How Useful do You Find Headphone Measurements?

Let's agree from the start that measurements are no substitute for listening when evaluating headphones. The question is, do the measurements serve a useful function?

If you choose the last selection here, you really don't need to bother with the rest of the polls.

Feel free to elaborate on how useful headphone measurements are to you generally in the comments.

After submitting your vote, click here for the next poll, and here if you missed the introductory post.

How Useful do You Find Headphone Measurements?
You bet, I can tell quite a bit about how a headphone might sound.
29% (47 votes)
I can get a rough feel for how a headphone will sound.
51% (82 votes)
I can't tell how it will sound, but I can tell if they're junk or not.
14% (23 votes)
I'm pretty confused by it all, but I'm trying to figure it out.
2% (4 votes)
Measurements are next to useless as far as I'm concerned.
3% (5 votes)
Total votes: 161

germay0653's picture

They're useful as a basis or starting point but there is definitely no substitute for listening.

dwyerwinchell's picture

I look at the graphs, but I find written comments on the significance of particular spikes, dips, raggedness, etc. to convey the "real" meaning. Perhaps I am distressingly illiterate about graphs, but the pictures don't mean much without words.

veggieboy2001's picture

It can give you a rough idea... I find some things are clearly plotted with measurements of 'phones I'm familiar with (or is it confirmation bias?)but there are some that seem to graph different than I would have guessed.

Rillion's picture

What I see on the graphs usually matches my perceptions with open headphones but it is more iffy with sealed ones. Also, I've found that on-ear sealed headphones need less bass to sound right: having "Harman" level bass focused on such a small area of the ear is very unnatural feeling but that level feels about right with large headphones.

Also, now that I've figured out how to EQ headphones to my preference, I am starting to notice that as long as the overall tonal balance is fine, the bumps and wiggles are not as important as I once thought. My beyerdynamic DT880 600 ohm sounds damn good with or without EQ'ing it, even though the EQ is 6 to 10 dB in places. On the other hand, the beyerdynamic DT770 250 ohm sounds too bright without EQ.

Listening to above 5kHz tones on an external speaker was an enlightening experience for me: the loudness was strongly dependent on slight motions of my head. I don't think headphones will ever model this accurately (without head-tracking + DSP). But maybe they don't need to model it accurately for music?

tony's picture

Measurements don't help with relating sound quality but they certainly reveal important details.

I rate Tyll's measurements A+ in usefulness.

Tony in Michigan

Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Of course they will always very from unit to unit depending on the manufacturer, and of course we may not have the resources to view more than one data spread for single unit, they still give extraordinarily valuable info for the inclined hobbyist.

If any of you guys play with equalization like I do, in respect to the fr charts, these measurements will be easy to read, though square waves, THD takes a bit more explaining, though those resources can be found @ ;)

Priidik's picture

It seems to me that presently there are no ready methods to measure what makes up headroom and imaging, fine graduations in volume, how to interpret attributes that makes a headphone dynamic sounding and lively.
With currently known methods an exceptionally measuring headphone can sound lifeless, with next to no headroom or imaging and with crappy dynamics.

castleofargh's picture

to know what the sound feels like to someone, you need to measure brains listening to headphones, not just headphones.

wink's picture

I remember once marvelling at how clean the ATH-AD900 sounded until I listened to the HD600 and realised that the inky blackness between the notes on the ATH-AD900 was all the micro detail that was missing, that the HD600 was reproducing.

stevenswall's picture

Battle of 50 Flagships comparative review has the following to say of the HD600:

Weaknesses: LACKS DETAIL: The HD600 has a very smooth sound that can sometimes feel slow and slightly blurred. The HD600 is not the last word in terms of detail retrieval.

Audio Technica AD900:

On the Fence: DETAILED: Because of the fact that the treble presentation is quite airy, these headphones offer a fair amount of detail. However, the decay here is not supremely fast and this ultimately compromises the amount of detail which can be retrieved.

Since it's listed as a weakness on the Sennheiser HD600, and an "on the fence" thing with the AD900, my guess is that they are similar with the edge to the AD900 when it comes to the AD900.

Listening to a friend's Hifiman HE400, I think I like that better than either, and want to try a Focal Clear and hope that has a tiny bit more warmth than the AD900, is as comfortable as either, more clear, and more detailed than both, with a soundstage as good as the AD900 or better, which I love!

Mauro's picture

I appreciate so much your work and I am strongly convinced that measurements can tell a lot about headphones. In my opinion you still have to find a proper way to make more accessible and interactive the extensive amount of data you have acquired so far...great job! Keep going!

ADU's picture

Plus one.

castleofargh's picture

knowledge is power!
measurements add some knowledge.

measurements are like specs, or price, they're elements that may impact decision making and could help rule out devices that are far away from our target.
rejecting measurements is silly or ignorant, or both, for anybody without the ability to try most headphones himself. I'm not that lucky, so I care for measurements, a lot!

jim in cheyenne's picture

I use the measurements primarly for equalizing my phones, and they are irreplaceable for that. My listening via phones is greatly improved! Keep yup the great work

ADU's picture

I do a lot of my EQ-ing by ear now. But it's very useful to have the graphs as a touch stone, and also for comparing the frequency response of different headphones.

Scubadude's picture

I find measurements useful to a degree. When coupled to a few sliding scale scores like that used by I can form a vivid mental image of how they sound.

ashutoshp's picture

help me
1) eliminate the outliers
2) let me know if my heart is set on the wrong product (sometimes my brain does win LOL)

Jazz Casual's picture

I treat headphone measurements as indicative rather than definitive. I look at them with interest but attach no more weight to them as a guide than I do to subjective impressions from people whose ears I've come to trust. Neither are substitutes for first hand listening experience.

music4life's picture

I feel that your results are very very very niche and biased, considering that many of the voters are your own regular dedicated readers who have made accounts on your website to vote. I barely just made an account a couple days ago and I have been reading your stuff for a while. I think it is safe to consider that those who voted are the ones who have read through a good amount of your work, and may be biased to share some of your perspectives (not to say your views are wrong). Also considering that those who read your work are generally enthusiast audiophiles who have put in a lot of time towards learning this stuff. In saying all this, I don't know your end goals in collecting this data. But in terms of your main reader base I guess you can count it as accurate. But you can't apply this data to general people and even budding audiophiles (such as myself) trying to learn more about audio. I hope you don't take this as criticism, more as just caution of how you draw conclusions upon the data you collect.

Sal1950's picture

Subjective impressions are no replacement for hard evidence. Only with detailed measurement can we separate the euphonicly pleasing from the truly accurate.

Bruna's picture

I can't tell how it will sound, but I can tell if they're junk or not. I dont understand so much about these stuff but I use headphones all the time, so the least I can tell is if it is good or not.

paulgraham's picture

I guess for regular users headphones measurements are not that important unlike those into music or having a business related to it. However, how would users hear a clear sound without companies testing headphones and conduct measurements?
For a picky listener find favorite headphones is a real challenge as well as finding great book report writers.

Metalingus's picture

I can interpret most audio measurements well and use it as partial basis for my purchases. Roughly, the measurements fit in line with what I hear. One does not always need to rely on them as much, though. From a subjective perspective, measurements don't always tell me which ones I prefer.

For example, headphone A may be overall more balanced in a technical sense and have less distortion, but rolled off bass. Headphone B may have slightly rolled of high frequency performance, a noisier midrange but have bass flat down to the sub-bass region. I go through genre swings, listening to different types of music each month. Headphone A would sound better to me imo for The Eagles, while headphone B I would prefer for Disturbed.

One thing that cannot be disputed though, is if you're wanting an accurate sound. If you are making music or just want a technically neutral pair of cans that plays well with every type of music, it's all about the measurements. You cannot judge your mix on anything that colours the sound in any way.