Ever wondered why headphones all sound so different from each other? The reason is actually pretty simple… Every headphone model is tuned (EQ’ed) by the manufacturer according to specific goals. Let’s look at two simple examples:
A DJ headphone like the Sennheiser HD8 will be tuned to have more bass. This is because a DJ needs to clearly hear the bass in a loud environment if he or she wants to successfully mix the songs.
An audiophile headphone like the Sennheiser HD650 will not have that enormous boost in de lower end, because the audience target actually prefers a more natural and neutral sound.
You get the picture.
The thing with all these factory built-in EQ’s, is that you need to have different headphones for different purposes. Which is all fun, but can become quite expensive.
Improve Headphone Sound Quality
Suppose you own a bass heavy headphone and you want to listen to something else than hip hop or dance music.
Let’s say you want to listen to Hotel California from the Eagles. Chances are you’re gonna experience too much bass and muffled mids/highs. You’re missing out on clarity in the song and you’re far away from hearing the song like the artists intended you to hear it.
This does not only apply to bass heavy headphones, but also the more neutral audiophile cans are never completely neutral. Whatever the manufacturer claims, there are always frequencies that are boosted or rolled off.
So in order to even get close to hearing what the artist intended, we need a headphone that does not boost or lowers any of the frequencies. We need a headphone with a complete Flat Curve.
What does SonarWorks True-Fi Do?
At first sight the program appears to be nothing more than an Equalizer, and to be honest, I was very skeptical about it, as I don’t believe that there are any straight-out-of-the-box software equalizers that would improve the sound. It’s much more complicated than that.
However, further inspection learned that SonarWorks True-Fi contains a large database of specific headphone model measurements with the sole purpose of applying a reversed EQ, so that it actually will cancel out the built-in EQ from your headphone. Remember how I talked about creating that Flat Curve, where no frequencies are boosted or lowered? Well, this is it!
By taking the frequency curve and applying a reversed version of it, you are actually canceling out the factory built-in EQ. This creates a complete Flat Curve. In theory that is. Because there are always slight variations so it’s not gonna be a 100% match.
Therefore, the measurements of supported models are only averages. As there can be different versions for the same models, like the Non-Fazer and Fazer models of the Audeze LCD-2. Even if there’s only one version of a specific model, there will still be slight variations between identical headphones.
Because of this, Sonarworks uses an average of all the measurements they’ve taken for a specific model. It’s as close we’re gonna get to a neutral headphone, unless you send your headphones to Sonarworks for a personal measurement. A service they provide actually!
Does it really work?
Here’s what I think about the result on three supported headphones I’ve tried it with.
So I’ve tested it with three different headphones. An entry level hi-fi model, the audiophile usual suspect and last but not least a luxurious planar magnetic… Let’s take a look!
Sennheiser HD598 – Entry Level Hi-Fi
The HD598 is widely considered as an entry level audiophile headphone that, from stock, delivers a very good hi-fi sound.
It does come a bit short when exposed to more complex songs as I feel that the HD598 kinda runs out of breath.
But with True-Fi and applying the Flat Curve, the HD598 really shows it potential! Everything in the music comes more alive and especially the lower frequencies (that many believe are non-existent on the HD598) are amazing.
This showed me how good the drivers in the HD598 actually are. And that they’re just held back a bit by the tame factory EQ.
In my opinion, the HD598 gained the most improvements over the original stock sound.
Sennheiser HD650 – Audiophile Usual Suspect
The HD650 is an amazing headphone. In fact, it’s my favorite all-round headphone period! And if you only want one audiophile headphone to rule them all, without taking out a loan, I absolutely recommend you get the HD650.
Out of the three headphones I’ve tested, the HD650 sounded – in stock form – by far the closest to the Flat Curve. Honestly, I was very surprised by that! It’s an impressive feat!
In fact, I could only detect minor differences when applying the Flat Curve. The low end got cleaned up a bit and because of that, sounded more full. Furthermore, the highs received a tiny bit more clarity. All in all very subtle positive changes, but in the end I feel it makes the HD650 an even more complete headphone than it already was!
Audeze LCD-2 (Fazer 2016) – Luxurious Planar
Although I love my LCD-2, I always felt something was a bit off which kept it from being a great headphone.
According to my personal listening period of over a year and a half, I came to the conclusion that it misses the necessary oomph in the low end and that it also sounded a bit veiled in the upper regions.
Activating the Flat Curve gave the LCD-2 a lot more breathing room. I could finally feel that planar magnetic bass rumble and the headphone really opened up over all the frequencies. Overall, an excellent improvement!
Where to Download Sonarworks True-Fi?
You can go to https://www.sonarworks.com/truefi and sign up for a free 10-day trial.
If you’re not ready to download yet, you can always try the Online Demo on the same page.
Quick Tutorial on How to Use Sonarworks True-Fi
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the software, a new playback device will be installed called True-Fi Virtual Audio Device. Make sure this is your main audio device.
If your music program, for example the Tidal desktop app, lets you choose a specific audio device, make sure you select the True-Fi audio device.
The program itself will automatically start up each time you start your computer. It will nest itself in your Windows Taskbar. To open it, you simply click on the icon.
Choose your Headphones
Once you opened the program, you first need to choose your headphone. Make sure your headphone is supported!
Choose your headphone (I chose my Sennheiser HD650) and press Yes to confirm.
Different Sound Signatures
You can enable or disable True-Fi by clicking the on/off button.
Besides a Flat Curve, Sonarworks True-Fi comes with a few extra frequency curves and even a manual setup, if you really like to experiment.
Do note that every curve starts from the Flat Curve. Meaning that if you select the boosted curve, Sonarworks first applies the Flat Curve, and starts from there.
A – Studio Flat
This is the Flat Curve, meaning you’ll hear the music the way the artist intended. The headphone will not artificially boost or lower any frequency.
B – Slight Bass Boost
This curve has a slight boost in the low end combined with a small roll-off at the high end. This curve is also known as the B&K 1974 optimum Hi-Fi curve.
C – Other Reference
This curve adds more treble. Yeah, nothing more to say really…
D – Custom
You can adjust for age and bass. The idea behind this is that our hearing changes as we get older. This custom curve will try to compensate for that.
My Preferred Frequency
Personally, I preferred curve A for most of the music I listened to.
For EDM/Techno/House, curve B did a good job in creating a more fun and engaging sound environment. Curve B was also great with movies as you get a little bit of that cinema sound feel.
Options C and D are not my cup of tea. I don’t like the sound with curve C as it is too bright and I also don’t feel the need to change the sound based on age, as every person’s ears are different at the same age, so it’s hard to create a somewhat accurate curve.
Is Sonarworks True-Fi Worth It?
Whether or not Sonarworks True-Fi is something for you really depends on what you’re looking for, I guess.
Although the software is still in Beta phase, I do like the idea and I personally believe it has a positive result on the supported headphones I tried it with.
Does this mean every headphone will sound the same after you strip away the factory EQ? Not really, because it will always depend on the quality of the driver, the isolation, and material that is used in the headphone.
All in all, if you’re curious or you’re not quite satisfied with the sound coming from your headphones, it doesn’t hurt to try it out. Who knows… you might fall in love again with your cans.
As always I’m curious what you guys think, so shoot me a comment with questions or your personal experience with this software.
Update (September 2017)
As of September 19th, True-Fi is no longer in beta phase.