New Headphones!

My recording studio is just down the hall from our bedroom. My wife was complaining about the sound leakage from my Sennheiser HD-650 headphones. (I tease her about being the “Princess and the Pea”) So I decided to try to find a decent pair of closed-back headphones. It had to be on a par with the de-facto standard set by the Sennheiser HD-650.

The folks at recommended a pair of Audeze LCD-2 Closed Back headphones. I was initially skeptical, given my long history with the HD-650’s. But now, after more than two months living day and night with the LCD-2’s, I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed by them. And now, going back to the HD-650’s is a bit of a let-down.

The LCD-2’s are planar magnetic headphones – completely different technology from the HD-650’s. And I have to say that the sound experience through them is totally amazing!

There is a project, called the AutoEq project, that seeks to provide leveling EQ settings for all known headphones. While the Sennheiser HD-650 sets the standard for spectral flatness in a headphone, and the AutoEq settings for it are minimal, my attempts to use headphone EQ with the Audeze LCD-2 were disappointing. I find that just using the headphones without any EQ is superior.

In part, I think the AutoEq project is a bit misguided. They obtain headphone responses from somewhere, not sure of their sources, and then they use an EQ fitting process to find the collection of up to 10 bell EQ’s that best represent the spectral response. The corrective EQ is then its inverse.

But headphones are notoriously difficult to measure, and what you get from flat-sounding headphones is anything but a flat spectral response. You have to remember that you are placing tiny speakers right up against your ears. The circumaural cups of the headphones produce resonant cavities against your head and pinnae. And so what sounds spectrally flat is actually anything but spectrally flat when you measure it.

And you have to realize that your pinnae are not exactly like mine. So there is no single corrective EQ that will equalize the headphone response for everyone. The frequencies above 6 kHz are especially prone to variations here, since the wavelength at those frequencies are such that a quarter-wavelength measures only 1/2 inch or less. And that is the dimensional region of your pinnae and cup to head spacing. There will be tons of resonances it that frequency region.

If you have ever tried to equalize your listening room, you will have run into room resonances. And those are impossible to tune out with direct EQ on the sound source. A resonance, depending on how high its Q factor, demands almost complete cancellation at those frequencies. An anti-resonance demands near lethal power levels from your amplifier at its frequencies. The same goes for attempting to flatten the response of a headphone against your head, in the frequency region above 6 kHz.

And once again, just where did the headphone frequency response curves come from? If you use a dummy head then its simulated ear canals and pinnae will not be the same as yours. The placement of the headphones on the dummy head will not match the way you wear those headphones.

So in the end, I find it preferable to just enjoy the headphone response being presented to me by the headphones. I find the Audeze LCD-2 a bit brighter at the highest frequencies, compared to the Sennheiser HD-650. But I actually prefer the listening experience. There is so much more detail in the presented soundstage.

Don’t be put off by your hearing impairment, thinking that a decent set of headphones would be wasted on your hearing. With the help of Crescendo to correct your musical perception, a really decent set of headphones, like the Audeze LCD-2, is very much deserved.

  • DM