Flat-sounding headphones (or flat headphones) have been around for many years. However, not many casual music listeners and audio enthusiasts knew about them until recently. But how good are flat headphones? Do they sound good?
Flat headphones are good for audio/mixing engineers and audiophiles. That’s because it provides an accurate sound representation of the audio played through it with little to no change to the frequencies. This means the sound from flat headphones.
What does it really mean for a headphone to be flat? Do they sound better than regular headphones? Is there a way to make regular headphones sound flat? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this article. So if this is something you’re interested in knowing, then let’s quickly jump in.
What Does It Mean for a Headphone to Be Flat?
Every headphone and speaker has a specific frequency response. Most consumer-oriented headphones have a low or bass frequency response, while flat headphones have a flat frequency response. However, what does this mean exactly?
A headphone can be said to be flat if it has not been tuned to make one frequency higher than another. This means that the bass, mid, and high-frequency settings in flat headphones have not been boosted, reduced, or cut out in any way.
Due to this, flat headphones give an accurate representation and reproduction of the original frequency balance and sound that is present in a piece of music. Thus, flat headphones do not change the sound that passes through them. They transmit the exact audio signal that passes through them.
Flat headphones are also known as studio-grade headphones. Audio/sound engineers and audiophiles mostly use this type of headphone. Due to the work of audio engineers, they always expect to hear the original audio worked upon from their headphones. This helps them to mix songs accurately.
However, if you mix with consumer-oriented headphones or bass-boosted headphones, you will not achieve great results from the records you work on. I talked about this, in detail, in my article on why Beats headphones are not great headphones. Do well to check it out.
Also, audiophiles are passionate about the music they listen to; they prefer to hear the exact editing and mixing work done by the audio and recording engineer. Listening to music from flat headphones helps them achieve exactly that.
In summary, a headphone can be said to be flat if it gives an accurate depiction of the track you are listening to. With such headphones, you will hear exactly what was recorded, with no coloration.
Do Flat Headphones Sound Better?
The debate of whether flat headphones sound better than consumer ones is subjective. It is always dependent on an individual’s taste in music.
In plain terms, how good a headphone sounds to you depends on your listening preference and the type of headphones you are used to.
If you are used to listening to non-flat or consumer-oriented headphones, a flat headphone will sound weird to you. The same can be said for people who are used to listening to music through flat headphones.
Flat headphones bring out an accurate reproduction of the work done by the artist, engineer, and producer. They do not manipulate the audio signal that passes through them.
Thus, they enable listeners to hear music exactly how the producers and engineers of the song want their music to sound.
However, this does not necessarily mean flat headphones sound better than non-flat ones. It only means they give a neutral and accurate audio frequency response.
How Can I Make My Flat Headphones Sound Better?
This question is not as straightforward as it looks. Before I answer this question, what does it mean to make a headphone sound better? For a headphone to sound better, there has to be a reference to which it is being compared.
Also, as I have mentioned throughout this article, how good any headphone sounds is always subjective.
Thus, making your flat headphones sound better ultimately revolves around tweaking them to suit your musical preference at any given point in time. When this is achieved, we can say your flat headphone sounds better since it meets your musical or listening needs at a particular point in time.
With this point clearly established, I can go ahead to answer this question. The truth is, you can tweak your flat headphones to sound the way you want them to, which ultimately means they sound better than they used to.
What you can do to improve the sound experience of your flat headphones is to tweak the EQ settings on your listening device. Experiment with different EQ settings till you get a sound that you enjoy.
Are Flat Headphones Boring?
When it comes to audio, any listening device or headphones that produce a flat sound cannot be termed as boring. It only means the headphone outputs an accurate sound signal which is exactly the same as when it was being recorded.
However, since most listeners are not used to flat headphones, they perceive the sound they produce to be unexciting and weird.
What one person looks out for in a listening device usually differs from what another person looks out for. For most headphone users, the primary reason for using a headphone is to derive pleasure and enjoyment.
Consumer-oriented headphones output colored sound. These types of headphones have their equalization settings tampered with. Thus, these non-flat headphones are able to provide the sort of enjoyment and pleasure casual listeners seek from headphones.
All consumer headphones, including Beats headphones, have been engineered to produce bass-heavy sound. I have an article that speaks more on why Beats headphones are bass-heavy. Thus, if you are interested in knowing why this is so, read this article.
If you are used to listening to music through Beats or other bass-heavy headphones, switching to flat headphones will feel strange. Unfortunately, most of the headphones used by the masses are colored. Therefore, when we switch to flat headphones, they sound weird and unexciting to the ears.
Due to this, when this sound from flat headphones is compared to consumer-oriented ones, they may sound dull to the ears. That is why some people may term the unaccustomed sound they hear from flat headphones as boring.
However, this is far from the truth. There are quite many people who enjoy listening to music with flat frequency response headphones, myself included. So flat-sounding headphones are not boring by any means.
Which Headphones Have the Flattest Frequency Response?
There are many headphones available today that are advertised as flat sounding. And for many people, it can be quite difficult to distinguish the good from the great.
However, I can list a few that certainly meet that criteria. So if you are a sound or audio engineer or an audiophile, you should definitely check out these headphones I’ll recommend. They are some of the flattest sounding headphones out there.
The AKG Pro K240Studio Headphone (on Amazon) is one of the highest-rated headphones on Amazon, and for a good reason.
First of all, this headphone has a flat frequency response, so every audio you play through these headphones is an accurate representation. And this is why it’s one of the go-to headphones for professional audio engineers.
Secondly, this has an open-back design. This means you can hear your surroundings even when this headphone is on. Once again, this is why studio engineers love this headphone so much.
That’s because open-back headphones provide a natural listening experience as if you’re listening from a set of speakers. And also, you can wear open-back headphones for a longer period than closed-back headphones, which is what audio engineers usually do.
Thirdly, the AKG K240Studio is very cheap, and you can pick it up for about 70 bucks.
I wouldn’t recommend the AKG K240Studio headphones for traveling because it doesn’t have a noise-canceling feature which is really helpful when you’re traveling.
Other than that, it’s an excellent headphone you can use professionally or casually if you enjoy flat-sounding headphones.
The Sennheiser HD280PRO (on Amazon) is an excellent pro-audio headphone. This headphone sounds natural and of high quality. The sound delivered by these headphones is relatively flat, having just a minor lower bass spike.
Thus, this headphone has a flat frequency response. This flat frequency response makes it easy to manipulate the sound you hear from the headphone.
Because these were made for professionals, these headphones are comfortable to wear and lightweight. That’s because they know professionals usually wear headphones for extended periods compared to the average casual music listener.
It is designed as a noise-isolated headphone. Thus, it is able to reduce outside noise by about 32dB. The great thing about these headphones is that it comes at an affordable price.
For the price it comes at, the Sennheiser HD280PRO is definitely worth considering.
Status Audio CB-1
The Status Audio CB-1 Headphone (also on Amazon) comes highly rated by customers and users. It has received lots of positive reviews as well. In fact, most music producers and audiophiles have rated this headphone higher than lots of 200 dollar headphones.
This is because the sound this headphone produces is incredible. It is clear, accurate, and of excellent quality, with no harshness in frequencies. Like all the headphones on this list, it has one of the flattest frequency responses.
The few downsides of the Status Audio CB-1 headphones are that it has an ear cup that is comfortable and covers the entire ear. Unfortunately, this only provides a fair amount of noise isolation. Also, this headphone is mostly made of plastic. Thus it needs to be handled with care.
In summary, the Status Audio CB-1 is one of the best and most comfortable headphones you will ever get at the price range it comes at.
How to Make any Headphone Sound Flat
Even if your headphone does not come as naturally flat, you don’t need to spend lots of money to acquire flat headphone when the situation demands it. You can simply tune your colored headphones to sound as flat as possible.
To do this, you will need to use an EQ to correct your headphone’s frequency response. There are lots of ways you can use EQ to tweak your headphones to have a flat frequency response. All these require the use of EQ and calibration software.
Sonarworks SoundID Reference
The Sonarworks SoundID Reference is, without a doubt, the best software for converting your colored headphone into a flat-sounding headphones.
SoundID Reference (on PluginBoutique) is a headphone calibration software. What it does is it applies an EQ to the audio being sent to your phone.
The Sonarworks SoundID software has been talked about extensively in a previous article. You can read this article if you are interested in learning more about the Sonarworks SoundID software. Thus, I will keep it brief in this article.
The Sonarworks SoundID is an amazing piece of software that can be used to set the frequency response of your headphone at all audible frequencies to flat. This video does a great job of explaining how this can be achieved.
The EqualizerAPO is an open-source graphical equalization software for windows. Even though this is free software, it is one of the best EQ software you can get your hands on.
This is because it comes with lots of features that enable you to customize the frequency response of your headphone or speakers to your preference.
The EqualizerAPO is quite similar to the Sonarworks SoundID software. The difference is that with Equalizer APO, you may have to dial in your EQ settings on your own.
On the other hand, SoundID Reference already has the EQ settings for your existing headphone. And it is already more user-friendly than EqualizerAPO.
That notwithstanding, the Equalizer APO is a great equalization software that enables you to achieve high levels of sound quality from your headphones.
Watch this video below to learn how to acquire this free software and how to use it to make the frequency response of your headphones sound as flat as possible.
Flat headphones are good headphones. They are designed mainly for studio/mixing and music production-related works. This is because flat headphones bring out an accurate reproduction of musical works.
These headphones are good and function perfectly in that regard. Due to how flat headphones have been designed to work, they are also preferred by audiophiles. However, most people do not want them due to their flat frequency response.