I’m going to stray a little beyond the headphone beat this month, because I just can’t contain myself. Recording episode 12 of the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast with Dennis Burger pushed me past my limit of tolerance for nonsensical claims that audio manufacturers don’t even try to back up with valid testing and meaningful data.
You don’t have to browse YouTube reviews or audio forums for long before you encounter misconceptions about current. Many consider current to be the measure of an amp’s quality. We seldom see current in a set of amplifier specifications, but we often see marketing blurbs that mention current. There seems to be a general consensus among audiophiles that more current—even if it’s just claimed in marketing copy rather than directly specified—equals better sound. We sometimes even see current mentioned in headphone amps, even though headphones that actually demand lots of current (relatively speaking, of course) are rare.
I’ve been writing regularly about headphones since the start of the headphone boom, back in the late ’00s. In those early days, good-sounding headphones were hard to come by. Sure, there were several great headphones available then—but as I learned when putting together headphone shootouts for Sound & Vision magazine, there were a lot more bad ones. That’s not so much the case today, thanks in part to the famous research behind the Harman curve. But what I consider the key finding in the Harman curve still often goes ignored—as I discovered last month in my review of the V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Rolling Stones Tattoo You and some tests I recently conducted on the KRK KNS 8400 headphones.
I’ve been writing audio product reviews for 30-plus years, and reading them for about 45 years, and there’s one question none of them have ever addressed—but that I, and many of my readers over the years, have often wondered about. Sure, the most dedicated reviewers can do thorough, informed evaluations of a product. But how do they know that what they heard is representative of what a reader buying that product will hear? We almost always get just one product sample—maybe, in unusual cases, two. But from Julian Hirsch to the 18-year-old reviewer who just started his own TikTok channel last week, we all assume—or perhaps more accurately, hope—that the sample we tested is representative of the ones our readers buy in a store or online.
Through the last 44 years, David Chesky has revolutionized audiophile recording at least three times—once with his super-ambient stereo recordings, once with his unique approach to surround sound, and once with his Binaural+ technique targeted mostly at headphone users. Now he’s at it again with a whole new concept that owes nothing to his past work: Meta-Dimensional Sound, which delivers a recording in two different versions: one optimized for headphones, the other for speakers.
The debate about the usefulness of lab measurements in predicting listener preference rages nowhere more furiously than in my own mind. (Why do I suspect that lede just lost me half my readers?) I’m one of the small number of headphone reviewers who has lab-grade measurement gear, and the similarly small number who belong to the Audio Engineering Society and regularly follow the scientific research on the topic. But I’m also one of the few reviewers who routinely seeks out the opinions of others, and who values their opinions as much as my own. You could say I get it from both sides—and that’s why I’ve come to believe that neither side has all the answers.