EQ... "Endgame"

I’m not sure what percentage of users of this and other similar communities use EQ or not. At one point I was more interested in hearing whatever sound was inherent to a particular set of headphones or earphones. Later, I came to a conclusion that to a greater or lesser degree they are all flawed.

Like probably a lot of people I looked to oratory or auto-EQ presets, but I never found the results particularly impressive. This could be attributed to various factors, choice of target curve, measurement rig error (as it related to eg Harman’s rig), unit to unit variance, my own personal HRTF or ear canal resonance. Were any of these results “better”? They were certainly different, and you could adjust to this new sound, but in hindsight they were still quite flawed.

Case in point. Creative Aurvana Live! When I listen to this headphone using sine sweeps the peaks and dips I hear do not correspond to ANY measurements I could find online. Applying any EQ based on these measurements just results in something different, but not correct (for me). After I went though the process of running sine sweeps, and manually EQing to produce a more or less flat (perceived response), the headphones were transformed. I originally thought they sounded pretty ok, but now if I switch back and forth, the stock sound appears deeply flawed. This touches on a point that we can adjust to more or less any frequency response (within reason).

I’ve performed some similar adjustments on other headphones. My approach is generally to use the variable band graphic EQ in APO, as it is quick to make quite precise changes. I aim to get a sine sweep to sound constant (amplitude) across the entire audible range. This is fine for frequencies close to one another, but a frequency response could have slow changing tilts which would not be picked up with this method (for example it would be difficult to accurately compare 100hz with 6000hz with this method). So it can be beneficial to add a secondary EQ, applied at the same time to conform to some standard response curve (some headphones might have a whole region recessed or exaggerated). Generally speaking I find Optimum Hifi curve to be a good starting point (for over ear headphones), though I can appreciate others would want more bass. But this alone is unlikely to be sufficient, as it doesn’t account for unit variance, HRTF etc.

An interesting note on this is that I perceive the ER2SE as almost completely flat beyond the sub-bass roll off, but I don’t think that the overall curve is correct or optimal. It’s a relatively good earphone, but it is not ideal. It is also a good earphone to EQ because of its low distortion.

So, I suppose I should get to the point. To me it makes no sense to be continuously purchasing new headphones or earphones, dacs or amps. I was on that treadmill for a while, if you are reading this you might well be on that treadmill also. It’s a complete waste of money. You have the possibility with the equipment you already own to achieve a better result than anything you would likely purchase off the shelf (it is obviously better and easier to start from something needing less correction, and there will be limits with very flawed designs).

“Technicalities” cannot be separated from frequency response, and frequency response is entirely within our control via EQ. We often speak of qualities of the sound as if they were something inherent to the driver or technology, divorced from the frequency response, but I’ve yet to see anything to conclusively demonstrate this, and I’m sure we’ve all witnessed relatively cheap sets outperforming much more expensive ones.

The main problem is that it is not easy to get a good result with EQ, it is very hard and even if you can do it, it will take a long time. I believe the focus of this community or “hobby” should be in improving methods for creating decent, personalised EQ settings NOT on identifying the next slightly better/worse/different transducer or some amp or dac which colours the sound (or for that matter cable worship).


Very interesting post. While I agree EQ often can improve headphones’ sound, let me be the proverbial devil’s advocate for a moment.

IMO the best counterargument to the “Technicalities (…) [are] entirely within our control via EQ” was said in one of Crinacle’s videos. Paraphrasing his words: “you can try to EQ ATH m50x to sound like Sennheiser HD800s, but there will always be a difference and m50x will not have as big soundstage as 800s”.

I wondered about this thing one day and came to the conclusion that the two opposing theories: 1.Frequency resonse is everything;
2.There is such thing as technicalities;
kind of meet halfway. While the frequency response (being based on time domain) is how a headphone sounds, like Crin said, m50x cannot sound as wide as HD 800s.

IMO combination of things like harmonic distortion, resonances, size of cups, beahviour of sound waves inside of cups etc. is the reason why EQ cannot do everything.

1 Like

I agree on soundstage*. Maybe that is included in the bundle of “technicalities”. However, I would differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsic soundstage. Ie soundstage that is present in the recording (created through a relationship between the microphone and the sound source) and soundstage that is not (created as a function of the transducer to the listener). Generally speaking soundstage is of lesser concern to me than “timbre”, tone or realism.

*RTings has done some work on equating soundstage to frequency response. There do seem to be some common traits among headphones deemed to have a large soundstage.

However, I would note that none of my experiments with trying to recreate this effect through EQ have proven particularly successful. Although this perhaps falls into the same area of pitfalls with trying to EQ off some random measurements. I could get some small effect maybe, I certainly could produce an effect where the perceived position of some element of recording would shift back and forth when turning an EQ on and off, but I never arrived on something impressive or “good”. I don’t know if there might be some way of doing it, but I think factors like distance/angle of driver from ear, open back etc are significant.

1 Like

Interesting argument being made about “EQ to the rescue”.

Say you have an amplifier that is perfectly flat. What about the rest?
Example below: ART HeadAmp4, a cheap little thing, high-ish output impedance, power on the low end of the spectrum and yet, it measures flat to less than 0.5dB from 20Hz to 20kHz

So, what about time-domain effects?
One of them is in the graph above. Phase angel is slowly decreasing from 20 to 100Hz, then stays within ±10° up to 4.5kHz before drifting towards -25° at 20kHz
In other words, an sound containing 80Hz an 7kHz components will have the low frequencies beginning to be played before the high frequencies.
To make this worse, a hardware EQ is likely to widen the difference in phase angel.

Other time domain effects I would regard as rather important are ringing and impulse response.

Additionally: All of the measurements (including mine) are done in conditions where the amp under test is only up against inductance and capacitance of the test leads. There is no voice coil with widely varying impedance and inductance.
Since most people listen to their music instead of watching curves on a screen, I’d say some more realistic loads are required.

Yes EQ can improve the sound of headphones, but much like a PC what software can do is limited by the hardware. Many headphones have limitations in the physical design that can’t be fixed without modding. EQ and modding also remove so much of what makes a headphone unique that I don’t see the point. The supposed “flaws” of a headphone is part of the fun of this hobby as we discover new things in our favorite songs. Last time I checked this hobby was about enjoying music.

The problem with the rtings soundstaging tests (and a lot of their other tests are really just objectively wrong as well) is they they’re just flat out objectively wrong. Like laughably wrong.

All sound might be contained in FR (as long as time domain is accurate) but that doesn’t mean that the headphones can reproduce your ideal UNSMOOTHED FR. FR smoothing hides a lot and hides resonance and harmonics that can compound pretty hard resulting in a completely different FR than a smoothed graph will show. A lot of technicalities of a headphone are semi baked into the overall design and EQ can only accomplish so much and is pretty coarse compared to how drastic the peaks and dips are on an unsmoothed FR graph.

Right, ever get that feeling you’ve touched a nerve?

I’ll leave this article/interview here for anyone interested.

There’s an interesting experiment at the start which you can run yourself. See what you think. Pretty convincing I would say. Also some comments regarding time domain importance (or not).

With regards to enjoying “music”, for me it is about enjoying music, not about experiencing the “flavour” of various headphones. For some maybe it is about the latter, and that’s ok if that’s your thing.

This “EQ to the rescue”-argument is being made over and over again.
Just because everyone and their dog makes (half-assed) FR-measurements and preaches “big audio” being after everyones hard earned cash does not make any of it useful.

Imagine setting up speakers for a concert in a church.
No matter how much you tweak your DSP and SpeakerManagement, it will ALWAYS sound like a church, since that is the venue you are in.

99% of the posts in this forum are about flavour of the month IEMs or Headphones, there are very few comments, let alone “over and over again” regarding EQ (that I can see). I’m much more comfortable advocating someone to improve their experience for free, than jumping aboard another hype-train. As a fellow enthusiast I’m sharing my perspective and experience, with the hope that it may help others. Did you even read or consider the article?

No argument here. But we’re not speaking about loudspeakers in a church.

1 Like

I will gladly read psychological case studies or electronic/EE magazines/articles, but not “look at us”-blurbs when the party writing it has themselves a horse in the race.

1 Like

Earpads is where it’s at, I used to think like you but I still like to have a collection of headphones for different presentations of sound, comfort, open or closed, etc.

Eq just makes all headphones sound the same frequency response wise, plus it’s insanely annoying to manage profiles once you have a collection, also pads can change soundstage and imaging which Eq can’t really do even with crossfade effects or thx whatever (neither do source equipment fight me).

to each their own. all i know is, no matter how much software i throw at other headphones, none of mine sound as good or natural, with vocals, as my senn hd600’s. And if i want to listen to rap or electronic, no amount of eq makes them have enough good sounding bass.

eq is wonderful for sure. but i know personally, to disagree 100% with that thesis paper, that i did read most of.

I also own the CAL’s, and they are great for the price. but no amount of eq makes them all that detailed. it just makes them bright. and there is a huge difference.

Planer bass can not be eqed to a dynamic driver no matter how hard you try.

And I am not hating. I am truly glad you found a way to get more enjoyment out of your equipment and experience. Just also see the other side of the fence. Don’t hate on people with money to spend.

For one thing, your assuming everyone coming to this forum has a collection already. There are many who come here for their first pair. Constant reviews and user insight into the latest and greatest could help a new person wade through it all.

There are not many threads dedicated to eqing, but there is plenty of talk on the forums about it. Many here do EQ. And those same people own many pairs of HP’s or IEM’s. hell there are many iem’s from what i can tell, that require eq to be even listenable. pretty sure a few HP’s also fall into that.

I like your passion for it, just focus it on EQ. and how much it has benefited you personally. no need to bring negative vibes around. sound reacts differently in different settings. a closed wooden cup with thick leather pads will sound way different then a thin plastic cup with thin perforated pads. and no amount of eq will make the 2 sound the same. eq can’t vibrate material that doesnt exist.

edit: and i do think this thread is a good idea in general as eq can save the day for people. i just disagree 100% that it can make all headphones the same.

at least in my case EQ is both inconvenient and inaccessible with all my different use cases.
I do agree with generally being able to improve something more to your ears with eq.
but if you could find something that does that stock (price not an obstacle) wouldn’t that be best?

1 Like

that’s my modus operandi!

I agree with OP for the most part. Even Crin had a video saying that EQ is free upgrade.
However, all driver types don’t sound the same… It’s like saying that all engines feel the same. DD is a internal combustion engine, BA is an electric motor and hybrid well are hybrids.

Just because someone sits in front of a camera, makes a podcast or writes a blog does not mean they are knowledgeable on a subject. It is a logical fallacy that I am guilty of myself on occasion.

It’s tough because every opinion out there in the world (in every hobby) is there to make you buy something or upgrade. In the end, people have to make their own opinion and purchase at the price they are comfortable with.

I don’t use EQ for the most part but only as a temporary measure to fix a transducer or to help me figure out what to get next.

By all means! EQ/DSP/w.e. to your hearts content. Whatever works for you.

I am just sick of this “but X said to do Y because greatest thing ever”, which is also common in every hobby.

1 Like