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The Unfree Tree

Oh the joys of re realizing the same thing over and over again. I have the attention span of a windshield wiper. As if it is some great revelation I was out surfing this morning and pondering the less than thrilling weight of affairs of many of the projects in which I am immersed and then it dawns upon me. Heck, it is just winter darn it. I know this, I always know this, Winter is slow, sluggish resistive and lackluster for a touring rock n roll human, except for surfing and the snow sports. Anyway, I guess another way to look at it is I can feel the excitement of summer rock shows and general happiness looking and it makes me happy.

Occasionally in life we stumble across things that touch our hearts and bring us great concern. While driving home the other day I was shocked and dismayed to see this:

Yes, Share the Road! What the hell are they thinking? Road sharing is stupid. Oh wait, no, that's was not it. Oh that's right, it's the Unfree Tree! Truly a travestree. Caged and no longer free to roam and hunt it will surely starve to death. What crime could this tree have committed to deserve this? I don't know, but I do know that I had no choice other than to do what I am sure everyone of you is thinking right now. WE MUST HELP FREE THIS TREE!

So with the help of my daughters we started a Free the Tree page on Facebook. Though we have no idea how it will help nor a plan or strategy whatsoever, if you feel so inspired, please join to help save the Unfree Tree!

**** Sound Nerd Speak ****

In case ya have not noticed, the cold, yes cold! it gets down to the low 50's here sometimes at night, weather has me spending more time indoors protected from those fierce elements. And what better to to do with some shacked up home time than to pull out the video camera and the power tool and spend some quality time undressing a few of the hottest wedge monitors on the market.

And if that is not enough, I had a great time playing Lego blocks with the new final production model EAW MicroSubs that arrived last week.

Hey, check out the mysterious ne L-Acoustics box called KARA


I guess the big debut is going to be at MusikMesse Frankfurt. Is what I see a mini K1 version as dV-Dosc is a mini V-Dosc? oooooh!

Ok, let me ask you this. How many of you know the difference between a 'Free Field' and a 'Random Incidence' measurement microphone?

Ha, some tweaky stuff going on there! And to think that a cheap mic and an old sketchy RTA is more than enough resolution to easily weed out 90% of the headphones I tested.

I thought this was a quite credible and convincing test of doppler versus phase distortion that seemed to coincide with the simple testing I did

**** End Sound Nerd Speak ****

Can O Worms

As much as I enjoy new adventures, it is just such a can o worms. So we have been looking for awhile to revamp the Rat Sound web site which is in dire need of a face lift. We actually have started the project twice with two different web designers and I guess a combination of cumbersome and bad luck have us still in limbo. So frustrated as I am I decide "hey, I will just catch up a bit on web site skills and dial in something till we can get her done right." Heck, just deciding what we want is a major challenge.

Anyway, so I buy a few books yesterday and dive into the sore eye screen stare while fumbling pages both paper and web. Wow, I don't know if I am happy stunned happy or just so lost in the ether world that it no longer matters. Either way, I have been using the page as a test bed and there is some really cool stuff out there, though I am not sure I really know how a lot of it works.

What I think I know is that I was able to copy bits of code and embed my twitter site using a profile widget so that my last 4 tweets are shown. Using Feedburner's BuzzBoost I was able to embed this blog, and the Rat Sound Message Board such that the most recent posts are shown and automatically updated. I found that I could create a custom Youtube video player that auto updates and drop it into the page as well. 

If all works as precariously planned there is a bucket brigade of events all now interlinked where soon after I post this blog, feedburner will grab it and generate a tweet which should be grabbed by myspace and facebook updating my status as well as send off stuff to various unknown locations related to whatever those little check boxes I was having a party clicking upon. Why you wonder, or maybe that is me wondering. I can honestly say I do not really know other than the nerdiness of seeing if it all works. To spend massive amounts of time in order to save barely any. Or perhaps I just like opening big cans of worms just to see where they go.

And I am sure that all this is just elemental kids stuff but none the less, it bends my mind in knots and I am only on day 1 though not sure how long I will last. Oh I so crave the relaxing peaceful sensation of mixing a great big giant rock show.

The Mighty Headphone Quest

Is winding down as I settle in on three so far. I have a few more still coming in but for now the Denon AH-D5000 and Denon AH-D2000

are my favorites. Big, no folding expensive headphones that truly do sound impressive. Ha, isn't that just my luck, figures that the best headphones I can find are in the Denon consumer line that Rat Sound does not even have a dealership for. Oh well, I never would let that bias the testing anyway so it is actually kind of cool. In second slot and a bit more reasonably priced are the The Ultrasone HFI-680's

and they scored really high with clean HF, solid LF and they fold up as well. And darn it, Rat did not sell those either, but the folks at Ultrasone are super cool and we worked it out a to be an Ultrasone dealer now. The Shure SRH-840's came up well as well. Spare earmuffs, removable cable and foldable, they are a bit dark sounding but robustly built and solid.

I also did stumble across something I thought was interesting. If I turn up sound in one ear and leave the other ear off on some headphones I hear some sound in the ear that is of and in other headphones I do not. Furthermore, the sound I do hear, though low volume, it is not great sounding and tends to be distant and resonant. I hope to do a test and measure it. I am thinking possible factors are with whether they use 3 or 4 wires from the connector, wire length and wire thickness used in relation to driver impedance.

Ok, so what next. Oh, here is a video I put up a while ago and what is really whacky is if you look at the comments people leave me.

Ok, I am soooo curious to see if this whole posting thing works like a domino chain or a house of cards. Oh and if you have comments or suggestions, love to hear them!

Dave Rat

Progress and Doubt

So I am listening to the news and all this hullabaloo about issues the instantly undrivable Toyota cars and as the story unravels it seems to be steering in the direction of two primary issues. First, there are cars that are doing something that the driver does not want, I.E. accelerating without being told to do so. The second issue arising is related to the cars not doing as they are in instructed, I.E. continuing forward when instructed to stop.

Now answer me this. We keep hearing reports that the acceleration issue is related to throttle linkage. Hmmm, does that make sense? How does a mechanical connection decide on its own to accelerate and tell the car to move faster? Hmmm. Now there are reports of a computer processor causing delayed braking on Prius models that actually do make sense and it is beginning to sound a bit familiar. Something about software and glitch and delay. Hmmmm, that has never happened before, oh wait, except everyday on just about everything computery I own. Could it be that cars are finally catching up to where our laptops have already gone and our digi live sound boards are deep into going? That wonderful digi ether world where our actions are analyzed and what actually occurs is some mathematical processed interpretation that we cross our fingers will actually occur in a timely manner? It is true that no longer does stepping on a gas pedal actually move a mechanical butterfly in a carburetor but instead initiates whole series of calculations and e-decisions which arrange a multitude of things in such a way as to hopefully inspire the car to move in a forwardly direction. Not unlike our new world of audio where the actual audio signals no longer need to even enter the knob and fader units we use to control them. Boot-up times and turning a knob results in stair steps of audible gradations after waiting that awkward fraction of a second for the console to get done calculating what it is you asked it to do.

Don't get me wrong, I love my laptop and rely on my cell phone with a smile. But would I use either of them to control the brakes or accelerator in my car? Perhaps I would but that would indeed add a new dynamic of cautious awareness to get my head around. And what about our non life and death world of audio? I must admit that as one who still is holding on to enjoying the fading world of analog mixing, I smile knowing that arbitrary acceleration and braking while awaiting a software update are two issues I do not have to worry about happening mid rock show.

Ok, enough useless but fun babbling, lets get on to the important stuff. There are so many concepts I have wanted to unravel and yet never had a method of documenting and demonstrating them that is enjoyable and easily shareable. In my latest video adventure I figured out a simple way to demonstrate the difference between pickup patterns of some popular vocal mics. I have been using om7's for years on artists that stay on top of the mic (sing with their lips against the mic grill). I have read and heard some pretty interesting and colorful opinions and comments on why one mic is better or worse than another but rarely are these opinions qualified with supporting facts. Also, recently I have spent some time and effort developing and manufacturing an adaptor to mate Audix mic capsules with Shure wireless transmitters. Why? Well, I made a video that answers that question.

Also, I have two more videos up from the Mighty Headphone Quest showing the low frequency volume testing on some of the cans. I have it narrowed down to three pairs so far but new headphones to test are still trickling in.

And oh, thank you Matt and Paul

for taking care of me at the Musicares gig.

I reluctantly forgive you for putting me on a PM5D because as much as I hate to admit it and find them no fun to mix on, it was the right tool for the job with so many bands, it just made sense to roll digi. It was only one song but it was also the first show with Chili Peppers rocking the new guitar player Josh. All good, this is going to be cool, cant wait till the show hits the road though it will be a while.

Finally for today, say hey to my new roommate Bones

Ok, off to ponder my next adventure.


The Mighty Headphone Quest Part 7

So my headphone testing continues and I actually think I am finding a few pairs that match or beat the Sony CD3000 reference pair. There are many inter-related factors to look at:

  • Frequency Response
  • Sound quality
  • Maximum usable volume
  • Isolation
  • Fit
  • Comfort
  • Size
  • Cost
  • Cable type and length
  • Construction quality
  • Service-ability
  • Any special features and on and on

I am going to do my best to eliminate any opinions and focus on the relevant measurable aspects. So first I started with flat response. Why? Well heck, if you have a pair of super wide response super low distortion headphones but half the frequencies are twice aloud as the others, what good will it do us?

"Oh yes, sir, oooh, you are in the business of accurately reproducing color images for huge crowds? Well take a look at this video projector, It is an amazing, high resolution and very accurate for everything except everything that is the color red will be twice a bright as anything color green and you can barely see blue at all." Crazy business!

So I believe that an even frequency response is the most obvious and basic of requests. I am testing testing with leniency and what I believe to be a sloppy spec of + or - 4 db from 30 to 12K. Furthermore, I do my best to get every pair to pass and whenever possible and give them the benefit of the doubt if they are even close. At this stage it is not about eliminating as much as it is about finding.

I realize my test methods lack many of the high tech perfectionistic angles and that is intentional. I don't know about you but I have personally read some pretty amazing claims about various pieces of audio gear and have seen many accurate and complex test setups constructed to reinforce claims stunning sound quality only to find out that the testing done is focused on a small aspects and offers an incomplete story of the big picture and real world experience. I have also read many profound and ludicrous claims of audio wizardry backed by false logic, pseudo science and blatant lies with no form of testing credibility.

My goal here is to side step both of the overly technical and voodoo magical angles by offering some simple logical and inexpensively repeatable testing that will hopefully allow people to draw useful conclusions as to what to expect from the various headphones.

So first I sought out flat response and thinned the pack a bit and now I am ready to move on to the phase 2 challenge. I am now going to subject all the headphones that meet or are close to the + or - 4 db spec to a low frequency volume test. My experience has been that it is very difficult for headphones to cleanly reproduce very low frequencies. Another issue I often run into is headphones that just do not have enough output and are incapable reaching adequate volume levels without distorting. I guess the question to be pondered is "What is an adequate volume level?" Well, I personally tend to mix around 103db to 105db A-weighted and and 110db to 112db C-weighted or flat weighted. Since I am looking for live sound headphones, I believe it is reasonable to expect the headphones I seek to reach actual show volumes. This way I can PFL the instruments at the same volume I expect to hear them when the PA is on and if they have a reasonable amount of isolation, I will be able to hear the headphones over the PA during the show.

Hmmm, a goal and a test setup. Ok, how about a tone generator on my laptop run into a power amplifier (BGW Model 85) into the headphone under test. Then a mic to measure the output of the headphones, an oscilloscope (HP 1715A) and an RTA (Klark Teknik DN60) to see the waveforms and use the other 1/2 of the power amp to power a speaker (an old Rogers Studio 1 BBC Studio monitor) so I can hear the waveform as well. Simple, easy and I can put it all together with stuff I have laying around the house here.

Here is what I am going to do:

#1) Send a 100 hz tone at a level of 110db flat weighted in the Sony CD3000 headphones. The volume level will be roughly determined by the RTA's overall level meter and the oscilloscope will show the peak to peak voltage. I will them match that peak to peak voltage for all the rest of the headphones I test. I have the oscilloscope set to .5 volts per division and 110db flat weighed shows up as 3 volts peak to peak (6 divisions on the scope screen).

#2) Without changing the voltage sent to the headphones, proceed to sequentially test with tones at 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30 and 20 hz while monitoring the output waveform on the oscilloscope and listening to the speaker. I will be looking for the 6db down point (1/2 peak to peak voltage) and note that as well as any strong distortions in the sound or waveform.

#3) Eliminate the headphones that perform poorly and while contemplating the next round of testing.

For the test setup, I have a mic fitted into a drilled hole in a piece of wood that I wedge against one muff of the headphones. I do my best to form a good seal and move the mic around till I get the best readings I can. To keep this blog post from getting crazy long, I am posting the most relevant waveforms rather than every single one.

Sony MDR-CD3000

Ok, here is a good looking 60hz waveform. 100, 90, 80 and 70 all look and sounds fine. There is a bit of sub harmonics showing up at 30 hz but the sub harmonics tend not to be too intrusive sound wise.

At 40 HZ it starts to drop in level a bit and it is begriming to deform a bit from a clean sine wave.

30 HZ is about the 6db down point and ignore the double traces. The waveform is clearly distorting and you can see the harmonic distortion causing 50 hz (4th from left) to rise on the RTA

and the 20 HZ is at about 1/3 the voltage and the waveform is fairly triangular. For visual consistency, I am not altering the sweep or range on the scope for any of the tests.

As you can see the waveform kind of falls apart but it did make it down to 30 with a reasonable amount of output.

So next lets take a look at the trusty and loved Sony MDR-V6. Since the V6's are pretty much the McDonalds burger of live sound headphones, I will post more read outs so there is a good comparative reference. The 100 hz looked good and here is 90 HZ which also is good but has a slight drop in level of a fraction of a db.

At 80hz we are seeing the waveform begin to distort and become a bit more triangled as the tops curve rightward a bit.

The waveform continues to degrade at 70hz and down from 3 volts to 2 volts PtoP.

And here is 60hz with a significant amount of harmonics showing up on the RTA and quite audible.



and 20HZ

Hmmm, these waveforms are pretty warped as the V6's are not happy with these frequencies at these levels. The sharper the points on those waveforms, the more HF buzz and worse the sound is. Also, look at the RTA. Each tone should be a single or double LED column with the sides dropping off. When you see two peaks with a space between them, that represents harmonic distortion, If the second peak is below the primary, that is not too bad. But when the peak is above like the 40hz harmonic above the 20hz in the pic above, then it is really audible. We were seeing similar issues with the CD3000's as well but it started at a much lower frequency. I am going to cut the V6's out of contending for "The Best Live Headphones" but maybe for a good live headphone for under $100, they could be the way to go.

Ultrasone HFI 680

At 80 they look good

At 60 there is actually a boost of a few db

at 30 there is some triangulation and harmonic distortion at a 50hz but they are holding level quite well

I forgot to shoot the photo of 20HZ but it shows less than a volt down and some triangulation to the wave but nowhere near as severe as the V6's were at a much higher frequency. These continue to be one of the best headphones I have tested so far and they get to carry on to round three.

On the Sennheiser HD25-1 II's at 70hz, you can see they look pretty good. (ignore the double trace)

Here they are at 50hz, down a volt and not looking so good

but I found that some of these headphones are a lot more susceptible to low end variations due to the amount of squeeze against the test setup (or my head). I am sure you have all found that when you squeeze some headphones tight against your head the low end gets louder. Well the headbands on the HD25 are actually quite tight as well so I tested while squeezing the ear muff tighter and dropping the drive voltage level (the scope is on .2 volts per division for this pic,) and re calibrated for the extra volume and now look at 50

Here is 30 at normal pressure

30 at reduced level and more pressure, notice the cleaner sine wave.

And at 20Hz with normal test pressure and level they are just under 2 volts down.

Looking pretty good for over the ear headphones and surprisingly superior lows over the V6's yet not up to par with some of the others. Remember, these had a very flat frequency response so on to round three.

Wow, the Sony MDR-V600 already start to lose shape at 80hz,

Bouncing back in level at 60hz but still asymmetrical rounding on the top of the waveform

Degrading severely through 50 and 40 to a clearly clipped waveform at 30HZ

and I wont even bother showing you 20hz, say by bye to V600's.

Sennheiser MD280 PRO are looked pretty good at 80, But uh oh! Looks like they are not going to fair so well. Check out 70 hz!

But wait, they come back to life if I rest the back of them gently against anything that is rigid with some mass.

My finger does not work but barely touching this little amp or the wall snaps the response back to life. You can feel the slight flexing of the plastic as well when I send a tone to them.

Really strange, it appears the plastic housing is flexing and canceling out the low end. Here they are at 40 when scooted against that amp (ignore the double traces as it is just mis triggering on the old scope.)

and here they are moved and not touching at 40.

With a 3db down point at 20hz while resting against the amp

and a fairly clean sine wave as well, these will have to stay in the mix while I contemplate the whole "has to touch something" oddity.

The AKG K271 MkII headphones came in last week. One thing really cool about them is that they actually turn themselves off when you take them off your head. Very cool but drove me crazy trying to test them till I figured it out. They tested up quite well with frequency response on the RTA but rather than backtrack here, I am going to drop them straight into the low end level testing. Here they are at 100

With a bit of a peak at 70 HZ they came back to a pretty good level but some distortion at 50

progressively sloppy down to 30

and 20 is a mess. But, when I lowered the volume 10 db, they really cleaned up and come up quite nice all the way around. I am going to drop them from the top contenders while also recommending them as an awesome set of headphones for lower volume monitoring, especially if the auto off feature is an asset to your application. I will post the frequency response at some point as well.

So I had a pair of Shure SRH 840's and the demo ended before I was done testing and I sent them back. Of course I then get hit with so many requests to test them I have to reorder a pair. Here they are at 100

Getting a few db louder at 80

Still hot at 60 but fairly clean with a bit of sub harmonics rising.

Back to normal level at 50 and 40 and starting to drop at 30 and become more triangular.

With 20hz about 10 db down but reasonably well shaped compared to most

These are looking better than I expected and will have to see how they do on frequency response test.

Next up, the Denon AH D2000. Oh my. Check this out! Here they are at 70

Still holding strong at 50 with a nice sounding sine wave and some sub harmonics coming in at 30hz

A nice sine wave and no drop in level at 30hz yet harmonics at 50hz are up

Barely any level down at 20 and still a clean waveform!

and look! not even 3db down at 15 hz! (Yes, forgot to re label the pic from 20 to 15). These are so impressive I have just ordered a pair of the top of the line of that series, the Denon AH-D5000's that I will test for ya when they come in.

Ok, so that leaves us with five pairs plus the reference Sony CD3000's and the Beyer 770 and Denon D5000's that are on their way to me next week.:

Model Disqualifier Listening notes Comments Status
AKG 271 MKII Low Volume Still Waiting Arrival Out
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 Not Arrived HF- Still Waiting Arrival Out
Apple iPod ear buds Ear buds ULF, LF--, Bye bye, ear buds Out
Audio Technica ATH W5000 Response ULF-, HF-, UHF- Smiley Curve Out
Audio Technica ATH AD700 Open Ear H-, UHF- Clear, Very Flat Out
Audio Technica PRO700 Response LF++, HM-, H- Bass heavy, powerful Out
Beyer DT770 Not Arrived ULF-, UHF+ Tonally Close
Denon AH-D2000 HF- Tonally Close Round 3
Denon AH-D5000 Not Arrived
Equation Audio RP-21 None yet Smooth, HM-, UHF+ Removable straight cable Round 2 but demo ended
Equation Audio RP-22X Response Smooth, LF++ Removable coily cable, Out
Grado SR60i Open ear ULF--, LF-, HF+ Low end light Out
Koss ESP-950 Open ear ULF- Tonally Close, no isolation Out
Koss MV1 Response MID++ Cool no tangle coily cable Voice optimized
Koss Portapro Open Ear LF+ Sound great!, small open ear Bye Bye, open ear
Koss Pro4AAT Response ULF-, HF-, UHF-- Cool no tangle coily cable Speech optimized
Pickering OA-3 Vintage low-fi Yuck! Never a contender ouch!
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II On ear Tonally close Round 3
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro HF- Tonally close, a bit dark Back in, Round 3
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro Response HM--, HI- Very smooth, LF clear Hi-Fi but dull HF
Shure SRH-840 LF++, UHF- Removable cable Round 2.5
Sony MDR-7506 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, lacks ULF, UHF Out
Sony MDR-7509HD None yet ULF-, M+, H-, UHF- Midrange heavy, Smiley curve Out
Sony MDR-90 On ear ULF- Tonally close, discontinued Out
Sony MDR-CD3000 Discontinued Ref Ref
Sony MDR-V6 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, Lack ULF, UHF Out
Sony MDR-V600 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, harsh Out
Sony MDR-XB700 Response ULF++, LM+, UHF- Too much LF Out
Ultrasone HFI-450 Response L+, M-, H- Low heavy Out
Ultrasone HFI-680 Smooth Tonally Close
Ultrasone HFI-780 Response UL+, H- Midrange below spec Out
Ultrasone PRO 900 Response UL+, LM-, M-, HM- Removable cable, Lacks mid Smiley Curve

As this test adventure progressed I have reinstated the Shure 840 as I never got a proper RTA reading on the first set that I had to send back when the demo ended.

I have found that I am getting better readings on the Sennheiser HD280 PRO's if I put some pressure on the outer shells so brought those back in the mix.

I wanted to continue testing the Equation Audio RP21 headphones with a removable cable and nice price point but for some reason they rushed me to get their demo pair back faster than I was able to put time into testing them for round 2. I don't think they would have made the "A" list but they do look like they have the potential to beat the V6's in the "under $100 street price" range.

I have been getting requests to test several other pairs from various manufacturers that I will gladly test if someone wants to send me a pair or if I can get some substantial credibility that any of those headphones have a strong chance of beating the top level cans I have already, I will consider purchasing for the test.

Will try and do a video in the next few days or so showing these the test methods and such so you can hear the top contenders as well. Here is a link to the video's so far. Cool cool, till next time rock on!