AirPods Pro sound quality
I have dabbled in and out of the audiophile scene for quite some years already, and just want to share my thoughts on the AirPods Pro in terms of sound quality.
Sound quality is really an extremely misunderstood subject on the internet today, audiophile snobs would have you believe a subjective sound quality scale like this:
HiFiman Edition X: 9/10
Sennheiser Orpheus HEV9: 24/10
However in reality, I would suggest it’s more like this:
HiFiman Edition X: 10/10
Sennheiser Orpheus HEV9: 10/10
Basically what I’m trying to say is, any decent headphone will be almost as good as the most ridiculously expensive Hi-Fi equipment, the difference is minimal, if any. Those audiophile gear are more like luxury watches, sure a luxury watch will be relative accurate, but even a $200 dollar mechanical watch can be just as accurate as a $200,000 mechanical watch.
**That being said, I’m happy to report that the AirPods Pro’s sound quality is good enough that it makes no sense to split hairs, it basically sounds the same as the good headphones I own.** I’m not gonna give it a score or anything, I’ll just say this, I currently own the Yamaha EPH-200, a fairly good IEM that has balanced sound, relatively flat response, and it sounds almost exactly the same as the AirPods Pro. I also have the AKG Q701, a classic, it sounds very slightly better and I’m not even sure if that’s due to the sound or the fact it’s around-ear and open. I also have the Beats Solo Wireless 3, it has more bass so the response isn’t flat but other than that it again, sounds about the same as the bunch.
The biggest weakness with most cheaper (but still decent, not like Wish.com counterfeit crap) is bass, and that’s because if you power the speaker with the same amount of power and have it make different sounds, it will naturally be weaker in the bass, so usually you need some way to get around that problem, which makes it more expensive. Also the solutions to these problems usually involve inefficiencies, like some IEMs will just put a filter in there to reduce the mids, and make everything louder. Or if you have a big headphone you can put some circuits in there to digitally change the sound so it comes out more balanced. This is why your standard EarPods and AirPods are a bit lacking in bass.
Basically that lack of bass problem is gone in AirPods Pro, so yea that’s that.
I will not address some of the audiophile snake oil you might see online, and first up is **sound stage.** If you don’t know that is, well a headphone with “good” sound stage makes the music sound like it coming from in front of you, or maybe around you. Where as a headphone with “bad” sound stage makes it sound like the music is in your head. You’ll constantly hear audiophile snobs talk about this and to be honest, it’s a real thing. Problem is, it’s just dumb to make a headphone have “good” sound stage.
You see, making a sound, sound like it came from further away is just like adding a filter to an image, like if you make a photo foggy then it looks like the things in it are further away, it’s exactly like that, a post-process effect. Since most music are designed to be played back through speakers, they don’t have and sound stage effect baked in, so if you just play them through theoretical ideal speakers in your ear, it sounds like the instruments are in your head. So what headphone manufacturers do, is they design their stuff in such a way as to physically introduce distortions that make it sound like it’s from further away. This is really a hack, a dumb way to do things because that’s like making your phone’s display over-saturated to compensate for under-saturated dull movies like Justice league or something, it’s dumb because when you want to watch a regular movie, then it would look like crap. Same with headphones with built-in sound stage otherwise known as “good” sound stage, if you’re trying to watch some VR porn when the sound is supposed to come from right beside your ears or whatever, it won’t work as well. And this is why Apple headphones just all have “bad” sound stage, since if you want it, it should be introduced in the software, not in the hardware.
Second problem is how people misinterpret different frequency response curves as “better” or “worse” sound. Some headphones like Beats just has louder bass and highs with quieter mids, that’s its style. If we’re being technical, all of these styles are bad, because you’re supposed to make the speaker have a totally flat response curve, that means every sound regardless of pitch should have exactly the same loudness. However this is extremely difficult to achieve with any sensible speaker technology, but what ended up happening, is that people have gotten used to the style of certain brands, and think that is “good” sound where as everything else is “bad” sound.
This is exactly like Instagram filters, making a headphone that has style is just like making a phone screen that has an Instagram filter burned into it which you cannot turn off, it’s dumb but audiophile snobs love that shit. So when anyone tries to make actually close to ideal headphones, nobody buys them because they sound “flat” well of course they do, that’s how they’re supposed to work, flat is the best, because you can always make a “flat” headphone sound like anything else with your custom EQ, where as if it’s not flat, it’s more difficult to revert it with an EQ (but you still can do it).
Basically, whenever you hear an audiophile snob talk about things like mids, lows, highs, treble, extension, they all boil down to the frequency response curve, one graph that describes them all. It’s just as senseless as describing a screen with words like “the blues are very deep and slightly violet”, yea who gives a shit, just compare it to the standard and tell me what the Delta E is?
I believe there’s quirk with this thing, turning on ANC in some cases reduces bass, and this is most likely because the ANC is most effective for low frequency noise, so what happens is the drivers basically used up all of its bass output for ANC and there’s not much left. For best sound quality you still have to be in a quiet room with ANC off. Also I have to stress again, **forming a good seal is essential for correct bass response** with any kind of in-ear earbuds.
We have a bunch of audiophile snobs trying to put me down here, and you know what you’re all welcome as long as you be specific as to what exactly are you disagreeing and why, and I’ll reply to all of that. I will not reply to no-effort rants like “you don’t know anything”.
It’s funny how when these guys reply they keep stressing the price, when that’s just not very relevant for anything >$100:
>The results indicate that neither the measured response nor an attempt to objectively quantify perceived quality is related to price.
>The correlation between price and sound quality is close to zero and, slightly negative: r = -.16 (i.e. spending more money gets you slightly worse sound on average).