What Is Headphone Tuning? How Are Headphones Tuned?
by Alex. Last Updated On July 24th, 2022.
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When searching for headphones in the market, you might be thinking that all headphones sound the same and that it all depends on the driver size and other specifications that directly affect a headphone’s sound quality, but this is not true.
Headphone tuning is when manufacturers tweak their headphones to build and maintain their brand identity. Headphone brands like Beyerdynamic produce a flat signature sound, while Sony and Audio Technica have a more balanced sound. Bose likes to deliver extra bass while AKG headphones deliver music in its full resolution.
Manufacturers achieve headphone tuning by tweaking multiple factors that directly affect the sound quality of their headphones, such as the headphone driver, the materials they use to manufacture the headphones, the thickness of the earpads, and many more.
In this article, we will tackle what headphone tuning is, why headphone manufacturers tune their headphones, factors that affect the sound quality of your headphones, and the six types of headphone drivers.
Let’s get right into it.
Table of Contents
Headphone tuning and why they do it.
Headphone tuning is the tweaking of your headphones’ internal components so that brands can build and maintain their identity in the sea of headphone brands in the market. Certain brands produce music in full detail, while others are known for their extra bass.
Others produce a flat signature, others go for a sharp V shaped curve, while companies like Apple and Samsung go for a mix of everything and go for a sound that goes for a U-shape for their earbuds.
How are headphones tuned?
Headphones are tuned by tweaking all the different components in your headphones that ultimately affect their sound quality. There are a lot of various factors that sound engineers have to keep in mind to tune their headphones finely.
Here are the different factors manufacturers must tweak to get their headphones tuned.
Single driver earphone
The only component that sound engineers have to keep in mind for a single driver earphone is the driver itself and its specifications. A driver’s diaphragm size plays a vital role because it allows vibration to produce sound.
Diaphragm thickness is also necessary to keep in mind. Most headphones that are of high quality have thin diaphragms that produce vibratory motion. Speaking of high end headphones, the diaphragm material is one of the most significant factors that affect sound quality. It is where most cheap headphones can be clearly distinguished from high-quality ones.
Other factors like voice coil size and the voice coil number also contribute to producing high quality sound as it is the main component that makes sound. The voice coil height and the magnet gap size are the small gaps between the internal components in your headphones that will ultimately result in better sound.
The number and size of the venting holes in the driver’s basket are also significant factors to remember, as these venting holes are used to throw music from the headphones to your ears. A headphones damping felt is also used for the same purpose as venting holes.
Most cheap headphone manufacturers stop improving their drivers, thinking it’s the only way to produce top-quality sound. But other factors directly affect a headphone’s sound quality.
A headphone’s enclosure is also a crucial factor that will directly affect a headphone’s sound quality. Ear tips are the ones that go directly inside your ear canal. While their primary purpose is to provide comfort for the ears, they also play an essential part in delivering high quality sound. Hence, an ear tip’s thickness and material must be chosen appropriately.
In addition, the front and back volume behind and in front of the headphone drivers also directly affects its sound quality as extra air inside the headphones might produce a muddled sound.
The venting holes at the front and back of the headphones play a significant role in throwing out music from the drivers to the listener, so choosing the right size and length is essential to keep in mind.
And lastly, the density of the damping felt must be appropriately examined to deliver good sound quality.
6 things that affect headphone sound quality
Various factors influence audio quality on headphones and earbuds. Here are the 6 things that directly affect a headphone’s sound quality.
When it comes to sound quality, people first think of the headphone’s driver. And while a headphone driver is a significant factor affecting sound quality, they are not the only thing you need to keep in mind.
There are different types of headphone drivers which produces different frequencies, properties, and strengths. Here are the six different driver types.
Dynamic drivers or moving coil are the most simple drivers among the six types. This driver type uses a neodymium magnet to interact with the voice coil; this interaction oscillates the diaphragm, producing sound waves.
Dynamic drivers are the go-to choice for most headphone manufacturers because they are relatively cheap to produce, power-efficient, and can cover a wide range of frequencies. Paired with larger diaphragms, they are a good choice for people with love a strong bass.
However, a downside to dynamic drivers who create sound waves with a strong bass is that its audio quality can get muddled, especially in higher volumes.
Despite this, they are still used by headphones manufacturers such as the Sennheiser HD800, Sennheiser HD 660 S, and the Focal Stellia.
Planar magnetic driver
Also known as isodynamic, orthodynamic, or magneplar drivers, the planar magnetic drivers are mostly found on high-end headphones. In planar magnetic drivers, the diaphragm material is in between magnets which are affected by the electromagnetic field created by the magnets, thus producing sound waves.
Extra magnets are installed in the drivers to allow the diaphragm to vibrate evenly, and these heavier and bulkier headphones will enable you to listen to accurate and clean sound; they ensure low distortion and will produce music in its full resolution.
Planar magnetic drivers are used in open back headphones, in ear headphones, and over ear headphones such as the Audeze LCD-5, Obravo ERIB-2A Earphones, and the HiFiMan HE1000se.
Despite this, they do have downsides as they require an amp, are more extensive and bulkier in design, and are more expensive to purchase.
Balanced armature drivers
Balanced armature drivers are tiny drivers commonly installed on in-ear headphones because of their small design. Balanced armature drivers are super efficient and can produce sound in multiple frequencies without distortion.
Most in ear monitors come with three of four balanced armature drivers, one specifically tasked for bass notes, while the three or four are responsible for the remaining frequency responses.
Because of their small design, they cannot reproduce bass response accurately, such as in earphones like Mangird Tea, 1More Triple Driver In-Ear headphones., and Ikko OH10.
Headphone manufacturers identified this bass response problem and added dynamic drivers into their headphones, thus creating hybrid drivers to account for the bass reproduction.
Although balanced armature drivers are compact, portable, and provide excellent sound isolation, they have issues regarding bass response and are more expensive than dynamic drivers.
Piezoelectric drivers produce sound by applying voltage to the piezoelectric material, and the electricity alters the materials’ physical form, allowing the diaphragm material to vibrate, thus creating music.
Due to the atomic-level workings of most piezoelectric materials, they can convert even the faintest audio signal to music. Their high sensitivity and unique factor make them an excellent choice for some.
However, audiophiles don’t like piezoelectric drivers as fine-tuning is entirely impossible on piezoelectric materials, they don’t have fantastic sound quality, and most of the time lack bass.
Electrostatic drivers are the rarest and the most expensive headphone driver type.
Electrostatic drivers operate by applying electricity to a film layer between two metal plates, and vibrations are then produced as the diaphragm material pulls and pushes between the two metal conducting plates.
Electrostatic drivers produce music in their best quality, can reproduce sound accurately, and boast a high sensitivity. However, a downside to them is that they are hard to find, can be super expensive, and requires an amp to reach their full potential.
Bone conduction drivers
Bone conduction drivers are the ones installed on bone conduction headphones. These drivers can send sound waves directly to your eardrums, bypassing your ear canal. Since bone conduction drivers transmit sound to your bones, they are the preferred choice for most people with hearing impairments.
While bone conduction headphones are becoming increasingly popular, they still have much to catch up concerning sound quality. And since they rest outside your ears, bone conduction headphones will not provide you with good sound isolation.
Headphone design also dramatically affects the sound quality your headphones can produce. Most audiophiles prefer over-ear headphones to prevent ambient noise from coming in and distorting the music they are listening to.
If you like listening to music without it being muddled with ambient noise, you can opt for headphones with active noise cancellation.
Earpad material and size
Earpad material and size also significantly contribute to producing high quality sound.
Headphone manufacturers tweak even the smallest detail to attain their sound signatures. The bigger the earpad, the more distance there is between your ears and the speaker, producing a much wider range of sound.
The earpad material is not only responsible for generating a soft cushioning between the user and the headphones, but they are also tasked with creating sound isolation to prevent the background noise from entering your ear canal.
There are different headphone plugs currently used by headphone manufacturers. Specifically, there is the TS, TRS, TRRS, and TRRRS. Although this is the most negligible factor, you must remember that the headphone plug type still indirectly affects the sound quality and directly affects the audio output it transmits.
Bluetooth headphones and earbuds are installed with a Bluetooth codec that allows them to connect with your device and produce sound. There are different Bluetooth codec types; some are better suited for music streaming, while others perform better game sound signatures.
If you want to listen to high-quality music, choose Bluetooth headphones with an LDAC or LHDC codec. If you are into gaming, you can opt for AptX and AptX HD Bluetooth codecs.
Custom EQ tuning
Last but not least, the custom EQ tuning from headphone manufacturers also directly affects their sound quality. You can even compare two headphones with identical specifications and will be guaranteed that they won’t sound the same; this is because certain brands create their headphones with their own sound signatures to make them unique from the competition.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you retune earphones?
You cannot physically retune your headphones because of some physical limitations of accessing the insides of your headphones. You can, however, reset the audio output from your device to the standard by accessing your device’s equalizer settings.
Is higher frequency better for headphones?
No, a higher frequency does not mean better sound quality. Below 20 Hz frequency response means that bass is hardly heard, while a 20,000 Hz is not audible. But a headphone with a wide frequency range is something that many sound engineers and audiophiles look for in a headphone.
If you want to listen to music privately and safely, headphones are the way to go. Headphones can be pretty expensive in the high end headphone tier, so you want to get what you paid for, and what better way to do this than by being able to listen to music at high quality with a specific sound signature from your favorite brand achieved through headphone tuning.
We hope this informative article has helped you become more knowledgeable on headphone tuning and how headphone manufacturers can achieve it.