Sound Signatures Explained

An audiophile guide to Sound frequencies, Sound signatures and how they are categorized in the audiophile community. An article explaining the major Sound signatures and which headphones are tuned to such signatures.


You’ve looked at the designs, features and the various other aspects of buying a pair of headphones for yourself. Having navigated through most, you’ve taken the final step in choosing your favorite pair - a headphone’s sound signature. Just like a person’s signature, every headphone has its own unique sound - a sound signature if you will.

Now, some headphones tend to amplify or focus on certain frequencies for a unique listening experience. When choosing a headphone, this feature is important because a sound signature needs to match the kind of music you listen to. This makes sure that you experience an enjoyable listening experience. Mess that match up and it’s something similar to using chopsticks to eat a sandwich! They just don’t fit.

The sound signature of headphones is broadly categorized into six basic types - Flat, Balanced, Bright, V-Shaped, Warm and Smooth and Bass-Heavy. Fret not for we’re going to take you through each one, step by step. By the time you’re done reading, you can definitely call yourself an expert of sorts. Let’s get the ball rolling:


FlatThe word ‘flat’ might sound boring but it is anything but. The signature has many takers in the audiophile community. With all frequencies kept equal, the audio sounds as natural as possible. This unique reason is why professionals who create and produce music prefer these as they can hear all the elements that go into the mix, as they were recorded. Hence, these headphones are also known as reference or monitors.
Popular with professionals and folks that prefer this signature, genres like jazz, blues, classical, folk and even rock rule the roost. Brands like Audeze, AKG, Shure, Audio-Technica, and Beyerdynamic have long been known to provide some of the most natural-sounding, flat sound signatures. 



Essentially, this is a flat signature with minor tweaks to make it sound more fun. Most headphone manufacturers try to achieve this by balancing all the frequencies, from lows to highs. Nothing is left out or stands out prominently. One gets to hear the entire range of elements in a song -  from vocals, guitars to bass drums. The output thus sounds balanced and lively.
This sound signature is multi-genre friendly and can handle anything from rock to classical with aplomb. Audio-Technica, Klipsch, RHA, Sennheiser, Meze Audio, and Beyerdynamic deliver accurately and admirably.



This sound signature is a tricky one. It has a boosted treble and midrange. Interestingly, it’s popular among some audiophiles as it exposes imperfections in a good recording. However, if you listen to poorly recorded audio, you’re definitely in for a jarring, unpleasant session. Also, even in a well-tuned pair of headphones, extended listening sessions tend to lead to listener fatigue. Reason - humans are naturally tolerant of lower frequencies and sensitive to higher ones. Also, a headphone that's too bright can end up seeming harsh.
Genres like jazz, classical, rock and folk can seem interestingly perceptive on bright headphones. Brands like Grado and Beyerdynamic are known for delivering some legendary performers in the field.



V-Shaped Sound SignatureWith an output that has emphasized bass and treble frequencies, rock songs get that live, ‘in-your-face’ feel with screeching guitar solos, soaring vocals, and grooving drums. The V curve denotes enhanced bass and treble frequencies with a reduced mid-range. This sound signature has a universal appeal. It makes the audio sound crisp and loud and is quite popular with most listeners.
Rock, Hip-Hop, Pop and most Bollywood songs sound good on headphones with this signature. You could try brands like V-MODA and Sony to experience this sound signature.


Extra Bass

What’s in a name? Everything! As the name suggests, these headphones love bass. It is the most audible frequency in the output. Bass-heavy headphones love songs that need that extra thump, that punchy low end that gets parties started and folks moving! Plus, a dominant low end is perceived by humans as being loud and also makes the output sound warm. However, too much low end has a tendency to dominate other frequencies resulting in a loss in detail and clarity.
If you love EDM, techno and other genres that are defined by its “thump” factor, this is the sound signature you’re looking for. Brands like V-MODA, Sony, Sennheiser, and Beats by Dre usually dominate this segment.



Warm and Smooth

This is the opposite of a bright signature. Here the bass is slightly emphasized and the high treble is rolled off to remove the harsh bite of the audio. What you get is a lovely smooth and warm sound. Think of it as a warm cocoon enveloping you with velvety softness - like a wonderful comforter made of audio. Warm and Smooth enjoys a popular fanbase of listeners. With admirable detail available, genres that focus on vocals or instruments like saxophone and cello are enjoyed much more.
Genres like rock, EDM and jazz are quite at home here. A popular signature these days, brands like Ultrasone, Beyerdynamic, and AKG hold their forte comfortably in this field.


So there you have it, dear discerning headphone buyer - a complete roundup of the various headphones, distinguished by their sound signatures. It must be quite interesting to know how tuning a particular frequency or frequencies changes the overall output of a headphone. A fun way to get an idea as to how boosting different frequencies changes the output is to try these apps (for Android and for iOS) yourself. So, take your time and figure out what sound signature suits you most. Everyone has their own preferences and it’s best to spend some time figuring it out and testing headphones out. Happy Testing! Happy Listening!