Is Neutrality Old-Fashioned?


After listening to the most popular headphones on the planet, which have enough extra bass response to turn any frequency below 200 Hz into a sonic sledgehammer, I can't help but wonder whether transducers with a neutral harmonic frequency presentation are a thing of the past.

Voicing, or varying from trying to achieve ruler-flat frequency response, has been around for many years, but only lately have earphones become so obviously and intentionally skewed. It's as if the folks in control have decided that just as there's no such thing as too loud, there's no such thing as too much bass.

Granted, I'm not against a bit of judicious frequency-tailoring. The Studio Electric compact monitors were voiced so they were down at least one dB at 3.5 kHz and I loved the way they performed. But when the first thing and only thing you hear clearly is the bass, well that's not what higher fidelity is supposed to be about.

So what can an audiophile do? If current trends continue, soon there will be little but "voiced" earphones on the market. Obviously you can vote with your wallet - don't buy bass-heavy earphones, AND when you hear one of these sonic monstrosities, let anyone around you know that they suck. I know I do.

But there is some good young hip-hop moguls embrace bass-heavy transducers, more will use them as their mixing references. And since these earphones emphasize bass, the bass on mixes won't be as overbearing compared with mixes done on neutral monitors where the engineers would have turned the bass up even more. Yes, I know it's a tiny glass of lemonade from all those lemons, but once you throw away harmonic neutrality there's not a lot left behind... 

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