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The search for headphone truth with Sonarworks’ True-Fi

  • What does the future of headphone listening look like? If you’re Latvia’s Sonarworks, it’s post-analogue: DSP-powered correction of a headphone’s frequency response with personalisation options for bass and treble, the latter adjusting for a decline in high frequency hearing as we age.

    Install Sonarworks’ True-Fi software to Mac OS or Windows to create a ‘virtual soundcard’ for your playback software’s audio output (up to 24bit/96kHz), select your headphone from the drop-down and enjoy better sound. That’s the premise. At CanJam Europe in Berlin I took it for a spin.

    The improvements brought to bear on Sony’s MDR-V150 (€20) and Marshall’s Monitor over-ear (€100), both driven directly by a Macbook’s own 3.5mm socket, were nothing short of astonishing. With True-Fi’s DSP in play, we can still hear each headphone’s limitations but yet without it both models are contrasted as close to unlistenable.

    As one might expect, True-Fi’s improvement deltas become less pronounced the better the starting point. However, even high-end models like Sennheiser’s HD800S aren’t immune to DSP-based corrective surgery: greater headstage width being the most pronounced improvement heard by yours truly from a two-minute show audition. Furthermore: I’m 45 but I found the ’45 years old’ treble correction too aggressive; ’37 years old’ proved more agreeable.

    At time of writing, 112 headphone models are supported by True-Fi with a heavy lean on Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Audio Technica, Shure and Sony.

    From the floor of CanJam Europe’ Marketing Project Manager Rūdolfs Putninš explained that in measuring a headphone model, Sonarworks doesn’t just acquire one pair but multiples, sometimes up to a dozen, depending on how wide the deviations in measured frequency response between the first few pairs. Putninš reports that Sennheiser are the most consistent with production, XXXXXX* [see footnote 1] the least (“largely down to untraceable driver updates”). (He also reports that Sennheiser’s HD650 measures better than their HD800S).

    Putninš and his colleagues collective experience with per-unit production inconsistencies points to a fundamental flaw in a reviewer and his readers’ pursuit of headphone measurement ‘truths’: own one watch and we might think we know the time but with manufacturer inconsistencies in play, we could be off; own two watches that show different times and we’re torn between two different ‘truths’. The upshot? A handful of watches might be required to tell the time with even the slightest degree of accuracy.

    Sonarworks derive a headphone’s measured frequency response curve from multiple measurements of different pairs of the same model. Only then can they apply their in-house developed target correction curve (note: not Harman’s) for coding into the True-Fi application. One side-effect of this multiple-buy approach is that Sonarworks are apparently the number one seller of “pre-measured” headphones in Eastern Europe.

    Sonarworks offer a 10-day trial to anyone wishing to try True-Fi before committing €79 to a full license.

    Further information: Sonarworks

    Footnote 1: Manufacturer name removed at the request of Sonarworks.

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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