The Objective, Subjective & Dejected Thread

I can’t stand ASR or Reddit when it comes it to this debate. At ASR there attempts at speaker impressions is cringy, They had 8 page war why speakers have high THD & can’t grasp why it inaudible. Right after me being deemed a troll defending the ER4XR/SR225e thd levels and why <0.1% for a tranducer is unrealistic.

But at /r/Headphones instead you get rude assholes that will shift on wither there subjective or objective when it fits their weak as hell claims. Like how the ER4XR, HE400i, L300ltd beating dynamic drivers for speed & detail/res is somehow a bad thing?. I’ve had a user there going around telling me that BAs have high THD but stop replying & give me 0 when i show him ER4’s that rate <0.3% @ 100db. Or revert to some subjectivist woo on why dynamic’s slower bass is more realistic when many have pointed out that ER4XR & many planar fly away with metal/electronic music.

That not getting on the anti Grado gang there that needs to remind people why they wasted money on a high end grados.

My review of the E1DA 9038S Gen 3 touches on a lot of the issues discussed in this thread:

My readers are likely familiar with my long-stated belief that if a playback device is coloring the sound, something is wrong with the source device. My initial listening experience using the 9038S challenged that conviction. I could not shake the sense of improved clarity and detail retrieval offered by the 9038S over the sources I originally used to review the Smabat ST-10S. I decided to evaluate these impressions under more controlled circumstances.

I connected one earbud to The Element and the other to the 9038S and volume matched the two sources using my Dayton iMM-6 microphone to 1/10th of a dB. To do this, I aligned the center of the earbud face with the center of the tube coupler bore and secured the earbud to the coupler using micropore tape around the earbud circumference. I then played a Redbook copy of “Archetype” by Fear Factory and switched back and forth between the two sources.

To my surprise and in the face of my long-held conviction that all well-designed sources should sound identical, the earbud playing from the 9038S sounded tighter, more detailed, and more spacious, with better definition of and separation between notes, while the earbud playing from The Element sounded slightly smoother and warmer in tonality.

I repeated this test using the same track with the Moondrop S8. This time I took care to ensure that both The Element and the 9038S were set to 24 bit /44.1kHz in shared mode in addition to volume matching, which I had not done in my initial comparison using the ST-10S. My differing perceptions of the two sources remained audible.

I will note that this is a sighted comparison and not a double-blind test. However, I will also note my predisposition towards dismissing claims of audible differences between sources coming into this comparison, an attitude I have held since early in my audio journey. Additionally, I am mostly confident that I would not have been able to distinguish between the two sources examined here without the benefit of instantaneous switching.

There are two alternative explanations for the conclusion I have reached. One is that channel imbalance can explain my perception. To assess this possibility, I measured both channels with both sources. Based on my measurements, I am skeptical of this alternative explanation given the minute differences in matching between the left and right channels of the S8. There are minute variations in my measurements between the two sources in the upper-treble region but I am inclined to believe these are a result of tiny differences in insertion depth and bore angle during the measurement process as opposed to frequency response differences inherent to the hardware. The other alternative explanation is that I hear better in my left ear than my right ear. While my hearing range is indeed around 200 Hz higher in my left ear than in my right ear, I can perceive sounds above 19 kHz in both ears. Again, I am skeptical that this explains the audible differences between the two sources.

There is a lot of snake oil in the audio enthusiast marketplace, and it should be incumbent upon individuals who claim that different pieces of hardware sound audibly distinct to make sincere attempts to disprove alternative explanations to their claims, as I have done here. This is especially true for reviewers and others in positions of influence. I certainly benefited from my training in the physical sciences as I set up the experiments I detailed in this review, but these experiments are far from exotic or complex and could be easily replicated by others.


I always try to go with my own ears and perception. But I also know just how fickle the Human Brain is. Though on the subject of Amps and Dacs my own personal opinion is that there are differences to be heard in Amps and Dac’s. I have always heard them. It is to be noted though that I don’t have Golden Ears or any special insight into these things. It may all be placebo of course (for me) but if it is then I say bring it on. I get enjoyment from the different Amp and Dacs that there are available for me to hear. Each to their own of course.

I do find it funny though that with regards to which forum you are on that the general consensus on these matters will often be forum specific. Without generalising too much of course. I often pop into Reddit. Many on r/headphones don’t subscribe to there being any difference between Amps and Dac’s. If there is an audible difference then either the said Amp/Dac is either faulty or you are a lunatic. :blush:. Measurements are taken very seriously by some an are interpreted IMHO to fit their own specific beliefs. Anyhow I don’t wish to upset anyone so I will say no more.


What Ive found since I started getting into high res audio and its playback is that you simply learn to hear. Its like training any part of your body, its gets better and used to what it is being asked to do over time. This works with visual as well, amateur astronomers will tell you that they learn to see over times when picking out details in the sky of whatever celestial delight they are observing.

I agree that it may at times take instant A/Bing to tell the difference, but that is with trying to pick out the tiny technical details, my brain and its emotional response to music can often tell me something is off before I pick it out as a detailed, exact description of what the difference is.

Nice post, interesting to read the experimental method you followed.

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Just wanted to say that it took me awhile but I’ve enjoyed reading this entire thread start to finish. Lots of good stuff here! Lots to think about! :sunglasses:


At the moment it’s only useful for showing any measured differences between the GRAS KB5000 anthropometric ear and my own pinna. I’ve done this already a few times on a number of headphones, and apart from some concha occlusion issues (where the physical microphone may interfere with frequencies around 8khz), I was surprised at how similar the results were. It kind of just goes to show that while the prevailing notion of “we all have different ears” may be true, this doesn’t show as much variance for frequency response as we may think. The pinna is only one part of the overall ‘ear gain’, so it’s entirely possible that more significant variation exists within the ear canal - but remember that the brain normalizes gain factors regardless, and so in all likelihood we actually do hear things similarly despite having different ears.

At the very least, whatever differences that do exist from having different physical ears is most likely not significant enough to override the brain’s normalization of the gain effects imparted by them.


Oh boy! There’s a mountain of science to be tested in that sentence. Sound first hits the external folds of the ear, goes through the ear canal, eustachian tubes, and bones (with bass and extremely loud sounds such as a motorcycle or hunting rifle). Then it hits the mechanical system (middle ear/tympanic cavity). Finally sound is converted into neural impulses in the cochlea. The hair cells in the cochlea do the vibration-to-nerve conversion – and then its off to the auditory areas in the brain. This product then interacts with neural circuits that communicate about physical vibrations that are not heard at all (e.g., chest-thumping bass). At the end we “hear” or “perceive” the sound. It’s the very end of a complex, multi-stream process.

Hearing and all senses require training during childhood to approach ‘veridical’ accuracy. And here is where empirical philosophy aka neuropsychology aka cognitive science comes into play. We do likely hear similarly because each species has a long history of natural selection for the senses – the senses are key to survival. However, there are indeed individual variations between each person’s hearing system.

Questions of preference for the HD 560s or ‘normalization’ of sound are very much subject to research. Some people are tall, some are short, some have light eyes/skin/ hair, some have dark eyes/skin/hair. Some love boomy bass, and some love Grados.

I cannot agree. This strikes me as a research question for the conductance/performance of the middle earl, cochlea, and auditory centers in the brain. One can have tinnitus arising at the cochlear hair cell level (i.e., damage from loud noises), or later on in the neural circuitry. One may have a less ‘effective’ tympanic membrane (e.g., larger, smaller, or ‘dead’ drum head) than another person.

All of the pieces are trained together 24/7/365 throughout childhood, so the experience of perception is seamless and often not consciously appreciated.

My hypothesis is that individual differences may underscore the classic preference spectra in audio. These include brightness, warmth, tube amps, etc. etc. etc. I could lay out a detailed research plan, or point to those who specialize in this area. However, it wouldn’t be cheap or easy to test.


In this linked post the author says he did in-ear measurements for different people and the sound they heard varied pretty dramatically.

He also says that ear/canal shape is individual to the point that it could be used for identification like a fingerprint.

I have no way to validate this of course, but he does seem to be a science/fact type guy.

It’s totally possible (if not likely) that we have differing HRTF - but that doesn’t change the fact that the general effects of ear-related gain is similar across a wide range of people. I’m sure there are outliers, but once again, even in those cases, we’ve been living our whole lives with the individual gain factors we each have. In theory, there should be a decent amount of agreement for how we hear things in spite of the differences that do exist.

Think of it this way:

Ear shape A = ear gain (a)
Ear gain (a) is normalized to sound like Q(1)

Ear shape B = ear gain (b)
Ear gain (b) is normalized to sound like Q(2)

There may be some variations in Q (1 and 2) but it should be fairly similar for most people, and the fact that A and B are different isn’t enough to account for that in most cases (I’m speculating here). Tyll had an article on this years ago, which I think is worth linking here if someone can find it.

The point being more so that just because we can show different FR results for different ear shapes, that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily sound significantly different to the people in question.


Moved it here for us to nerd out about :slight_smile:

I would actually like to get to the bottom of this though because the theory behind this stuff has also been a bit of a sticking point for me for a while.

Maybe @Mad_Economist can help clarify it.


Something to consider is also that while our brains can normalize our perceived FR to some degree, the physical pressure on our eardrums can’t be normalized the same way.

Also, this is a very interesting video on the subject:


Regarding normalization, we each adjust so that we can identify that a sound is a piano but that doesn’t mean we hear the same thing.

I t winds up meaning each of our normalizations is unique.

I know, I know. It looks like a piano, and to everyone else it sounds like a piano, but to me it sounds like an electric piccolo played with a wah-wah.

You will love Simon the Magpie. An artist’s soul.

And this:

I’ve seen the guitar strings on piano before. My neighbor is a piano tuner. The toy piano guy hasn’t looked inside enough real pianos. Would need to make some kind of metal frame, harp shaped that would screw onto the back inside the piano (sounding board). But you can’t have a sounding board try to take the stress of piano strings - recipe for disaster.

The original idea of the toy piano wasn’t too bad - sort of like an old Fender-Rhoads. A few upgrades on the hammers, and pickups for the metal rods would be much smarter.

I think I get what you are saying here. But aren’t you forgetting the additional gain caused by the interaction of your ear with the headphone? Like if you had a piano playing live, then you’d have your individual ear gain that your brain would normalize for, just like it has been all of your life. But the brain is using that same normalization when hearing the recorded piano playing through a headphone, and in that case there is additional gain from the headphone’s interaction with your ear which is dependent on the individual headphone. Isn’t this what is referred to as acoustic impedance? Or am I missing your point entirely?

I do think that there is a bit of normalization that the brain does with hearing over the course of a long listening session. Like when you use an equalizer to boost the bass a bit. After awhile, you don’t really notice it until you take the boost off again. I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t also apply to small variations in frequency response. It’s basically the same thing.


Right so

I’m not quite sure what you mean. By additional gain do you mean from the headphone’s unique coupling interaction with your head? Because that may be the cause of some disagreement.

But otherwise, the normalization that everyone has will be different for each person (because the gain factors are also different). So it’s not as though ear gain (a) gets the same normalization as ear gain (b).

Think of normalization as literally the reason the world sounds ‘normal’ to each of us, in spite of the fact that we all have different ears with different gain factors. This on its own would require some variation in terms of how it gets normalized. But that also means that the same unique normalization occurs when you listen to a headphone. Remember that headphone measurements are taken as if the microphone were at the ear drum, so headphone measurements (when done on industry standard rigs) are effectively showing how the headphone’s frequency response interacts with the gain factors of the human ear. These gain factors may be slightly different from person to person, and that means the FR may look a bit different depending at whose ear drum we’re measuring - but because we’re all normalizing for these gain factors, in theory the difference between the measurements (of the same headphone on different ears) shouldn’t mean it sounds all that different to different people.

Again, I say ‘in theory’ here, because I’ve often wondered if there’s a limit to this. Like maybe one person’s ear canal is so small that it causes certain soundwave interactions that the brain can’t anticipate or normalize for. I kind of had my mind blown a little bit recently when Mad told me that sound waves can potentially take multiple paths to the eardrum, and this has made me think maybe this is responsible - probably not for the average ear, but maybe in edge cases.


Yes exactly. I don’t see how the brain’s normalization learned by listening to the world around you could compensate for this.

Another way to explain it might be that if we could somehow play the sound from the same position as the headphone, but in free space, I agree it would sound “correct” as any ear gain is compensated for by your brain’s normalization. But the headphone itself is interacting with your ear (and head) in ways that your brain is not used to normalizing.

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Yeah I have some worries about this - like maybe there’s some interaction with the physical ear that causes a difference that’s not going to be normalized for - but then again because the pinna flange is only one small part of overall ear gain the effect would most likely be minimal. I think it’s also worth considering the effects of stuff like clamp pressure. There’s always a chance that this can significantly change the headphone’s FR for a given ear, and so how wide/narrow a person’s head is may also be responsible for why they hear something differently. So yeah I think variation for gain that’s the result of external factors like coupling likely plays a significant role in disagreement about how we hear a headphone.

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At the end of the day I always come back to using the reviews I read as guides to what the Headphone ( or other Equipment ) is like. If I decide to commit to buying something I like to prepare myself for the experience to be Better Than / Same As / Not as Good as the reviews I read.

I’ve found with the reviewers they have fairly similar hearing to me so their reviews make good guides.

Mark Gosdin

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