How I Test Headphones

This is how I test headphones so you can see if my test-cases are similar to your use-cases.
Photo by Faiz Alavi.

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I have a love-hate-love relationship with headphones and music. Testing headphones is one the fun things I like to do in my spare time.

A pair that I am daily driving now is Sony’s WH-1000XM4 and if you were to ask me, in short, what I think of them after 8 months’ use; I simply love them despite the skinny headband and annoying Speak-To-Chat feature (which I turned off in the Headphones’ App).

My playlist. Screenshot of Spotify Windows App.

What Songs Do I Use To Test Headphones.

The tests I run are done with the equaliser on Spotify turned off and the headphones are left on flat sound profile, so I get a wider sound stage (best way to hear all the instruments and feel immersed in the music).

The playlist I have to test headphones has 17 songs, I will only go into some of them here for the enthusiasts that want to get into headphones testing.

  1. Mountain by Hans Zimmer: Picked this particular song is because I want to test the high and upper midrange frequency response of the headphones.

    The beginning of the song starts with a ticking noise then moves into some strings and drums. This is good for testing how clear the high and midranges are. The clearer the ticks and strings, the better the high and upper midrange frequencies the headphones have.

    At the 1:40 mark the song picks up and gets faster and then hits you with a wall of bass. If you can hear all the instruments clearly despite the bass, the headphones have a solid high and upper midrange frequency response.

  2. The Chain by Fleetwood Mac and In The Stone by Earth, Wind and Fire: These two songs are to test midrange frequency response and see if they’re muddy or clear.

    The Chain starts off with the beating of the drum and guitar strumming. What you need to pay attention to is how clear the strumming is, and then to whether the voices are being drowned by the drums.

    For In The Stone you want to clearly hear the singers’ distinct voices and the bongo in the background.

  3. Time by Pink Floyd, Halocene by Bon Iver and Oye Como Va by Santana: Are three songs I use to test clarity of the headphones.

    Pink Floyd is known for obscuring lead vocalist Syd Barret’s voice in a trippy synth way. What you want to pick up is how clear Barret’s voice is with the trippy synth.

    For Halocene, you want to look out for how clear the vocals are because Bon Iver has 5 vocalists that also play instruments.

    Finally for Oye Como Va, you want to look out for the bongos and drums on either side of your ears, plus whether the background singers’ vocals are distinct to your ears.

  4. J-Pop and Anime OSTs: I use Sony headphones and they are from Japan.

    The songs I use to just flatter the sound profile Sony has built in are Blue Bird by Ikimonogakari, Red Swan by Yoshiki, Daddy ! Daddy ! Do ! by Masayuki Suzuki, Anoko Secret by Eve.

    These songs especially the last two lean more into the Pop sound profile when compared to the Dancy K-Pop.

  5. Time by Hans Zimmer: Few songs puts bass weight and detail better than this song.

    This song has so many layers to the track, with no Inception. What you want to experience is the moving from low loudness to filling up your whole room without being overwhelmingly loud.

    Just enough to make you have goosebumps.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 I daily drive.

Sound Isolation Or Cancelling Features Test.

I work mostly from home even before I started with TRP Tech and I live with family, which is perfect for the New Normal lifestyle test.

I test it when they are watching the TV with the volume at 75%. What I look for is if the sounds from the TV bleed into my listening of my other playlists.

I also use the vacuum cleaner. Purposely being around people as they’re vacuuming, with the headphones on to see how close I have to be before I can hear any of the high pitched vacuum whine.

While using noise cancelling headphones, I do not get startled when someone taps me on my shoulder to talk to me, so I devised another test for sound isolation and cancellation that’s unique for me;

I will have my brother, sister or friends talk and scream at me, in an effort to test how much I cannot hear them.

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Travel Test.

I travel to and from the office, or cafes for work and did get a chance to test headphones on an airplane before everything went into lockdown.

The headphones you have on must be able to give you peace of mind during your travels. How I test this in train stations is by making sure I do not hear anyone talking or the sound that trains make.

Then I got the rare chance to test headphones in airports while we were allowed to travel by plane. What you want to look for is how much the headphones make it easy for your security checks.

To me, the wired ones are slightly annoying to take off and put on compared to Bluetooth ones.

Finally the headphones or earphones you have on your head or in your ears must be comfortable after hours of listening during travelling and do not need charging every other hour.

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