The Perception and Measurement of Headphone Sound Quality

Do Listeners Agree on What Makes a Headphone Sound Good?
The popularity of headphones has now exploded to produce annual worldwide sales of almost $10 billion. Premium headphones ($100+) now account for 90% of the annual revenue growth, as consumers’ audio experiences are becoming a primarily mobile one. Market research indicates sound quality is a driving factor in headphone purchases with brand and fashion also being important factors among younger consumers. Yet, ironically the science behind what makes a headphone sound good and how to measure it is poorly understood. This combined with the lack of perceptually meaningful headphone standards may explain why purchasing a headphone today is like playing Russian Roulette with your ears. The magic bullet to achieving more consistent headphone sound quality is science.

Biography of Dr. Sean E. Olive
Sean is Director of Acoustic Research for Harman International, a major manufacturer of audio products for consumer, professional and automotive spaces. He directs the Northridge, Corporate Technology Acoustics group, and oversees the subjective evaluation of new audio products. Prior to 1993, he was a research scientist with Dr. Floyd Toole at the National Research Council of Canada where their research focused on the perception and measurement of loudspeakers, listening rooms, and microphones. Sean received a Bachelors in Music from the University of Toronto, and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Sound Recording from McGill University in Montreal. He has written over 35 research papers on the perception and measurement of audio for which he was awarded the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Fellowship Award in 1996, and two Publication Awards (1990 and 1995). In 2013 he was awarded the ALMA Titanium Driver Award for scientific contributions to the loudspeaker and headphone industry. Sean is the current AES President.