What's your most 'true to life' headphone?

What is the headphone you go to when you’re looking for the most lifelike representation of whatever you’re listening to, and what’s your source chain?

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Uh I don’t know what a true to life headphones is supposed to mean, but what I can give on what I represent as myself as a headphone, my answer would probably be still the Audio-Technica M40x. Because to me, it represents the start of something new, something to strive for, like getting into HiFi sounds for the first time when I bought those back then. Also to me it represents a humble background, kind of like mine, it’s a relatively normal childhood not too rich nor poor but good enough to continue living as much as you can for yourself and family, like the M40x when I first tasted the sounds of it, that is also the point that I am like, man life can be good sometimes and man it did become much good when those tones, soundstage, details and magnanimous explosions of good sounds coming to my ears.

Very interesting question. I’m not going to answer it because I’ve been struggling to define “true to life” in a way that is meaningful. But, I’ll drop a few thoughts for discussion…

  • I think some define “true to life” as “what the artist intended.” IMO, this is chasing a unicorn. The only way to know if a system has reproduced “what the artist inteded” is to have said artist listen to that system and either give it thumbs up or thumbs down. Unfortunately, Jimmy Paige has expressed no interest in coming to my house and hearing my system to tell me if Stairway to Heaven sounds like he meant it to :pensive: :grin:. The phrase “what the engineers heard in the studio” is a variation of this theme and subject to the same pitfall.

  • I think the closest “true to life” we can get is to make things sound like what they sound like in real life: voices sound like voices, pianos sound like pianos, drums sound like drums, etc. To determine whether that’s being done requires intimate familiarity with the things being listened to. If you’re a human who can hear, you’re qualified to comment on vocals. Being a social species with oral communication ability we hear voices all the time - at least when we’re not locked down due to a pandemic. So if we pay close enough attention, I think we’re all ‘qualified’ to comment on vocal reproduction accuracy. Whether we can judge instrument sounds well depends a lot on how much experience we have hearing those things IRL, IMO.

  • My suspiscion is that in short of flagship-level of performance, or maybe even including flagship level, an individual piece of kit may only be capable of a close approximation of “true to life” in a fairly narrow range. Some headphones excel at vocals and midrange but can’t get cymbal sounds right. Some get cymbal sounds right but can’t do vocals. Some do bass…and that’s it., etc. Your question may be about ‘overall true to life’ but that’s probably a way of asking “which headphone in your collection does the largest number of things right?”

  • “True to life” may not even be a relevant question for electronic music/instruments. What is the natural sound of an electric guitar? Tinny vibrating strings. Electric guitars are meant to be amped, distorted, EQ’d, and manipulated in a nearly infinite number of ways. Synthesizers are capable of creating a nearly infinite set of sound patterns that have no “real” or “natural” sound.

OK, I’ll stop blabbering. Curious to see where this discussion goes. :beers:


I think you hit the mark pretty well. I think certain headphones or IEMs are good for specific things to make them sound lifelike or true to life, but it is very contextual and there really isn’t one headphone that does this for every kind of music. I find my Sony MH755 IEMs to be very good for jazz because of the harman tuning, but they don’t really sound true to life for some other genres or songs. I totally agree, if you want true to life you would have to get the artist to tell you what to do! Lol.
Or a cheaper option is to go to a live concert. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


My least “processed sounding” headphones would be the Senn HD660’s. The sound is definitely no frills. I thought they were kind of flat and boring at first, but I have really come to appreciate the lean sound.
My chain is:
Sony DAP (NW-ZX300) to SMSL SU-8 to Violectric HPA V220 to HD660’s via SE.

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This is the intent of the question, whether that be as if sitting in the studio with the artist, sitting in the audience of a concert hall, or sitting in a field at a festival or amphitheater. It’s more about timbre and recreation of space than the intent of the artist.

I’m not an “Audiophile” in the strictest sense of the term, so I can’t really answer that question…However I do love the way my various IEM’s entertain me depending on my mood and genre i’m listening to.

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Currently, if I want true to life, RME>G111>NDH20

Slight bass elevation, but other than that, I consider the NDH20 to be very true to life, from a tonality/timbre standpoint mostly.

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Some state its what the recording master tech “made” it to be…and this may be with or without the artists knowing, approval or understanding the final “sound”.

To me life like is more of the transducer being able to reproduce an well recorded instrument so when listened to its sounds like that instrument, in tone, faithful repro…the old strings sound like strings, violins sound like violins, piano sounds like a real piano…nylon strings sound like nylon strings etc…

If the transducers do this very well, any well recorded and mastered source should so pretty much like the original recording…or very close to it…tonally.

So many variables here that make up the final sound…etc

I’m not around live instruments (especially acoustic ones) often enough to be able to define “true to life” properly. However, as far as human voices go, the HD600 is my reference.

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depends on what really. vocal timbre prbably my 58x, very natural sounding. my 4xx for drums and guitar though. the timbre on them is just very naturali guess “lifelike”.

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I just discovered toms diner and suzanne vega is stuffed in my center channel.

As I watched this video, it reminded me what your thread was about…Listening to this, and I have the HEDD’s here…some of the comments by Steve was stating “this headphone put me there”…this is some of what this means to me…the realism etc…



Well you have your HD-600 on an OTL amp

HE-500 w/ mods and a potent amp and very good DAC

HE-6se better than the 500 except the headstage which is really not good


Susvara on a Violectric v281


Voce on a HFM Jr amp

Although I don’t actually have anything close to “life like” I feel my Koss KTXPRO1 give the most accurate representation of acoustic instruments. If anything it could use a bit more treble and bass extension, a bit more resolution, but its overall tonality is good imo.

I used to play violin for many years and participated in full orchestra stuff in highschool. The AD900x gives a great sense of air because of the way it’s tuned, but it seems too clear to be true. It’s like HDR. It’s a hyper-focused sound.

The KTXPRO1 on the otherhand makes some surprisingly convincing violin sounds with the right recordings. The things that hold it back the most probably are again the mediocre treble extension and resolution which I feel could add that extra bit of depth and fullness tp the sound.

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I recently had the Susvaras here in house for several days and go to compare with the HEDDS and Clears and other cans.

They are excellent headphones for sure, But $6K …??

They do require some watts to make sing for sure…Schiit Jotenheim, Soundaware P1, Schiit Lyr 3 and Schiit Asgard 3 all worked well.

The Meze Emperyeans I just got have to be the mose “true to life” headphone I own. They are made for people that want to listen to “music” not charts and graphs and worry about if they are competitive in price with other cans…simply one of the best to just listen to music for musics sake…

Highly recommended!

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I know Abyss makes better but the Diana Phi is phenomenal. Granted to sound decent I need to have a specific amp and DAC pairing. @lost33 you need significant more power for the Susvara. What DACs did you try it with as well?

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Susvaras are usually available from 2-4 outfits on the net “open box” for $3600-3800.

Outside of perhaps the Voce on the HFM Jr and the latest 007 on the BH I can think of no better headphone than the Susvara. Best on a Violectric V-281, not bad on Lyr 3, better on the Mjolnir 2, also nice on the Rag 1.

Ha…yes I do know the susvaras are hard to drive and need some power…that in itself tells u something.

I am not bad mouthing them at all…they are excellent cans. But there are other choices that are very good as well that provide an excellent listening experiences at lower cost IMO.

I used several amps, including the Soundware P1 6 watts balanced…drove them very well…Jot only 7.5 watts balanced, Lyr 3 6 watts etc…

Dacs i use are the Schiit Bifrost 2…had the Chord Hugo TT2 here only $5495.

So IMO significant power…well when I cant crank up the volume to more than 10oclock and it blasts my hearing into outer space…and if u have to use a “speaker” amp to drive these specific cans this tells me another thing…time to go listen with my 2 ch setup with its megawatts!!!

But true to life or “lifelike” experience can be had by the Susvaras but for me the Emperyeans are just as good, very, very musical and at HALF the cost! And u dont need a speaker amp to drive them to 130 db!



This is for the Emperyeans…go put the numbers in for the other cans…very interesting.

While the susvara do need more power than most headphones, they also really require quality power, so you do want a powerful amp but you also want an amp that can deliver quality power as well that is on the same tier as the susvara to really make it worthwhile, otherwise imo the he1000se might actually be a better pick as it’s more easily brought to it’s potential without needing as demanding signal chain as the susvara (but if you give the susvara a really good signal chain it’s pretty phenomenal)

Powering the headphones properly is not only volume, you can get good volume out of the susvara with most decently powerful amps, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to sound the way it should. Just looking at things on paper will really not tell you much at all if a headphone is actually going to sound good on a specific amp or not, you can try and guess but it really ends up being hit or miss. Regarding putting the susvara on a speaker amp, you can, and it can be really good, but it’s also not needed if you have a really nice headphone amp, personally for myself I find that I use the susvara on both speaker and headphone amps equally, whereas with the he6 I really only tend to prefer them on speaker amps, even though they have very similar specifications in terms of power requirements

The empyreans are somewhat amp forgiving which is nice for a flagship, although that does mean they tend to not scale as well from my experiences, but much easier to deal with when it comes to picking a source chain for them