While signal EQ doesn’t run very deep into typical audiophile setups, some products like Schiit’s 4-band Loki are pulling together traction for a product category that seems like it should already be an established element. Purists may pull away, but so much of music production is already EQ’d before it reaches the transducer that a little more along the way couldn’t hurt, right?
One company that has been working with these very same production studios already is Sonarworks. Seeking to create a better, flatter monitoring experience across multiple setups, SW has created a product that adjusts the incoming signal so playback sound more identical, no matter where the owner listens to their tracks. Now they want to take that same concept of a leveling the playing field forward – starting with headphones.
The new personal audio product is called True-Fi, and it requires that each compatible headphone be individually measured. The result is that not every headphone on the market is currently compatible, but a good cross section will work with the downloadable software. In its current form True-Fi is only available as an application for Mac and PC, but more mobile integrations are rumored to be in the works. The EQ rests in between your playback software and your computer’s output so users can still utilize external DACs if they wish. Perhaps the most interesting design element is the on/off switch located front and center. The option gives the listener a real chance to hear the A/B, and for every sample we tested the augmentation was considerably better. But even more to the core of what Sonarworks is trying to achieve is how it makes each headphone sound astonishingly similar. The real benefit to the die-hard headphone enthusiast may just be this wiping of the EQ slate, leaving only outside characteristics behind to evaluate.
Installation is as simple as your run-of-the-mill app installation. For Mac users the software is not available through the native store, but rather sold and downloaded direct from the company site. The on-screen menu is relatively small and unassuming and even offers a few customizations – mainly bass and age appropriation. One of the negatives for this early release stage is the relative size of the list of compatible headphones. Obviously, its impact on your experience will vary greatly if you have one of the included headphones or not. At the time of this review, there were 34 pairs of Sennheiser and 14 Beyerdynamic, and 2 Audeze headphones (LCD-2, X) on the list. Overall, the option for compatible cans does lean towards the more pro side than an audiophile flair, however it was easy to find more than a few options from the inventory we had on hand here at the lab.
Kicking things off with one of the more polarizing headphones, the HD 650 by Sennheiser proved more air and space in the treble region with the assistance of TF against acoustic tracks like Wild World by Cat Stevens. The boost as desgnated on the graph was immedately noticable, but not overbaring. This headphone is sometimes viewed as “laid back” in the upper regions the the software brought up this controversial subject to a more even playing field without creating a harsh delivery. On the inverse side, the bass in this case was a little big larger than usual with the default +6dB bass boost. This extra bottom end usually adds a little happy energy to the mix, but in the case of the HD650 was a little heavy handed. Pulling the boost out (back down to flat on the graph) fixed the intensity and presented a more liniar vibe for the headphone.
The V-Moda Crossfade Wireless 2 (in wired mode) is a fun-sounding headphone all by itself. The low end reach is unique against the backdrop of many other cans in its price range and all by itself is never dull or uninviting. The measured response of True-Fi appeared as a larger adjustment than the HD650 even though the end result does appear to somewhat the same – the entire point of the software. The sound moves in many frequency points for the Crossfade 2 and through a certain lens, the perception for the headphone overall. There is again slightly more openness, but the on/off comparison now focuses on an interesting ambience in the mid section. The removal of the software carries with it a mild sense of listening though a paper tube. Listening to Lazaras from Porcupine Tree, once ambient synth sounds come rushing to the forefront sans True-Fi. Although not bad on its own, the comparison feels a wee bit tinny, but not enough to be outright crunchy.
1More’s Triple Driver IEM takes things the other direction through True-Fi. The bass-forward earphone does a great job at $99, both as an all-arounder and as an every day carry. EQ settings here reduced most of the low end to proper working order. It was enough to where it felt appropriate to add a couple dBs back in the curve for just a little more shove. With Diana Krall’s The Look of Love, the treble was very much evened out, providing a percussive shaker sound that captured more dimension and tightness. Diana’s voice in the mids took on a new delivery, but this time it was more of a toss up as to preference between the two options.
Just for fun we also threw a pair of generic Apple Earpods into the mix. For a reasonable comparison a recent version of the ubiquitous white buds terminating in a 3.5mm connection was employed. The fresh EQ curve was almost spectacular and really showed off the downfalls of the thin and closed-in default presentation. However, the little earphone could barely hold on to all the proper linearity and couldn’t really keep the treble together on either setting against the backdrop of the remastered version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
If you like the idea of EQ for your headphones but are a bit scared when you stare directly into the lines of a heavily adjustable parametric EQ setting, then True-Fi is definitely something you should check out. At is core, it is EQ simplified. Even with the unique variable bass adjustment it is a favorable “flatline”, if you will. If you agree with that curve, then you can be very happy with nearly any output on the other end. In a way, the other side of application for the software is how it actually reveals the shortcomings of any headphone after removal. Comparisons come much easier when a common benchmark can be used. Both the forward completion and the reverse critic add to the product’s talent pool. The sonic pathway is both a tool, measuring stick and one stop EQ setting from measuring machines. Sure, there is room for error in said measurements, poor headphone manufacturing QC and other anomalies to deal with, but for the most part the signal pushed out the other end of this product will speak well to all those who seek out such solutions.
More info: https://www.sonarworks.com/truefi