfortable, and are ugly. They do the job though and were very inexpensive.

My $400 Sennheiser Momentum 2s are metal and feel decidedly "not crap". They also look much more tasteful than the welcome-our-robot-future Beats.

They are built good enough. My whole point is that Beats will never make an audiophile happy, but normal people love them because they sound good (enough), look good, and are comfortable. Plus you can get them for a few hundred dollars - an amount that most people can come up with.

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.

My whole point is that Beats will never make an audiophile happy



And this is the same guy that did this...


There's plenty of categories of products where the difference between high and low quality is nebulous, wine being maybe the most famous example. But beats is not one of them.

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.

> listening to them side by side makes the difference obvious

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.

>> listening to them side by side makes the difference obvious

>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.

Beats might be objectively worse than other headphones, but for a lot of people, they are still good enough. Your standards are clearly pretty high. Certainly higher than mine. I think you prioritize audio fidelity over aesthetics and that makes you different than most headphone buyers.

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.

I don't buy headphones super often, and I'm not super obsessive over it, but the people at headphone.com have always made me feel at least a little better informed: http://graphs.headphone.com

Sadly, it seems like they're getting out of the resale business, and focusing back on their DACs and amps. Sigh.

Frequency and phase response are just linear characterisations, they don't model any non-linear effects.

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.

Non-linear effects can be seen when measuring THD. Any non-linearity will distort the sound and create additional frequencies in the output.

That's not correct. THD measures some non-linearities and is unable to detect others (e.g. IMD).

That only works if your objective measurements map well to subjective listening experience. Frequency response does not map well. Neither does THD. They're measured not because they're useful, but because they're easy to measure and sound "objective" and "scientific". It's an appeal to authority fallacy with a graph.

But something objective to back it up would be great, too.

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.

Testing ~150 headphones varying in price between $5 and $5k, I assume it covers most makes and models.

I predict a lot of wrong conclusions will be drawn from this. This paper does not preclude the possibility that there exist high-priced headphones with better-than-average or even spectacularly good frequency response. It only says that if you bin together all of the high priced items, their aggregate quality is no better than any other price bin.

Yeah. The authors misinterpreted their own data. Go to figure 3. Take the best headphones at each price point (the bottom-most points in the scatter plots), and there is an obvious correlation between price and quality.

A better conclusion would be "headphones with poor audio quality exist at all price points"

It's also the case that people pay for features other than audio quality. Look and feel, comfort, connectivity all influence price. This feels a little like releasing a study saying, "No correlation between car top speed and retail price."

That's true, but I would imagine people think that all the expensive headphones have the sound quality part covered.

Yes. The amp and speakers in the living room sound much better than the Logitech UE Boom. However the boom just works, avoids the flakey airplay interface, can be carried where I go and sounds good enough. So I bought another one.

This is noted at the beginning of the piece:

> 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.

This isn't surprising: the base level sound quality is probably good enough for the vast majority of users, so they don't care about minor differences there.

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."

My underpowered very cheap car would like to say otherwise...

But a $75,000 model T Ford from the 1920's wouldn't. When there's no correlation at all you can find a datapoint anywhere you want.

What makes a frequency response "good" anyway? Sound engineers wanting to produce the best experience for the most people should tune their music for the average frequency response, meaning that a "flat" or otherwise non-average frequency response would distort music in an unintended way.

That's already happening, deliberately, in the music production stage. Arguably the most popular speaker in the world for professional music mixing is the Yamaha NS-10 (you may have seen pictures of them in recording studios, with their distinctive white woofer cones). They are terrible in terms of frequency response! They are aggressive to the point of nasty right in the 2khz range, where a: our ears are most sensitive (ears do not have a linear frequency response!), and b: human vocals are most present.

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.

What makes a frequency response "good" is subjective. A lot of audiophiles prefer flat, but many like e.g. tube amps, which aren't exactly flat, or headphones with V-shaped frequency response etc.

> 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.

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