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Which open-backed headphone do you recommend out of the box? ie no EQ.

MarshallG

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Hi -- I just joined. I have a pair of Sennheiser 650s. I just retired and am now spending a lot more time sitting & listening so I'd like to upgrade to my final pair of headphones - the last ones I'll ever buy. I have an Okto Research dac8 which is fabulous (I bought it after reading the review here). I mostly listen to classical, especially opera, and jazz. I've been reading the reviews here and most of them say something like "I can't recommend these headphones out of the box, but with EQ they're great." Since I can't figure out how to EQ a pair of headphones -- I couldn't quite envision the process from the few posts I could find on the subject -- I'm looking for a pair of headphones that don't need it and will be notably better than the Sennheiser 650s. I was thinking about the Sennheiser 800 or 800s - I wouldn't want to go above $2k.

On the other hand, if someone can point me to a post on this site that does give explicit directions on how to go about EQing a headphone, including where to put the microphone, maybe I wouldn't need to ask this question.
 

staticV3

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On the other hand, if someone can point me to a post on this site that does give explicit directions on how to go about EQing a headphone
Gladly!

To do this, I need to know how you get your music into the dac8.
Are you streaming your music, or do you use local media?
Do you have FLACs and MP3s or do you play from CDs?
Which operating system do you use?

including where to put the microphone, maybe I wouldn't need to ask this question.
No microphone required.
 
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MarshallG

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Thank you!

Answer to your questions: yes. That is, usually I stream music from Idagio or Tidal, or watch the Met Opera online. (Or "The Lincoln Lawyer" on Hulu, I admit, but that doesn't require much fidelity.)
But occasionally I listen to my CD collection, which I've ripped losslessly using FLAC & stored on a thumbdrive. (750 or so CDs on one thumb drive! It's really a miracle of modern science.) I use Audirvana to organize & play my music, but I think the Okto Research software takes over the PC in any case.
I have a PC running Windows 11.
 

staticV3

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Thank you!

Answer to your questions: yes. That is, usually I stream music from Idagio or Tidal, or watch the Met Opera online. (Or "The Lincoln Lawyer" on Hulu, I admit, but that doesn't require much fidelity.)
But occasionally I listen to my CD collection, which I've ripped losslessly using FLAC & stored on a thumbdrive. (750 or so CDs on one thumb drive! It's really a miracle of modern science.) I use Audirvana to organize & play my music, but I think the Okto Research software takes over the PC in any case.
I have a PC running Windows 11.
For Audirvana, download the Mathaudio Headphone EQ VST3 Plugin from here: https://mathaudio.com/download.htm

Add it to Audirvana like this: https://youtu.be/6eav_9a-ais

Then for the Sennheiser HD650, open the Headphone EQ plugin in Audirvana and load the preset attached below (unzip it first).
 

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MarshallG

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Wow! That looks a lot easier than what I expected. I sort of had a vision of some laboratory with flashing lights and steaming test tubes. I'll give it a try. Thanks!
What is that HD650 zip file, may I ask?

Also, will this work when I'm not using Audirvana? EG when I'm watching an opera through my browser? Or does the EQ only operate when I'm listening to music through Audirvana?
 
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InfiniteJester

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If you want EQ in your whole system you can install this:


Then install this:


Click on AutoEQ and select your model of headphones.
 
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MarshallG

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Wow! They just keep coming!
FMI what happens when I listen through my speakers? Does the EQ apply then too? If so, I'd probably need different EQ for that, no?
This is getting complicated. Maybe I should go back to my first question: is there a headphone you can recommend for use straight out of the box?
 

InfiniteJester

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Wow! They just keep coming!
FMI what happens when I listen through my speakers? Does the EQ apply then too? If so, I'd probably need different EQ for that, no?
This is getting complicated. Maybe I should go back to my first question: is there a headphone you can recommend for use straight out of the box?

I would probably deactivate it for speakers.

According to Rtings, out of the ones that they have tested, Edition XS has the best tuning.


Whether you agree with their target or not, is something that I don't know.

I have not tried them personally, and they performed kind of disappointingly at distorsion measurements, but they are usually well-liked.

You can read more about them here and at DIY-Audio-Heaven.
 
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MarshallG

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Thank you!
This all used to be so much easier when I was just listening to 45s...
 

InfiniteJester

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Thank you!
This all used to be so much easier when I was just listening to 45s...

You are welcome.

There are people in this forum who know much more than I. I would wait for them to make an appearance before spending money on anything.

At any rate, the software I recommended before is free and easy to use if you stick to the AutoEq menu and the On/Off switch.
 

srkbear

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I think aiming for an ideal out-of-box headphone tuning based on the recommendations of others is problematic in general (I’ve tried), and is by design a disorienting target, as everyone has their own listening preferences, driven by a multitude of factors—some of which are tangible while others are seemingly entirely arbitrary.

Harman made a valiant attempt at defining a tuning standard (in an industry that previously had little to no standards)—by implementing some manner of a well-controlled listening environment and qualifying preferences among a fairly robust sample size. With their most recent 2019 revision, they seem to have succeeded well enough to influence at least some manufacturers, as well as quite a few listeners through Oratory’s PEQ database. But I just bought a set of Dan Clark E3s, which are about as Harman-compliant as you’re likely to find, and I still had to add PEQ to augment the mid-bass—for my unique tastes.

I add across-the-board analog bass enhancement with my iFI Pro iCAN Signature amp, which I chose specifically based on my affinity for mid bass and punch. This is in part driven by the rock and similar “modern” genres I prefer; classical and jazz enthusiasts may find my EQ preferences excessive and distasteful. Perhaps another criterion that may have objective value is age; younger listeners may find a particularly bright headphone fatiguing, whereas a 54 year old like myself may find headphones with attenuated highs too muffled. But even then there are outliers.

Roon offers a great software solution for those seeking a high performance tuning solution, as their app for the Mac, PC and iPad has a full-featured PEQ engine as well as the option to upload convolution files that can be downloaded from Oratory’s database. I have created presets specific to each headphone in my collection.

Apple has also found a somewhat ingenious solution for their native AirPods Pro and Max (neither of which are slouches in terms of performance) by offering an audiogram app that performs home hearing testing (as a physician I can attest that it is quite well-done). The results are summarized in an EQ preset that adjusts the FRC based on the detected hearing limitations for each ear.

I very much enjoy listening to music with this setting, and the headphones themselves support a Spatial Audio option that works for all sources (although it shines the most for albums mixed and mastered in that format) that I personally think represents the future of how music will be commonly enjoyed in coming generations as a successor to stereo. A slew of Atmos mixes are being released on a daily basis, and mastering engineers are finally figuring out an approach to this that eschews gimmickry and focuses solely on immersion. It’s a long time coming, and I love it.

For what it’s worth, the one headphone I’ve found that I can listen to “out of the box” with only the analog bass boost employed is Hifiman’s HE1000 Stealth. Of note, I did not land on this choice from the advice of others; I bought a slew of very expensive headphones until I discovered a way of auditioning them at no cost (thank God for Amazon), and discovered my engame through trial, error, and patience. I think this is the only way to get it done. And I will say that I didn’t have to listen for long to recognize which one hit the spot—if I had to squint for too long to decide if I liked it, I sent it back. And I also had to lean into the inevitability of PEQ, and learn to see it as an asset.

This is what worked for me. Best of luck!
 

kemmler3D

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Long story short, it's impossible to recommend a #1 best no-EQ headphone beyond "this one is closest to Harman" (or another one-size-fits-all target), because all headphones sound different to every user, because everyone's ears are a little differently shaped.

Day to day our brains are adapted for the shape of our ears, so speakers don't need a different EQ for each listener. However, headphones pipe sound directly into your ear holes, bypassing the natural filters of your ears that your brain is accustomed to. So in order to get something that sounds "right" to your brain, you have to put some of your ear's filtering back into play somehow.

Some headphones will (by chance) match your "personal filter" but most won't.

So a recommendation can get you close, but the last mile of fidelity (for you) can only be done by listening, or via EQ.
 

srkbear

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Long story short, it's impossible to recommend a #1 best no-EQ headphone beyond "this one is closest to Harman" (or another one-size-fits-all target), because all headphones sound different to every user, because everyone's ears are a little differently shaped.

Day to day our brains are adapted for the shape of our ears, so speakers don't need a different EQ for each listener. However, headphones pipe sound directly into your ear holes, bypassing the natural filters of your ears that your brain is accustomed to. So in order to get something that sounds "right" to your brain, you have to put some of your ear's filtering back into play somehow.

Some headphones will (by chance) match your "personal filter" but most won't.

So a recommendation can get you close, but the last mile of fidelity (for you) can only be done by listening, or via EQ.
This ^^^!
 

RoA

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Imho most headphones, mine at least, benefit from some EQ, some more than others but all, without fail, sound substantially better with it even if the adjustments are relatively minor. Go without an you perhaps miss out on what your headphones can do.

I can't recommend Roon enough, whether you stream or have a large existing library. Yes it costs but its the price of a few cups of coffee a month or a couple of nice meals out with your partner a year. It is feature rich, easy to use and has good EQ/DSP facilities. Editorially it's superb and imho its a music lovers dream interface. Others, including some free alternatives perhaps offer some of it but nothing I've seen recommended elsewhere matches it currently as a complete package ... that's what you pay for.

There is a large Roon community at hand to answer questions, here and in Roon's own forum so you're never on your own.

Hope this helps
 
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Rhamnetin

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Imho most headphones, mine at least, benefit from some EQ, some more than others but all, without fail, sound substantially better with it even if the adjustments are relatively minor. Go without an you perhaps miss out on what your headphones can do.

I can't recommend Roon enough, whether you stream or have a large existing library. Yes it costs but its the price of a few cups of coffee a month or a couple of nice meals out with your partner a year. It is feature rich, easy to use and has good EQ/DSP facilities. Editorially it's superb and imho its a music lovers dream interface. Others, including some free alternatives perhaps offer some of it but nothing I've seen recommended elsewhere matches it currently as a complete package ... that's what you pay for.

There is a large Roon community at hand to answer questions, here and in Roon's own forum so you're never on your own.

Hope this helps

One can get a multifunction DSP device from a company like miniDSP for a lot less than the cost of Roon though. But then again, I feel like I'm the odd man out with regards to Roon - I've never been able to justify it. In any case, I definitely agree about EQ in general.
 
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MarshallG

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I think aiming for an ideal out-of-box headphone tuning based on the recommendations of others is problematic in general (I’ve tried), and is by design a disorienting target, as everyone has their own listening preferences, driven by a multitude of factors—some of which are tangible while others are seemingly entirely arbitrary.

Harman made a valiant attempt at defining a tuning standard (in an industry that previously had little to no standards)—by implementing some manner of a well-controlled listening environment and qualifying preferences among a fairly robust sample size. With their most recent 2019 revision, they seem to have succeeded well enough to influence at least some manufacturers, as well as quite a few listeners through Oratory’s PEQ database. But I just bought a set of Dan Clark E3s, which are about as Harman-compliant as you’re likely to find, and I still had to add PEQ to augment the mid-bass—for my unique tastes.

I add across-the-board analog bass enhancement with my iFI Pro iCAN Signature amp, which I chose specifically based on my affinity for mid bass and punch. This is in part driven by the rock and similar “modern” genres I prefer; classical and jazz enthusiasts may find my EQ preferences excessive and distasteful. Perhaps another criterion that may have objective value is age; younger listeners may find a particularly bright headphone fatiguing, whereas a 54 year old like myself may find headphones with attenuated highs too muffled. But even then there are outliers.

Roon offers a great software solution for those seeking a high performance tuning solution, as their app for the Mac, PC and iPad has a full-featured PEQ engine as well as the option to upload convolution files that can be downloaded from Oratory’s database. I have created presets specific to each headphone in my collection.

Apple has also found a somewhat ingenious solution for their native AirPods Pro and Max (neither of which are slouches in terms of performance) by offering an audiogram app that performs home hearing testing (as a physician I can attest that it is quite well-done). The results are summarized in an EQ preset that adjusts the FRC based on the detected hearing limitations for each ear.

I very much enjoy listening to music with this setting, and the headphones themselves support a Spatial Audio option that works for all sources (although it shines the most for albums mixed and mastered in that format) that I personally think represents the future of how music will be commonly enjoyed in coming generations as a successor to stereo. A slew of Atmos mixes are being released on a daily basis, and mastering engineers are finally figuring out an approach to this that eschews gimmickry and focuses solely on immersion. It’s a long time coming, and I love it.

For what it’s worth, the one headphone I’ve found that I can listen to “out of the box” with only the analog bass boost employed is Hifiman’s HE1000 Stealth. Of note, I did not land on this choice from the advice of others; I bought a slew of very expensive headphones until I discovered a way of auditioning them at no cost (thank God for Amazon), and discovered my engame through trial, error, and patience. I think this is the only way to get it done. And I will say that I didn’t have to listen for long to recognize which one hit the spot—if I had to squint for too long to decide if I liked it, I sent it back. And I also had to lean into the inevitability of PEQ, and learn to see it as an asset.

This is what worked for me. Best of luck!
Thanks much for such a detailed reply! The Apple audiogram app sounds worthwhile.
 

phoenixdogfan

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So far everyone has told you how to EQ, which I think is an absolutely great idea, but no headphone recommendations have been forthcoming, which is not. I think the Hd 650 is a very good headphone which will sound even better with EQ, but I don't think it should be the last headphone you should buy.

For that, I would recommend its bigger brother, the HD 800S. With EQ it will be as flat as you want it to be AND it will be a real champ for sound staging. Given you've already spent to give yourself and amazing DAC in the Octo DAC 8 (I own one too, great isn't it?), I think you should consider going for a true end game headphone. The HD 800 S's will not disappoint in that regard, you'll love them.
 
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MarshallG

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So far everyone has told you how to EQ, which I think is an absolutely great idea, but no headphone recommendations have been forthcoming, which is not. I think the Hd 650 is a very good headphone which will sound even better with EQ, but I don't think it should be the last headphone you should buy.

For that, I would recommend its bigger brother, the HD 800S. With EQ it will be as flat as you want it to be AND it will be a real champ for sound staging. Given you've already spent to give yourself and amazing DAC in the Octo DAC 8 (I own one too, great isn't it?), I think you should consider going for a true end game headphone. The HD 800 S's will not disappoint in that regard, you'll love them.
Thanks! There's nothing so great as someone who says "I think you should do exactly what you're thinking of doing," which in this case is buying the expensive HD 800S.
I'll have to work on the EQ. It sounds challenging but fun, and perhaps rewarding at the end of the day.
 

solderdude

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I'm looking for a pair of headphones that don't need it and will be notably better than the Sennheiser 650s. I was thinking about the Sennheiser 800 or 800s - I wouldn't want to go above $2k.

What do you like to see 'improved' on the HD650 ?

Comfort, ease of drive (loud from a phone), less 'warmth', more sparkle ? deeper bass ? More clarity ? Better 'dynamics' ? better stereo imaging ?
Will you always be using a digital source only ?
 
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MarshallG

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What do you like to see 'improved' on the HD650 ?

Comfort, ease of drive (loud from a phone), less 'warmth', more sparkle ? deeper bass ? More clarity ? Better 'dynamics' ? better stereo imaging ?
Will you always be using a digital source only ?
I don't know...just "better." Better sound. Clearer, better separation, bigger soundstage...I don't have any specific complaints about the HD650, but...I didn't have any specific complaints about my Dragonfly Cobalt either, but when I got an Okto Research dac8 it was clearly "better." Better resolution, I could hear more fine details, the music sounded more realistic. I'm hoping for a change like that.
 
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