Harman Target

Love it or hate it, the Harman Target curve is having a considerable impact in the headphone hobby (and industry). However many people misunderstand how it was developed and what it means. Much of that is because the full research is behind an AES paywall. I came across this article written by the head researcher, Sean Olive, that gives the most complete summary I have seen so far:

(the link is a bit flaky because the web site’s SSL certificate keeps expiring)

I thought this article would be a good starting point for discussing the Harman Target in general.

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Overall I am a fan of the research and target in general, but there are a handful of caveats:

  • It’s good for a reference point but shouldn’t be EQ’d to in my opinion

  • Individual HRTF may not fully agree with the target, and that’s perfectly fine. Personally, I find the upper mids too shouty; -3dB sounds much more natural to my ears.

  • The measurement equipment used wasn’t all that accurate above 10K, and I personally like slightly more air above that region

  • The smoothing of the target is too aggressive; I want to see a raw target without smoothing

  • There’s too much bass in the most recent target iteration. Straight up.

Resolve does a really good job of explaining the pros and cons of the Harman Target in general, for what it’s worth. I think the research is extremely educational and invaluable; it’s also misunderstood by a lot of the community it seems, at least based on my viewing of other forums, reddit, YouTube, etc.

P.S. I am a huge fan and proponent of Floyd Toole’s work; his book “Sound Reproduction” is highly recommended!


Unfortunately even if the GRAS equipment was accurate above 10K, an individual’s HRTF varies too much above 10K for the data to be useful.

The research shows 21% of the listeners in the study agreed with you, while 64% of them prefer the amount of bass in the target and 15% prefer more.


Hey thanks for posting that. I think I need to do an update video on the target that goes through more of the research in detail. But I actually think this video is the more comprehensive one when it comes to the beneftis/downsides of the target we most commonly use:

I’m very interested to see the research done on the 5128 and how that’s going to shake things up.


True true, which is why I mentioned HRTF variance.

Indeed. Although, I was referring to the newest iteration of the preference curve; the 2013 curve bass shelf is more my style.

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Thanks. I almost posted that one too. But when I saw the title I thought I must have misremembered the amount of Harman Target content in it.

Just trying to get a lot of good reference material together in one topic. :sunglasses:

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Is Olive working on a target using the 5128? I thought in your interview he said he’d basically moved on to other things.

I’m not sure what’s going on there - they may be working with it and just not making it public, which would make sense given that it’s technically part of the way they tune their headphones. Why give everyone else that same advantage.

But, the more people get 5128’s the better.


Dr. Olive is in his 60s. After 22 years as the Director of Acoustic Research at Harman, he moved on to what looks to be a more emeritus role of Senior Fellow in 2015.

I’m sure there are other people who are more actively involved in day-to-day research.

One thing would be useful is some sort of translation function or map between the different rigs. I assume that should be straightforward. The only thing I can think of that could make it kind of nontrivial and research worthy is if measurable volume as a function of output power into the headphone transducer is non-polynomially affected by frequency and rig (pinna, canal, etc.).


I might add that if there are others taking over the R&D of it all then I would love to see an updated version of the Harman How to Listen. I downloaded it, and it’s very useful, but is showing it’s age.

Of course this is coming from a guy whose company I work for still uses mainframe…dos…lol



Agreed. You can’t even run the Mac version unless you’re still using a really old MacOS.