EQ? Anyone using one?


#1

Is anyone running through an EQ? I am tempted by the Schiit Loki. Pine player isn’t as good as Audirvana but it does have EQ settings.


#2

I’ll answer this in two parts, so apologies if this is a bit long … and will note out the outset that I don’t use EQ in every listening scenario. I do not, for example, find that I need it/like it with the Abyss Phi or Utopia, but I do use it for things like the Sony MDR-Z1R.

First, if you’re using Audirvana+ you can use “Audio Units” within it (look under “Preferences | Audio Units”), which are plug-ins that add all sorts of sound-processing capabilities, including EQ. There are several “Audio Units” included as part of macOS/OS X, which include three different EQ capabilities:

  • AUGraphicEQ - A simple 10 or 31 band Graphic Equalizer.
  • AUParametricEQ - A very simple single band parametric equalizer. You can get up to four bands by setting it up for more than one “Audio Unit” plug-in slot.
  • AUNBandEQ - 8 to 16 band (selectable) parametric equalizer, with multiple options for parameter types.

They’re a bit primitive compared to the third-party/commercial options but they’re free.

You can also find/buy third-party EQ tools that work as “Audio Units” and can be used within Audirvana+.

My personal favorites are from DMG Audio. For most people their “EQuick” product is probably the best way to go, as it’s not only the cheapest solution they have but also by far the easiest to use and is more than flexible enough for most purposes. I run this on my laptop for when I’m on the go.

At home, and in the studio, I use their ““EQuilibrium”” product, which is really a professional tool intended for serious multi-tracking work and has every parameter for everything it does exposed and accessible. It’s overkill, and probably confusing, for most “listening for pleasure” type scenarios.

I also have a Schiit Loki. I picked it up to with the intent to play around with it and review it. It’s a nice little unit and works extremely well - especially for those that prefer their EQ done in analog hardware. And a nice touch is that you can simply press a button to engage or defeat the EQ, depending on when you desire it.

Since my sources are either Roon or Audirvana+ I’ve just stuck with software EQ as it’s one less box and my chains are, with one exception, all using balanced connections, but if I was using a player that had no EQ options then I’d be more than happy to use the Loki.


#3

I wouldn’t be caught dead using one.


#4

@Torq First. THANKS for taking time to write a great reply! I am so stoked. I have plug ins for my ProTools and Twisted Wav programs I use for voice over. I didn’t know you could use them for Audirvana. I was originally worried that the Loki, having only 4 eq knobs would roll more frequencies than I wanted. It seems the range that bugs me is around the 12-16k range. Cant wait to tweak the highs! Thanks again!


#5

I’m finding the need…I can’t keep spending on 600-1200$ cans to find the right eq.


#6

Hi Chis,

Do you want to expand on that? What do you not like about EQ?


#7

I not only use one, I depend on them. Here in FL, which I’m in now, I have the DBX 31 band , and up north in PA its the 15 band one. on iOS, I have it jailbroken on 9.0.2 just so I can use EqualizerEverywhere. For me with a pretty saveer hearing impairment, I wouldn’t be caught without one! Just like for me, headphones such as the Eutopia do not work. They simply cannot get driven loud enough no matter which amp I use. For me headphones like the Sure SE846 is the kind of sensitivity levels I need. I’m one to set the EQ how I like it and usually leave it set no matter which headphones I’m using. The one exception so far has been the Campfire Audio Atlas. I actually need and depend on EQ’s. I’ve went so far to look at headphones that you can get system wide 10 band graphic EQ’s for, that are accessible and work with Voiceover as I’m blind and not everything is VO accessible. Of the apps I tried it looks like the Audeze one would be the best. At some point I might want to move from iOS 9 to the newest iOS, and I’m gonna have to find a different way to EQ my phone. Looks like Audeze is probably the best one, since its EQ has simple sliders that I can adjust. Now if those headphones can be driven loud enough is another story. I’d look at the closed back ones when that time comes.


#8

Wow where do I start? First off every fader is adjusting resistor and induce noise into your system. So if you have 2/3 octave eq, that’s inducing that many noisy resistors into your system. If you have quality gear, then there’s no need for one. And you’re basically re-engineering the sound the producer and audio engineer, using millions of
dollars of equipment, to create. Stereophiles spend thousands to improve the acoustics of their listening rooms rather than use an EQ. Since acoustics aren’t an issue with headphones, my advice would be to upgrade your system. High end preamps don’t even have a bass or treble circuit. But it’s up to you. If you decide to use one, at least use the software feature. What is your source equipment?


#9

Lo I totally agree with you. However it seems my budget puts me in the upper “mid-fi “ range. I’ve already dropped over 3 k on various combinations of gear. As we all seem to be learning, different cans do well with some music and not so well with others. As much as I’d love to be a purist my bank account won’t allow me to have 5 headphones at 500-1200 each. I’m a beginner in many ways so for now I’ll have to mess with eq to tame the parts that are fatiguing. Fortunately I’ve been shown how to use plug ins for Audirvana and I’ll be playing with that as an option to keep additional circuitry out of the chain. Perhaps what’s so intriguing about this hobby is the search for both the perfect setup that matches the budget. Much like affording the car of our dreams.

Woo audio WA6, Schiit Valhalla
Concero HD
AKG 701, Senn HD 600, Sony 7506, Beyerdynamic DT 1990. (Just sent back a set of LCD 2s)


#10

If I found myself with a pair of headphones that ‘needed’ EQ they would be on eBay the next day :slight_smile:
No headphone worth its salt should need EQ
I appreciate some folks may like to EQ which is of course fine
Personally, I look for equipment and headphones that are tuned well enough, made well enough not to need anything. If, lets say, in general, a particular headphone needs EQ I would argue its quite typical of a modern day headphone in that it is far from being abale to accurately replicate music in a natural manner


#11

I’ll continue to search for that pair I live without any eq. But at the moment I’m tapped out from spending on so many pair.


#12

So I come from the opposite opinion on this. I’m a neuroscientist that studies how our brains perceive all types of stimuli including audio signals and my work involves understanding the computational processes your brain does to perceive those types of signals. From a purely scientific/mathematical perspective, I would argue EVERYONE absolutely should use EQ (given the EQ software is competent and the headphones in question can handle EQ without distortion) for all their headphones.

The reason this is necessary with headphones is because we each have our own individual head-related transfer function (HRTF). This is unique to each person given your own physical biology/anatomy as well as the way your brain has learned to process sound. With speakers, the reason we can measure “flat” or “neutral” is because both ears are receiving sound information in conjunction with how it resonates and reflects around the rest of your head and torso. With headphones, you are instead forcing sound individually to each ear independently, and therefore, “hiding” important sound cues from each ear. So because of that there is no true “neutral” or “flat” for a given headphone since it is entirely dependent on your ear shape and your HRTF. Check out Tyll’s lecture called “Finding Flat” as he explains why when you look at raw FR graphs of headphones you specifically DON’T want them to measure flat.

Next, I urge you to watch David Griesinger’s lecture on binaural hearing and equalization. The link is queued up to the most important part of his talk, though I recommend watching the entire thing. He has calibrated 10 different peoples’ HRTF response so he knows how each person will perceive sound from a given headphone, and he then played each of them pink noise using HD600. He then demonstrates with samples exactly how each person hears the same pink noise being played to them and you can hear how dramatically different each person’s response is. It is a very striking and concrete example of understanding why each person should be using EQ to precisely try and hear what the original sound engineer had intended.


#13

This is awesome info! May I share with another headphone forum I’m in?


#14

Although I do not know much about audio science, I have always believed there is so much that we don’t know. When I was listening to music 50+years ago it seemed all the equipment had EQ on them. I know I was fascinated by how I could control how I wanted to hear my music.

Isn’t possible all the $$$ we spend seeking the " Holy Grail " on components is not like using a different way of equalizing music to the particular flavors we like.
Hence " Trusting your Ears " is what its all about.


#15

Thank you response. In early December I had an absolutely massive stroke. My only saving grace is a Cowan Plenue P1 with the Jet Effect Equilizer. My neurologist had a lengthy talk About HTRF, and why my gear now sounds not so great anymore(I have a Cary 300SEI and MDR-R10. You can get no better gear) and it sounds like CRAP now. However with my P1 and UERR iems and an hour spent playing with the eq, I can enjoy music again.


#16

I have always been blown away by the headphone audiophile holy wars surrounding the chasing of the ideal sound. For me the search has always been about compliance to the differing electronics signatures of music. Oh, and making myself happy.


#17

Absolutely, feel free to share as you please, I have been trying to help people better understand the science of headphones for a while now.

That’s exactly a great way to think about it. From that EQ lecture link, what he is doing for each individual’s sample is first playing standard pink noise as you would hear from a flat speaker, and then the second sound clip he plays is how each person hears that same pink noise through HD600 based on their personal HRTF. So he points out that participant “Cameron” could use HD600 because if you listen to his clip you first hear pink noise and then you hear how “Cameron” hears pink noise through HD600 and you will notice it is spot on for him. The 2 sound clips are nearly identical. Whereas when he gets to “Torben” you can hear the normal pink noise and then how “Torben” hears it and HD600 sounds WAY OFF for him, which is why David quips “poor Torben”. So in this example, HD600 would indeed be “neutral” for Cameron, but for Torben HD600 wouldn’t sound neutral at all. Torben could choose to apply EQ to HD600 such that hearing the pink noise through HD600 would match the sample pink noise played through speakers though.

So that is essentially the option all of us have–if we want to hear “neutral” then we can either search for a headphone that closely matches our own HRTF as it is, or we can pick a chosen headphone and apply EQ to it to achieve the same thing. But to preface that, this is ONLY specific to the tonal balance of a headphone. This says nothing about the many other sound or physical characteristics of a given headphone like its speed, transient response, soundstage, imaging, etc. So I would personally advise people to pick headphones that are optimal in price, form, build, comfort, driver type, soundstage, imaging, etc that fit your tastes. If everything checks all those boxes but just tonal balance is off, well that is the one thing you can actually correct.


#18

For me it has only been a few rare moment in my musical listening time that I have ever heard music replicated in a natural manner. Those times have only been at a few select live performances. Most live performances do not deliver that type of naturalness to me. I have gotten close with some DSD source material, but even then there is a kind of sterile environment often times.

I have been able to attend countless live performances, and listened on equipment that I can’t tell you I’ve spent $$$$ on. Once again for me . " Music is an art " to be perceived and interpreted the way I think the artist intended. Very much like going to a museum. Til the day I die. " Trust my Ears "


#19

EQ is just another tool … like many … for getting to the results you like most.

A long time ago, dating back to my first real Hi-Fi system (Linn Axis/K9, Creek 4140 S2, Linn Helix, Mission DAD5), I maintained a very purist “No EQ, no tone controls” stance. This lead to either systems that were not as satisfying as they could be, or spending ridiculous amounts of money using “component synergy” as, effectively, “tone controls” (pairing a bright cartridge with a dark sounding amp, for example) and needing extensive room treatments to fix phase and frequency issues.

And that’s with speakers which could be shown to measure essentially flat, never mind headphones which don’t measure anywhere NEAR flat (by design).

Slowly but surely this “Hi Fi” pursuit (which is, by definition, about fidelity) … gave way to a slightly different interpretation of the hobby. And that was that I was really more interested in getting an enjoyable, engrossing and emotive musical experience. I stopped caring so much, within some reasonable parameters, about a “purist” approach to getting the results I liked best and just focused on, well, the results.

This really came to a head when I got back into serious headphone listening … as I’ve generally been a speaker-system-first kind of listener, for all manner of reasons. A major benefit of the timing here was the availability of high-resolution software processing, which turns out to be extremely important - even for something as simple as a digital volume control.

Even as an engineer (both hardware and software), I was concerned about the negative effects of EQ (and similar processing). And that was a concern for both when it is handled in the hardware domain, in analog circuits, where it can be shown that even with no actual EQ applied that such controls sometimes reduce transparency (even when they’re at their 0-point settings), as well as is in the digital/software side of things.

So, hardware EQ was something that I didn’t want to use in general. Properly exploring software EQ, for the purposes of listening, was the next logical step. I use it in the studio. In fact it’s pretty much used in every studio in the world at this point, including one-man-band type situations. You can’t really avoid it … at most you can decide not to use it in your immediate replay chain - but you can’t remove it from the upstream production of the music.

First test, done blind, was to just put a software EQ processor in the chain, leave it in pass-through mode (no EQ parameters set) and see if I could tell the difference between having it there or not. I couldn’t. Not once.

Next test, also done blind, using a virtual audio-patch bay (software audio router), I created a fairly fiddly EQ with half a dozen adjustment nodes (something VERY audible). This included both boost and cut, and as a result also required reducing levels to avoid digital clipping. And then piped that into a precise inversion of those EQ settings … with the net effect being that the output was the same as the input … flat. Listening to that, level matched against the entire processing chain being disabled, resulted in no audible difference that I could detect.

The short version of that showed me that, done properly, modern quality software EQ is, outside the effects you want to achieve with it, audibly transparent.

And at that point, I stopped worrying about the “purist” approach, elected to use high-quality EQ in situations where it was warranted (which is by no means all of my listening scenarios or with all of my gear) and just get on with enjoying the music instead of endlessly chasing a universally perfect combination of hardware that was ideal for every genre of music (as I do not think such a thing exists).


Some of my headphones are closer to a broadly useable ideal for me than others. With the Abyss Phi and Focal Utopia I rarely have any EQ applied to (99% of the time I run them with none). But the LCD-4 is SO much better with the “Reveal” plug-in, however, that it’s a much more versatile listen with it than without.

The Sony MDR-Z1R does some things that aren’t easily replicated with other headphones, but it almost always has way too much of a bass-tilt and a fair degree of bloat and boominess comes along with that (in a situation where, say, the Abyss Phi is taught and controlled) - dialing that back a bit makes a huge difference in how broadly I can use them, which is great for when I need to listen with closed-backs late at night.


The TL;DR version of this is that while, like @jonnyparsnips, I would not keep a headphone (or any other piece of gear) that needed EQ … I’m not going to go through torturous gyrations to find a single setup that is perfect for everything (and not the least because I do not believe such a thing exists in the headphone world), when a five minute adjustment in a high-quality EQ tool will either fix it, or extend the usefulness of a given headphone/chain to be as close to ideal as possible for many genres of music.

Notionally I prefer the “purist” approach; practically … it doesn’t work well enough to stick to it - especially the higher up the performance ladder you go.


#20

Allow me to retort. I watched the video and I think he makes great sense and a lot of valid points. But I don’t have access to any the gear he uses. Binural recordings? Dummy heads? Here’s my take on the whole issue: if one wishes to do all these, at times, complex setups and really obtain positive results, then more power to you. But if you choose to go down that road, why not just listen to your reference recordings and adjust whatever eq you choose to use until you get the that for you sounds best. One way is to simply take each fader and push up as high as can go and bring it down as low as it can go. Then slowly move it towards the center until it sounds best. Repeat that with every frequency. Then make small adjustments until you get the overall sound that pleases you the most. Use several songs you’re very familiar with, using the idiom of music you like the most. A person who listens to classical music is going to have different settings than hard rock music fan. Same with jazz or a folk music listener. This all up to you the listener. And whenever you get new headphones you’re going to need to do this again. Actually any new gear can change the sound of ones system to require a “new booting” if you will. I swapped pleather to velour pads on my HiFiMAN He-400’s and the sound was very(much improved) different.
Thanks. Good luck good listening.