I don’t often participate in online audio forums; I have a great outlet here at SoundStage! Solo, and don’t want to invade someone else’s space. But I do read the forums to see what audio enthusiasts think about various products, and about the reviews of those products. While reading online forums can sometimes diminish one’s faith in humanity, I generally like what I see on headphone forums.
Almost all audio product reviews share the same conceit: the idea that the opinions of the person doing the review will correspond with yours. That’s because almost all evaluations of audio products are performed by a single reviewer, with negligible, if any, solicitation of or mention of others’ opinions. The premise has always been that because the writer is an expert, he (or in very rare cases, she) will understand the product well enough to predict whether or not an audio product will be a good choice for you -- or at least he or she will be able to describe the product’s characteristics accurately enough for you to get a good idea of whether or not you’ll like it.
Yesterday at the IFA show in Berlin, Qualcomm announced aptX Adaptive, the latest in a line of audio coding technologies intended to improve the performance of Bluetooth audio. During the advance briefing I received early in August from Chris Havell, Qualcomm senior director of product marketing, I was excited about what aptX Adaptive might do for headphone sound quality, but also wondered about the reaction it may get in the audio community.
When people who own gear priced in the thousands of dollars encounter similar gear priced in the hundreds of dollars, human nature practically forces them to disparage the cheap stuff. So I wasn’t surprised to see a few professionals disparaging the new miniDSP EARS headphone measurement jig on social media. I chimed in myself, predicting that the EARS might be part of an ongoing “crisis in headphone measurement.”
If you read audio websites often, you’ve surely seen discussion about whether or not measurements are important in audio reviews. Unfortunately, few of the people writing about this topic have experience in audio measurement, and their comments rarely amount to anything more than excuses for why they don’t do measurements. Because measurement is such a big part of SoundStage!’s group of websites, and SoundStage! Solo in particular, I thought it important to explain why we do measurements, and what conclusions you should draw -- and not draw -- from them.
The last ten years have seen a renaissance in headphone science. Important new research into frequency response and tuning has already improved the quality of headphone sound. But I’ve seen no research into something almost as important: isolation, or the degree to which headphones block outside sounds from reaching your ears. The less such isolation you have, the more your music will be polluted by the sounds around you. That’s no problem in a quiet listening room at home, but on a passenger jet or in a crowded Starbucks, it’s impossible to get good reproduction of music unless your headphones isolate your eardrums from the ambient sounds of such environments.