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Perceptual Effects of Room Reflections

amirm

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If all room treatments were broad spectrum affecting all frequencies equally, I'd agree. But some are, and others are not. For example tuned membranes and bass traps can be tuned to affect narrower frequency ranges than tube traps. By absorbing the energy at the bass mode frequency, they weaken the reflected wave, which weakens the room mode. The treatments don't "know" it's a room mode, but you size & shape them to tune them to the room mode frequency, so the effect is the same: it prevents the room from resonating at that frequency (or at least weakens the resonance). Intuitively, it's like removing the wall that was causing the resonance, or at least making that wall semi-permeable to weaken the resonance. In this sense, one can say that it effectively changes the room's response. This is different from EQ, where the room modes are all the same and just as strong, but you're just reducing energy there.
I have been very careful to keep saying porous absorbers as that is what Ethan promotes. As to membrane ones, they are expensive and often not very effective. The energy in modal region is quite high and sticking one panel there is not going to remove it. I have seen many examples of people buying them and then posting online why they still have the same modal response.

That is unlike EQ where we can easily play with parametric ones until we get the right response with our ears and measurements. And reducing the energy removes the problem rather than create it and then hope that a few panels stuck on walls will remove it.
 

MRC01

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I have been very careful to keep saying porous absorbers as that is what Ethan promotes. As to membrane ones, they are expensive and often not very effective. The energy in modal region is quite high and sticking one panel there is not going to remove it. ...
OK so we agree that porous absorbers, due to their broad frequency response, can over-deaden the room before they take sufficient effect at killing modes. However, they are useful for a different purpose: most untreated rooms are too reverberant/reflective so they benefit from a certain amount of wide-band porous absorbers. How many, depends on personal taste. Also, it's true that when it comes to narrower band treatments like resonators and bass traps, it takes several of them to make a difference, and experimenting to find the placement that makes them most effective.

I can't speak for Ethan, but I have heard him promote not only porous absorbers, (I believe his "Mondo Traps" are an example), but also narrower band bass traps (like his "Mega Traps"). Different solutions for different problems.

... That is unlike EQ where we can easily play with parametric ones until we get the right response with our ears and measurements. And reducing the energy removes the problem rather than create it and then hope that a few panels stuck on walls will remove it.
This seems to be the point where we disagree. We can imagine a typical room as a tuned resonator for certain modal frequencies. Tuned treatments change the room response by weakening its resonances - this addresses the problem at its root cause. EQ doesn't change the room, it only feeds less energy into the modal frequencies, which are left unchanged. No doubt EQ is easier, but I wouldn't say that it removes the problem, because the root cause of the frequency bump and ringing is the room's resonant modes, which EQ leaves unchanged. In my experience, both EQ and room treatments can improve both FR and CSD, but room treatments have relatively more benefit in CSD than EQ does, for a given amount of FR attenuation.
 

amirm

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However, they are useful for a different purpose: most untreated rooms are too reverberant/reflective so they benefit from a certain amount of wide-band porous absorbers.
Most living rooms where people listen are not "untreated." Many furnishings act as absorbers/diffusers. If it is an empty room, sure. Treatment is mandatory then.
 

amirm

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We can imagine a typical room as a tuned resonator for certain modal frequencies. Tuned treatments change the room response by weakening its resonances - this addresses the problem at its root cause.
Again, porous absorbers are not mode selective. They are absorbing all energy. So they are not acting as mechanisms to reduce room characteristics. Here is Ethan's room:



He has covered every inch of wall surfaces.

And advocates rooms like this:



Yet shows responses like this:



The modal response is clearly there in blue: both peaks and troughs. The reduction in the peak at 40 Hz with all of these treatment is hardly anything compared to what is left to deal with.

Meanwhile the room has become deader than year old fish. :)

Reminds me of when we bought our first house with a lawn. I thought if a bit of fertilizer is good, a lot should be better! So dial the spreader way up and put in a nice layer of synthetic lawn fertilizer. Two days later all the grass died! Ditto for all those absorbers. It just doesn't sound good.
 

Absolute

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An easy experiment for deciding if a heavily treated room will be a nice listening environment is to take the speakers outside for a listen. It'll sound dull because you lose too much energy.

While another experiment with regards to very early reflections is to compare your speaker in a small room vs a much bigger room. It'll always sound best in a bigger room.

My experience is that you don't want strong early (before 5 ms) reflections, but you do want a wet room as long as there's no flutter echo ringing in your ears. Bombarding the room with energy absorbers will make the sound closer to the outside-experience, aka boring, while neglecting early reflections and flutter echo will make the sound hard and harsh - typically experienced as a need to keep the volume down in fear of that piercing screech.

Putting absorbers strategically can make the room acoustically bigger, but you'll need diffusors of some kind to help preserve energy across the room later in time in order to "simulate" a larger room and to avoid flutter echo.

Amir is correct, EQ will reduce ringing in the time domain as well as fixing the frequency response, so EQ cannot (easily) be replaced by acoustic treatment. The best way to deal with low frequencies is multiple subwoofers and EQ because you (potentially) fix everywhere at the same time.
While you can use <60 cm of absorbers to acoustically remove a wall down to around 30-40 hz, you'll end up with a black hole that sucks away all energy.

I tend to think that EQ and subs are far more convenient, though I know many disagree.
 

MRC01

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Again, porous absorbers are not mode selective. They are absorbing all energy. So they are not acting as mechanisms to reduce room characteristics. ...
I understand. But other room treatments, like resonators, are mode selective. They only absorb energy near the frequency for which they are tuned. If you can tame a room mode with these mode selective room treatments, it is more effective than using EQ because it actually weakens the room mode, instead of just delivering less energy into it like EQ does.

Consider a room with a 100 Hz mode and two different solutions, each of which reduces it by 6 dB: (A) using EQ, and (B) using mode-specific room treatments like bass resonators. Either way, the room measures the same in frequency response since they both reduce the hump by 6 dB. But they achieve it in different ways: (A) reduces the hump by delivering less energy at that frequency, but leaves the room mode unchanged; (B) reduces the hump by weakening the room mode.

Now you're listening to music and a bass solo comes along, pumping a bunch of 100 Hz energy into the room. Solution (A) is going to resonate and ring just as loud as before, since the room's resonant mode is still there. Solution (B) is going to be more damped, because the room treatment weakened the room's resonant mode. In both cases, the bass is at the same level/loudness, but in (B) it is tighter and cleaner.

This is not to say that EQ doesn't improve CSD - it certainly does. Frequency & time domain are related. But mode-specific room treatments improve CSD more, for a given level of frequency attenuation. Because they work by weakening the room's resonant modes, instead of leaving those modes intact and reducing energy at the problematic frequencies.
 

Ethan Winer

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It's really disappointing to see all the red herrings, and even an insulting tone, from someone like Amir. And to call an article showing numerous detailed graphs "reference free" is even sillier. Amir has lumped together three different rooms, trying to apply the response and waterfall graphs measured in a bedroom size space to my much larger living room and that even larger mastering room. As if the extensive treatment in the mastering room gives results like the bedroom. Even more disingenuous, and frankly stupider, Amir claims of my living room "He has covered every inch of wall surfaces" which is preposterous. Talk about unscientific! If you had read the articles I linked you'd have seen the detailed list of treatments in my living room, and known that they account for only 18 percent of the room's total surface. You are really grabbing at straws! :D

Amir also shows that he hasn't read my articles because he wrongly believes that EQ can reduce ringing decay times, and incorrectly uses a waterfall plot trying to prove the point. That's the wrong type of graph, as explained in my "Final" Dirac report linked earlier. He also misses the very important point that subwoofers typically operate only below 80 Hz, while the bass range extends up to 300 Hz. So no matter how many subwoofers you throw at the problem, you'll never improve the "speaking range" of bass instruments where clarity and minimal ringing are most important. Below 80 Hz is for the "weight" of music, and movie explosions. Amir, do you have any actual experience performing or producing music?

Then we have Krabbie refusing to say anything about his own preferences and treatment which would help me reply in a way he'll understand. So this is just pointless, and a waste of my time. You guys apparently have no actual experience, and so can only rely on "data" instead of music. Amir asked if I ever listened to Dirac, I guess assuming I'm like him and consider only "data." This again shows that Amir failed to read my articles because I included not only my own subjective impressions, but also those of a friend who's won five Emmy Awards as a TV and film composer. You guys are a hoot, and about as unscientific as it gets. Rule Number One in science is logic, and you both failed miserably. You demand that I read Floyd Toole's entire book, but refuse to read the few articles I linked. So I'm going to leave you with a rebuttal to Floyd's research on reflection preference from a past post, and say goodbye. You guys are literally like Trump supporters, ignoring facts and logic, steadfastly refusing to change your opinion.

The following explains some potential problems with Toole's research, which I'm sure you'll also ignore:

I'm a big fan of Floyd Toole so my disagreeing with some of his conclusions doesn't mean I don't respect his other work. As far as I know Floyd is not a recording engineer, and he hasn't mixed music professionally if at all. So that could be a factor in his opinions. His statements about early reflections defy my own personal experience, and the experience of almost every other audio engineer I know.

I know about Floyd Toole's tests showing "most people" prefer reflections. I also have his most recent book and many of his AES articles. But I have questions about his research that could affect its value. For example, how large (wide) was the room he used for those tests? Of the people he tested, how many were experienced listeners and how many were ordinary people with no particular interest in audio and music? I know that one of his tests had a group of mastering and mixing engineers listen blind, and the results were mixed with some preferring reflections and others not. But what I read didn't say where the various people were in the room. If the people who preferred no reflections were closer to the center of the room while listening, and those who preferred reflections were closer to the side walls, that would certainly skew the results. Learning to appreciate good sound can take a few days or weeks. So if you parade a bunch of "non-enthusiasts" into a room and compare absorbers versus bare walls, I'm not surprised that some or even most prefer the sound of reflections.

I also disagree that side-wall reflections should be "neutral" due to loudspeakers having a flat off-axis response. If the reflections coming off a wall have the same flat response as the direct sound, the comb filtering will be most severe. As I showed in my Early Reflections article the peaks will be up to 6 dB and the nulls will be very deep. But if the loudspeakers have a limited off-axis response such that the wall reflections contain less high frequencies, the comb filtering in that upper "clarity" range will be less severe. This is basic math. I have a spreadsheet that calculates peak and null amounts based on dB reflectivity, and I'm glad to share it with anyone who PMs me their email address.

I hope this doesn't come off as condescending: I'm convinced that recording and mixing engineers have better "learned hearing acuity" than most people, and better engineers probably have more refined taste. Of course, taste is also subjective so this is just my opinion. When mixing music you need to hear everything as clearly as possible. If what you hear is obscured by reflections and other room anomalies, mixes you think sound good will not sound so good later, or in the car or through other systems. One reason is that moving your head even two or three inches changes the tonality, compared to mixing in a reflection-free zone where imaging and frequency response are far more stable.

Over time mix engineers learn to appreciate things that affect clarity, and avoiding early reflections is one of those. Note well: Mixing in a reflection-free zone lets you hear much smaller changes in applied reverb and midrange EQ. Even at my age (67 in 2015) I can easily hear changes of half a dB or less in reverb levels and midrange EQ through both of my music systems.

Related, I played the guitar professionally for many years, but a few months after I started playing the cello 20 years ago I realized my sense of fine pitch discrimination had improved. Now, if a note is even 5 cents off it bothers me. Compared to the public who votes for contestants on American Idol who are horribly out of tune. :D

So I don't mean to sound elitist, but I'm convinced that people who prefer the sound of early reflections in a smallish room would probably change their opinion if they were exposed to better listening environments. Sometimes it takes longer exposure for the improvement to be obvious, so maybe some people might not immediately notice. But most people should be able to learn to appreciate the improved sound over a week or two after adding reflection absorbers.

I mention "professional" listeners only because I believe they have a more refined sense of clarity, and can more readily identify when something sounds "better" versus merely different. But I absolutely believe that most people can appreciate the improved sound quality from avoiding early reflections. Or they can at least learn to appreciate it.
 

pierre

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...He also misses the very important point that subwoofers typically operate only below 80 Hz, while the bass range extends up to 300 Hz. So no matter how many subwoofers you throw at the problem, you'll never improve the "speaking range" of bass instruments where clarity and minimal ringing are most important. Below 80 Hz is for the "weight" of music, and movie explosions. Amir, do you have any actual experience performing or producing music?...
many (some) subwoofers goes up to 300hz which is convenient for the reason you just explained.

The following explains some potential problems with Toole's research, which I'm sure you'll also ignore:
I like this section because it match my own experience. Sound in a LEDE room or similar is very different from a live room. For mixing this is clearly a lot better, I often cut the bass too to better focus on the mid band. That helps me with clarity. It doesn’t mean I like to listen without bass. Reverb are also much easier to get right in a dead room.
For mastering, I prefer something in-between. For movies, rooms are (usually) calibrated by Dolby and sound all the same. For music at home, I prefer with less reflections than most but I guess it is due to me being used to it.

end of the day, that’s only preferences. And I also like to listen to my Bluetooth speaker at least for some music. Remember most at mixed for it.

side note: please stay around, counter point of view are useful.
 

dshreter

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I registered on the forum just to join this thread. Lots of great discussion here that I really appreciate. It’s fascinating that for something almost fundamental to the sound of a system there is this much divergence in perspectives.

My takeaway is there is still much to be studied in how we measure and interpret in-room sound. The concept of frequency response is intuitive, and the idea of being faithful to the source (or a target curve) is pretty easy to understand. But measurements that describe performance in the time domain are harder to intuitively understand and it can even be counter-intuitive how something sounds compared to the measured response.

For an amplifier it’s clear that anything that isn’t the signal is distortion. But reflections are part of real life listening, and it’s pretty well agreed that an anechoic room sounds bad, so we don’t consider reflected sound to be noise. Better identifying criteria to measure noise-like room response vs desirable room response seems necessary, and would help clarify the debate around side wall reflections.

My hunch is that this debate is happening because the ideal state is somewhere between the countering perspectives. It seems likely that less than total absorption but more than total reflection is optimal, and how much comes down to the specific dispersion of the speakers and room geometry and construction. Then you have diffusion to consider too.
 

Thomas_A

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Reflections < 1-2 ms should be dead, but lateral reflections >2 ms are bad only if they are too high in level or not enough delayed compared to the direct sound. Damping the reflections from the direction of the speakers are good IMO, since there is no meaning having the the sound from the direction of the speakers (or musicians) mixed with reflections from a wall that should ideally be acoustically invisible. The rest of the room (live end) should be "normal", as rooms normally are where you listen to music, live or not.
 

Absolute

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Amir also shows that he hasn't read my articles because he wrongly believes that EQ can reduce ringing decay times, and incorrectly uses a waterfall plot trying to prove the point. That's the wrong type of graph, as explained in my "Final" Dirac report linked earlier.
EQ will not reduce the relative decay times in general, but will reduce the ringing time of standing waves. In your article you point to Spectrogram as the correct graph to illustrate your point. But that is literally the same graph shown in a different way.
As far as I can tell you fail to account for the higher spl level after Dirac correction on all bass frequencies in general, which will of course manifest itself as longer decay-times when compared to the before-Dirac measurement.

The simplest way to prove that EQ also reduces ringing is to compare the relative dB reduction on the specific frequency with different time windows in the waterfall plot before and after EQ. I don't recall the numbers exactly as I don't have REW on my phone, but last time I checked the difference between before and after PEQ on a standing wave in my room was about 13-15 dB difference in decay after 200 ms, relative to the starting dB. I can add proof at a later time when able, but even better to fact-check this yourself. I have a couple of examples on my phone from those experiments that shows I'm not making it up.

Uten PEQ - vannfall.jpg


Med PEQ - vannfall.jpg


Med og uten PEQ i bass- Group delay.jpg


Here you can see that fixing the frequency response will also fix the group delay and decay.

*This example is from me testing a couple of ported subs crossed over at around 90 hz and a few PEQ bands below 100 hz with Minidsp.
 

eliash

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An easy experiment for deciding if a heavily treated room will be a nice listening environment is to take the speakers outside for a listen. It'll sound dull because you lose too much energy.

While another experiment with regards to very early reflections is to compare your speaker in a small room vs a much bigger room. It'll always sound best in a bigger room.

My experience is that you don't want strong early (before 5 ms) reflections, but you do want a wet room as long as there's no flutter echo ringing in your ears. Bombarding the room with energy absorbers will make the sound closer to the outside-experience, aka boring, while neglecting early reflections and flutter echo will make the sound hard and harsh - typically experienced as a need to keep the volume down in fear of that piercing screech.

Putting absorbers strategically can make the room acoustically bigger, but you'll need diffusors of some kind to help preserve energy across the room later in time in order to "simulate" a larger room and to avoid flutter echo.

Amir is correct, EQ will reduce ringing in the time domain as well as fixing the frequency response, so EQ cannot (easily) be replaced by acoustic treatment. The best way to deal with low frequencies is multiple subwoofers and EQ because you (potentially) fix everywhere at the same time.
While you can use <60 cm of absorbers to acoustically remove a wall down to around 30-40 hz, you'll end up with a black hole that sucks away all energy.

I tend to think that EQ and subs are far more convenient, though I know many disagree.
I tend to agree that it is easier to cope with modal resonances on the basis of room EQ, rather than tuned mechanical absorbers.
On the other hand, even listening in an acoustically difficult room (narrow, asymmetrical, tilted ceilings), careful speaker positoning still allows to mostly adjust the (unwanted) peaks aside of common musical bass notes and therefore saving some financial effort (also maintaining the original resolution and qualitiy of digital sources w/o rate conversion).
My experienced room issues seem to manifest above Schroeder, where "harshness", "roughness" and/or "distortion" perception and instable center localisation dominates w/o the discussed room treatment with absorbers (and diffusors), probably mainly caused by short wall, floor and ceiling reflections (around 2m of diversion) which can be identified in the optical mirror points of the adjacent boundaries. Due to the limited treated area, the general room response will stay mainly as it is...
From my experience, another aspect for the a. m. issues seems to be mechanical speaker enclosure stand stability, when accelerated with high amplitude lower frequency signals. I am suspecting superimposed delay effects at high frequencies contribute their share...!?
 

375HP2482

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Again, what a superb professional thread. Should I as an average amateur comment? May be this:
I love jazz and listen to performances in every room size, from concert halls to small places that are hardly larger than my living room. The main difference? Amplification and loudspeakers kill the good sound, Adding direct sound by speakers aimed towards the audience creates a very unpleasant sound for me. Concerts without amplification sound so much nicer.
A year ago I was up close and personal for Messiah at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles. The interior consists of a big rectangular cell of mostly bare marble, about 60 feet high by 120 feet wide by 200 feet long -- quite the echo chamber -- with the performers stationed at one end. My wife and I sat as close as we could to the soprano soloist, Anna Schubert from the LAMC, about twenty feet away. She warmed up with the into to Handel's Eternal Source of Light Devine. My wife's jaw dropped, as she had never heard a sound so pure and striking. The choir was not far away either, maybe fifty feet, with the small orchestra between. It was a thrilling performance. Even with the big echo chamber way behind us, the direct sound was dominant and clear.

Fast forward to the repeat performance this season in the same seats. This time somebody got the brilliant idea of turning on the loudspeaker sitting thirty feet above the musicians, aiming over our heads. When Anna sang her first word, it sounded like a gang of zombies coming back from the undead -- couldn't make out half the words. Can't imagine how the bulk of the audience a hundred or more feet away in that sonic Hall of Mirrors could understand anything. Really spoiled what we knew to be a great experience.
 

krabapple

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I suppose one could kill a room extremely dead in terms of reflections with extensive surface treatment...then bring it 'back to life' of a sort with surround channels and (for 2 channel sources) upmixing -- but that seems rather draconian. My own practice hasn't gone so far as 'death'. My room started as an empty, square-ish (13x14x10) carpeted space. Huge amount of flutter echo, therefore. It's a dedicated 5.2 listening room, not a living space, so the aesthetic is 'minimalist', and I like it that way - the only 'furniture' is two listening chairs, a small wire table to set things on, a stereo rack , two subs, a wall print or two, some basses and an practice amp in the corner. The window treatment is blackout accordion paper blinds. Thus, to address the liveliness, I had to add one wall panel (4" thick Knauf board wrapped in dyed burlap, so they aren't only impacting treble) to either side of my MLP, which ameliorated the flutter echo there. I've got one behind me too, my seat being about 3' from the back wall. I've experimented with side wall panels at the L/C/R first reflection points, one per side -- treatments which may be superfluous given the size of the room, the constant surround audio, and the toe-in: all 2 channel audio is upmixed, and all 5 speakers fire directly at my head, on-axis. The jury is still out on those side and back panels. Even with them it's not enough treatment to make the room 'dead' -- there is still plenty of bare wall (e.g. nothing on the ceiling or front wall) and that's how I want it. My guide in thnis was Floyd Toole's diagram in his book, on treatments in a home theater -- i.e. a *dedicated* AV room, (he's not opposed to treatments in such circumstances, though some are considered optional, 'to taste'; there is plenty of potential treatment shown in the diagram), not a 'multipurpose' room . Subwoofer/listener placement + Audyssey address predicted modal issues. Proper A/B comparison being impossible, REW measurements are on my agenda.

Ethan, your condescension is misplaced, and your argument from authority citing 'a friend who's won five Emmy Awards as a TV and film composer " is not convincing in the face of a decades-long body of audio research reviewed, and in some cases performed, by Dr. Toole ... including reflection preference research involving sound engineering professionals like your friend, and research showing that comb filtering is just not that big a deal, perceptually. If you need details, refer to the papers he cites, don't chide him for not including methods section details for the thousands of papers he references in his book.
 
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Hipper

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But reflections are part of real life listening, and it’s pretty well agreed that an anechoic room sounds bad, so we don’t consider reflected sound to be noise.
Yes, I've only read that anechoic rooms sound bad, but why?

My simple thinking would be that a direct sound from the speakers without any interference from reflections would be the ideal. You would only hear what the mixing engineer intended (I assume). Your brain would create the phantom image. What could be better?

But then, thinking a bit more, I wondered if there wasn't another problem. An anechoic room is designed not only to have no reflections but to keep sound from outside out. It has no ambient noise like we get in a normal environment. As a result of being so quiet you can hear your own heartbeat and other bodily functions:

read:https://inews.co.uk/news/technology/inside-an-anechoic-chamber-what-its-like-to-experience-the-deepest-possible-silence-267987

The result is an experience we are simply not used to.

I would guess then that you will therefore not appreciate stereo music on top of this.

For this reason I'm wondering if we should place any value on statements that stereo in an anechoic room sounds bad and therefore reflections are good?
 

Krunok

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Yes, I've only read that anechoic rooms sound bad, but why?
I'm guessing you've never been to anechoic room, right? Here is a simple thing you can do that may give you the idea how anechoic room sounds: go to drug store and buy a pair of foam ear plugs, like these:

Capture.JPG


Now roll them gently between your fingers and plug them into your ear cannal, but only half-way, not the all way through. Now sit in your listening chari, crank up volume a little to compensate for the general SPL reduction and listen. Try also listening to your voice while speaking. To a certain point that is similar how the music sounds in an anechoic room. I'm very sure you won't like it at all, and the reason is simple - no reflections, no beauty, as everything sounds "dull" and lifeless. ;)
 

RayDunzl

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Are IEMs "dull and lifeless"?

Headphones in general?
 
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