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Audio interface and ear fatigue - can someone explain?
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Ajacky
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#1
11th May 2013
Old 11th May 2013
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Audio interface and ear fatigue - can someone explain?

Hey,

Can anyone explain why my ears get sore and tired when listening music for long periods on my Sennheiser HD-25 headphones through Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface?

I notice it immediately that when I switch the connection to the normal computer headphone jack I can listen to longer periods without my ears aching. I'm not making this up as I bought the interface mainly to improve my listening experience but unfortunately while it does make the audio fidelity better, it also makes the listening experience more unpleasant.

I also have a Rane Sixty One DJ-mixer with built-in converters and I can listen through it as well with no ear fatigue. Somehow just the Focusrite interface makes this. Maybe it has something to do with the way it makes the higher frequencies more sharp? I can also verify this experience with my KRK rokit rp5 monitors even though it is not as apparent as with the headphones.
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11th May 2013
Old 11th May 2013
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I get the same from my Echo AudioFire.

I think it is because the converters are of such a high quality that the signal they output is more detailed. The eardrum responds to every minute detail of the sound, which in turn makes our brains decode a lot more information, which leads to exhaustion and fatigue.
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11th May 2013
Old 11th May 2013
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NO, it's not that at all. The higher fidelity, the less fatiguing, because there is less distortion. Your new interface may actually have worse fidelity TECHNICALLY than you're computer. Also, maybe the headphone impedance is mismatched. If the amp can't drive the phones, they will distort. A/B a new set of headphones. Try Yamaha RH-5MA. Amazing headphones that plug into just about anything.. or if you are monitoring and not mixing, try beyerdynamic dt770.
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11th May 2013
Old 11th May 2013
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I'm not saying you are wrong, and I must say that it's only my opinion.

However, when I listen to music directly from my interface, I find it very uncomfortable. But when I run the same signal through a pair of Mullard tubes in my preamp, it's like my ears are soothed and don't get fatigued. All the harshness is smoothed out. The tubes are in effect adding distortion.
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11th May 2013
Old 11th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimmyV View Post
I'm not saying you are wrong, and I must say that it's only my opinion.

However, when I listen to music directly from my interface, I find it very uncomfortable. But when I run the same signal through a pair of Mullard tubes in my preamp, it's like my ears are soothed and don't get fatigued. All the harshness is smoothed out. The tubes are in effect adding distortion.
Yes but where and what kind of distortion?
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11th May 2013
Old 11th May 2013
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Of course tubes produce a different kind of distortion than you are talking about, I understand. My point is that higher quality converters, IMO reproduce so much fine detail in the sound that it makes listening hard work over time.
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11th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimmyV View Post
Of course tubes produce a different kind of distortion than you are talking about, I understand. My point is that higher quality converters, IMO reproduce so much fine detail in the sound that it makes listening hard work over time.
It's not detail that hurts your ears. It's lack of detail. Your ears don't like continuous noise at any volume level, they will begin to filter it out almost immediately. Things like aliasing are what hurt your ears. Overcompressed highs, anything that produces a near steady level at a given frequency will fatigue your ears. The more detail that comes through, the less grainy and irritating something is. It's really not subjective. Take your phone out and listen to a few songs on the built in speaker. Even at low volumes it will "hurt" your ears after a few minutes because all the information is compressed and in one narrow frequency band. Same goes for built in speakers in TVs.

My guess is that you're doing something wrong.. like plugging the wrong phones into the wrong jack. Just because it's the right plug doesn't mean it's the right impedance. Impedance problems usually limit the frequency bandwidth. It's also possible that the particular headphone amp you're using is the bad link in the chain.

A good example is my friend's car stereo. He had a fancy touchscreen head unit, but it sounded terrible. Ear piercing at any reasonable volume. And this is the NORM. He bought a nice kenwood (albeit low tech looking) and now you can crank it for days and it doesn't bother you, not to mention there is actually a soundstage that rivals most studios. His JL amp blew out, and he had to switch back to a cheap pioneer, suddenly it was ear splitting and all that sound stage was obliterated. Night and day difference not just in sound quality but listenability.
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11th May 2013
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I see what you are saying now. This is why I find a lot of the hard dance music made these days really offensive to my ears. Lack of dynamic range and aliasing in the high freqs. It actually hurts to listen to some of it.
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12th May 2013
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So, focusing on the tiny variations between DAC stages over the large variations between headphone output stages.

Classic gearslutz.
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12th May 2013
Old 12th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimmyV View Post
I'm not saying you are wrong, and I must say that it's only my opinion.

However, when I listen to music directly from my interface, I find it very uncomfortable. But when I run the same signal through a pair of Mullard tubes in my preamp, it's like my ears are soothed and don't get fatigued. All the harshness is smoothed out. The tubes are in effect adding distortion.
I find this to be the case for me as well. Listening straight from my converters is quite accurate but I fatigue quicker than if I run the signal through a tube stage. We can argue all day about all the technicalities of it but in the end there's not much that's more important than your ears, your health and your comfort level.
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12th May 2013
Old 12th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by prizebeatz1 View Post
I find this to be the case for me as well. Listening straight from my converters is quite accurate but I fatigue quicker than if I run the signal through a tube stage. We can argue all day about all the technicalities of it but in the end there's not much that's more important than your ears, your health and your comfort level.
It's not really technical at all. A good experiment to illustrate what I'm saying is to play any sine wave for about 10 minutes at any steady volume. You're ears are gonna be upset.

If your ears are fatiguing quickly, it's a good indication that something is wrong somewhere, either you tracked harsh sounds (no detail in the highs, or detail masked by nodes/spikes), your amp or converter is poorly designed or broken (aliasing, unnoticed clipping), the headphones don't match the amp (bandwidth and dynamics deficiencies), the room isn't treated properly (na for phones), you're having power problems, etc etc.

I had the same experience with an EMU 1212 system, when I first bought it, it sounded great, but after a few years it started to feel like I was in a closed space with a chainsaw running. Something had degraded slowly over time. Had another experience with a pair of AT headphones...the bass response slowly got worse and worse (granted they were about 8 years old and heavily used at that point), but again, some component had degraded slowly over time, and I actually noticed they were getting hot which means I could have been blasting my ears with ultrasound and microwaves, who knows. There's also been too many times where I've used headphones that didn't match the amp very well and after A/Bing it became apparent.

There is only one way a monitoring system should sound, and if you've heard one set up professionally then you know that. It's either clear and full range and flat, with an open, accurate and deep sound stage. People say it's subjective but only the smaller details are subjective (as in which design comprimises can I live with)...there is a RIGHT and a WRONG here. If you've never heard right, you don't know what's wrong...it's part of the human condition...original sin some call it. I call it "I don't have the resources or desire to A/B different combinations of gear, so I'll take the butchers word that there's a nice juicy T-bone up that cow's a$$."

Anyways, it's a very bad idea to add processing to your monitor signal that you aren't adding to a mix. Tubes aren't always soothing either. Ever played guitar through a Peavey 6505+? Not smooth and creamy, but it's harsher than the iciest IC. Great for it's purpose, but I wouldn't want to track a whole album with that one amp alone without modifying for different parts. You guys started off well by A/Bing and seeing the difference, but went for the more expensive band-aid instead of the real fix.
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12th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoadToNever View Post
So, focusing on the tiny variations between DAC stages over the large variations between headphone output stages.

Classic gearslutz.
Not really.

Quote:
Originally Posted by psykostx
My guess is that you're doing something wrong.. like plugging the wrong phones into the wrong jack. Just because it's the right plug doesn't mean it's the right impedance. Impedance problems usually limit the frequency bandwidth. It's also possible that the particular headphone amp you're using is the bad link in the chain.
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12th May 2013
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By the way, I think I've solved this problem. There is a post near the top of the list about the 2i2. Reading through it, it seems almost everyone finds the headphone amp to be sub-par. If you decide to upgrade, make sure you upgrade for the long haul on a specialty item like a headphone amp. You might want to see if you can find a used benchmark, dangerous, mytek, or lavry DA that has a built in headphone amp, then you would be upgrading the whole chain and bypassing the 2i2 altogether as far as monitoring is concerned. Or you could just upgrade the headphone amp. I suggest Furman if you're on a budget. Really nice for the money, and if you decide to go full chain upgrade later, you can still use it as a remote headphone amp. It's also good for powering small desktop monitors, like mixcubes or something.
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12th May 2013
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How much dynamic range is there in your listening material?
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12th May 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psykostx View Post
It's not really technical at all. A good experiment to illustrate what I'm saying is to play any sine wave for about 10 minutes at any steady volume. You're ears are gonna be upset.

If your ears are fatiguing quickly, it's a good indication that something is wrong somewhere, either you tracked harsh sounds (no detail in the highs, or detail masked by nodes/spikes), your amp or converter is poorly designed or broken (aliasing, unnoticed clipping), the headphones don't match the amp (bandwidth and dynamics deficiencies), the room isn't treated properly (na for phones), you're having power problems, etc etc.

I had the same experience with an EMU 1212 system, when I first bought it, it sounded great, but after a few years it started to feel like I was in a closed space with a chainsaw running. Something had degraded slowly over time. Had another experience with a pair of AT headphones...the bass response slowly got worse and worse (granted they were about 8 years old and heavily used at that point), but again, some component had degraded slowly over time, and I actually noticed they were getting hot which means I could have been blasting my ears with ultrasound and microwaves, who knows. There's also been too many times where I've used headphones that didn't match the amp very well and after A/Bing it became apparent.

There is only one way a monitoring system should sound, and if you've heard one set up professionally then you know that. It's either clear and full range and flat, with an open, accurate and deep sound stage. People say it's subjective but only the smaller details are subjective (as in which design comprimises can I live with)...there is a RIGHT and a WRONG here. If you've never heard right, you don't know what's wrong...it's part of the human condition...original sin some call it. I call it "I don't have the resources or desire to A/B different combinations of gear, so I'll take the butchers word that there's a nice juicy T-bone up that cow's a$$."

Anyways, it's a very bad idea to add processing to your monitor signal that you aren't adding to a mix. Tubes aren't always soothing either. Ever played guitar through a Peavey 6505+? Not smooth and creamy, but it's harsher than the iciest IC. Great for it's purpose, but I wouldn't want to track a whole album with that one amp alone without modifying for different parts. You guys started off well by A/Bing and seeing the difference, but went for the more expensive band-aid instead of the real fix.
I disagree. Personally I know my ears fatigue quicker because of normal wear and tear of the body. It doesn't matter how high quality of a monitoring chain is available. And I will gladly add processing to my monitoring chain if it means that I experience less ear fatigue. Of course it's not ideal but the health of my ears is more important than the accuracy of a mix. I realize that that's not the case with everyone out there. It's relative.
Ajacky
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12th May 2013
Old 12th May 2013
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Originally Posted by psykostx View Post
By the way, I think I've solved this problem. There is a post near the top of the list about the 2i2. Reading through it, it seems almost everyone finds the headphone amp to be sub-par. If you decide to upgrade, make sure you upgrade for the long haul on a specialty item like a headphone amp. You might want to see if you can find a used benchmark, dangerous, mytek, or lavry DA that has a built in headphone amp, then you would be upgrading the whole chain and bypassing the 2i2 altogether as far as monitoring is concerned. Or you could just upgrade the headphone amp. I suggest Furman if you're on a budget. Really nice for the money, and if you decide to go full chain upgrade later, you can still use it as a remote headphone amp. It's also good for powering small desktop monitors, like mixcubes or something.
I was actually thinking about upgrading the interface to Apogee Duet 2. Do you think that would solve the problem also? I prefer to keep the setup simple but if you think a separate headphone amp is a better solution I'll look into it.
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12th May 2013
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Originally Posted by Ajacky View Post
I was actually thinking about upgrading the interface to Apogee Duet 2. Do you think that would solve the problem also? I prefer to keep the setup simple but if you think a separate headphone amp is a better solution I'll look into it.
I don't think that's neccessary if you are enjoying the sounds you are getting on the way in. I think there's a Furman that's about $100 and it's actualy very good. Again, it might sound bad if you use the wrong headphones. I have three pairs of headphones that I chose because they work well with all of my headphone stations (but they don't all work well with some the devices in my home):

Beyerdynamic DT770 for the musician's monitors and for time consuming tasks like editing. (they have a very smooth colored sound so they are great for actual monitoring of signals during tracking once they sound right on your mains.

Yamaha RH-5MA are my favorite for mixing. You can hear all the details of all the effects tails and the frequency response is very flat and even, though they don't have the extension frequencies...which makes them great for setting "corrective" EQ (something I try avoid at all costs by using the right mic and pre; but if you don't have control of that it's unavoidable). They ALWAYS translate. I wouldn't use them for monitoring texturing/coloring type processors though, because they don't have the extension frequencies. Save that for your main monitors.

Shure SCL2 earbuds (discontinued)... purely for checking translation, because nowadays everyone has earbuds.

PS: Headphones I'm buying next round of monitoring upgrades are the Ultrasone PRO750. Their S-Logic tech is actually pretty useful and they are very smooth sounding for extended listening.
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