Sound Signatures Explained – The Ultimate Guide

What are they and what do they mean.

If you have spent a fair amount of time in the music world, you may have heard people describe certain sounds to be “bassy”, “flat”, or “V-shaped”. Music enthusiasts or Audiophiles as they’re called, define the sound output of particular headphones or speakers with such words. These words basically describe the variations in the frequency response of that specific audio electronic. This is what’s called the sound signature.

Audio electronics manufacturers tend to have their own sound signatures for their products, JBL’s signature sound is one such example. As you’d expect this can get quite confusing. So within this article, we explain the meaning behind those words and the sound signatures they represent.


What is the Audio Spectrum?

Audio spectrum is the audible frequency range at which we humans can hear. It ranges from 20 Hertz(Hz) to 20,000 Hertz(Hz). Almost all headphone drivers cover this range but some go even further. Like offering ranges from 7 Hz – 26,000 Hz and 18 Hz -22,000 Hz.


What is Sound Signature?

As we mentioned earlier, each manufacturer tries to deliver a unique sound signature through its devices. You may have noticed some differences in sound if you have used headphones from different brands. Some of them have stronger bass than others, some have mild bass and more active highs. A sound signature is accomplished by deliberately tuning the drivers to increase or decrease the impact of specific frequencies.

These specific frequencies are –

  • Bass/Lows (including Sub-bass)
  • Midrange/Mids (including low and upper midrange)
  • Treble/Highs (Presence, Brilliance).

Using different materials(metal, plastic, or wood) also affects the sound signature.


Types of Sound Signatures

As manufacturers can manipulate frequencies and thus create many sound signatures we need to be able to tell which is which. Understanding these differences helps you pick a headset that can deliver the kind of sound you want. Some sound signatures are more consumer-focused as they are fancied by most people. Some are created specifically for music producers, to be used in a studio.

Sound Signatures Explained - The Ultimate Guide

Bass-focused or “Bass-y” – If you’re looking for truly wireless earbuds then the Sony WF-1000XM3 are the Let us start with the most popular. These days a lot of headphones claim to offer extra bass, super bass, etc. People who prefer a bass-focused sound signature are called bassheads. This type of signature works great with EDM and hip-hop, it directs the listener to the thumping lows of a music track as they supply the base on which the rest of the mix stands on.

V-Shaped – A v-shaped sound signature is a result of increasing the bass and treble frequencies while decreasing mids/midrange. Simply put, the headphone drivers produce strong bass and distinct treble while the mids sit in the background.

This is another sound signature that is celebrated among the general public. This sound signature excels in EDM, hip-hop, pop, and modern rock type of music. Another milder variation of this is the U-shaped sound signature, where the mids are a little more prominent.

headphone and smartphone

Flat or Neutral – They are called a bunch of names; natural, neutral, balanced and flat. Music producers and audio industry professionals tend to prefer this flat response sound signature as it places all frequencies in their appropriate range without any colouration/alternations. This assists them in mastering a mix.

This sound signature lets you have a true music studio sound experience. A neutral sound signature is also preferred by audiophiles as it produces a studio musical experience. Balanced or natural headphones are similar to Flat or neutral-sounding headphones with a slight emphasis on bass and treble. The difference can’t be noticed by most, it’s fair to place it in the same category type.

Bright – When the high frequencies or treble frequencies are amplified the device is said to have a bright sound signature. This is quite useful for people that are trying to find small details in an audio track. The vocals are clearer and so are the percussions. They’re fitting for professionals in the audio industry, where it’s important to be able to fine-tune your mixes and alter the sounds to your taste. 

Dark – The Dark sound signature is, as you’d expected, is the opposite of bright. The high frequencies are recessed and concealed behind the bass and midrange frequencies. The details are subtle in the dark sound signature which is unlike the bright sound signature.

sound mastering sliders

Analytical – Analytical sound signatures are similar to the neutral or flat response with a slight stress on the highs/treble range of frequencies. The sounds of instruments are more detailed and precise. Headphones that use beryllium drivers and silver conductors tend to give off an analytical sound signature, as some web forums have noted. They are also described using the term ‘clinical’.

Smooth or Warm – The warm or smooth signature adds a little lift to the lower mids and bass frequencies. Sounds of instruments like the bass guitar become broader and more intense. Music genres like jazz, rock and blues are suitable for this type of sound signature. It sets a warm and relaxing environment for sounds to occupy.


What do specific Brands sound like

As we mentioned earlier, manufacturers try to come up with their own sound signatures. Here we will describe what some of them sound like so you know what to expect from them in the future. These will be listed in alphabetical order.

AKG

Music producers and audio professionals prefer AKG headphones as their signature inclines towards a flat, neutral response, which is great for mastering and recording accuracy.

Audio-Technica

Audio-techinica tends to boost the treble and upper midrange frequencies for most of their products. This makes them quite good at producing vocals and minute details. This is also why they are preferred by professionals in the audio industry. Their open-back line of products is quite popular among gamers for their distinct sound colouration. Budget models have a bassy sound signature which can be heard in the ATH-M40x and M50x.

ath m40x left angled scaled

Beats

Beats are a well-known brand in the audio industry. And it’s partially thanks to their signature sound. It produces a V-Shaped sound signature, which as you’d expect amplifies the bass and treble frequencies while suppressing the midrange.

Bose

Bose comes close to providing a flat or balanced sound signature. Materials impact the sound output and these products do sound good. However, some audiophiles don’t think favourably of them.

Beyerdynamic

Beyerdynamic is a German company and is known to have a V-shaped sound signature. They are preferred by professionals for studio use. They expose faults in the higher frequency ranges, but can also be a bit lenient.

JBL

JBL tends to increase their bass response which goes on to provide a boost to the rest of the frequencies. This makes the overall sound signature warm and fuller. This makes for a pretty gratifying experience.

You may like – Best JBL Wireless headphones

JBL Quantum 200 with Cord

Ptron

Ptron tends to have an overall warm sound signature which is quite pleasing to listen to. However, the seal of the eartips or earcups can and does impact the volume of the lows.

Sennheiser

Sennheiser products have a more extensive and bassy character. This makes the overall sound pretty warm and thumpy. Which makes sense as they are targeted towards the common user. Mid-tier headphones have a more controlled sound output and lean towards the neutral sound signature. High-tier models give you remarkable accuracy of the high midrange and treble frequencies.

Sony

Sony provides us with a wide variety of options in products and by extension in sound signatures. They produce analytical sounding headphones, exclusive audiophile products, and some pretty affordable headphones with active noise cancellation(ANC). The least expensive models are bass-focused. Mid-tier models deliver a warm and balanced sound signature. And the high-end audiophile-grade headphones tend to have analytical sound output.

SoundPeats

The SoundPeats sound signature falls somewhere between a U-shaped and a Smooth sound signature. In some headphones, you’ll experience the bass to be stronger than the highs and others where the vocals or mids are distinct and close by.


How can you alter the Sound Signature?

You can alter the frequencies by increasing or decreasing their impact by using EQ(Equalization) software. Doing so does end up altering the sound signature. The best part is they don’t permanently change the original sound signature of the headphones that you’re using.

There are plenty of apps on the internet that let you do this. You can find software that allows you to do this regardless of what device you’re using, be it Mac, PC, Android or an Apple device. So you could always go back to the original if you don’t like what you hear. So definitely look in them. Some headphones offer this EQ feature by default.

Windows PC users can use the built-in feature that allows you to do the same. Below is a follow-along video –


Does a Headphone Amplifier change the Sound Signature?

No, it can’t. As the name suggests, an amplifier’s job is to simply boost the loudness of the already existing sounds within the audio track. They don’t add any colouration to the frequencies by themselves. Amps with vacuum tubes may make the sound slightly warm or dark.

Depending on the impedance of your headphones, you’d want to choose a sufficiently powerful amp. A lot of consumer-focused headphones can be handled easily using a smartphone. As for the audiophile-level of headsets, you will need an amp strong enough that lets you take full advantage of your headphones’ impedance. As it’ll do a better job of producing a more powerful, accurate and rich sounding experience.

music amplifier with dials

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