The answer is more complicated than the question. I have come from a generation of hi-fi purists. In the mid-late 1980’s we started to see bass and treble controls disappearing from the fronts of integrated amplifiers. The graphic equaliser became a historical artifact. The new fashion – careful system matching. Of course, this, for the vast majority, was done in the showroom. The showroom had been acoustically treated so bore no comparison to how the equipment sounded once we got it home. No matter, we got used to it. The same criteria applies to this day. The room plays a huge part in the overall signature of your sound. That’s the story for full sized hi-fi. The story of portable hi-fi has taken an entirely different road.
Whilst there are no room issues to contend with when one puts on a set of headphones/iems, the expectations that a music lover sets for the sound are often unrealistic. We look for a recreation of what we listen to from our speakers. A giant sound from a tiny device. No matter. The manufacturer has us covered. They have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to fool our brains into thinking we have stepped back into the listening room.
Take the Lotoo S2 as an example. At 150 mW output it is not suitable for most full sized headphones – yet there are tons of options for you to adjust your iems. Through a portable device costing around £200. Why can’t all kit be like this? For reviewing purposes I try and describe the kit in its default state. No EQ is applied. That way I can get rid of any extra elements when I’m comparing one product against another. The reader/viewer can understand the differences between products as they have been initially tuned. Should it be that way, when there are many different settings at hand? Bass light products could be boosted. Bass heavy? Sweeten them up with an adjustment to the mids. However, we are snobs😇 What we don’t want to end up with is a “Beats,Skullkandy, Marley” type presentation, were bass and upper mids are boosted to the extent that we can’t hear the subtleties in the mix, and a warm, elegant sound signature has become a Rock Concert. There is a place for that sound, but it’s not my everyday preference. Is it yours?
Which brings me to showcasing my latest video. This will give you an insight into how radically the Paw S2 DAC/Amp changes the sound signature. It even has 2 settings for the real old skool experience. The eq button has a cassette preset which makes your track have a hiss underneath the music. The vinyl preset has some pleasant crackles in it, just like some of the latest modern stuff are starting to put in their tracks. I spent a few hours going up and down the EQ presets. My conclusion? I preferred the stock sound, on the tracks I heard. But…think about it this way. If you have an iem you love but it’s slightly too bassy; there you go. If you have a track that you find lacks sparkle or is too glaring, that mix can be temporarily adjusted and the next track can be put back to the purist’s favourite, the “no efx” setting.
Let’s face it; whether we use EQ or not, the presence of a way to change your mind on what is possible has to be embraced. Bring back tone controls, bring back graphic equalizers. We miss you!