Please describe "treble sensitive"

Who out there describes themselves as “treble sensitive” and what does the term mean to you? Can you describe your experiences while being so? I recognize the dictionary definition would mean a listener who has an ear that is quicker to perceive and be irritated by high frequency sounds, but I’m more after what the experience is like while it’s happening here.

Context: I would describe myself as “upper-mid sensitive”. If a headphone/speaker/iem/amp/DAC has a bit of a bump - or sometimes even is flat - in the upper-mids I will perceive a honkiness or shoutiness that breaks the tonality quite quickly. Also when there are loud sounds, my ears hurt as a result of upper-mids more and before other frequencies. I think I’ve mostly found equipment now that holds up reasonably well in the mids at higher volumes (we’re talking 70-75 db averages here, which is plenty loud for me) and am now noticing loss of tonality in the highs. Crash symbols in particular are now becoming more piercing and sounding like not crash symbols - just a really harsh kssshhh kind of sound. Basically, what sounds really good around 65 db is losing its integrity once the volume goes past ~70db in the treble range. I’m hoping your descriptions of ‘treble sensitive’ will help me determine if I am too and thus need to rethink equalization and/or look for warmer sounding gear in the future.

FYI, I’ve been noticing this to varying degrees on all the headphone/iem and amp/dac combinations I’ve tried among SU-8, Topping D10, Modi 3, Magni 3, Atom, SP200, Loxjie P20, 6XX, 4XX, DT880, M1060 (modded), Dekoni Blue (with Sure 1540 pads), OH10, & Tin T3. That’s all mid-fi stuff, so maybe I just need to eventually (funds allowing) up the headphone game? Also, FWIW, I own and quite like Definitive Technology SM45s and SM55s - I don’t notice the treble shrillness Z reported in his SM55 review at all until those get closer to 80db sustained, and that’s just generally way too loud for me anyway.

Thanks for your thoughts, all.


I’m not particularly treble sensitive, but I own a pair of Audio-Technica M50x and on some songs if you crank the volume the highs just murder your ears, especially if you have the stock pads. For me, the high frequency becomes unbearable after a short time and gives me a headache. If the volume is low enough though I can avoid the problem altogether. I’m assuming for someone that is treble sensitive this problem is just more extreme.

I think it’s best to first describe listening fatigue.
I reach a point with a lot of stuff where it’s just not fun to listen, I need a break.
I am treble sensitive I reach that point on a pair of Beyers inside a few minutes, I can appreciate what they do, but I just don’t want to listen to them.
I think much of this has to do with how much volume we listen at, I like vocals and I feel I want to turn up the volume to the point where the headphones do that frequency range justice, but on some headphones that means the treble is at much higher levels which leads to me wanting to turn things down, but then I lose the sweet spot with the vocals…

Avoid Grados, lol.

Treble-sensitive, for me, means… “Ssssss” in voices, snares, sometimes drum kicks even (you know these modern bass drums doing kind of a “thump” but a damn acute “tick” at the same time…), but especially cymbals, is annoying or even makes me say “ouch” when boosted 5dB or more. It never happened to me in real life, in front of real drums, with real people talking or singing, etc. Sadly, a 10khz, 5dB or more bump seems to be a trend with some headphones who can’t do detail properly. Consumer stuff, or inexpensive but still “audiophile-oriented” stuff, just engineered to make you think the headphones are detailed when they’re definitely not, they’re just… annoying, lol.

1 Like

Im treble sensitive in the frequencies where sibilance occurs but not particularly sensitive beyond that or before that. i dont mind a sharp signature s long as it’s not agressive or sibilant

I’m pretty sensitive from 6khz to 7.5khz I think. Those frequencies really cause pain with certain headphones.
The M50x are kind of known for having murder treble and shoving the details into your ears in a non-pleasant manner.

Oof, had to dampen my T1 MkII Headphones alot since they hiss hard with voices (10kHz, 12dB bump). Imagine listening to She Said She Said by the Beatles with a 10kHz bump of that size, especially with how their Stereo Recordings before Abbey Road were. Not even a laid back Tube Amp could help them.

1 Like

Thanks all. It appears that many of you associate “treble sensitive” with pain. My ears don’t really hurt as a result of what this loss of timbre/accuracy in the highs. For me the pain still happens with loud and aggressive upper mids. To my ear it’s just a noticeable loss in sound quality. Cymbals just stop sounding like cymbals. So maybe I’m not treble sensitive and am just learning to hear the limitations of my gear.

But a related question…what causes sibilance? Is it necessarily a boost in the 4-6khz range or is it distortion the human ear picks up because we talk to each other a lot, are used to hearing lots of ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds, and thus know when we’re not hearing those well?

1 Like

Unless it’s a really bad case, it does not necessary need to result in pain. As a previous poster mentioned, it can be just fatigue and tiredness that you need to take a break.

Possibly. I find headphones and iems with a boosted 8k to be sibilant

I find 10 kHz to be Sibilant, and 12 kHz to be Hissy too. Usually they give me headaches if a song is already sibilant due to being an older recording/bad mastering.

Certain older recordings are noticeably sibilant even on my HD 600s for example, albeit not painful/annoying. It simply reveals an artifact of the recording from that time.

Like older Sheer Heart Attack recordings are pretty sibilant, especially Killer Queen, but with the HD 600s and my dampened T1s (MkII), I can tell the recording is sibilant, but it doesn’t produce pain/annoyance since the driver itself isn’t adding onto said sibilance.

My T1s (MkII) before dampening however could get super painful on quite a few songs, then I dampened them and voila, with very minimal loss in imaging and sound-stage I managed to reduce the 10 kHz range by quite a bit and now I don’t want to tear my ears out every time I use them. On the contrary, now I absolutely adore them, especially on tube.

Honestly when I first got my T1s (MkII) I didn’t really have that sibilance issue, it’s more that now I’m simply alot more sensitive to treble and bass for some unknown reason, almost instant since I don’t recall a transition.