You’ve found headphones that you like, you’ve probably checked a few reviews, and even the customer reviews check out, but how do you actually know if the headphones are really worth the price and if the sound quality will be fit for your needs?
Testing. It’s all about testing. But how does one actually tests headphones? What if you don’t know a single thing about the sound quality, yet you’re just looking to get decent audio quality?
The sound is all about the tones, frequency, and a few aspects related to sound. Therefore, sound quality can be easily determined with a few songs. Maybe not your favorite songs (even though that can be a good place to start), but songs that will easily let you focus on different sound aspects to determine the quality.
Now, you don’t need to be a pro, but once you understand what makes a sound and why is it important to keep an eye on it, you will easily be able to compare headphones and determine which sound better.
So let’s get to it as this post might actually be an important stepping stone to overcome and unleash your skills!
Why Should You Test Your Headphones?
What makes sound different in all headphones is the audio driver (in other words, a speaker) that is placed within the specifically designed headphones.
As you can probably guess it, without testing the headphones, you won’t be able to compare it to other headphones, but there’s much more to the story. Without testing the headphones, you won’t be able to know how quality the headphones are or the intended use for the specific headphones.
Now, if you test a few different headphones from the same brand, you’ll notice that the quality will differ. The reason for that is because brands produce headphones for the different intended use and they always try to top their sound quality.
Of course, the sound quality matters, but sometimes, there are a few different versions of sound that are equally good, yet they are a better fit for a number of different uses. Therefore, testing is necessary.
But what if you’ve already bought the headphones? Should you still test them and does it even makes sense to test them?
We say test them! There’s no reason not to test them, even if you’ve already bought them. You’ll gain more knowledge about your headphones, gain intel on the abilities and intended use its features, and you’ll even gain experience.
If you stick to testing the headphones, you’ll actually be able to notice that the sound quality solely matters due to the audio driver. And guess what? Two different headphones with the same exact audio driver will have the same or very similar sound.
Of course, manufacturers aren’t very keen on just writing the audio driver under the specifications, but it’s not unusual to see it. In such case, if you’re familiar with a specific audio driver, in such case, you can even purchase the headphones without testing them out since you know what you’ll be getting.
The audio quality might not matter as much to everyone, but if you’re a perfectionist or professional who is in a need of a specific quality standard – this post is the right place for you.
Aspects to Look Out For in Every Headphone Test
As mentioned earlier, sound quality is defined by the aspects and it’s all you should look into. Once you know the most important aspects – you’ll know exactly what to look out for.
In other words, once you know what you’re looking for, everything else will be an easy task.
Even before going to the songs you could use to test headphones, here are the most important aspects & factors you should look out for.
- Frequency response
- Spectral flatness
- Dynamic range
- Driver matching
As you’ve probably noticed, every headphone that are being sold state the frequency response that they can handle.
To determine frequency response, you don’t need to have the headphones with you. You can simply read the statistics released by the manufacturer.
However, if you already own the headphones, you can find the tracks where the sound is being produced from 10 Hz to 200 Hz.
Some of the best headphones will go as low as 20 Hz, which you also the lowest limit of our hearing. Keep that in mind.
Along with frequency response, testing out for treble extension is a wise thing to do – and it can also be done with a proper audio track. Good headphones will be able to produce a treble extension of up to 20 kHz, which is the upper limit of the human hearing range.
You don’t want your headphones to sound flat. Why? Because our hearing isn’t perfect and we actually need headphones that will compensate for our hearing curve.
Here, you will have to determine the frequencies reproduced by the headphones and make sure they consistently fit between lower and upper limits.
You don’t want a dip or peak in a particular frequency range. The way to test is to use a perceptual sweep spectral flatness test that will determine the quality of the headphones.
For some people, this might not be really important, but we believe it’s very important for musicians.
What dynamic range represents is the difference between the loudest and quietest signal you can hear from your headphones.
However, dynamic range isn’t officially a part of the headphone specifications so you won’t be able to find it stated by the manufacturer, however, it can help to determine the sound quality in a noisy environment.
The easiest way to determine the dynamic range of your headphones is with the Dynamic test.
You might not know this before, but even when you’re simply checking the headphones for the sound quality, you have to pay attention to the build quality.
The reason for that is simple. Poorly assembled headphones can start to rattle during loud or deep bass noises.
The quality of headphones build can be tested by playing a Bass Shaker test track which will literally shake the audio drivers in your headphones. The sweeping tone should stay clear and pure at all frequencies.
Buzzing or rattling is a sign of poorly assembled headphones and that might affect the overall sound quality, especially with the bass.
Every headphone comes with two drivers, left and right driver. The point of paying attention to the drivers is to make sure they’re matching each other.
The left driver should match the right driver, and vice versa in order to reproduce a faithful stereo image.
The easiest way to test whether the drivers are matching is to use a Full Range Sweep track and make sure that the sweeping tone keeps the perfect central position during all frequencies.
We would recommend you to do this test twice with headphones reversed, just to make sure you don’t mistake your ears & hearing for the quality of the headphones.
There is much more to wiring than a simple wire that is most of the time the biggest hassle to headphones users who aren’t ready to go wireless.
The wiring of the drivers is important and the relative polarity between the drivers should be preserved. This means that during the input signal, both drivers must be moving in the same direction.
If they move opposite of each other, the sound might not be symmetrical and centered. The correct wiring can be easily tested with a few tracks specially designed to play left/right sound and center/twisted sounds.
How Pros Test Their Headphones?
Even before learning the ways pros use to test their headphones, now when you know the most important aspects and factors to look out for, it’s time to learn about the 3 most common sound types out there.
Sound quality is also known as a signature, so if you ever read something about the signature – you should know that it’s referring to the sound quality.
The reason it’s referred to as a signature is that there are a number of different sound interpretations. And as mentioned earlier, there can be a few different headphones with few different sounds, yet still, be equally good.
Three most common signatures are:
However, there are many other sound signatures such as mid-focused, bright, warm, and dark. Learning the meaning of every one of them can be very useful so you can easily categorize the headphones. This will help you when comparing the headphones or determining their quality further.
If you went and talked to the pros, you’d get different answers. The reason for that is the following. There are no one-for-all tests, however, all pros rely on the aspects of sound quality and they’re really brilliant at understanding everything there is about the sound.
Once they know exactly what they’re looking for, they’ll easily find it. But one thing is for sure, they’ll all tell you that other than performing some audio tests to determine the quality of the headphones, they’ll always end up their tests by listening to some songs (even some of their favorite ones).
And we’ve learned that it’s exactly what pros have in common when they’re testing the headphones. We’ve even went really far to get some of the most favorite songs from pros that they use during their headphone testing.
We know that’s exactly what you came here for, and we won’t keep you any longer – so let’s just get to it!
Here are The 8 Best Songs to Test Your Headphones
Here is the list of 8 songs which we will briefly explain, and you can use them & combine them with some of your favorite songs for the best results.
1. Fleet Floxes – Fool’s Erand
This song is perfect for testing the midrange quality, and it’s a song that has been on a quite a few lists of professionals we’ve interviewed.
Vocal lines can easily be found in this track which is really important when you’re testing the midrange, however, stability and warmth, along with a support for lower frequencies & vocals can be judged by listening to this single song.
2. Explosion in the Sky – Wilderness
For testing the overall balance, we were pretty excited and surprised to find out that this song was on the list of one professional during his process of headphones testing.
When we’ve questioned him about this song, he told us that this song is perfect for overall balance because usually, it’s not easy to get the overall balance right.
This track covers a lot of frequency ranges which makes it very possible to determine the overall balance after a few tries.
3. Havergal Brian – Symphony No1 in D Minor
While this song might look very odd (and it is odd to some people), there is even a reason why the D minor version is chosen for headphone testing.
It’s a song that is very suitable for testing the level of detail since some headphones really lack detail, and while it can be hard to spot it – it’s fairly easy with this track.
This song features large scale orchestral pieces which make details stand out throughout this song.
4. Pharoah Sanders – You’ve Got to Have Freedom
This song is perfect for testing the treble quality, and as we’ve mentioned earlier, other than using a few test tracks, using a song like this is the perfect way to determine the quality of headphones’ treble.
What’s really good about this song is the saxophone which is very loud and clear, and that’s what you should put your focus on. You don’t want your ears to bleed from a terrible treble quality, right? Give this song a try!
5. Darkside – Paper Trails
Bass is very famous nowadays, especially with the number of DJ’s and electronic music – and this song is perfect for testing out the bass control. While there is a number of songs you could come up for testing the bass, this one seems like a touchdown.
This song won’t wobble your ears yet it will actually let you hear what’s going on down there and depending on the quality of your headphones, you’re either going to hear it or not. This song has a very moving bassline which is why it’s a song #5 on our list.
6. BadBadNotGood – Speaking Gently
You might not know this by now, but some pros go even a step further to test their headphones for rhythm and timing. Yes, you’ve heard it right.
While this might not be really important to you, it’s definitely important to professional musicians. And believe it or not, there’s a song that’s perfect for such test.
This song might be simple, however, it offers a solid beat and timing which feeds how instruments interact. If you listen closely, you’ll be able to pick up every single instrument engaging and disengaging from the song.
You don’t want your headphones to sound loose and disorganized during the performance, so test your rhythm and timing no matter the intended use of your headphones.
7. Joe Goddard – Lose Your Love
While most people find this one to be crazy (even we thought the idea is a bit silly), until the moment we’ve met with a professional who showed us the way he tests headphones for excitement, drive & enthusiasm with this song.
After all, you want your headphones to have a “soul”, right?
While this song can be replaced with a number of different songs, this exact song will make you feel every beat drop, and that’s what’s so special about it.
8. Arvo Part – Tabula Rasa
If you don’t test the headphones for a dynamic range, you might get a flat performance which might make your headphones sound like a rehearsal.
This song is full of large-scale dynamics which don’t stand still yet fluctuate, and as they do, you’ll hear it in your headphones – if they’re good ones.
We’ve found out that even this song is really good, it can be replaced, and if you’re looking to test dynamic range with any other song – we recommend you to look out for a song with a smaller-scale dynamic range.
Such a choice will make a greater impression and will make it easier for you to determine the range. Pay attention to the voices & expressions, since that’s what’s important no matter if you’re watching movies or listening to your favorite tunes.
Even though all of this might seem overwhelming at first, especially if you have no technical experience and aren’t an audiophile – we are here to tell you that it actually isn’t.
You might not understand the terms of the aspects & factors, but after just reading a bit about them, you’ll know exactly why are they important, what they do, and even how to recognize them.
These 8 songs might be a bit strange at first, but once you give it a bit of your time and you listen closely, you’ll be able to notice almost everything we’ve described in this post. If you can’t notice all of it, your headphones are maybe not as quality as you’ve thought.
Instead, trying out different headphones at the store or borrowing some from your audiophile friends (we’ve all got that audiophile friend) will help you practice and learn more. But for now, this post is a great place to start and lead to ultimate & quick quality checks.