As I write this, I'm listening to a recording of Joss Stone. Her voice sounds completely natural, hovering in the air just a few meters in front of me, placed distinctly at the center of my sound system, remaining there regardless of how I move my head. I can almost touch the ambience of the recording. The low frequency extension is great, the room modes are extremely well controlled. The listening room is remarkably well treated, with just the right amount of air and sense of space, and without the annoyance of comb filters or spectral coloration. It’s treated so well, I don’t need digital room correction. This is an experience you can’t get without a HiFi and room treatment budget of at least $100,000 USD. The funny fact is this: I’m getting this experience with a pair of headphones. And the sound system I’m referring to? It’s a virtual one.
Have you ever wondered why music sounds so different on headphones compared to loudspeakers? It’s because, by design, headphones are not technically compatible with the stereophonic system. That isn’t to say you can’t still get great sound from headphones. Otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing the boom in headphone sales that we've been seeing the past few years (although it’s worth pointing out that some retail stores keep mirrors next to the headphone displays for customers who care more about looks than sound). In this post, I’ll be examining why music sounds different on headphones, and look into a technology that can upgrade headphone sound quality by several notches.