CES 2014 DTS Headphone:X Headphone Tuning Program

Last year I had the opportunity to visit DTS at their Calabasas facility and report my impressions of the DTS Headphone:X headphone surround process. Suffice it to say I was quite impressed with what I heard.

Headphone:X is a digital signal processing algorythm that decodes multi-channel surround audio; adds room acoustic cues; and synthesizes the spacial cues needed to psycho-acoustically locate the channels in proper orientation on headphones. These room acoustic and spacial cues are very subtle and precise, and need to be very accurately reproduced in order to be convincing—it's hard to fool Mother Nature! The only way to ensure the signal heard on the headphones is exactly correct—and it needs to be for it to really work—is for DTS to measure the headphone being used, and to compensate for that model's particular irregularities using digital signal processing (DSP) techniques. The demo I heard at the time used the Sennheiser HD239, and DTS had measured and compensated for these headphones in the presentation. When later I used other headphones listening to the Headphone:X app (iOS and Android) I found the effect substantially less convincing, I assume because the other uncompensated headphones had artifacts that got in the way of the acoustic and spacial cues in the signal. In dialog with DTS Headphone:X engineers at that time, it became obvious they were well aware of the fact that in order for the process to be convincing they had to work with headphone manufacturers to get headphones that met minimum performance standards, and that each headphone model had to be individually measured and compensated for. A massive undertaking...daunting...but they're doing it.

Just prior to CES this year, DTS announced its Headphone:X Headphone Tuning Program. The press release states:

The program offers leading headphone manufacturers access to tools and support, designed to optimize the DTS Headphone:X experience across product lines. The program also helps headphone brands maintain their signature sound across all DTS Headphone:X- equipped mobile devices. Leading headphone manufacturers, including Skullcandy, Inc., Panasonic Corporation, and Republic of Frends, have officially joined the Headphone:X Headphone Tuning Program. DTS will be showcasing a variety of program partners' headphones tuned for DTS Headphone:X at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show.

The Headphone:X Tuning Program provides headphone manufacturers with the following benefits:

  • Engineering consultation to help fine tune their products' desired sound characteristics
  • Optimized audio performance for DTS Headphone:X encoded content
  • Delivery of their headphone brand's signature sound with stereo and multi-channel content through DTS Headphone:X
  • Showcasing of featured headphone models within the DTS Headphone:X app

I heartily applaud DTS' approach! If you're going to do something, do it right. Yes, this is going to be a resource intensive process, but DTS is a company that has the kind of resources needed to pull it off...and once they climb this mountain they will have built a huge barrier to entry for competitors. Details of the program are still under wraps, but I'll remain in touch with DTS and will keep you informed as things progress.

markus's picture

Stax, Sennheiser, Audeze & Hifiman. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...to get manufacturers in at the beginning of programs like this. I'd say Skullcandy and Panasonic are pretty good scores for a start.

SC's picture

Loved the guy's face when you asked about time domain stuff. You were speaking in chinese to him.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I knew I was asking a question that might have been a tad over the line regarding the kinds of things they were doing, and Geir just sidestepped it.  I spent quite a bit of time talking with him and the Headphone:X team when I visited, and these guys are plenty sharp, believe you me.

So, I was doing my job trying to get interesting information, and he was doing his trying to stay on appropriate talking points for the press. No big deal. 

Bobs Your Uncle's picture

So it seems as if there must be a discrete DTS audio processing mechanism between the headphones & the source/amplifier, no?  (Alternatively, DTS processing components could be directly integrated into source/amplification devices, I'd imagine).

I can appreciate DTS' diligent efforts to optimize lines of headphones from any partnering manufacturer (like Sennheiser, Skullcandy, etc.) in order to maintain a "signature, or house sound".  I have to wonder, though, if DTS has considered developing their own branded "reference" headphones?  Unless I'm overlooking a critical aspect or four (seven?), it would seem that were DTS to utilize headphones engineered & built upon their own known parameters, the only optimization that would remain would be for that which is focused on the individual listener.