Types of headphones

Loverobot

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Jan 2, 2022
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Basic question I know
I am looking at headphones and intend to trial some but am confused by the types
I have some WH1000XM3 which I use mainly wired currently but would like to demo some with better sound quality if possible spending upto about £500
I listen to a huge range of music - Classical, EDM and Rock for example
My confusion stems from the headphones being described as Monitor/Reference/High End etc and for 'critical listening'
I started looking at some of the BeyerAudio versions but it left me feeling they may be designed for mixing / production as opposed to what I am after which is listening for pleasure with good range and quality?
Similarly when I looked at Shure's website
What can I expect from the different types of headphones - so I can get a list together to go demo? Also - open backs - do they leak a lot of sound?
Thinking about using them in same room as someone watching TV. My Sonys are closed backs and effectively shield incoming and outgoing noise but I read the open backs will give more 'space'.
Thanks
 

DCarmi

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Below your anticipated price range but...
I have been using Momentum 2 Wireless headphones which are closed backed and ANC which effectively keep out extraneous chatting and TV. I recently got a pair of HD599SE which are open-backed and the difference in sense of space is surprisingly significant and enjoyable, even compared to the Momentums in wired only mode. They are also more comfortable over long periods.

The HD599s are not much good in a "busy" environment though. They let in external sound and also inflict sound on others.

I use the Momentums in shared space and HD599s when on my own. I would not recommend open-backed headphones when other people are close by. Either you'll hear the TV or they will hear your music or both.

That said I really like the open backed sound as it seems much more natural and unconstrained.
 
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Vincent Kars

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open backs - do they leak a lot of sound?
Yes, by design.
They make as much noise on the inside as on the outside.
Likewise you will hear any noise "outside"
If you want isolation have a look at this:
Might take some time to get used to this triple flange tip penetrating your ears.
 
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Loverobot

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Thanks Vincent and Al Ears
I already own in ear (Jabra Active 85T) but I am specifically after some decent over ears that improve upon the Sonys
Am looking at Amirons, DT1990 Pros, that kind of thing (not limited to any model) but not sure what the descriptions of just monitor/mixing and 'critical listening' mean
 
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DCarmi

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not sure what the descriptions of just monitor/mixing and 'critical listening' mean
Many headphones will "shape" the sound profile. Often this is emphasising the bass. You will see some Sony headphones advertise themselves as "Extra Bass". Your XM3 will enhance the bass a little bit.

Neutral headphones should not do this and hence they are better for hearing the entire sonic range, bass, mid and treble. The thing is, people often prefer a bit more warmth, especially if they are using non-hifi systems, such as mobile phones. The sonic extremes might be a cheap and nasty tinny sounding earphones or a thumping bass you hear from some cars. Nether are true to the original source.

Neutral headphones might take a little getting used to but a decent pair should allow you to hear detail that may be masked by less neutral ones. This is what you need if mixing or listing intently (critically) to music.
 

DCarmi

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If spending a fair amount on headphones (which I didn't), you really should audition (mine were a present). Even "neutral" headphones will sound different and comfort will also likely be a consideration.

You might throw the Hifiman Sundara and perhaps the Sennheiser HD600 or HD660S into the audition mix, in the sort of price range you are suggesting.
 

ThisIsJimmy

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Sennheiser if I was making the choice between the two :)
1) You can replace the parts easilly when they break
2) Generally respond well to EQ from what i've read to get either that "Neutral" sound or follow the Harman Curve.

As for the suggestion about the Amirons earlier in the thread, as an owner, please save yourselves the pain and don't go their. :LOL:

I am in the process of offloading them...
 
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Gray

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....not sure what the descriptions of just monitor/mixing and 'critical listening' mean
I think you've learned that those who monitor / mix need to listen critically.
But don't place too much importance on descriptions.
For example, if you read manufacturers (and users) descriptions, both the AKG K712 Pro and Sennheiser HD560S are described as monitoring headphones, ideal for critical listening.
But they sound less similar than you might imagine.
Also, don't make the mistake of thinking that more expensive necessarily means better.
You may not intend to use it but, a free returns policy can be useful.
 
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EvShrug

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Mar 4, 2022
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Basic question I know
I am looking at headphones and intend to trial some but am confused by the types
I have some WH1000XM3 which I use mainly wired currently but would like to demo some with better sound quality if possible spending upto about £500
I listen to a huge range of music - Classical, EDM and Rock for example
My confusion stems from the headphones being described as Monitor/Reference/High End etc and for 'critical listening'
I started looking at some of the BeyerAudio versions but it left me feeling they may be designed for mixing / production as opposed to what I am after which is listening for pleasure with good range and quality?
Similarly when I looked at Shure's website
What can I expect from the different types of headphones - so I can get a list together to go demo? Also - open backs - do they leak a lot of sound?
Thinking about using them in same room as someone watching TV. My Sonys are closed backs and effectively shield incoming and outgoing noise but I read the open backs will give more 'space'.
Thanks
I have a YouTube video describing different types of headphones (@Al ears Not sure if I’m allowed to share… it’s a common question, and I made a video so I could paste it in with pictures and drawings to explain better, and I made it independently from any of my previous consulting clients), but essentially there are open back and closed back (sealed) headphones, and they can come in the different form factors of over ear (full-sized headphones), on-ear (they rest on your ear and pin them back a bit), earbud (like AirPods, these rest outside your ear canal), and in-ear (canalphones, these have a tip inserted into your ear canal, like ear plugs). Very technically, there are also ear-speakers, but those are real rare 😂

Before I answer your questions about tuning, I just want to say that open backed headphones do leak a little sound, but the irritation and distraction they would cause someone else listening to TV is largely down to how loud you listen, how much noise the other person can tolerate, and how loud your TV is (the TV may mask the sound of your open headphones to the other person completely, but you will also hear the TV at the same time as your headphones, which may be an issue).


Now, tuning…

Here’s an advanced concept that actually explains a lot for newcomers: we all hear differently. Not only do we have our own preferences for the balance of bass, mids, and treble, but the sound we hear is physically influenced by the width of our head, amount of soft tissue, shape of our outer and inner ears, as well as the diameter of our ear canals. For example, MY ear canals are narrower than average (I like small ear tips), and this causes a resonance and boosted intensity with a certain range of lower treble frequencies, so while a Beyerdynamic DT880 is painfully piercing for me, with treble so strong that it masks other frequencies and has a hollow, metallic sounding midrange to me, others could take a turn with the exact same headphone and perceive something that feels only a little “bright” in treble presence or even just natural to them. Our ears are much more unique than a fingerprint, so what sounds neutral to you will sound different than neutral to someone else. Understanding this will help you know why people’s impressions of “too much” or less often “too little” don’t always match up.

With that said, we generally fall into a certain range on average, so you can get a general idea of what to expect.

A “reference” or linear tuned headphone is designed to have a relative balance of frequencies in equal measure, similar to how a music mixing engineer’s studio monitor speaker will sound just before reaching your outer ear. This will add the least “color” to what the recording engineer put into the recording. In general, however, a studio monitor is not how we are accustomed to listening to sound on HiFi setups at home… a typical home setup has a bit more bass excitement, and often more reverb (echo) and resonance (the walls themselves vibrating and adding volume) than a studio setting. Recording engineers know this too… they will also often listen in a car or with a typical headphone to make sure the average listener wouldn’t hear something strange. So, we typically expect a “warmer” sound like our home HiFi systems than the more plain sound of a studio.

Now that you hopefully understand why there is a difference between “reference” and “warm” tunings, let’s skip ahead and describe a few more tunings. Warm/cold typically refer to having more/less bass. Bright/dark refers to the amount of treble emphasis. People will also often use shouty/recessed to refer to emphasis in the midrange, but that’s a bit of a misnomer because typically we base our volume settings on making shouting voices sound as loud (or almost as loud) as someone shouting a few feet away, and more calmly sung vocals just slightly louder than conversational volume. Our brains are hardwired to be most sensitive to frequencies corresponding to vocals (so, that’s the mids), and the extremes of pitch (bass and treble) are like special effects that add excitement and something we don’t hear in everyday ambient life. Of course, there are more aspects to sound that cause it to sound more crisp and make it easier to separate instruments from the overall mass, also the illusion that sounds are coming from in front of you (“imaging”) or at different layers of distance from you (“soundstage”), but we are most sensitive to these different emphases in mids, bass, and treble, and often they are the only descriptions given in reviews and impressions.

Ask yourself: do you want soothing, refined sound that you can listen to for hours and hours? You probably want something mildly warm and dark. Do you want to be transported to the studio, and feel like you’re standing in front of a live and unplugged performance? You probably want something linear and reference, though it may seem more like “music” with a modest increase of warmth and brightness (a gentle “u” shape on graphs). Do you want something exciting, that will make you sit up at the edge of your seat and grip you emotionally? Then “make it smile” with a more pronounced emphasis on warmth and brightness and more recessed mids.

I would say the Sony WH1000XM3 is quite warm and only a little dark, very much like what is expected from a home HiFi speaker system… but it isn’t the most accomplished headphone at separation, imaging, and soundstage. If you enjoy the tuning, you might ask for a warm headphone with stronger performance in those latter three characteristics. Going straight to a “reference” headphone may sound sterile and “clinical” compared to what you are used to… but then again, maybe not, I personally started my HiFi journey with headphones others would describe as cold and yet I still found myself able to enjoy many flavors of headphones!

Good luck, have fun!
 
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EvShrug

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Mar 4, 2022
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You're not much of a salesman, he was a potential customer for you :)
I mean, I easily prefer the Sennheiser HD 660S over the Amiron, for me the HD 660S is more fun and each sound seems more distinct, but then I’ve met people with the opposite preference.

I hear the HD 660S as a nice blended halfway point between the warm and forgiving HD 650 and the bright and keenly detailed HD 800. I find the HD 660S (and HD 560S) a well-rounded headphone that does well with any music on shuffle I throw at it, but I do find the other headphones special, and exactly what I want when I’m in the right mood.
 

DCarmi

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Nov 15, 2019
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Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Bone Conduction Headphones
Headsets
Ambient Sound Headphones

<link removed>
Not sure that this adds anything to the discussion other than to promote the link. Besides you missed quite a few classes, particularly by size, design and connection, all of which are as important as the technology.

I can't see the OP really being interested in headsets or bone conduction. If you want to spam you need to try a bit harder.
 

EvShrug

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Mar 4, 2022
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I have to admit a hole in my experience… what would an ambient sound headphone be? Or is that another word for an open-back headphone (or, even more interesting, a headset that records ambient sound for spatial replay).
 

DCarmi

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They allow you to hear noises from outside (i.e. someone talking to you). Open-backed headphones would do this but many headphones allow you to turn off ANC or use the microphones to the same effect. I am not sure they counts as a class, more a feature or part of inherent design. i.e. low isolation.

I'd agree that ambient sound mode would generally give a more spatial profile. ANC does tend to make audio sound more "closed ".
 
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EvShrug

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Ah, so it’s just Transparency mode on an ANC headphone. Never seen anyone refer to it in this way before.

When I said “spatial replay,” I was specifically thinking of something like the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset, which makes binaural recordings, and Sennheiser was even encouraging third party app developers to do neat stuff like a “selective” transparency / ambient sound mode where the user could, like, cancel road noise and enhance birdsong. Even without that though, spatial audio is cool, like VR with just sound.
 

DCarmi

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As, I said I don't think that ambient sound is a class, more a feature. Manufacturers have been experimenting with different features including 360 sound etc. I am not convinced that music should be "surround sound", unlike video or audio drama.

If I want the "full-on" headphone experience and I am on my own e.g. late at night, I prefer open-backed, over-ear ones.
 
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EvShrug

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360 surround sound isn’t always the goal with spatial audio though… in a sense, spatial audio is the continuing science of tuning headphones – to play audio with the same sound that you would get with a “live” or studio sound once it moves some distance and bounces off the walls, is parted by your nose and face, and how all that has changed the sound at the point it reaches the position of a headphone driver placed next to your ear.

Most music is mastered for speakers, to take advantage of room acoustics and some distance between the speaker and listener to recreate the feeling of being in an audience. Headphones tuned the exact same way as speakers would sound very weird, because headphones are separated by your head and right next to your ears, of course. The Sennheiser HD 580 and 600 wow’d consumers at launch, because they had a greater sense of soundstage than earlier headphones released up until that point. That may seem surprising now as the community has generally decided the HD 600 and 650 have had their soundstage presentation surpassed by other headphones, but they were designed with essentially a diffuse field HRTF measurement baked into its tuning. Digital processing can be even more precise, or even customized.

The goal is to sound close to “2-channel HiFi speakers, placed in front of the listening position” with headphones, not necessarily whiz-bang 5.1 surround gimmicks. Replaying spatial audio recorded with the AMBEO Smart Headset (ASH) has a remarkable sense of “in front localization,” in part because it literally has two microphones at the same position that headphones would be on your ears, so you get personalized, accurate “speaker-like” sound. The problem with the ASH is that it’s kind of a niche product… so Dolby Atmos, AMBEO, and the other spatial audio algorithms are meant to take a more generic approach that can be used as a DSP to make all your music sound more “speaker like.”

I guess I was just hoping “ambient sound headphones” meant something more than what was likely just a poor translation 🙁
 

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