Audio pathway, from computer to headphones/speakers

I’ve been watching videos on mixing/mastering using my DAW (I use a Mac and Logic Pro X 10.5) and keep seeing these demos where they tweak an EQ or a compressor, or some other gadget and then toggle the effect on and off saying stuff like, “It’s very clear how this effects the high end …”, or “You can hear how this makes the snare drums stand out” or whatever. My problem is that I can’t hear the difference at all.

There could be a number of reasons for that. One is that I’m old and my hearing is going bad. It might also be that the audio for Youtube videos gets squashed so the differences they want me to hear have been lost. Or, it could be that what I’m using to listen to them is not high-fidelity enough. Regardless, it bothers me that I’m putting music online and have no idea if I’m hearing it the same way everyone else is …

My setup is pretty simple/cheap. I have a USB connected Behringer UCA202 (I think they changed the model number for this to UFO202). Into that I have a pair of Sony MDR CD350 Digital Reference headphones (yes, they’re ancient) and a pair of Yamaha MSP5 monitors (even more ancient). I also have a pair of Sennheiser HD202 headphones but don’t use them because the bass is too heavy with them. I primarily use the Yamaha monitors when I’m using my keyboard as a piano and I use the headphones for everything else.

I’m wondering what others are using. What would be a good audio unit & headphone setup to use if you’re interested in hearing high-fi audio?

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Hi Paul. Welcome to the wonderful world of “how does this actually sound”. Audio references and baselines is one of the most trycky things.

Honestly, you’re probably not hearing much in the high frequencies anymore, and good audio equipment is expensive. So unless you’re planning a new career as a pro musician or audio engineer I would just keep the equipment you have, if you like how it sounds, and then happily be done with it and forget about the rest. Remember: Most of the people who will listen to your output will listen on equipment that’s worse than yours :slight_smile:

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To confirm if your hearing is failing, oscillator into analyzer and wind up the hertz until you can no longer hear it, there’s your cutoff point. I did & mine is :frowning: Though having said that, considering some of the gigs I’ve been to over the years, I’m amazed I’m not deaf :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the input. Part of what got me headed down this “how does this actually sound” rabbit hole is something I put up on Youtube. It is, intentionally, a bit heavy in the bass. On the Yamaha monitors it’s okay (maybe a bit heavier in the bass but not by much). On my Sony headphones it’s okay (everything seems balanced although the highs are a bit dull compared to the Yamahas), but on the Sennheisers it’s way over the top. [https://youtu.be/43Qhex_HiXg] I know the Sennheisers are bass heavy, but not that heavy, so it got me wondering which of my two headphones are closer to “right”. Add to that the videos on mixing that talk about differences I can’t hear … and I figured it was best to ask around.

This all reminds me of issues photographers have trying to calibrate their monitors for editing/fine-tuning images. You can get some (rather pricey) devices that look at what is displayed on your monitor and then tells you how to adjust things so the colors come out correctly … but then you still don’t know what the colors will look like when the photo is printed on different papers and all bets are off when it comes to what an online version of the photo will look like on somebody’s uncalibrated monitor.

> Honestly, you’re probably not hearing much in the high frequencies anymore

I just checked, and I can actually hear the high end frequencies much better on the Yamaha monitors. So maybe my old Sony headphones are at least part of the problem.

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Maybe worth a look is the Toneboosters Morphit VST ($39). If you have one of its supported headphone models it’s capable of applying correction to create a flatter frequency response, or you can also adjust the response to mimic one of the other supported headphone models.

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I used to have “good ears” no more. Get a test from an audiologist?

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Remember that Youtube definately does not sound that great. I use either a pair of very bad 20 year old computer speakers or a pair of not great Creative headphones and I’m never sure whether anything I do sounds good or not.

It could be that you’re not listening for the right thing. That’s what always worries me, that I don’t know how to listen. I remember as a kid listening to the radio and learning how to identify what instruments where in a particular recording. I remember not being able to do it and then learning so I assume there are things that I can’t discern.

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I hear people say that sometimes but I actually beg to differ. When I upload stuff in max. quality, and I afterwards compare the .wav file to listening to the piece on YouTube, I can hear a bit of difference - there’s more “air” and the dynamics are a bit better in the original, but it’s not a lot, and I regularly hear releases on YT in stellar quality. So I don’t really think it holds up, and I think music on YT can have great quality, it mostly depends on the source material you upload methinks.

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I’m uploading videos with files rendered with aac audio. I can definately hear a difference in the amount of base but it could also be in the encoding.

Here is the script I use, to make a YT video out of a .wav file and a still-image. It’s produced according to the encoding recomendations from YT and the result is max. quality. It’s mostly just to show encoding settings for transforming a .wav to a .m4a/AAC audio file/stream, and the encoder settings for producing an MP4 video that makes YT max. happy:

#!/bin/bash

# Make a video fit for YouTube, taking as input a waw audio file and a still image.
# Video will be 1080p@6fps
# Usage: audio2video.sh AUDIOFILE.wav PICTUREFILE

test $# -ne 2  && { echo "Usage: audio2video.sh AUDIOFILE.wav PICTUREFILE"; exit 1; }

AUDIOFILE="$1"
PICTUREFILE="$2"
SHORTNAME="$(echo $AUDIOFILE | sed 's/\....$//;s/^.*\///')"
INTERMEDIATE="$SHORTNAME.m4a"

# First make an M4A audio file
echo Generating intermediate M4A audio file "./$INTERMEDIATE" ...

ffmpeg -hide_banner -i "$AUDIOFILE" -c:a aac -b:a 384k "./$INTERMEDIATE"
test $? -ne 0 && exit 1;

echo Generating video file "./$SHORTNAME.mp4" ...

ffmpeg -hide_banner -loop 1 -framerate 6 -i "$PICTUREFILE" \
        -i "$INTERMEDIATE" -c:v libx264 -preset slow \
        -tune stillimage -crf 18 -c:a copy -shortest -pix_fmt yuv420p \
        -movflags faststart -movflags negative_cts_offsets -bf 2 -flags +cgop \
        -threads 0 "$SHORTNAME.mp4"

echo Deleting intermediate file ...
rm "$INTERMEDIATE"

echo Done!

The media info of the audio part of the resulting .mp4 video is as follows:

Audio
ID                                       : 2
Format                                   : AAC LC
Format/Info                              : Advanced Audio Codec Low Complexity
Codec ID                                 : mp4a-40-2
Duration                                 : 4 min 5 s
Duration_LastFrame                       : -1 ms
Bit rate mode                            : Constant
Bit rate                                 : 353 kb/s
Channel(s)                               : 2 channels
Channel layout                           : L R
Sampling rate                            : 48.0 kHz
Frame rate                               : 46.875 FPS (1024 SPF)
Compression mode                         : Lossy
Stream size                              : 10.5 MiB (56%)
Default                                  : Yes
Alternate group                          : 1

The reult is this:

Now, whether you think that’s good or bad quality, I can only say that it sounds pretty much like it sounded when it came out of my eurorack. So it is possible…

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By the way, I can highly recommend the ‘mediainfo’ utility for showing good info for audio and video files: https://mediaarea.net/en/MediaInfo

I just installed it on my Mac with: brew install mediainfo

Here is the direct link to YouTube’s encoding recommendations for uploaded videos: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/1722171?hl=en

IK multimedia ARC 3 correction software VST - Pedalboard host (start with windows) - asio link pro. That’s for monitor’s correction and room as well Same for headphones but change IK multimedia to any parametric VST eq and use AutoEq researches of your model of headphones.

Sometimes you have to train yourself a bit to notice small differences - one of the reasons AB switchers are so commonly used. MetricAB is a popular one. Often you will notice high-end mixing effects by their absence… when they are suddenly taken away.

If you’re going to judge anything by YT videos bear in mind that you have to be in one of the HD modes before they allow higher-quality audio through.

If you need to step up a bit on headphones… the HD280’s are going for about 80 dollars right now. The reason many live engineers use these is because they have high sound attenuation and very little coloring which can be helpful when trying to pick out small details. They’re circumaural and closed-back… also helpful traits to look for.

When in doubt… Sweep in order to highlight differences.

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Back when I had good ears the easiest way to hear degraded audio was to listen to the reverb and ambiance. It’s one of the first things to go. In subtle cases it sound like there is less reverb. In extreme cases you can hear notes ending too abruptly.

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Yeah true… Reverb brings everything out via Trails/Diffusion.

“…hear notes ending too abruptly” That sounds phenomenally unpleasant!

That’s what early digital classical recordings sounded like until they started dithering.

Thanks for all the replies/discussion. I think I will try some new headphones (and I’ll start paying more attention to what comes out of my Yamaha monitors). I’ve spent some time looking at reviews for headphones. Talk about your rabbit holes! Good grief. Anyway, I’m currently narrowed down to two potentials: the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (32 ohm) and the Audio-Technica ATH M50x.

high bitrate sources will have good quality, but you need to select the highest quality for playback. youtube defaults to lower quality in most places (720p i think, or less with lower bandwidth connections), and that obviously also degrades the audio quality.

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