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GrimTurtle666 t1_it6i9vh wrote

Like someone else mentioned - that glossary is great. Here's my own quick rundown:

Soundstage: the perceived physical space the sounds seem to fill up. In all headphones, soundstage is a bit of an illusion. Generally, open-backs (no covering behind the driver, the headphone allows sound to leak out the backs and/or sides) have a bigger soundstage because the sound is able to actually leak out and surround you. Bigger doesn't always mean better - the Sennheiser HD820s is known for its class-leading massive soundstage, but to some people it sounds TOO wide, and makes it feel artificial. For others, the size makes them feel more immersed.

Tonality (or tonal balance): with regards to music, the sounds travel along certain frequencies that are associated with different types of sound. You have lows aka bass, mids, and highs aka treble. I think you'll understand what bass is; mids typically are associated with vocals; highs are things like cymbals. A headphone is considered flat, neutral, or balanced when no one section of the sound dominates the other. You'll eventually see frequency graphs when exploring this hobby; note that no headphone will ever have a completely flat line. There will always be dips and peaks.

Impedance: an engineering term, basically the higher the number the more power-hungry the headphone. Higher end headphones typically require more power, and thus need dedicated headphone amps to get the proper sound signature and volume out of them. Impedance is measured in Ohms. Typically, under 50 ohms, no amp needed. Around 100 is medium strength, amp not needed but could affect sound quality. Above 250, amp absolutely required to get any real volume out of it.

You'll hear lots of words used to describe tones in headphones. "Warm" means louder bass and mids, quieter treble. "Cold" means the opposite. "Bright" typically is used to described when treble is so loud that it is harsh and sharp. "Sibilant" is related to bright; sibilance occurs when the S sound has that really nasty sharp sound to it. "Detail" is basically how much miscellaneous sounds you hear besides the main sounds of the instrument, and is associated with clarity (at least in my mind). Imaging, related to soundstage, is how well the headphone allows you to pinpoint where a sound is coming from i.e. upper left, bottom right, in front of you, behind you, etc. Resolution, afaik, is the same as instrument separation - how well you can separate the sounds. When a headphone is "fast" it means each individual sound resolves itself very quickly, there isn't much bleed over between sounds.

That's all I can think of right now, the glossary can teach you more. Also, most of these terms can be kinda shaky and BS and imho the feelings that are evoked from sounds and music matter much more than these attempts to quantity subjective experiences (sound) with imperfect language.


audioen t1_it7d0z6 wrote

I would add a minor quibble about the impedance part. It is only the other half of the equation. After all, impedance is the R in the total power, which is the familiar P = UI, U = RI part of the equation. One consequence is P=U²/R, square of voltage divided by impedance. The higher the impedance, the larger voltage is needed to produce certain level of power, but voltage grows in square so it will not be all that much in the end.

Depending on design, that power can then be translated to acoustic energy at some efficiency or other, and manufacturers either relate that in terms of voltage or milliwatts to achieve certain SPL. From what I can see, most headsets should be deafeningly loud with very low power figures, to the tune that even 1 mW is more than your ears can take without suffering damage. Milliwatts of power are such an astonishingly low figure, and I think it is a crime that not literally everything has enough power behind it to drive headsets well enough. You don't need a separate amplifier to make milliwatts of power, that much is achieved by pretty much anything. I confess I also do not quite understand how headset can have multiple hundreds of ohms of impedance. What is it doing? Do they put big resistors there? A voice coil really shouldn't present that much of resistance.

In any case, I would personally steer away from headsets that require an amp. The Apple USB-C DAC is a great example of USB soundcard that can deliver the few milliwatts more or less perfectly, and it costs all of $10. Hopefully in the future, all DACs on all devices are decent enough, and headsets can be simply driven by any random thing even if it isn't a real amplifier, because there is clearly solution space where the problem is tiny -- just keep impedance anywhere reasonable, say somewhere in 15-50 range, and produce enough SPL per milliwatt, easily achieved by many designs already and there really is no sound quality compromise here as far as I can tell.