What Makes Good Headphones Sound Bad

While headphones can surely be considered to be the crowning piece of any audio gear set-up, all the other parts have an equally – if not even more – important role to play in sound reproduction. The typical setup consists of a device like a CD player, a smartphone, a tablet or a record player, a preamp and an amp, depending on whether either is included in the reproduction device, and the headphones, and each of them affects the quality of the sound that comes out of the headphones in different ways. So, it’s entirely possible that even with high-quality headphones such as Schultz’s, the quality of the sound would not be at a satisfying level.

One of the reasons this might happen could be that the quality of the recording that’s being reproduced is bad. It can be badly recorded, badly mixed or even badly played in the first place, and there’s very little to be done to make it better. Demo-quality, lo-fi music will not sound as good as high-quality studio produced music. Another reason that affects the quality of the recording is the compression standards that were applied to it. It is a well-known fact that and audio CD sounds better than mp3, and that is because the compression that is used to produce a small mp3 file strips away some of the data from the original recording, which translates into lower quality audio. Lossless format, with files that are the largest in size, is very lightly compressed, and even that compression is done in a way that doesn’t affect the quality of the recording.

If the device that is used to play the sound has sound stored on it in a digital form, it is necessary for the digital data to be transformed into analog signal, which is then reproduced by the headphones. Devices that are made to do that are called digital-to-analog converters or DACs, and they are a part of most devices like CD players, smartphones, mp3 players, tablets, or even computer sound cards. The problem with DACs is that they can, in general, affect the quality of the sound for the worse if they are of lower quality. It is possible to get standalone DACs and pair them with digital devices which don’t have DACs of their own, but this option is usually used only by the high-quality audio enthusiasts. Most consumers could be perfectly happy with an integrated, but decent quality, DAC.

Another problem that might occur is that the device used for playing the music simply does not have enough power to produce good quality sound with the headphones in question. This happens when a setup does not include an amp, and it results in the lower-powered device producing lower quality sound simply because the sound is a bit quitter, and we perceive that as a lack of quality. Using an amp will help reduce this problem, as will a careful pairing of headphones and devices to get the right ratio of impedance.