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Toronto AES Announces October Presentation on Headphone Quality

aeslogo6_smallThe Toronto chapter of the Audio Engineering Society will be hold its October meeting on Oct. 22 at Ryerson University. The meeting room will be in the Eaton Theatre, RCC 204, Communications Building, at 80 Gould St., Toronto.

The speaker will be Sean Olive, director of acoustic research for Harman International and he will be speaking the growth of the high-end headphone market. Here is more from the AES Toronto bulletin…

Do Listeners Agree on What Makes a Headphone Sound Good?

The popularity of headphones has now exploded to produce annual worldwide sales of almost $10 billion.  Premium headphones ($100+) now account for 90% of the annual revenue growth,  as consumers’ audio experiences are becoming a primarily mobile one.  Market research indicates sound quality is a driving factor in headphone purchases with brand and fashion also being important factors among younger consumers. Yet, ironically the science behind what makes a headphone sound good and how to measure it is poorly understood. This combined with the lack of perceptually meaningful headphone standards may explain why purchasing a headphone today is like playing Russian Roulette with your ears.  The magic bullet to achieving more consistent headphone sound quality is science.

We recently conducted a series of controlled double-blind listening tests on popular headphones (both real and virtualized models) to better understand the relationship between their perceived sound quality and acoustic performance. A second set of experiments measured listener preferences of different headphones equalized to different target curves responses including the recommended diffuse and free-field target curves. A third set of experiments used a method of adjustment where listeners directly adjusted their preferred bass and treble levels of a headphone and loudspeaker equalized to the same in-room target response.  In this way, we could measure the variation in individual listeners’ taste in headphone spectral balance, and determine the extent to which the preferred headphone target response should simulate the response of an accurate loudspeaker in a reference listening room.

Together, the results of this research show that when the influence of brand, fashion and celebrity endorsement are removed from headphone tests, both trained and untrained listeners generally agree on which headphones sound best and this correlate to their acoustical performance.


Sean Olive is Director of Acoustic Research for Harman International, a major manufacturer of audio products for consumer, professional and automotive spaces. He directs the Corporate R&D group, and oversees the subjective evaluation of new audio products including Harman’s OEM automotive audio systems.

Prior to 1993, he was a research scientist at the National Research Council of Canada where his research focused on the perception and measurement of loudspeakers, listening rooms, and microphones.

Sean received a Bachelors degree in Music from the University of Toronto, and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Sound Recording from McGill University in Montreal. His Ph.D. research was on room acoustic adaptation and the acoustical interaction between loudspeakers and rooms.

Dr. Olive has written over 30 research papers on the perception and measurement of audio for which he was awarded the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Fellowship Award in 1996, and two Publication Awards (1990 and 1995).

Sean is the current President-Elect for the Audio Engineering Society. For more info see www.linkedin.com/in/seanolive

For more information, go to www.torontoaes.org.

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