Headphones and Earphones Benchmarking Test Files
This page helps you evaluate headphones or earbuds online, and determine which one offers the best performance when comparing different pairs. Do not forget to upload these files into your portable audio player when going out shopping for a new pair of headphones or earphones.
|10 Hz >> 200 Hz
+ Voice Over
The first file tests your headphones' bass extension. Play back the file until you start hearing the underlying sweeping tone as it rises. The voiceover tells you the frequency you have reached: this number represents the lowest boundary of your headphones or earbuds frequency extension. Good headphones will go as low as 20 Hz, the lowest limit of our hearing.
|22 kHz >> 8 kHz
+ Voice Over
The second file tests your headphones’ treble extension. To measure your headphones’ highest frequency, play back the second file until you start hearing the underlying (high pitched) sweep tone as it descends. Good headphones will reproduce frequencies up to 20 kHz, the upper limit of human hearing range.
Dynamic range represents the ratio between the loudest signal you can hear and the quietest. Dynamic range is not part of any headphone specification, but will help you when benchmarking the isolation offered by your headphone in a noisy environment.
+ Voice Over
The file starts by playing noise at a full scale level. Adjust the level in your headphone so that this noise plays loudly, without being uncomfortably loud. Right after the noise, a voice is played back at a specified level, expressed in dBFS (decibels below full scale). Noise references and voiceovers alternate with each other, with the voice being played at decreasing levels. Play the file until you can't hear the voiceover anymore. The dynamic range that has been reached is given by the level the voice message was playing at when it was still (barely) audible.
The higher the dynamic range reached, the better the isolation offered by your headphones. In general, "closed" headphones and "in-ear" earphones provide more isolation than the "open" type of headsets.
Poorly built or extensively worn headphones may start to rattle whenever loud or deep bass content is played. The next file scans bass frequencies and will literally shake your drivers when turning the level up. Adjust the volume in your headphone so that the test is made at a high level: the sweeping tone should remain pure and clear at all frequencies, without any parasitic buzz or rattle appearing in one earpiece or the other.
Better headphones have tighter tolerances in the variation of their drivers' frequency responses. To reproduce a faithful stereo image, the left and the right drivers must respond equally to every frequency in the audible spectrum. When this condition is fulfilled, the drivers are said to be "matched."
Our driver matching test sweeps all these frequencies (up to 10 kHz) and sends exactly the same levels to both earpieces. Play the test tone at a moderate level and listen: the sweeping tone should keep a perfect central position across all frequencies, playing right in the middle of your head, without any deviation.
A panning that departs from its central position for a particular frequency will highlight poorly matched drivers... or mismatched ears. To ensure that your headphone’s drivers cause the problem, not your ears, perform the test again, with the earpieces swapped: the left channel now feeding your right ear and vice versa. The panning should now deviate in the opposite direction.
Headphones that are properly wired will route the left channel to the left earpiece, and the right channel to the right (this makes sense). More important, relative polarity between drivers must be preserved: when presented with the same input signal, both drivers should move in the same direction, not opposite of each other.
To test polarity, use the audio files labeled "Center" and "Twisted." When polarity is preserved, the "Center" test signal will play either from a well defined spot between your ears or in front of you (depending upon how your brain interprets our test signal). The "Twisted" file should be harder to locate in space, sounding like it is being twisted inside your brain. If it feels like the opposite, suspect faulty cabling in your headphones or earbuds.
Binaural recordings are made by placing microphones directly in one's ear, capturing the sound that reaches the pinnae. By playing back the recording through headphones, one ensures that each of the listener's ears get the exact same signal as originally captured. The result is immersive and truly surprising, but only works with headphones.
Our test signal consists of a binaural recording of someone knocking on wooden doors. When comparing headphones, judge how realistic the recording sounds: do you feel as if the doors are right next to you? Does it sound like real wooden doors?
Ultimately, listen to your favorite music...
Last but not least, the ultimate test is to listen to your favorite music, and tracks that you've listened to so many times so you know them by heart. We can't help you with this one, as only you best know, but we can provide you with a short musical test, designed to cover the whole spectrum in a short amount of time.