High-quality audio devices and wearables are becoming more common and affordable, and that means there are more options than ever when it comes to purchasing. And audio quality itself is a subjective matter, so how do you test to see how good the earbuds or headphones you bought actually are?
The short answer is that the quality of sound is mostly a subjective matter. What sounds good to you doesn't necessarily sound good to anybody else. Not only does everybody's ears hear tones and frequencies just a bit differently. But there are also key differences between individuals when it comes to preferences.
Less subjectively, though, there are also some benchmarks that are worth noting. Balance in a listening device allows each frequency to push forward with just as much power as every other frequency. Or to push forward with some deviations that ensure the sound is flat for your own ears.
The result is earbuds or headphones that ensure the listening experience is exactly as intended when the audio was recorded. And that's the point this guide hopes to address. There are apps and other methods to equalize audio with a focus on preferences. But if the frequencies are showing up weak, to begin with, those won't make much of a difference. With that in mind, how do you actually test the audio quality of your listening device?
Here, we're taking a closer look at a few easy methods that you can help test the audio quality of your headphones or earbuds. And they work regardless of whether you're on a smartphone or computer.
Test the frequencies where your earbuds or headphones perform best on YouTube
The first method for testing your audio device is arguably going to be the easiest here. If not the most accurate. In fact, it doesn't even require any special software and there are dozens of tests to choose from. Potentially hundreds. And that's because we're talking about the humble YouTube video.
If you search for any of the key terms "audio test," "audio response test," or "bass response test" on YouTube, the site will present you with a slew of options to choose from. Now, there are going to be some key differences between the tests that show up as a result but any number of them will give you just what you're looking for. Namely, a test that plays through frequencies from low-to-high or high-to-low at an equalized volume. The video shows which frequency is currently being played in real-time.
What that does is to allow you to see where your headphones start playing back audio. And where the audio cuts out again. In effect, this will show you just how low and high your headphones or earbuds can go. And, simultaneously, will show you if there are any audio quality discrepancies in between. For our example, we're using an HD audio test uploaded to the channel "adminofthissite" because it's been among the most consistent we've found.
- Navigate to YouTube.com or the YouTube app
- Search "audio frequency response test." As noted above, there are a wealth of tests to choose from. What's really important here is that you choose a test that shows what frequency is being played when it is being played. Our example video for this guide, "Hearing Test HD" from "adminofthissite," does just that.
- Turn your earbuds or headphone volume down to a reasonable level. Generally, that's going to be below or at 50-percent. Setting the volume too high, especially for the higher frequencies, not only could but almost certainly will damage your hearing and potentially the hardware itself.
- After setting the volume to a reasonable level, play the video, watching to see which frequency the audio cuts in at and cuts out at. Typically, the cut-in and cut-out will be joined by a clicking or click-like noise. Notably, low audio frequencies are typically much quieter than high ones. So it's important to keep the volume steady throughout to see how your earbuds or headphones actually perform.
Now, it's also worth mentioning that your ears may actually be the reason you can't hear audio as well at certain frequencies. But that's not the intention of any of the tests in this guide. Your listening device or source device could also have limitations in terms of audio codecs and frequencies. But that should, at the very least partially, also be revealed to some extent during these tests.
How to test your listening device audio quality via a website
Of course, if you don't want to rely on your luck with YouTube videos, there are other options. There are tests on the web that will work on a computer, Chromebook, or smartphone equally that are a bit more accurate and in-depth.
Now, any number of websites can be used for testing audio quality and they each perform tests a bit differently but the concept is the same. For this guide, we're going to cover how to use "audiocheck.net," arguably one of the better sources out there for audio tests. This test includes a number of different audio aspects, including frequency response. But it doesn't take a lot of work to accomplish, although some time will need to be set aside. This test is more comprehensive.
Specifically, that's the audiocheck.net 'The Ultimate Headphones (and Earphones) Test', and using it couldn't be more straightforward.
- The first step for performing this test will be to navigate to the above-mentioned 'audiocheck.net' URL in the address bar on either a smartphone or computer. You'll want to make sure your headphones, wired or not, are synced up and ready to go before proceeding. And it's also a great idea, as with the YouTube-based test, to level your audio at a reasonable volume first
- From there, at the top of the page, audiocheck.net displays a few options below the header of the page. You'll want to select "Audio Tests" as that will take you to a page loaded with a variety of audio tests. Specifically, those are listed out
- Scroll to the bottom of the Audio Tests page. Then click on the link for "The Ultimate Headphones (and Earphones) Test"
Once the page for the tests loads, it's important to bear in mind that the audio test should be performed without adjusting the volume. And, of course, with the headphones on your head or earbuds in your ears. It's also important to bear in mind, before continuing, that some audio distortions or anomalies — as explained on the page — can be caused by audio equipment, listening device, or your own ears.
The page that the link takes you to will lay out an array of tests. Those are subdivided into descriptions and on-page interactive media player controls. In any case, now you're ready to get started testing your headphones or earbuds. Here we'll discuss how to step through the tests one-by-one and how to gauge the results of the tests.
To test frequency extension of your headphones or earbuds
- Now, the first test on the page is a frequency test. So it's going to work almost exactly like the YouTube test above. Albeit in a way that's likely more accurate. That's split into two tests so the first step will be to scroll to the button that reads "10 Hz >> 200 Hz + Voice Over"
- After pressing that Play button, which is a bass extension test, listen to that in much the same way as the above-mentioned audio test. Namely, keeping an ear out for discrepancies and dips in the power and volume of the audio. You can pause the audio by clicking the button again if you need to
- Next, the treble test is performed in the button that reads "22 kHz >> 8 kHz + Voice Over." So, unlike the YouTube testing method, you'll need to listen to both sets of frequencies separately
To test whether the earbuds or headphones are a good fit for your ears and tuned flat
Audiocheck.net labeled the next test on the page "Spectral Flatness and Earbud Insert Test" with a button that reads "Perceptual Sweep Spectral Flatness Test."
As might be expected, it delivers a sweeping — or curved — audio tone. That's set to play in a way that's flat, to compensate for the way hearing loss is typically more prominent at the extreme high and low end of the frequency spectrum. If your earbuds or headphones test flat, that's a good thing in this test. What you're looking for is audio that dips in volume or power. But this test doesn't work exactly as others here do either.
- You'll want to start by turning your audio down to a level where it's just over barely audible. That sets a threshold level so you can make an accurate comparison
- Press the Play/Pause button on the "Perceptual Sweep Spectral Flatness Test" card. You're listening to see if the audio maintains its balance at your threshold without dipping out of hearing range or raising in volume throughout the sweep
- If the audio plays through flatly, the earbuds are well balanced for your ears
Test the noise isolation and dynamic range of your earbuds or headphones
Another key indicator of audio quality is the dynamic range of the listening device and this site also offers an easy way to test that. Specifically, a way to test that the audio being played by your headphones is wide enough to drown out external noise and isolate what you hear.
- Scroll down the "The Ultimate Headphones (and Earphones) Test" to the "Dynamic Range" test segment
- Press the "Play/Pause" button on the "Dynamic Test + Voice Over" test
- Adjust the audio so that it's loud but not causing discomfort. The audio level should be right at the point where turning it louder would be uncomfortable. The audio playback will gradually get quieter until it's inaudible
- Listen for the voiceover, which states what level the audio is being played at. That's expressed in terms of "decibels below full scale."
- When the audio becomes inaudible, the last number called out will represent the effective dynamic range of your headphones for your ears. And a higher number — or greater decrease in decibels — is a better dynamic range
Test audio quality or that wear
The next test is simply labeled "Quality" and checks that the integrity of your audio device hasn't diminished too much. Or, conversely, that the audio device can hold out under strenuous conditions — specifically heavy, loud bass tones — without losing integrity. You'll be listening for rattle or buzz in your headphones.
- Scroll down the page to the next segment and click the Play/Pause button on the "Bass Shaker" test
- Ensure the volume is loud but not so loud as to be uncomfortable. In effect, set the volume to a level that you'd listen to if you wanted to play songs or a podcast loudly
- Listen to the sweeping audio tone as it pushes through various bass frequencies. The tone should remain pure without any rattle or buzz
Test drivers and wiring to ensure that those are evenly matched and sound is delivered as intended
With just five audio tests remaining, the next step is to ensure that the drivers and wiring are matched up properly. In effect, these tests ensure that the drivers are pushing audio to both ears as they should. And, for wired headsets, they check that the sound is being driven to the proper channel. Summarily, to check polarity in wired headphones or earbuds.
- Begin by scrolling down to the box containing the Play/Pause button for the "Full Range Sweep" test
- Set the volume at a reasonable level — not too loud and not so quiet that it's hard to hear the audio. A good volume would be the one you use for listening to music in a quiet environment
- Press the Play/Pause button and listen to the full sweep. During the test, the audio should sound as though it's centered in your head, rather than panning between ears. Any panning could indicate either a problem in terms of either mismatched drivers or differences in how your ears hear audio
For those using wired headphones, headsets, or earbuds, the tests extend further to ensure that the wiring has been done properly. Or that the wiring isn't wearing out.
- Begin by navigating down the page to the "Wiring" section and finding the Left and Right audio buttons
- Click first on the "Left" audio button. If the wiring has been done properly, you should hear the audio in your left ear. Then, click the play/pause button for the "Right" test. The reverse should be true and audio should play in your right ear
- Next, you should perform a test using the "Center" and "Twisted" buttons in the same segment of the page. As their names suggest, the tests play audio that's either centered or that's 'twisted'
- For the 'Center' test, listen to ensure that audio is firmly played from an audio space that's somewhere between the left and right earbuds or headphones. The audio shouldn't deviate from its position through playback
- The audio should feel as though it's moving around a bit, making it harder to place where the sound is emitted from, for the 'Twisted' test
- If either test doesn't play properly for the 'Center' and 'Twisted' tests, or if the 'Right' and 'Left' tests don't play audio properly, the wiring of your headphones or earbuds is likely at fault
The latter of the two tests can also help you determine if your headphones are mono or stereo. For stereo headphones, the audio should ring through clearly on the 'Center' and 'Twisted' tests. Audio may not play at all for mono headphones or earbuds.
Check to see if your audio device supports binaural playback
The final test worth consideration works only with headphones. Namely, that's the "Binaural Test," found under the segment of the same name.
Binaural audio is effectively audio that's been recorded from mics placed inside ears. So the audio is split to recreate exactly what the wearer heard. Put simply, it allows realistic placement of sounds. For instance, there are binaural videos on YouTube that simulate a haircut. And the audio appears to match what you might hear during a haircut down to where the sounds are coming from for a fully immersive experience.
- Navigate down the page to the 'Binaural Test'
- Place the volume of your headphones or earbuds at a reasonable level
- Press the Play/Pause button to start the test. This test will simulate knocking on wooden doors. The first sound should appear to be coming from somewhere on your right, but with audio still perceptible in both headphones or earbuds. The second sound is the same but comes from the left. If the sound does not replicate that, your earbuds or headphones are likely not compatible with binaural audio.
How do you improve the quality of your audio device?
Now, if your headphones don't quite meet your expectations, there are ways to fix that. Or at least there are for most headphones. And we're not just talking about universal audio equalizer apps on the Google Play Store. Although those are certainly available for those who don't have earbuds or headphones that are compatible with better options.
Many OEMs and models are, in fact, supported by third party options that are professionally tuned for great audio. One of the more widely used of those is SoundID. The Sonarworks-built software also works on computers but at a cost. But regardless of where it's used, the tool offers a way to fully customize the quality of the audio. Or, more specifically, to tune the audio to better match your own ears.
So, if the test reveals that there are discrepancies, rather than rushing out to be a pricy new set, those types of tools can help. Or at the very least give you time to decide on the best earbuds to replace yours with.