I've just got ATH-M50x headphones. I've tried them with this 22 kHz >> 8 kHz test (at the top of the page).

I can only hear the high frequency clearly after the voiceover says 17kHz.

I've tried the same test on basic home sound system speakers (they have tweeters) and I can clearly hear the sound after the voice says 18kHz and I can even hear a hint of a sound after it says 19kHz.

All tests were run on a Macbook Pro. I can hear 18k on headphones if I bump the volume real high, so the voice becomes deafening loud. Obviously there is big drop in amplitude at higher frequencies. While on speakers I can hear 18k at pretty low volume.

Headphones frequency response is rated as 15 - 28,000 Hz. Why can I hear higher frequency on average speakers and not on pro level headphones? What's the point rating them 28k if there is a big drop in volume at 18k?

  • I hear you, but regretfully a wide range doesn't automatically mean a good one... Though also, to reach the really good high-end, your headphone preamp must deliver the juice as well. Dec 8, 2014 at 11:11
  • 2
    Frequency response specs usually include a margin : like 20 Hz-20kHz (+/- 1dB). The mentioned 15-28000 Hz frequency response without any conditions and margin means virtually nothing. It could be +/- 3dB, or more ... I was not able to find details on the Audio Technica website.
    – audionuma
    Dec 8, 2014 at 13:33
  • There is a big drop after 10kHz according to this headphone.com/pages/build-a-graph I wonder why care about high frequencies at all, if they are so hard to detect.
    – creator
    Dec 10, 2014 at 7:57
  • I think we have some posts on that, creator. It is very important :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 16, 2014 at 8:36

3 Answers 3


Most people have difficulty hearing 18 kHz, except at very loud levels. Quite possibly, even with perfectly flat transmission, you'd have trouble hearing that frequency while the voice level remains bearable.

Now, partly because the very high-end is hard to hear, hifi speakers tend to boost them quite a bit so as to sound particularly "crisp" – not only raise the level, but they may in fact add distortion that can generate subharmonics in a better-audible range like 12 kHz. So, when using home speakers, you're sort of cheating, and you might not in fact even hear properly 18 kHz.
Of course it's also possible that the headphones simply take away 18 kHz, but I rather think they are the more faithful.

If you want to be sure, record back some hf sweeps from both the headphones and home speakers, with a good condenser omni. That'll tell you what parts of the response are just "swallowing treble", what's exciter cheating, and what's simply your ears not reaching so high anymore.

  • Interesting point about the subharmonics. Do you have any suggestions where I should go to read more about that?
    – Floris
    Dec 8, 2014 at 22:25
  • The speakers do sound quite crisp. I've tried an oscillator plugin in Logic Pro X. I can hear 19kHz in headphones but not 20kHz. I can still hear 20k in speakers, it's very quiet though. Maybe speakers are more amplified than headphones, so a bit easier to hear. Would anything higher than 16kHz make any difference to the quality of music? It seems like this obsession with wide frequency response is overrated.
    – creator
    Dec 10, 2014 at 8:12
  • @creator Unless you're a dog or a bat, you probably don't care about the actual frequencies above 14-15KHz or so. The brain has an amazing built-in equalizer and IMO if you're straining to hear the difference even in an ABX test you're not actually enjoying the music, which is the important thing.
    – fluffy
    Dec 10, 2014 at 21:17

Ears are not a very good tool for sound measurement. I would spend a couple of bucks on a sound analyzer app for your phone - I have SignalSpy on the iPhone - and set it to spectrum analysis. Hold the microphone near your headphones and "listen" to the sound. You should see a nice spike in the spectrum: something like this

enter image description here

Sound was generated with SpectraWave on iPad, and captured with SignalSpy on iPhone 5s.

It's pretty clear that there is an 18 kHz sound being generated - but I sure can't hear it at that amplitude. But my iphone's microphone can.

Tools like this should help you figure out whether there is a problem with your headphones, your setup, or your ears. Audio perception is very subjective, so any objective tools you can add should help.

Of course these gizmos are not professional grade - but for this kind of job they can be remarkably effective.


I would check out the level difference range speced for that frequency range. My guess is that those headphones reproduce 15Hz and 18kHz alot lower than 1kHz.

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