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How do you handle distortion in headphones VS speakers when it comes to loud masters?
Old 10th March 2021
  #1
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🎧 5 years
How do you handle distortion in headphones VS speakers when it comes to loud masters?

Dear everyone

While dealing with clients wishing for very loud masters and you manage to make it sound good, clear & loud but occasionally it sounds crunchy and distorted when you consult headphones (But it's never audible in the speakers). How do you generally handle this?

Short background:
On regular basis I get clients working in the field of metal, trap and rap music that is required to be loud. Broadly speaking these tracks have huge bass but with some softer sounds like bells, pianos and gentle strings.
In some tracks these sounds distort audibly in headphones but are completely fine on speakers. However, when I check in headphones on my home laptop, it's ok - no distortion - but listening through headphones in my daughters laptop or phone it can distort.

This have lead me to check a lot of work in the genres previously mentioned, mastered by others and it seems the results are all over the place. Quite a lot of the music distorts though.

Very curious to hear your thoughts and how you usually think around this issue. Or perhaps it's a non-issue after all?
Old 10th March 2021
  #2
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 
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1 Review written
🎧 15 years
Laptop headphone amps are crappy. Sounds to me like there is too much bass for the headphone amps to handle correctly. Have you listened on a good headphone amp like a Benchmark? I think it is the headphone amp that is distorting. FWIW
Old 11th March 2021
  #3
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Trakworx's Avatar
 
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🎧 10 years
Does the amount of distortion correlate with the volume setting? If yes, then it's either the headphone amp, the DAC or the headphones distorting. If no then it's probably the audio file that's distorting.
Old 11th March 2021 | Show parent
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe ➡️
Laptop headphone amps are crappy. Sounds to me like there is too much bass for the headphone amps to handle correctly. Have you listened on a good headphone amp like a Benchmark? I think it is the headphone amp that is distorting. FWIW
Yes I've been thinking this.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Trakworx ➡️
Does the amount of distortion correlate with the volume setting? If yes, then it's either the headphone amp, the DAC or the headphones distorting. If no then it's probably the audio file that's distorting.
Makes sense. I don't have that high volume during playback. Usually the distortion goes away when I decrease the gain slider on any media player on the laptop or phone.

Old 11th March 2021
  #5
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Hippocratic Mastering's Avatar
 
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Does your daughter’s phone and/or laptop have any EQ settings on playback? These frequently pushed audio into clipping.
Old 11th March 2021
  #6
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 
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🎧 15 years
What impedance are your headphones? Lower impedance headphones require more power to drive and can cause some headphone amps to go into distortion as they do not have the power to drive low impedance phones...FWIW
Old 11th March 2021
  #7
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Surbitone's Avatar
 
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🎧 10 years
How do other people's masters sound on these headphones?

"This have lead me to check a lot of work in the genres previously mentioned, mastered by others and it seems the results are all over the place. Quite a lot of the music distorts though."
Old 11th March 2021
  #8
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Edward_Vinatea's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by melopie ➡️
Dear everyone

This have lead me to check a lot of work in the genres previously mentioned, mastered by others and it seems the results are all over the place. Quite a lot of the music distorts though.
If it happens to every other commercially recorded song that you hear, then in all likelihood, it's a non-issue.
Old 12th March 2021 | Show parent
  #9
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hippocratic Mastering ➡️
Does your daughter’s phone and/or laptop have any EQ settings on playback? These frequently pushed audio into clipping.
Thanks for the input. It lead me to check settings, and it seems that the laptops up-sample audio to 48khz. But no EQ settings either in the OS or in the media-players as far as I can find.

Some tracks does not distort when I toggle the 48khz up-sampling off

Nice find, thank you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe ➡️
What impedance are your headphones? Lower impedance headphones require more power to drive and can cause some headphone amps to go into distortion as they do not have the power to drive low impedance phones...FWIW
Another good idea. I'm using Sennheiser HD600 and it seems they are not always behaving well with consumer headphone amps.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edward_Vinatea ➡️
If it happens to every other commercially recorded song that you hear, then in all likelihood, it's a non-issue.
I hope so
Old 14th March 2021
  #10
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darkalex's Avatar
 
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If you’re using a Windows laptop with the built in headphone jack, then the distortion you’re hearing is a genuine problem

If you’re playing a MP3 file or some master which is full scale (peaking zero), then windows applies an absolute crap limiter around -1 to -2dBFS threshold, to do god knows what, this always pumps audio and in some cases with some really hot masters, it just craps them out

I’ve tried this with many laptops and I can confirm this, just reduce the output around 2-3dBS from the player and you should be good to go
Old 14th March 2021 | Show parent
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darkalex ➡️
If you’re using a Windows laptop with the built in headphone jack, then the distortion you’re hearing is a genuine problem

If you’re playing a MP3 file or some master which is full scale (peaking zero), then windows applies an absolute crap limiter around -1 to -2dBFS threshold, to do god knows what, this always pumps audio and in some cases with some really hot masters, it just craps them out

I’ve tried this with many laptops and I can confirm this, just reduce the output around 2-3dBS from the player and you should be good to go
I see. Thanks.

I actually tried today to go via the mini-tele output out to an audio-interface with a good headphone amp and it seems to be the same there.
Old 23rd March 2021
  #12
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Jerry Tubb's Avatar
 
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🎧 15 years
get a better headphone amp?!

pull the playback level down a dB for a bit more headroom?

jt
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerry Tubb ➡️
get a better headphone amp?!

pull the playback level down a dB for a bit more headroom?

jt
Yes I agree.

It can be a little sensitive to talk to clients about this if they hear distortion when they listen in subpar headphone amps - laptop mini-tele output -

A further discovery I have made with all this is that if I intentionally clip my DAW Fader output by +1.3dB while my master is being played back within the DAW I get almost the same distortion as I do on my laptop and phone.
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