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How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

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How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby KAF » Sun Mar 22, 2020 3:27 pm

Hello, I've figured that it was better not to mix too many topics in one thread, so I ask this here.

I did some investigation on sound but I'm still pretty much a newbie, so be patient...

Let's say that I might not be able to use a reference headphone for mixing, and my choice is between a few models which might not be perfectly neutral.
How do I test the headphones to find out which one is more neutral?
Do I need to record the audio coming from them and analyse it with a special software?

Also, once I manage to find one which is relatively or even perfectly neutral, my ears are not neutral, so they might colour the sound.
Two people mixing with the same headphone, or the same person a bit older, would hear the sound differently and mix differently.
Am I right till now?

With this belief, till now, for my personal entertainment listening, I was using the app Neutralizer on Android to supposedly generate an EQ curve which would flatten the response of the cans.
As far as I know (once again, I'm a newbie so I might either misunderstanding how this works, or expressing it in an inexact way) this app isn't doing much more than generating a tone at some given frequencies and you are supposed to set the slider till you barely hear that sound.
Well, yeah, while you work on a given frequency it also moves the whole curve up and down, and sometimes it does some adjustments to other frequencies too, but from what I can say it seems that it pretty much just makes all frequencies sound same loud to your ears.

I thought this is the perfect neutral.
And I was about to ask if there is a similar software for windows too, or maybe some plugin in the daw (in my case Ableton).
Or alternatively if there is a way to apply EQ only on the monitor, not on the mix, so that I could find the right curve in Neutralizer and then translate it on the PC, and have headphones which are sounding neutral to my ears, so that I would mix better.

But I did a Google search and I got a post on Head-Fi saying "Every frequency sounding equally loud is not neutral, equal loudness of pure tones means very boosted bass and treble.".
Maybe I'm misunderstanding the context and what this guy means with loudness, but it made me feel that what I was doing with Neutralizer is not right.
So, is this post in Head-Fi misleading?
Or is Neutralizer crap?
Or am I missing something here?


To summary my questions:
How do I test headphones to choose the most objectively neutral?
Once I've done that, how do I compensate for the subjectivity of my ears?

Thanks again for the support, your help prevents me from reaching the smoking point of my brain and feeling more frustration than joy in the learning phase, which could lead to me prematurely giving up...
Thanks to places like this I've more chances to survive this time of "I have no freaking idea how to pilot this airplane and I'm falling down"...
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby Kwackman » Sun Mar 22, 2020 3:32 pm

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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby blinddrew » Sun Mar 22, 2020 4:16 pm

KleinAberFein wrote:But I did a Google search and I got a post on Head-Fi saying "Every frequency sounding equally loud is not neutral, equal loudness of pure tones means very boosted bass and treble.".
I suspect this person is talking about Fletcher Munson curves. As well as the links above from Kwackman, have a read up on these.
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby KAF » Thu Apr 09, 2020 2:07 am

Ok, I gave up on the testing thing.
I just bought the Audeze Mobius after comparing them with the ATH-M50X and realising that the mobius are good enough (in some aspects better).

Apparently, don't know if Sonarworks, but at least Morphit they have a profile for the mobius.
Now the next problem is, even if I manage to make them sound neutral, how do I compensate for the subjectivity of my ears?
Besides Neutralizer, I've also seen with the MIY app of Beyerdynamics that my ears seem to have a dip in the highs. Both Neutralizer and MIY generated a compensation curve which was clearly increasing the highs, and everything sounded so much better, more alive.

So. I don't feel confident about producing/mastering/mixing without something like this. I now know, even if I'm using perfectly neutral headphones, I'll end putting more highs then I should, because I don't hear them well enough.

Is there any plugin or software of any kind, which can generate a compensation curve to apply on the monitors, based on some test?
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby IAA » Thu Apr 09, 2020 7:23 am

Whilst I’m not an expert, a combination of decent studio headphones made for mixing and checking what I do against a selection of tracks I use as references helps me. I have monitors too, but my room isn’t brilliantly treated so I make my major decisions on headphones. I’ve used sonarworks,and still do, but in my experience it’s trial and error(!), playback on other systems and my friends comments.
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby blinddrew » Thu Apr 09, 2020 10:28 am

Bear in mind that no-one has perfect ears, it's about understanding yours. Comparison to reference tracks will be key, but it also might be worth looking a this article https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -reference from Zukan here.
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby KAF » Thu Apr 09, 2020 11:18 am

I like this thread, I got two articles already :)

I guess that professionals might ask "we've been mixing without any personalised EarQ test and not even Sonarworks, for decades.
What's the problem now?".

Well.
It's not a problem. It's just, people become aware of things, they find workarounds first, then solutions.

"Knowing your ears", the way I interpret it without having much experience in mixing, means finding something without glasses. Something you more or less know where it is, but still without glasses.
Now, lot of professionals accepted Sonarworks as a reality, and some of them would never again work without.
Having a personalised curve which compensates for the lack of neutrality of your ears means nothing else than making for your ears what Sonarworks makes for your headphones.
The final result should be like having glasses, for the ears! :)

If there is no other option I'll learn how to live and work with the limitations of my ears like generations of people did before.

But I still hope there is something which can do the trick...


I had a look at the article, Drew, didn't read it all but I understand it's something you would do for every project, not once and for all, right?
And it uses your tracks, so that you change the level of the track to make it similar to the pink noise.
Correct me if I'm wrong, this means you produce the music first, and you go this only at the very end?
And it also means that the more things you've put in the same track, the less precise this method will be?

It's definitely a good thing but I wonder if it would not be better to just have (or diy) a "Sonarworks for your ears" and apply the compensated EQ curve on the monitors/headphones since the beginning, instead of on your tracks at the end.
I mean, you get this test on your ears, you generate an EQ curve which makes YOU hear neutral, you use an EQ on the monitor (not on the master) so that since day 0 of your creative project till the last day of mixing/mastering, you hear things neutral.

Works?
Sounds better to you than this pink noise method?
And ate you aware of anybody offering such a thing?


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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby The Elf » Thu Apr 09, 2020 12:47 pm

I think you're over-analysing this. Just go make some mixes and see how they translate to other systems - that's you starting point. You're not going to figure all this out without having given it a try.
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Apr 09, 2020 12:50 pm

Dave Rat (RHCP sound guy) discusses using headphones and reference tracks to eq a live sound rig in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU9BmupC62c the relevant bit starts at 3:20 but the whole video is well worth watching (as are pretty much all fo his videos).
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby KAF » Thu Apr 09, 2020 12:54 pm

The Elf wrote:I think you're over-analysing this.

Well, Elf, if you ever need to start a new profession, try with psychoanalysis :)
You totally got me there.
Story of my life.

I know you're right.
I'm just concerned because of the nature of my project.
Being Nomadic, I'll probably not be able to check my mixes on anything but my headphones or other not professional tools.
I just wanted to save me some hassle by doing it right from the beginning.
But that doesn't take anything away from the truth you expressed.
I definitely want to do more and worry less :)

Still, if any suggestion comes, about how to neutralize my ears, welcome :p

Thank you Sam, I'll have a look!


Thanks guys, you rock.
And pop.
And EDM.
And everything.
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby zenguitar » Thu Apr 09, 2020 1:42 pm

When you start a new interest, or move into a new area of an existing interest, it is important to do your research. But the problem is that without experience it is very difficult to make sense of the information you unearth in your research. And in the internet age there is an awful lot of information out there.

As an example, 30 years ago I started evening classes in guitar making and bought a copy of the recommended work on guitar making. I read that book from cover to cover and really thought I understood it well.

A couple of years later I went on to further train with one of the best guitar making teachers. And having built my first acoustic guitar I decided to re-read the reference book on acoustic guitar making. And that was when I realised that there was far more information in the book than I had first thought. I had missed so much because I lacked the experience to understand the information provided and understand it's importance.

In part, this is what The Elf means when he says you are over analysing things. Most of the things you are worrying about are really not important. All you need to do is try a few of the headphones that have been recommended, choose the ones that are most comfortable for you, and spend some time listening to music you know well through them.

Once you are used to the headphones (your brain will do that for you) you can start making some mixes with them. Once you are mixing, listen to those mixes on different systems to see how well they translate.

Just go for it. And have fun.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby Sam Inglis » Thu Apr 09, 2020 1:44 pm

You might want to take a look at this article which explains some of the reasons why measuring headphones can be harder than you'd think:

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... headphones
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby The Elf » Thu Apr 09, 2020 5:15 pm

KAF wrote:I'll probably not be able to check my mixes on anything but my headphones or other not professional tools.
Drop a few short examples here and there are plenty of good ears that can help you!
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby IAA » Thu Apr 09, 2020 6:19 pm

Drop a few short examples here and there are plenty of good ears that can help you!

That is your problem sorted! There are some mighty golden ears on these forums. Mine are nearer brass I think :wtf:
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Re: How to test headphones to see how neutral they are + how to compensate the subjectivity of my ears?

Postby KAF » Thu Apr 09, 2020 6:32 pm

Yeah, let's do this!
I just hope your ears will still be good enough for when I'm that far. Still have a long and winging road to go.
But you'll hear from me.
Literally :D

Thank you again!
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