Musings on the subject of subjectivity
This is a follow-up to my review of Sennheiser HD 8XX
I had these phones - the Sennheiser HD 8XX for 3 months now and there was a moment in the beginning when I was seriously considering selling them and buying the original 800. So was the case especially during the first few weeks of listening to them when I felt there was seriously something wrong with their tuning. I am a firm believer in having audio equipment long enough to get adjusted to or accustomed to the gear so whatever I buy usually stays with me for some time until the moment that I have confidence as to their true nature. Some define this period of time as breaking in and one could easily say it is also a period of breaking the listener in as well. Anyway I let the time pass and see what happens…
HD 8XX are certainly picky when it comes to equipment fit and tuning and they - as any gear - have strong as well as weak points / sides. To be able to fully appreciate high end equipment you need to know your own preferences, your music, your inclinations with regard to timbre of instruments you like to listen to and to the repertuar you most of the time will listen to. Only then you can judge if the combination of gear you intend to use is fit to play YOUR music. Obviously there will be times and music you most likely will not pay attention to - it will drift by you… but for listening to your choice of music the point is: there is nothing like an universal fit of any given gear for all people and for all kinds of music.
You will certainly have heard and / or seen musicians changing their instruments during performances, of sound engineers tweaking recorded music in all kind of different ways and soloist who complain about acoustics of certain venues or studios. You may have heard of people spending some dollars on fancy cables. You may have done some “tuning” of your listening room by way of installing some bass traps and / or diffusers or even have had professionals do the “audio setup” for you for a fee. You may have been playing with speaker positioning… All this is what I call fiddling with your music, this is nothing else than adjusting what you play in a way such that it is to your liking. Doing this is the very nature of how music is played, reproduced AND enjoyed. Nothing is unimportant, everything can influence your perception and that includes the space between headphone ear cup and your ear. Your new pads for example may influence the way you perceive the sound compared to what you used to hear from the headphone with the old pads. Apart from different tunings of equipment you use there will also be a question of all the myriad factors that could either enhance or conversely work to the detriment of how your equipment sounds.
So back to… the tuning of HD 8XX - IMO it is odd. Is this unique ? Hardly. I owned STAX 007 set and the tuning of the phones was absolutely awful. I could go on and give you some more examples of “funny” tuning of all kinds of equipment. But that is not the point here. What I will say is that what the engineer had envisioned does not have to agree with how you “view” or judge how equipment should sound. I should mention that I owned the original HD 800 and… guess what - I did not like the tuning of those phones either. So as was the case with the original HD 800 and STAX 007 what I did with 8XX was EQing them to my liking, to my music, to my vision of how I wanted them to sound. And that is what I do sometimes with other headphones. What I did and am doing is what people in the music industry do all the time, because there is no such thing as perfect tuning. Every tuning has beed initially done by somebody - not you.
The above was a long intro to my thinking about audio equipment. These days most of your good quality amps and preamps come without any possibility of fiddling with how they sound. Whether it is a headphone amp or power amp - there is no sign of bass, treble, presence nobs on them. However there were times when good did not mean no tweaking / playing with the sound. It is a shame, but good old Yamaha has retained those knobs. So did Marantz albite the controls are buried in remote-controlled menus. And they do retain them for a good reason, because tweaking sound does not equal un-audiophile, or ruining “pure sound” or true tuning. It is a tool like any other.
So what does a person do when the sound coming out of his/her gear does not sound right? Well, obviously after auditioning for a short period of time you may decide not to buy it. But once you do, like I usually do, and if you think more or less on the same lines as myself - you buy and see, because there is no way you can have an opinion after listening for half an hour, or is there? - So in such a case there are some options like hardware solutions or software solutions that you can utilize. The latter ones are your EQ panels in the software you use to play / listen to your digital files (sorry Tidal fans). The hardware solutions are these days very limited but do exist and come as old style / modern looks equalizers - you simply have to fork out some dollars to use them. I am an old school guy and am utilizing a hardware equalizer. Nothing fancy just four channel device by SCHIIT. And that SCHIIT is really good in adjusting the sound of my phones to my liking. There is also an option of “modding” your headphone i.e. modifying the internals of the headphone which could be very simple like inserting a piece of felt or other material to tone down the highs or removing some materials from it. Some of these steps could be irreversible.
In case of my HD 8XX I have worked out an EQ or tuning that with my amp produces desired effect thereby producing the magic of superb HD 8XX sound which is very much to my liking. It is not difficult to do and should not scare anyone to attempt. After all you are not damaging your headphone. If you are not into EQ then that is fine too - search for the best fitting sound by trial and error. The combination of the vanilla tuning of 8XX and my tuning means that the HD 8XX sounds much better than the originals I had in the years past - the HD 800. The difference is in a very articulate solid and controlled bass which, with the beautiful mids and crisp highs, makes these phones absolutely superb.
By the way you may have heard of AutoEq - this is easy to find on github.com AutoEq provides “tunings” for all kind of headphones and speakers in the form of setting tables that you can use if you want to try and use a shortcut to tuning your own headphones / speakers. If you are curious what MY tuning is I will certainly be willing to tell / show you but for now I want to say that these headphones with the combined Drop + my tuning sound fantastic and I am not selling them :-)
You may have a different opinion on the subject - which is OK too. We do not have to agree. The most important thing is that we enjoy OUR music our OWN way.
Thanks for stopping by and reading.