Manufacturers Guide to Submitting Headphones for Review at InnerFidelity

Hello headphone manufacturers and representatives!

Editor's Note: InnerFidelity readers please read the ed note at the bottom of the page.

My name is Tyll Hertsens, Editor in Chief at InnerFidelity. I've been in the headphone business for over 25 years and am very familiar with the category. The company I founded (HeadRoom), built the first commercially available; solid-state home headphone amplifier; balanced headphone amplifier; and USB headphone amplifier. You can read more about me here.

I have two goals in finding and acquiring headphones for measurement and review consideration:

  1. I serve the music. The most important thing I do is to make folks aware of headphones that honor the music and sound great through my reviews and measurements. Of the hundreds of headphones I receive per year, I only have time to review about 40-50 of them. Since time is limited, I tend to do only positive reviews—I believe applause rather than harsh criticism is the most productive way to encourage beneficial growth in the headphone category. The only time I do negative reviews is when a very popular headphone has gross problems and consumers need to be warned away. (Examples: original Monster Beats by Dre Solo, Ultrasone Edition 10.) I'll add a note that even when I do a review because I like a product, I will be sure to do a full evaluation...warts and all. I'm a fair, but tough reviewer. Read my reviews and you'll see that even when I like a product a lot I don't gush over it and I include all the potential problems and irritations it might have. As John Atkinson, Editor in Chief at Stereophile, once said to me, "Write reviews as if you're telling your best friend about the product. If you don't tell them about the warts, they won't remain your best friend for long."
  2. Every headphone sent to me will be measured and measurements will be published on InnerFidelity's headphone measurement page. I also accumulate all the measurements in my AllGraphs.pdf. All new measurements are posted about every two months in my "InnerFidelity Update" posts. (Here's an example.) If you send a headphone in for review consideration, the update post will be the first, and, unless reviewed, only place you will see anything written about your headphones. Many InnerFidelity readers are technically skilled and use my measurements to sort through and find headphones they might want to try. So, even if I don't review headphones, their measurements remain in constant play as folks search for cans they might like. The headphone measurements page is the most trafficked page on InnerFidelity (other than the home page) and receives around 1000 views per day.

My greatest desire would be for headphone companies to send in all the headphone they make so they can be added to the measurement database. It doesn't take me too long to go through them for a quick listen, measure them, determine which, if any, will be reviewed, and return the gear. I have no problem with headphones showing up unannounced, but it is best if you contact me prior to their arrival at thertsens@enthusiastnetwork.com.

Please do not send in prototypes or pre-production units. In fact, it's probably better to get 2-3 production runs under your belt before sending them in. You would be surprised how many manufacturers send in early product that has some flaw or another and I discover it. For example: The Focal Spirit One had some diaphragm problems that I uncovered, and the B&W P7 had a problem where the OEM switched to an inferior ear pad foam material without their knowledge, and I commented in the review that they were uncomfortable.

The most efficient way to get the gear returned rapidly is to include a return shipping label in the box, and/or to tell me that you want them back in your email correspondance with me. Similarly, if you don't want the headphones back (which is often the case with the lower cost products due to the personal hygiene concerns with headphones) it is best to let me know early in the process so that I don't have to wonder about the headphones or dig up old email conversations after my evaluations are done and I need to figure out what to do with the headphones. I do get a lot of headphones in and it is quite hard to keep all the details sorted.

I do not sell any headphones that come into my possession in this process. They are either sent back, given to neighborhood kids or the cable guy or someone in need, or are thrown into the trash.

The only time I keep headphones for an extended period of time is when they are reviewed and make the "InnerFidelity Wall of Fame," which is where I store all my most emphatic recommendations. Once on the "Wall", a headphone becomes a reference that I need to keep so that I can compare it to future contenders. On each area of the Wall I try to have one or two models in each price range. If a headphone gets retired from the Wall, it is moved to the bottom of the page, but makers can still continue to use the Wall of Fame logo as a mark of quality for that product—it made the Wall, and even if something comes along to knock it off, the product remains worthy. When a product is knocked off the Wall, I will contact a representative to find out if the manufacturer wants the product back.

Headphones should be shipped to: InnerFidelity.com Tyll Hertsens 416 N. 21 Ave. Bozeman, MT 59718

Please send any questions or specific requests to: thertsens@enthusiastnetwork.com.

Editor's Note for InnerFidelity readers: This is my first pass on procedures for headphone submission for review. I'd love to hear any suggestions or clarifications you might have in the comments below.

COMMENTS
zobel's picture

In addition to reading the extensive reviews, and perusing the many measurements Tyll has made, you can do some tests on your own, right there in that chair, with your cans on.

This site has various audio tests you can do, including some,such as these expressly for headphones;

http://www.audiocheck.net/soundtests_headphones.php

Lots of sound tests and tones to play with;
http://www.audiocheck.net/soundtests_headphones.php

Some of the blind tests are interesting, and you can get a pretty good idea of the limits of your high frequency hearing on some tests, as well as a pretty good rough idea of your headphone's response if you download the frequency sweep wav files properly.

But... I don't take this fellow's headphone recommendations as very useful at all. Tyll is the man for that.

Tyll,sorry to hear about the garbage can eating left-over cans! Would you consider using that pitch fork, and loading up boxes of them that could be had for the shipping? I bet if you made a list of the cans in each box, post it here, and just asked for shipping costs, you could keep those cans alive, and put more smiles on more kids faces. Just a thought.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
By the time they go in the garbage, they're pretty much garbage I wouldn't waste on anyone's ears, much less an InnerFidelity reader. They do very often go back. I take good care of the packaging and most aren't on my head or in my ears very long; I know in less than a minute whether they deserve further consideration. The big PR companies are very good at getting you labels, and I'm at the shipping stores a couple three times a week. Also my house is pretty much dedicated to getting headphones in and out; I've got a shipping table in my living room usually.

Seriously, you wouldn't want the leftovers.

tony's picture

Oh, I remember that Book you passed around at RMAF 2011 ( or was it 2012 ). I was just on a lay-over, for a day, and caught a bit of the Show. The Seminar with You, Steve G, and Jude was Brilliant, I still look back on it ( it's available to see anytime ).

I recall thinking that your Big Binder of Headphone performance was the Industry Bible, I still think it is. Akin to our old "ARRL Ham Radio Handbook". Your book should probably be published in Annual form ( or is this the wrong Century for that sort of thing? ).

I've purchased 7 or 8 high performance headphones since that RMAF, I referred to your Book to assist me in each purchase. In fact, I wouldn't consider buying any headphone without first looking at your measurements!

Montana

I had a Great Uncle who left Wisconsin for Alberta, he took up being a Cow Boy, professionally, back around c.1915, there's one hell of a family story about him with his letters home to his sister and old Photos of him on his horse. phew.
If I were sitting next to you on a long flight, I'd be asking how you ended up in Montana. You look like a California type, not at all like a TTVJ type.

I hope the Manufacturers keep sending you their stuff, we need all these transducers documented properly.

Thank You,

Tony in Michigan

ADU's picture

...if it hasn't been reviewed by Mr. H? I think not! :)

First impressions matter though, Tyll. So I'd start by correcting the small spelling error in the first line of your article. ;)

ADU's picture

I meant the _2nd_ line of your article (after the editor's note). :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks!
ADU's picture

Doesn't look like it, from where I'm sitting. But maybe there's somethin wrong with my browser (or my eyes). This is pretty trivial, but I think the first line in the opening paragraph should've read-- "My name _is_ Tyll..." rather of what you've got.

The fonts on this site are exceedingly small though, so I doubt anyone else even noticed it. :)

Some trippy lookin stuff in your latest article btw. I'll enjoy readin more about that.

ADU's picture

Maybe the page just wasn't updating correctly for me.

Seth195208's picture

I would worry more about readers first impressions of yourself. Your open comment was somewhat condescending.:-)

ADU's picture

But it was mostly in earnest. Fwiw, I have great respect for this site, and the chap who runs it, or I wouldn't bother posting here it all.

And if I were a mfr of headphones and other related gear, I'd be doing just about everything in my power to get the IF stamp of approval.

If a mfr doesn't see the value in getting an expert's opinion on their product (and Tyll is imo the undisputed expert on this topic), then I guess the cost of obtaining that product for review has to come from the IF budget, and some extra dough needs to be set aside expressly for that purpose.

If it doesn't make the wall, then it could always be sold on Craig's list, or auctioned off to the highest bidder on the IF forum. That might be a great way for some of the collectors and other enthusiasts with deeper pockets here to support the site, and its objectives.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The article is for manufacturers, many of which have no idea who I am. So, I kinda have to spell out my credentials for them.
lashto's picture

"Write reviews as if you're telling your best friend about the product. If you don't tell them about the warts, they won't remain your best friend for long."
Beautifully said. Amazing.
But saying it is just the first small step. And if you ask me, J.A. & Stereophile failed every single step afterwards. Hopefully InnerFidelity will do much better ... already does.

As about your logistics issues with HPs, that stuff screams for a proper technical solution. You current way of doing it per email is probably a huge, time-wasting headache. A pretty small budget should suffice for building a proper HP database. Provide a nice&clear HP submission form for the producers .. and a HP-status page will also be easy to provide for everyone (with links to e.g. the corresponding 'update post', measurements, review and HoF pages). That alone will reduce your processing time to less than 10% of the current and make everyone much happier.
And once you have a proper DB, sky is the limit :)

ADU's picture

This is slightly off topic, but since you brought up the subject of databases, I know Tyll would like to add some other compensation curves (like the Harman curve) to his DB as well.

I think it'd be nice if IF had its _own_ proprietary response curve though, that's something like the Harman curve, but tailored more specifically to Tyll's gear, measurements, and his own ideas of neutrality. (The "Inner Fidelity Sound" if you will.)

I hate to use buzz words like "branding", but maybe a signature IF response curve would help to better separate the views and opinions here from other review sites that employ a more generic approach to frequency analysis.

I have a few thoughts on how to go about creating such a curve which I'd be glad to share btw, if Tyll is interested in hearing them. This is something I've already tinkered with for my own EQ purposes, using data from another site. And I'd be very curious to see what Tyll comes up with as well, and glad to help out if I can. (Not alot of spare time in my schedule for plotting these days though.)

Anyway, that's my "great" suggestion :) (and I'm pretty sure it's one Tyll has already been thinking about, and possibly working on)... signature IF headphone response curve.

The curve doesn't have to be fixed btw. It can be adaptable and changeable, and subject to his own particular whims.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...and the time will come. I'll also be making an attempt to get other folks like Sennheiser, Philips, and Harman to provide their best compensating curve.
ADU's picture

The more correction curves, the merrier. :) And hearing some more about these manufacturers' goals/objectives, including Paul Barton at NAD, would be interesting.

I think Harman is on the right track. But I tried EQ-ing a couple headphones to match their curve, and the results sounded a bit unnatural to my ears (mainly because it's missing a couple "notches" in the treble, I think). Using the FR plots of some of the wall-of-famers as my reference seemed to work much better.

I tried EQ-ing a pair of Beats Solo2's to match the NAD HP50, for example, and that seemed to work pretty well.

http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/BeatsSoloII2014.pdf
http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/NADVISOHP50.pdf

The similarity in their response curves probably helped some. But it was rather remarkable how even the relatively minor adjustments to the Solo2's tonal balance in that test seemed to transform its sound.

If I closed my eyes, the corrected Solo2 really did sound more like a set of actual loudspeakers. So Paul's "room feel" response on the HP50 was working pretty well, even on a different pair of headphones (which is rather amazing when you think about it).

The HP50 did not have exactly the sound I wanted though. And I had to abandon the Beats because they were too fatiguing on my ears. What I'm doing now is blending the sound of different headphones together using some averaging and extrapolation techniques.

It's all very technical, :) and _alot_ of work, because all the plots have to be done by hand on my computer, a point at a time. Some of the results are pretty interesting though. So maybe I'll post some pix of the plots in the forum for you and other IF-ers to check out.

drblank's picture

There's a company called Rev 33, which makes a device one can connect their earbuds/headphones that's supposed to get rid of "ear fatigue". here's the URL for the company's website. It's an intriguing device. I'm wondering if it's similar to what MIT sells with their Vero cables. They have these things that are supposed to be tailored specifically to the mfg's headphones.

www.rev33.com

bronco 1015's picture

I'd be curious to see a review on these, been excited for them since they were announced, now trying to figure out how they stack up vs. other cans like the Soni MDR-1000X, Bose QC35 Bowers and Wilkins P7 etc.

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