Getting the best headphone sound for the music of your choice doesn’t have to be a difficult process if you follow a few simple guidelines.
The Tom’s Guide audio team used specific tips to evaluate the sound quality of the headphones we tested, and listening to these tracks can help you find the right settings for your headphones or audio equipment.
Here’s a selection of songs to play, along with tips on what to look for or listen to while doing your own test. Of course, everyone’s taste in music is different, and we encourage you to make your own musical choices as well to help you find the right headphones for you.
Best Headphone Sound – Personal Stereo
Of all the audio equipment you might own, headphones are probably the one you hear the most.
Many of us use hearing aids for everyday tasks and activities, such as commuting, walking the dog, or working out at the gym. Now, for many, the world of work is a mix of home and office, and many of us also use headphones as part of our daily routine for online meetings or to block out the noise of a busy office.
(Image credit: Jabra)
When considering one of the best headphones or the best audiophile headphone recommendation, you don’t need golden ears or special skills to judge sound quality, just the type of sound you like and a selection of songs that highlight different features. performance of audio products.
Regardless of your audio equipment, it’s always a good idea to start with the highest quality music material available. When testing the headphones, we used the streaming service that provides the highest resolution music files, such as Tidal, Qobuz, or Apple Music. Hopefully we’ll be able to add Spotify HiFi to that list soon, but despite last year’s announcements, the high-res level isn’t there yet.
Each section below covers key areas to listen to when evaluating headphone sound quality, with links to individual songs to try out through Tidal or to play entire playlists. We also added headphone playlists to Spotify.
These are recordings we know well and regularly listen to to assess the sound quality of the headphones in our review. They may not necessarily match the songs you’ve listened to in person, but they’ll tell you everything you need to know about your headphones’ performance.
Best Headphone Sound – Overall Tonal Balance
Overall tonal balance is about achieving a harmonious sound across the entire frequency range provided by the headset’s speaker drivers. This is one of the hardest things for headphone makers to do. Brands often have a sound signature, which means, for example, that one manufacturer’s sound will deliver more bass than another, but this can also depend on the industry sector and the type of music a particular model is designed for.
Sound balance simply means that the frequency ranges of the bass, mids and treble are proportional to each other so that they reproduce exactly what the artist and engineer intended for the music. While the overall tonal balance comes down to personal taste, you really don’t want the bass (bass) to be overdriven or out of proportion to the rest of the track’s frequency range, or the treble (treble) to fade quickly on top too. , resulting in an indistinct sound with little spatial detail.
To test overall balance, you need a song that covers as much of the frequency range as possible. Orchestral compositions naturally offer the best frequency distribution, from double bass tones to floating strings and flutes, for example, where modern soundtracks can come in handy.
Listen to “Like a Dog Chasing Cars” from the movie The Dark Knight soundtrack; you should hear a lot of low-end weight without being too overwhelming. You can also hear a lot of high-frequency details, giving the music a sense of rhythm and pursuit.
Best Headphone Sound: Spatial Sense
To test the headphone’s sense of space (or soundstage), you need a well-recorded soundtrack that conveys the sonic illusion of the performance happening in front of you. Getting it right is a little tricky, but a well-recorded song can create the illusion that the artist is at your core. You should be able to feel the vocals, the room acoustics and the sense of space around each instrument and all other elements of the recording in almost three dimensions.
Although the headphones sit on the sides of your head, good quality headphones should make you feel like your music is beyond the confines of the headphones.
Live performances are a good test of whether your headphones can tell the size of an auditorium, but studio releases have a good sense of space and soundstage, including “That’s Alright” and “Human” from the album “Laura Mvula with the Metropole Orkest” ” by Rag’n’bone Man Try it!
Best Headphone Sound – Midrange Clarity
The clarity of the mids is important to get the right vocals. Female vocals show off the earphone’s midrange performance particularly well, but male vocals like Rag’n’bone Man’s “Human” or Newton Faulkner’s Teardrops help accentuate tricky low-mids before entering the bass range.
If the tonal balance is not correct, an artist’s vocal performance may sound muffled and distant, as if singing in an adjacent room and disconnected from the other elements of the performance. At the same time, if some mids are boosted, the sound may sound too advanced and “big” compared to other elements of the performance.
Vocals also need support for low and high frequencies, because without a smooth transition into the lower register of the vocal range, without enough high frequency detail to give the vocal a natural, lifelike sound. . †
All you need is a track with a clear and prominent vocal line. One of our favorite songs is “Livewire” by Oh Wonder, where the male and female vocals are perfectly blended. Another tried-and-true track useful for establishing midrange and vocal quality is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Helpless Hoping,” which has great easy-to-follow harmonies and a spacious soundstage. Or try Jennifer Warnes’s stunning runaway horse ballad.
Best Headphone Sound: High Quality and Details
Some headphones can be hard to hear because their high-frequency output is harsh and raspy. You’ll know if earbuds have such poor treble quality because the sound can be so uncomfortable that you need to quickly remove them from your ears. Headphones may take some time for the driver to settle before the best sound; this is common with high-quality headphone drivers. In this case, give them a day or two of continuous music until the roughness subsides.
Of course, it’s also possible that the treble is so loose that some elements of the track are suppressed or inaudible at all. It’s less offensive to the ears, but it does mean you lose the openness that good highs can provide, and the full-bodied sound your ears deserve.
To test the high-frequency performance of the headphones, we often use Miles Davis’ Tutu, which is a great demo track to highlight any high-frequency imperfections. Davis’ trumpet is full and demanding, but won’t make your ears bleed. From percussion elements to synth effects, everything in the track needs to be showcased.
Best Headphone Sound: Rhythm and Timing
As the saying goes, “timing is everything”. If your performance sounds loose, cluttered, or dull, it may be due to the wrong timing, resulting in less engagement with your favorite music.
Headphones must be able to keep up with a variety of rhythms and understand contrasting rhythms (polyrhythm) with the same dexterity as a hard 4/4. Rhythm is the key to making music sound smooth and cohesive, ultimately connecting with the listener.
Daft Punk’s Get Lucky might be one of our most popular songs, but it’s a good illustration of what happens when headphones have a good beat: it really makes you want to move and dance.
Best Headphone Sound – Subtle Dynamics
Great all-round test track for any headphone, headphones from Kate Bush look at you without me will tell you most about headphones: their clocks, their ability to reproduce mid-frequency detail, and their ability to track the tiniest of dynamic fluctuations. Happy to hear.
How to get the best headphone sound for you
Getting the best headphone sound for your choice of music needn’t be a difficult process if you follow a few simple guidelines.
The Tom’s Guide audio team use specific tracks to assess sound quality on the headphones we test, and listening to those songs can help you find the right pair of headphones for you, or the right settings for your audio devices.
Below, you’ll find a selection of tracks to play, plus advice on what to look or listen for as you do your own testing. Of course, everyone’s music tastes are different and we encourage you to also make your own music choices to help you find the right pair of headphones for you.
Best headphone sound: Personal stereo
Of all the audio equipment you may own, headphones are probably the one you’ll listen to the most.
Plenty of us wear headphones or earbuds for routine tasks and activities such as the commute to work, walking the dog, or working out in the gym. And with the working world now a home/office hybrid for lots of people, many of us also wear headphones as part of our day-to-day work routine for online meetings, or for blocking out the sounds of a busy office.
(Image credit: Jabra)
You don’t need golden ears or special skills to make a judgement on sound quality if you’re considering one of best headphones or best audiophile headphone recommendations, just an understanding of the kind of sound you like and a selection of tracks that highlight different characteristics of an audio product’s performance.
No matter what the audio device, it’s always a good idea to start with the highest-quality music material available. When it comes to testing headphones, we use streaming services capable of delivering the highest resolution music files, such as Tidal, Qobuz or Apple Music, for example. We’ll hopefully be able to add Spotify HiFi to that list soon but despite an announcement last year, its high-resolution tier isn’t available just yet.
Each section below covers the main areas of what to listen for when assessing headphone sound quality, with links to individual tracks to try out via Tidal, or play the entire playlist. We’ve also added our headphone playlist to Spotify.
These are all recordings we know well and listen to regularly to assess headphone sound quality in our reviews. They may not necessarily fit with the tracks you’d choose to listen to personally, but they’ll tell you all you need to know about the performance of a pair of headphones.
Best headphone sound: Overall tonal balance
Overall tonal balance is about getting a harmonious sound across the range of frequencies output by the headphone’s speaker drivers. It’s one of the most challenging things to get right for any headphone manufacturer. Brands often have a sonic signature that means one maker’s sound may output more booming bass than another, for example, but this can also depend on the market sector and music genre a particular model is designed for.
Sonic balance simply means that the range of frequencies from lows, mids to highs are in proportion to one another so that they give an accurate presentation of the music in the way the artist and recording engineer intended. Although overall tonal balance comes down to personal taste, you don’t really want the bottom end (bass) being overloaded or to sound disproportional to the rest of the track’s frequency range, or the highs (treble) rolling off at the top too early, resulting in a sound that’s unclear and lacking in spatial detail.
To test the overall balance, you want a track that covers as much of the frequency range as possible. Orchestral works naturally provide the best spread of frequencies, from double bass notes through to soaring strings and flutes, for example, and contemporary soundtracks can be useful here.
Try out ‘Like a Dog Chasing Cars’ from the movie soundtrack ‘The Dark Knight’; you should hear plenty of low-end heft without it being too overpowering. There’s also plenty of high frequency detail to listen out for, which gives the piece its pace and a sense of the chase.
Best headphone sound: A sense of space
To test a headphone’s sense of space (or soundstage) you need a track that’s well recorded and that can convey the sonic illusion of the performance happening right in front of you. It’s a tricky thing to get right, but a well recorded track will conjure up the illusion of an artist being centrally placed in front of you. You should be able to perceive a sense of space around the vocal, the room acoustic and each of the instruments as well as any other elements in the recording in an almost three-dimensional way.
Although, the headphones are either side of your head, good quality headphones should make you feel that music is stretching beyond the confines or the earcups.
Live performances are a good test as to whether your headphones are able to judge the size of an auditorium, but studio releases with a good sense of stereo space and soundstage include ‘That’s Alright’ from the album ‘Laura Mvula with the Metropole Orkest’ and ‘Human’ by Rag’n’bone Man. Give them a try!
Best headphone sound: Midrange clarity
Midrange clarity is important for getting the vocals right. Female vocals showcase a headphone’s mid frequency performance particularly well, but male voices such as Rag’n’bone Man’s ‘Human’ or Teardrops by Newton Faulkner are useful for highlighting the tricky area of lower mid frequencies before crossing over into the bass range.
If the tonal balance is incorrect, an artist’s vocal performance can sound muffled and distant, like they’re singing from a neighboring room perhaps, and disconnected from the rest of elements on the performance. If certain mid frequencies are boosted, meanwhile, then the vocal can sound forward and too ‘big’ compared to other elements of the performance.
Vocals also require support from the low and high frequencies, as without a smooth transition to the lower register of the vocal range, vocals will sound thin, or (again) muffled if there’s not enough high frequency detail to give them a natural and realistic sound.
A track with a clear, prominent vocal line is all you need. One of our favorites is ‘Livewire’ by Oh Wonder, which combines both male and female vocal to great effect. Another tried and tested track useful for establishing vocal and midrange quality is ‘Helplessly Hoping’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, showcasing exceptional harmonies that are easy to follow and a spacious soundstage. Or try the superb ‘Ballad of the Runaway Horse’ by Jennifer Warnes.
Best headphone sound: Treble quality and detail
Some headphones can be difficult to listen to because their high frequency output is crude and harsh. You’ll know if a headphone has this kind of poor treble sound quality because the sound will be so uncomfortable that you’ll want to quickly remove them from your ears. It could be that the headphone needs some time for the drivers to settle in before they sound their best — this is pretty common with very high performance headphone drivers. In this case, give them a day or two with some music playing continuously until the harshness mellows.
Of course, it can also be that the treble could be rolled off, meaning some elements of a track are muffled or can’t be heard at all. This is less offensive to the ears, but means you’ll miss out on the feeling of openness that good treble performance can bring and the full sound that your ears deserve.
To test out a headphone’s high frequency performance we often use Tutu by Miles Davis, which is a great demo track for revealing any high frequency flaws. The sound of Davis’ trumpet playing is full-on and is a demanding listen, but not in such a way that it makes your ears bleed. Everything in the track should be revealed, from the percussive elements to the synthesized effects.
Best headphone sound: Rhythm and timing
As the saying goes: “timing is everything.” If a performance sounds loose, disorganised or dull, it’s probably down to poor timing and will result in poor levels of engagement with your favorite music.
A pair of headphones will need to be able to keep time with all kinds of beats and make sense of contrasting rhythms (polyrhythm) just as adeptly as they lock into a rigid 4/4. Rhythm is the key to music sounding fluid and coherent and ultimately making a connection with the listener.
Daft Punk’s Get Lucky may be one of our more mainstream tracks, but it serves as an excellent example of what happens when a pair of headphones have good rhythm — they actually make you want to break out some moves and dance.
Best headphone sound: Subtle dynamics
A great all-round test track for any pair of headphones, Kate Bush’s Watching You Without Me will tell you most of what you need to know about a pair of headphones — their ability to time, show off midrange detail, and track the subtlest of dynamic fluctuations. Happy listening.
- Synthetic: Tài Chính Kinh Doanh
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