I’ve been a user of equalizers ever since I discovered that it is the $0 fix to a lot of my system synergy problems.
If you listen to a wide variety of music, then you’ll notice that the effect on recordings are very big — sometimes very big that it requires a change of headphones. But changing headphones are only a part time solution, as with the different frequency balance that comes with another headphones, also comes the different character brought by that headphone. For instance, I really liked listening to the HD650 on some recordings, mostly due to the massive low end body that doesn’t exist on the HD800. But I’m also bothered by the less refined treble of the HD650 and the lost ambiance details on the HD650 compared to the HD800. What are my options? I prefer to use an EQ and stick with the HD800 than use the HD650 and deal with the inferior technicalities. If recordings are created equal (possible if you only listen to audiophile grade recordings), then you can get one optimum system for your music and get away without equalization. But for the rest of us, equalization is a necessary evil, though it is less evil if done on the digital domain.
I think most people are afraid to use equalizers due to the negative stigma that surrounds it, and sometimes we would rather choose a component that will give us the needed boost on a frequency area than use equalizers. In theory, signal modifications would produce degradations. But otherwise, how would you deal with the massive differences in recordings? In the case of my Zana Deux set up, I loved the sound signature of the Zana, except that I find it to not have enough treble presence for some of my classical recordings. Moving to the Grace m902’s amp or the 2-ch Beta22 will give me more treble presence, but it won’t give me the beautiful ambiance and holographic soundstage that I find on the Zana — and you can’t use EQ to get ambiance and soundstage performance. So I was very happy to use the Ipod’s Acoustic, Classical, or Rock equalizer settings to fix that. Is the sound less pure now? Yes, I can hear those EQ tweaks coming through the HD800, but in this case the benefit of getting a more ideal tonal balance far outweighs the so called “distortions”.
Recently I’ve also discovered how the Onkyo ND-S1 digital dock still passes through the EQ information that is set on the Ipod. My set up was using the Onkyo ND-S1 Ipod transport, to the Grace m902 DAC, and to the Zana Deux. There is no room for equalization in the chain, and if I want to change the tonal balance of the sound, the only solution I can think of is to do some tube rolling (but there is no treble happy tube that I’ve known of — most of the options focusing more on the midrange and bass areas), or get another DAC that’s noticeably brighter (which means more $$$, and I don’t even know if a treble happy DAC exists). It would’ve been easy if I had used a computer transport, for then I can use the equalizer in Itunes, but often at night my wife is using the laptop, and so I have to listen to the Zana through the Onkyo Dock transport.
So, the other day I plugged in the Ipod Nano 5th gen to the Onkyo ND-S1 and noticed that the same songs sound noticeably brighter than if I had used the Ipod Classic on the Onkyo dock. Supposedly these Ipods only serve as storage devices when used with the Onkyo digital dock, and surely the sound couldn’t have been that different between two storage devices. But I was hearing some significant difference! I went to examine if the different encoding is what makes the difference (I use ALAC on the 16GB Nano and WAV/AIFF on the 120GB Classic, due to storage space considerations) but found out that the different files format don’t make that much of a difference in sound. The next day, it occurred to me that the equalizer may be activated on one of the Ipods, and I was right. The Ipod Nano was on a “bass reducer” equalizer setting — hence the brighter and leaner sound. I learned one thing that day: the equalizers still work even if the Ipod is in a digital dock. Apparently the processing inside the Ipod applies the digital equalization before the data goes out to the Onkyo and to the Grace m902’s digital input.