Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Influence of Listeners' Experience, Age and Culture on Headphone Sound Quality Preferences

At the recent 137th convention of the Audio Engineering Society we presented our latest research paper entitled, "The Influence of Listeners' Experience, Age and Culture on Headphone Sound Quality Preferences."

The paper describes some double-blind  headphone listening tests conducted in four different countries (Canada, USA, China and Germany) involving 238 listeners of different ages, gender and listening experiences. Listeners gave comparative preference ratings for three popular headphones and a new reference headphone that were virtually presented through a common replicator headphone equalized to match their measured frequency responses. In this way, biases related to headphone brand, price, visual appearance and comfort were removed from listeners’ judgment of sound quality. On average, listeners preferred the reference headphone that was based on the in-room frequency response of an accurate loudspeaker calibrated in a reference listening room. This was generally true regardless of the listener’s experience, age, gender and culture. This new evidence suggests a headphone standard based on this new target response would satisfy the tastes of most listeners. 

The paper is available for download from the AES e-library. You can also find a PDF of our presentation here or view the presentation on YouTube.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Olive,

    has Harman ever researched the effect of headphone virtualization technologies such as Dolby Headphone and similar algorithms?

    I quite like some of them as well as "ambience extraction" plugins (PLIIx, Neo:6). Sometimes I even use both (one for the upmix and one to make it compatible with headphones).

    I wonder how people would rate headphone stereo vs. virtual headphone stereo vs. upmixed virtual headphone surround in a blind test.

    Your headphone tests seem to indicate that the AKG K70x is very good but maybe a little bright. My old K280 Parabolic might be closer to your ideal target curve with less of a rising frequency response (I can only judge this subjectively).

    I like both headphones a lot because they get the midrange right and I couldn't really say which is "better".

    Now here's the interesting thing: Dolby headphones seems to reduce the treble a bit compared to plain stereo. I think it sounds a little better with the K702 while the K280 maybe sounds a little more like speakers on its own (maybe because of it's somewhat "darker" sound, maybe because it has two drivers on each side... who knows).

    Maybe this would be an interesting area to explore...

    Kind regards,