The way your headphones sound can make or break your listening experience.
To pick the right device, you have to know which tuning suits you best.
For that, it’ll help to know how headphones are tuned.
Keep reading to discover:
- 7 amazing facts about headphone tuning.
- 9 popular brands that tune their signature sounds.
- The different types of drivers and headphone plugs that affect tuning.
- And a lot more…
How are headphones tuned?
Headphones are tuned based on a combination of multiple factors. Such as drivers, Bluetooth codecs, earpad size, and plug types. Additionally, manufacturers tune their products to maintain brand identity, which contributes to how differently headphones are tuned.
Tuned headphones – 7 surprising facts
#1:Drivers in headphones are important
Headphone drivers produce the sound you hear.
They’re like small speakers inside your headphones.
In wired products, the drivers change music into analog electric signals.
And they turn these signals into radio waves in wireless devices.
There are 6 kinds of drivers.
I won’t get into the details of each 1.
Because a medium-length book won’t be enough to cover them.
But I’ve listed the 6 driver types below for your information:
- Piezoelectric driver.
- Planar magnetic driver.
- Balanced armature driver.
- Electrostatic or electret driver.
- Dynamic driver or moving coil.
- Magnetostriction driver or bone conduction.
What’s important to know is that each type has a different way to produce sound.
And their strengths and weaknesses affect headphone tuning.
Among them, dynamic drivers are the most popular.
The main reason is that making them is cheap.
That’s because they don’t need a lot of energy to work.
Meanwhile, electrostatic drivers are the most expensive.
They’re found in luxury IEMs (In-Ear Monitors) and aren’t very common.
#2: Bluetooth headphones are tuned by codecs
Wired versus Bluetooth has always been a thing.
Many say that Bluetooth headphones have a weaker sound.
While that could be true, Bluetooth has improved a lot over the years.
Which you can see in their software programs called codecs.
Those are channels where sound travels from your phone to your Bluetooth device.
Today, there are a total of 7 codecs.
Plus another which is owned by Samsung.
And each of them fits a different audio requirement.
Which means they’re used to tune a headphone to its specific purpose.
That’s why some Bluetooth headphones are better for gaming.
While others are better for listening to music.
Recommended reading: Do Wireless Headphones Last Longer Than Wired? 5 Scenarios
#3: Tuning depends on your headphone design
There are two common types of headphone design.
The first 1 is closed-back, and the other is open-back.
Today, most headphones are closed-back.
And it does close you off from your surroundings.
Like a wall.
So noise can’t enter the headphones.
And music can’t get out.
To compare, open-back headphones don’t create a wall.
It’s like having a picnic outside with a sound system near you.
With this design, you can hear the world around you.
And the people nearby can hear the music you’re listening to.
Manufacturers have to consider the design before tuning their products.
Open-back headphones would need more adjustments.
In particular, stronger values on some frequencies.
#4: Headphone plugs matter
Let’s consider 3 Ds for a moment:
These 3 things affect the way you grasp sound.
Which allows you to know if the sound is more to your left or right.
Also, if the source of the sound is near or far away.
This is possible with a TRRRS plug.
Which is one of the 4 common types of headphone plugs.
Those are the connectors that you put into the headphone jack.
Note: T stands for Tip, R stands for the Ring around the plug, and S stands for Sleeve.
Here are the 4 types:
- TS – 2 conductors.
- TRS – 3 conductors.
- TRRS – 4 conductors.
- TRRRS – 5 conductors.
The number of conductors is a huge factor in tuning.
The more conductors the plug has, the better tuned the headphone is.
Because they make those 3 Ds clearer and exact.
To put a finer point on it, professionals use TRRRS plugs for music production.
With that, you can tell how a headphone with a TS plug is tuned.
Hint: not well.
Fun fact: The number of conductors a headphone plug has is the same as the number of letters in its name.
#5: A headphone that fits well makes listening great
Bigger earpads can block more noise.
This is why brands like to use leather and velour.
Those materials are popular because they guarantee a great fit.
What’s more, brands follow the same idea for earbuds and earphones.
In this case, they use foam or silicone for the ear tips.
So, the best earpad size and materials can help a lot.
They make a good combo for a quality listening experience.
This way you can hear well-tuned headphones better.
#6: Brands tune their own way
Manufacturers tune their headphones with one thing in mind.
And that is to keep their brand identity.
In fact, each brand maintains its own sound signature.
Which you would recognize if you’ve been keeping an eye on them.
Or an ear, in this case.
See, the brand Bose maintains extra bass.
While brands like Shure or Beyerdynamic follow a flat sound.
This means all frequencies (low, mid, and high) have the same tuning.
And Skullcandy and Beats by Dre follow a V-shape.
Where the values are bigger in low and high frequencies.
Next, Sony and Sennheiser keep a balanced signature.
Which is like a flat one but with small differences in values.
And of course, Apple and Samsung, whose sound is a mix of balanced and V-shape signatures.
If you want to listen to a demo of the different frequencies, check out this video:
#7: Equalizer apps can boost tuning
Tuning your own headphones needs equipment and expert knowledge.
But there’s a way to work around that.
Now, it’s not exactly tuning from scratch.
Rather, it’s boosting the way your headphone is already tuned.
To do this, you need an equalizer app.
These apps have sliders for each frequency.
Which you can adjust until you get the sound you like.
Moreover, the best apps have amazing presets.
Which are settings that fit particular types of music.
So, you can choose a preset for pop or classical.
And the apps will tune the sound to match.
Here’s a list of the best equalizer apps that might interest you:
Are all headphones tuned?
All headphones are tuned.
But how well they’re tuned is another question.
Also, do brands tune all their products the same way?
It’s safe to say that all known headphone manufacturers tune their products.
That’s because they have their names at stake.
Moreover, tuning is offered in many of these brands’ service centers.
But think about this…
Earlier we talked about drivers.
Can you remember how many kinds there were?
Very good, there were 6.
Now, let’s talk about the dynamic driver more closely.
This driver has three basic parts: the magnet, diaphragm, and coil.
I mentioned that because the type of driver isn’t the only factor in tuning.
Before tuning, an audio engineer has to consider:
- The magnet’s material, gap size, and depth.
- The diaphragm’s size, thickness, and material.
- The coil’s size, number of windings, and height.
- If the venting holes are felt or mesh, and how damp they get.
- The venting holes in the driver’s basket: how many, where, and how big.
And that’s not even half of it.
Not to mention the plugs, codecs, and sound signature.
It’s a rabbit hole.
So, yes. All headphones are tuned. But they have different levels of tuning.
That’s why headphones don’t sound exactly the same.
Even though they’re the same model, from the same brand.