The following is a guide on how to get the best sound out of any headphone, and how to get an $80 headphone that can “beat” even a >$1000 headphone.
In short, people use headphones to listen to music. Some people are happy with their Apple Earpods. Others think they can enhance their listening experience by investing in higher performance headphones.
There is huge debate over which headphones “sound better” and why. Most liken this to a “subjective” appraisal. It gets even harder when each piece of music is recorded differently.
If you look at the market today, there are headphones ranging from $20 to $4000 and they all sound different. One must think “the more expensive, the better!” “This headphone sounds different, it must be better!” But we humans are experts at tricking ourselves, so researchers set out to find common ground. A sound that we all liked.
This research resulted in a target frequency curve which, the more a headphone matched this curve, the more likely people were to like it. Along with this curve is score representing how closely the headphone was corrected to the target curve. 100/100 means the headphone matched the curve perfectly.
After trying the “Harman Target” I was hooked. It made inexpensive headphones sound better than even much much more expensive headphones in certain ways, and made the most expensive headphones sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Not every headphone, cheap or expensive could be corrected perfectly, hence why each model needs to be independently measured by a third party. The Oratory1990 has a website on which he publishes the measurements and correction curves.
So how does one correct the headphone? The best way is to use a digital signal processor (DSP).
I use the miniDSP HA-DSP for $350. This device allows you to correct the headphones and must be used every time you use the headphones. It stores 4 settings for multiple headphones/earphones.
Which headphones/earphones are cheapest and correct well?
1. Audio Technica ATH-M40X $100
Here are the measurements and correction curve for the ATH-M40X.
2. Shure SE112 $50
The earphones take additional skill and consideration to correct, as everyone’s ear-canals are different.
To implement the correction, one uses a computer to input the correction parameters into the HA-DSP. Then you just plug in your headphones and you can begin listening.
So what if I don’t want to spend $350 and go through the trouble of correcting the headphone? is there one that is close enough that I can directly use with my phone/computer?
At a quick glance, the Sennheiser HD600 ($300) scores a 92/100 before correction. This also explains why the HD600 was and continues to be so popular.
But the HD600 are $300! Is there something cheaper? The Audio Technica ATH-M50X scores a 90/100 before correction and is $145 new.
What if I want the most expensive headphone, corrected? That would be the Focal Utopia at $4000. (used is $2000).