If you recently bought high-end headphones, you’re quite likely to come across what’s called a “Harman target curve” or just a “Harman curve.” You might have read a review that the headphones are tuned for your target, so they sound great. Or you might have seen an edgy comment suggesting headphones tuned to Harman’s curve.
But why are more manufacturers, audiophiles, and reviewers paying attention to the Herman curve?
There is a lot of science behind the sound of headphones, much of which is covered in our primer. Speaker measurementHowever, in some respects, headphones are even more complicated. This post is intended to be an introductory book for making more informed purchase decisions, rather than a complete guide to headphone measurement.
What is the Herman curve?
The Harman curve is a science-backed headphone frequency response target.Created by Dr. Sean Olive and other researchers Herman Audio In the 2010s (Harman is owned by Samsung and includes headphone makers such as AKG and JBL), it’s the result of several studies trying to identify what makes great-sounding headphones.
Basically, the Herman curve seems to be the current best answer in science to the question “Which frequency response is most preferable for most people?”
It is worth noting that what people “like”, as seen in speaker frequency response measurements, is largely interchangeable with what people consider to be “neutral.” People simply tend to prefer what sounds most natural to them.
It should also be noted that there are several versions of the Herman curve. For example, the target depends on whether you’re talking about over-ear headphones or an in-ear monitor (IEM, also known as earphones). Also, through ongoing research, the goals have been slightly adjusted over the years.
What does the Herman curve look like?
This is the latest version of full size headphones (blue) and Harman Curve for IEM.
The above does not apply only to “raw” headphone measurements that have not been specifically calibrated. This is also the response measured on the particular test gear used by Herman. Measurements made on other devices cannot be completely compared.
It doesn’t look flat at all! Why does it sound neutral?
There is thorough evidence suggesting that speakers with a flat frequency response when measured in an anechoic chamber are preferred by listeners and perceived as neutral. So why is the target of Harman headphones so far from the flat line?
The first part of the answer is in our own body. When listening to speakers, or musical instruments or voices, much of the sound passes through the head and torso before reaching the eardrum. The sound from the left speaker passes through the nogin and the frequency response changes before it reaches the right ear.
Correct this sound Head related transfer function (HRTF). Our brain is smart and uses this sound modification to understand where the sound comes from.
The problem with headphones is that these frequency responses do not change when you bring them closer to your ears. The sound from the headphones directs your gaze directly to the ear canal. So instead, it’s up to the manufacturer to find a way to roughly emulate an HRTF with the frequency response of the headphones. Headphones with a truly flat frequency response will sound terribly dull.
However, it is not enough to reproduce the sound of the speakers in the anechoic chamber with headphones. After all, no one (except scientists) listens to speakers in an anechoic chamber. Therefore, the second part of the Herman curve duplicates some of the characteristics of the speaker response in the room.
When a good speaker is placed in the room, its sound will be slightly tilted (details). why In us Speaker measurement guide) There are many basses and few trebles. Speakers are generally perceived as neutral, but the brain uses the tilt of the room to position the sound coming out of the speakers so that it is present in the room.
Herman scientists believe that music is generally mixed for listening to room speakers, so ideal headphones try to reproduce the sound of a room’s excellent speakers, resulting in large bass bumps in the Harman curve. I did.
The final curve was determined by responses from study participants, but the basic principles are the same. The best headphones are the ones that sound like the best speakers.
But we all have different tastes in music! How can I handle all with one frequency response?
This is the problem: you’re probably not much more special than you think.
According to Harman’s research, as with speakers, the vast majority of people have similar preferences in headphones, and those preferences can be largely predicted by frequency response data. In one study, researchers found that measurements could predict over-ear and on-ear headphone preferences with an astonishing 86% accuracy. For in-ear monitors, the model was even more accurate, at 91%.
One study (Olive et al., 2014) tested listeners from different countries, age groups, and experience levels. Participants scored differently for each headphone, but trained listeners, for example, tended to be more critical. Ranking The same is true for headphones.
That said, there are person-to-person variations. Older study participants generally tended to prefer bright headphones due to deafness, while women tended to prefer slightly lower treble energy. Some users preferred bass more or less. Different specific recordings Circle of confusion.. And we all have different head related transfer functions, and the HRTFs are a little different. Perfect Headphones for individual listeners that are difficult to predict.
However, these changes in taste tended to be far more subtle than audiophiles often claim. Despite individual differences, listeners tended to prefer headphones tuned with the Harman curve, so the overall contour of the Harman curve seems to be significantly prioritized over other tuning methods. If you can quickly adjust bass and treble with headphones, and have the flexibility to accommodate a wide range of listeners and genres, you can explain many of your taste changes.
So is it only the frequency response that matters?
There are certainly other things that can affect your listening experience.
If the headphones have excessive distortion or strong resonance at a particular frequency, it may not sound great. Listeners usually need a lot of distortion to get their headphones down, but they do.
From time to time, headphones may track Harman’s curves very closely, but they have drifting peaks that you find really annoying. Also, Harman Curve does not fully consider the spatial quality that depends on the size and design of the headphones. For example, two headphones can have similar sound balances while exhibiting different spatial qualities.
Aside from pure sound quality, there are certainly other important qualities to consider. For example, some people don’t buy headphones without noise canceling. Many listeners consider comfort a top priority. Other headphones may not be loud enough for your use, and still other headphones may have too much waiting time for your taste. These quality of life characteristics are often as important as sound quality.
Still, frequency response is important when it comes to sound balance.
So should I buy only Harman headphones?
of course not.
The currently known target curve was developed by Harman, but its headphones are far from tracking the target alone. Some headphone companies have independently reached a frequency response that closely tracks the Harman target prior to development, while others have fine-tuned the headphones to match the curve.
Similarly, not all Harman headphones match the curve. This is especially true for older models from some companies.
I’ve heard Haman’s curved tuned headphones, but I didn’t like them! So what?
First, you need to allow at least a little time to adapt. If you’ve been listening to poorly tuned headphones for a long time, your ears may be a little used to it.
But if that doesn’t help, that’s fine too. The Herman curve was not considered to cover all of the sound quality. Instead, it provides a science-backed starting point. This is a big step forward from the unplanned tuning that many headphones had decades ago. Most listeners have similar tastes, but the best headphones can be a little different from Harman’s target.
Nonetheless, I argue that for headphone enthusiasts, the experience of headphones tailored to the Harman curve is important. This is a useful reference.
The Harman curve is becoming an increasingly industry standard, providing a perspective on headphones that deviate from the sound. According to reviews, the bass in Headphone A is lower than in Headphone B, the latter following the Harman curve. If you’ve used Harman-style headphones, you’ll have a better understanding of the reviewers’ impressions and how they relate to your tastes.
Headphone acoustics is an area of ongoing research, especially as binaural audio, Dolby Atmos, and other spatial audio technologies become more popular. You may find that the ideal headphone response will continue to evolve over the next decade. For example, some companies are trying to adjust their headphones to suit their individual hearing.
In the meantime, buying headphones tuned to the Harman curve may not be your favorite, but it’s the safest way to get what you really enjoy.