Just because you’ve bought the best earphones that you could find, doesn’t mean that they will sound as good as they can straight out of the box. There are several factors to be aware of and to check if you want to get the best sound possible from your earphones.
In this post, we’ll give you a quick run down of the 5 most important factors that can effect the sound that you get from your earphones.
Most earphones on the market these days are of the noise isolating type. In most cases they have a soft silicon pad or adaptor that fits onto the end of the earphones which in turn fits inside your ear. This fit is one of the most important factors to get right. If the fit is good, it will increase bass performance, balance the mid range and treble frequencies as well as significantly reducing external noises.
Normally when you buy a set of earphones, you’ll get a few different sized adaptors included – typically 3 sets: small, medium and large. In some cases you will get a choice of more – we’ve known up to 7 as in the case of the E10 from Soundmagic. Normally more choice in size means you’ll get a better fit. When the fit is right, the earphones will stay comfortably in place, providing a good tight seal in your ear.
If you have trouble getting a good seal even when you think that you have selected the correct size silicon adaptor for your ears. You can add a very small amount of moisture to the silicon adaptor (slightly damp not wet!), this should help create a tighter seal in your ear.
Bedding In Period
At the heart of the inner workings of your earphones, you’ll find some vibrating, or moving parts. The small audio driver inside is essentially a small speaker that moves backwards and forwards. When new, this will be stiff and could potentially rub internally. Through use, this will become looser and more efficient. Only when the driver has worn in will you truly hear what the earphones sound like.
It is generally regarded that the bedding in period takes about 50 hours of use. You can do this either by using them normally or just by leaving them running for a couple of days. It is best to use a variety of music, rather than just one song or album to make sure that they get used to generating sound at different frequencies and dynamic levels. This should also be done with the volume set at the level that you would normally listen to them at.
Not all earphones will change that much due to bedding in, but some can change quite significantly. Earphones that previously sounded harsh or unbalanced can become tamer and more balanced all round.
Not all amplifiers are created equally – this includes portable devices, particularly smart phones. Some manufacturers will go to great lengths to provide their latest smart phone with good sounding amp…others won’t go to the same effort!
If you think that your earphones don’t sound as good as they should, it is a good idea to see how they sound on another different device as well. Some devices will add more bass and treble to the sound while others may sound flatter and less interesting.
Another point worth noting is that the amplifier has a big effect on how the stereo image behaves. A good amp will allow you to hear great width with accurate placement within the stereo image. The depth can also suffer – although this can sometimes be brought back to life (to a degree) by using EQ.
EQ – Custom and Equalizer Presets
Most portable devices now have some form of EQ that you can select or edit. The equalizer or EQ essentially allows you to change the volume of different frequency bands within the audio spectrum. This is something that we will be going into in much greater detail at a later date, but for now, we’ll give you the basic idea.
If possible, it is better to use a custom setting than a preset. Preset EQ curves will given names like Dance, Pop, Rock, Classical etc These are very generic, quite extreme and can destroy the sound of your music. Also make sure that any reverb effects are disabled – these will be called things like Hall or Club.
When you edit the EQ settings, you will be greeted with a screen that resembles the one shown to the left. This is a screen grab from Google Play Music on Android, other Smart phone operating systems or music apps may give slightly different options, but the overall idea will be the same.
To start setting your custom EQ, first think about what you would like to improve about the sound. With the volume set to your normal listening level, first try turning frequencies down rather than up – with EQ, less is often more. Small changes can make quite a big difference, even -1dB at a given frequency can be heard. Once you’re more happy with the sound after turning frequencies down, you can then try turning the others up a little to see if that makes further improvement.
Care should be taken as turning frequencies up will essentially make the music louder internally – if taken too far, this can lead to distortion as the amplifier is overdriven.
You should check your EQ with a few different pieces of music from different artists, and genres…tweak as you go – once you find the sweat spot, make sure your settings are saved!
Optimum Listening Volume
You will find that your earphones sound better at a certain level – this doesn’t mean as loud as you can tolerate. The combination of the amplifier, earphones, EQ and your ears will decide this. The optimum volume should be comfortable and you should be able to listen to it for a as long as you want to.
When you find the sweat spot, the audio will sound balanced right across the frequency range. You may find that if you turn the volume down slightly that the bass drops, or if you turn it up more the mid range frequencies get harsher and trashier.
When you have your earphones bedded in, with a good fit, great EQ and the volume set correctly – you will find that your music sounds much, much better and you will be able to hear details in the music that you never heard before.
You can read more about the noise isolating earphones we recommend here.