What Is Frequency Response In Headphones

Headphones are probably the most frequently used accessory with our smartphones daily.

Now, if you’re like the typical customer purchasing a headphone, you probably concentrate on two main factors- budget and brand.

But are these factors enough for a satisfying music listening experience?

If you ask me the same, I would say no. They're not.

At the back of your headphone’s box or instruction, you’ve probably come across specifications that will assist you in choosing the right kind of headphones.

Unfortunately, unlike a box of milk or a bag of cookies, these specs aren’t easy to understand.

For that reason, we will help you understand one of the essential specifications- frequency response, which we believe has a significant impact on the sound quality of your headphones.

What is the frequency response in headphones?

Frequency response is how well audio equipment reproduces audible frequencies.

It also describes whether the audio equipment makes any alteration to the audio signal

In simple terms, it refers to how well your headphones can reproduce the tones we hear.

For instance, take a subwoofer; what’s the lowest frequency it can reproduce?

Assuming your bar any EQ settings, ideally, the frequency response should correspond to the input.

The frequency reproduced here is known as a neutral or flat response since it has no alterations whatsoever.

Unfortunately, with many audio types of equipment, there's a lack of linearity, so it's challenging to achieve a flat frequency response.

In relation to headphones, for instance, the mechanical properties, acoustics, and electronics combine to affect the headphone drivers, therefore, impacting on the sound quality.

So, in the real world, it’s common to see the frequency response quoted as a range of figures, such as 5Hz to 35 kHz.

How do you read a frequency response?

To understand the frequency response measurements, we first need to understand the physics of sound.

Sound travels in a wave.

The distance between the crests or rather the topmost parts of one wave to the other is known as wavelength.

Waves with lower frequencies are further apart, and so they have a longer wavelength and vice versa.

Hertz is the metric used for measuring frequency.

A single hertz is equal to a cycle per second.

Therefore, a frequency measured as 20 hertz, means its traveling 20 cycles or rather wave per second.

The universally accepted audible frequency range, which is standard for most headphones, is 20 to 20,000 HZ.

Since 1,000 hertz equals one Kilo Hertz, it would be safe to translate the frequency range to 20-20Khz.

Some of the brands go further to include a tolerance level.

So, how do you read the frequency response, and what does it mean?

Well, assuming your headphone is rated 20-20 kHz (±3dB), the first part, 20Hz, refers to the deepest bass frequency a headphone can reproduce; the lower the deep bass, the better overall sound quality.

The second number, 29kHz, on the other hand, refers to the highest frequency of the headphone, and the higher, the better.

The last part, ±3dB, indicates how far the sound output will deviate from the flat response; the lower the figure, the better.

Some of the headphones offer wider frequency ranges, some between 5 to 35,000 Hz, but the extreme frequencies don't always translate to better sound quality.

How do you measure the frequency response of headphones?

Measuring the frequency response in headphones isn't a simple task.

How you can accomplish this is by positioning a very sensitive microphone right between the headphone in the place of a head.

The mic will record sound at every single frequency, and from here, you can use specific software to read and determine the output spectrum.

Afterward, you can apply the different sound intensities to achieve the highest and lowest frequencies of your headphones.

While the process seems quite modest, in reality, it's, in fact, more intricate and complicated than you think.

What is the importance of frequency response?

Understanding frequency response is critical, especially if you’re entering a field concerning music.

Besides audio reproduction, the frequency response is crucial for the perceived subjective sound quality.

The role of sound quality, in particular, is essential for some cases, such as critical listening or gaming.

Audio equipment with neutral frequency response, for instance, reproduces audio content as it was intended by the producer.

If the music is mixed to sound bass-heavy, then conversely, a good pair of headphones will reproduce it as bass-heavy.


Does the frequency response matter in headphones?

If you ask me, I would say yes.

Frequency response and headphone sound quality are related, but it’s not the extent that most people think.

The best way to understand the correlation between is looking at the effects on the different music genres.

The underlying principle here is once you lower the frequency, you get to hear more thump and bass.

On the other hand, if you increase the frequency, you'll hear a shriller and sharp sound.

Scientifically, it means your choice of headphones should depend on your music genres.

For instance, low-frequency headphones are suited from pop, reggae, techno, EDM, Bollywood, and dancehall genres.

The higher frequency headphones, on the other hand, will allow you to feel every beat of the classic and music rock.

And if you’re like me who enjoys Bach or Mozart, a neutral frequency headphone would be ideal.

Best frequency response for headphones

As we had mentioned earlier, most of the headphones have a frequency range of 20Hz to 20 kHz.

This frequency range is considered as the standard frequency range since it embodies the normal audible frequency in humans.

Now, if the range goes to the extreme, on either side, you might not hear the sound, but you might feel it.

Moving on, humans are most sensitive to the midrange frequencies; it's easy for us to discern any alterations.

So, if you’re to choose a headphone in this range (250 Hz to 500 Hz), you need to ensure they produce a natural and accurate sound.

Conclusion

Frequency response in headphones is more than the presence of bass, mid or treble.

As we’ve seen, the frequency response is capable of subtly affecting both the balance and tone of your audio equipment, which has the potential to color or even ruin your music quality and listening experience.

Again, a perfect flats response is hard to achieve with any audio system, but the modern-day technology is coming close enough.

 

Chris Wilson

Chris is one of the guys behind HeadphoneSelection.com. He is an Electronics Engineer by profession and he enjoys expressing his real-life experiences with technology and sharing it with others.