Dirac HD Player Makes Your Standard iOS Earbuds and EarPods Sound Like Not-Crap

Sections: Audio, Headphones

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Typically, I would say that if you’ve purchased an iOS device – Pod, Phone, or Pad – the first thing you should do to improve your music listening experience should be this: Take the free, white, pack-in headphones and carefully unwrap them from their packaging. Admire them for a moment – so white and gleaming! – and say a quick word of thanks to Jobs and gang for including a complete, ready-to-listen, user experience right out of the box. And then…pitch them into the garbage. (Or, if you want a junker pair for those times when you are forced to work alongside Mike Rowe doing some unthinkable Dirty Job, or for your five-year-old that has a naughty habit of chewing on the cables while listening, toss them into that way-back part of your drawer that you only go to when trying to remember where you jotted down some obscure website user name and password.)

Notice that I hedged the opening with the word “typically.” That’s because I recently discovered a pretty incredible and exciting new technology that has definitely caused me to change my mind about this. But, I’ll tell you about that in just a bit…

The fact is, the included earphones are uncharacteristic of every other Apple product in that they’re not only NOT world leading, they offer performance that is merely meager. And while the company’s new EarPods – included with iPhone 5 and new Nano and Touch – are certainly better, they are still far from ideal when it comes to music delivery. (To be fair, they *are* included for “free,” so they are definitely worth *every* penny that you pay for them.)

And despite the fact that Apple supposedly developed the EarPods for over three years and claims the “audio quality is so superior, they rival high-end headphones that cost hundreds of dollars more,” the truth lies somewhere a good ways outside the reality distortion field.

Technology journalist and internationally best-selling author, Geoffrey Morrison, sums up the state of Apple’s headphone offerings rather differently with this quote. “The old Apple earbuds are some of the worst headphones ever made. The new ‘EarPods’ are slightly less shi–y.”(The WireCutter agrees, suggesting that the EarPods have a sonic quality on par or slightly below that of other phones costing… $9.)

So, regardless of the model of replacement phones that you choose – I personally favor a pair of Etymotics and Future Sonics – the best thing that you can do to improve your music listening is to invest in a quality set of phones.

But at Apple’s recent press event the company revealed it had shipped 600 million sets of its headphones to date. And I’ve taken enough plane trips and seen enough people still wearing/using those things to realize one thing: some of you people just aren’t going to stop using the free white phones.

Fine. If you’re going to use them – and at this point, I would reiterate that you start back at the top and read down to the part that begins, “So, regardless of the model of replacement phones…” – then what if I told you there was a way to make the Apple phones – both original and new EarPods – sound better? And not just a little better, but demonstrably, massively, night-and-day, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-it! better?

And then what if I said it was free?

Yeah. Thought you’d be interested.

I received an e-mail promising that very thing the other day – specifically that they “optimized the acoustic properties and overall performance of the standard iPhone and iPod touch Earphones and EarPods [to] overcome the acoustic limitations inherent to the earphones supplied by Apple with these devices” – from a company I’d never heard of called Dirac. They claim to specialize in “digital sound optimization, room correction and sound field synthesis.”

Now, I’m a believer in room correction and have long used the wares of Audyssey, including their professional calibration system, to make my system sound better. You see, a room is not perfect, thus even a perfect speaker in an imperfect room will sound less-than-perfect. The results after running room correction software are tighter, deeper bass and clearer, more focused audio.

But, of course, there is no perfect speaker to begin with. According to Dirac’s Website, “There are physical constraints present in all mechanical systems. Loudspeakers and earphones are by nature mechanical and it is therefore impossible to make a perfect loudspeaker – there will always be coloration on the sound, regardless of the price and quality. Dirac HD Sound is advanced patented software technology that analyzes and corrects for these colorations. The result is a genuine improvement of the loudspeaker/earphone characteristics and thereby the sound. Dirac HD Sound is not a psychoacoustic sound effect, it is a sound correction technology tailored to a specific loudspeaker model.”

Another believer in correction is audio A/V journalist extraordinaire and international man of mystery, Brent Butterworth. Brent felt that DEQX’s correction technology at the recent Rocky Mountain Audiofest produced the most amazing demo at the show. According to his report, the technology allowed a pair of TOA paging speakers “being notorious for bad sound…with no bass, harsh treble and blaring mids” to “suddenly sound like a decent pair of home speakers.”

So, correction – correctly applied – can yield tremendous results. And it certainly seems like Dirac understands how to correctly apply their correction techniques as they count BMW, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Naim Audio, and Theta Digital amongst clients using its technology.

Here’s what the Dirac HD Player app screens look like:

According to the company, this is how the Dirac HD Player app works its magic:

Precise acoustic measurements of Apple’s earbuds at Dirac’s research facilities have allowed a specially tailored digital sound processor to control and improve the acoustic properties of these listening devices. The aim of the Dirac HD Player is to generate sound quality from Apple’s standard earbuds on par with considerably more expensive headphones, delivering extended bass response, smooth accurate midrange and artifact-free high frequencies truly representative of the original recording.

That’s big talk. But does it work?

In a word, “Yes.” (In two words, “Hells yes!”)

Continue reading at [Sciacca Writes: Dirac: The Best Free Audio App You’ve Never Heard]

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