Chicago AES Section

The Chicago AES Section welcomes members, non-members, and students to its meetings which are typically held at Shure Incorporated and around the Chicagoland area. If you have a meeting idea, please contact us. Meetings are free and there is an optional networking dinner prior to meetings, which has an associated fee.

Our website also contains a list of Past Meeting Reports and an Officer List. To find earlier meeting reports, view our archive of meeting recaps from 1997 to May 2015.

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Past Event: Perception and Measurement of Headphone Sound Quality: Is There a Preferred Headphone Target Response?

October 12, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Location: Shure Incorporated, 5800 W. Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714

Speaker(s): Sean Olive, Ph.D. Past President, AES Acoustic Research Fellow, Harman International


A recent paper by Jeroen Breebaart* reported no correlation between the retail price of 283 models of headphones and their measured frequency response (i.e. the single best predictor of how good it sounds). Clearly, the headphone industry has decided sound quality doesn’t matter or else they haven’t a clue what it is or how to measure it.

Dr. Olive’s talk will summarize Harman’s 5-year research effort towards better understanding the perception and measurement of headphone sound quality. Hundreds of listeners participated in controlled listening tests where different models of in-ear and over-ear headphones were rated based on preferred sound quality. From these studies we’ve discovered (much like loudspeakers) most listeners prefer neutral sounding headphones, with some small variations in preferred bass and treble that are related to the quality of the recording, and age and training of the listener. Most importantly, listeners’ headphone preference ratings can be accurately predicted based on how far the headphone’s frequency response deviates from a preferred target response. In summary, the science exists to improve the consistency and sound quality of headphones, but do consumers and the industry care enough about sound quality to affect change?

*in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America



Sean Olive is Acoustic Research Fellow for Harman International, where he has worked since 1993. He directs the Corporate R&D group, whose research has mainly focused on the perception and measurement of sound reproduction including loudspeakers, room acoustics, automotive audio, and currently headphones. From 1986-1993, he was a research scientist at the National Research Council of Canada where he worked with Dr. Floyd Toole.

Sean received a Bachelor degree in Music from the University of Toronto, and his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Sound Recording from McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Olive has written over 50 research papers on his research for which he was awarded the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Fellowship Award in 1996, and two Publication Awards (1990 and 1995). In 2012, Sean received the Harman Achievement Award, and in 2013 the ALMA Titanium Driver Award for scientific contributions to the loudspeaker and headphone industry. Sean is active in several AES Technical Committees, has co-chaired two AES conferences, and is Past AES President. He currently serves as an AES Governor.


Driving:  When arriving by car, approach from the east by heading west on Touhy, then turn right into the parking lot just east of the Shure building, which is on the corner of Touhy and Lehigh. DO NOT turn left into parking lot from Touhy heading east, as this is illegal and you may get a traffic ticket.

CTA Blue Line:  Get off at Jefferson Park transit center, and take bus lines 85A, 225, or 226 to Shure (be sure to check the bus schedules for return trip).


CTA Red Line:  Get off at Howard and take bus line 290 to Shure (be sure to check the bus schedules for return trip).


Other Business: Dinner (optional, but please RSVP) will begin at 6:30pm. Contact Giles Davis ( by Wednesday, October 11th if you would like to join us. Pizza and salad from Lou Malnati’s will be provided. Please let Giles know if you have a preference for vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. Price is $10 for non-members and $8 for members and students (please bring cash).

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AES - Audio Engineering Society