In-depth

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Frequency Response

Lacking the equipment to do a measurement of the sonic characteristics, I’ve instead noted details on the frequency response by listening to sine sweeps. (No idea what frequency response is? Check out this primer).

The original headphones have a very similar curve, but seem to be a little less smooth over the entirety, especially in the region from 3-12 kHz, where a small dip happens at 4 kHz, which then turns into a peak at 5.3 kHz. Usually, such a resonance in that frequency range above 5 kHz can lead to a relatively more “artificial” or “metallic” sound. However, it was a very small difference, and was hard to notice in normal use.

In my tests with VR applications, I could certainly hear the difference between the Earphones and the standard Rift headphones. In the Oculus Dreamdeck experience for example, the dinosaur at the end roared with incredible rumble, but also with a very coarse air coming out of her throat that was much sharper. In addition, the positions of these sounds were more apparent and separable from each other, as I could more clearly tell the air in dinosaur’s throat apart from the roar.

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Something else I tried was closing my eyes, and just following the sound with my ears. On the standard headphones, I found that the sound from the dinosaur was harder to pinpoint as the breathing was more ambiguous and “smeared” across the left and right channels, meaning that the “imaging” characteristic was somewhat worse. Though the complete explanation is more complicated, these results make sense because humans sense the locations of sounds mostly through high frequencies, which these IEMs have improved on.

On the last characteristic I’ll talk about, I found that the “soundstage”, or the ability to render sounds at distances is better than the standard headphones. The Earphones sounded a lot more natural to my ears in how they represented sound at equal distances. Before, for example, when you were looking directly at the fireplace in Oculus Home, the flames would sound more faint and distant, and when you turned to let it face your right or left ear, it would sound a lot closer. That wasn’t a problem on the Earphones.

Not only that, but they were also able to present nearer sounds more accurately. In the miniature town part Oculus Dreamdeck, I could get so close to the paper airplane flying around that it felt like it should have been touching my head, while with the standard headphones, it was as if the sound source was just a bit shy of wanting to touch me, preferring to stay somewhat distant. Much of these differences actually have to do with the inherent properties of IEMs compared to headphones, but that’s beyond the scope of this review.

Noise-isolation

While I’ve harped on about sound quality, actually the more important thing I’ve noticed is that the Earphones block sound enough to let you clearly hear the subtle ambient noises present in many VR applications without distraction. If you have a humming PC or the sound of cars outside your apartment while doing VR, the real ambience can, without you consciously knowing it, distract from the feeling of actually being in the virtual world.

I found that while using the Earphones, it was much easier to forget where I was in real life, and I could really hear subtle sounds I wasn’t easily able to before, like the echos of my footsteps while trekking through caves in FATED: The Silent Oath. This feature alone already makes these IEMs worth getting if you’re someone like me, who lives in a bustling house with other people.

Effect of Tip Selection

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I found that the difference in sound between the packaged tips was imperceivable, while tips from different brands had a big impact. The Comply foam tips, while they were more comfortable and blocked more outside noise, somewhat muffled high frequencies. The Spinfit eartips made things sound a bit “tinny” or “artificial”. The Meelectronics actually didn’t change the sound too much. In the end, I still preferred the tips that shipped with the Earphones.

Comparison to Ultra High-end ($1,300) IEMs

When the Oculus Earphones were announced, the company claimed they compared favorably to $900 pair of IEMs. While they didn’t specify exactly which, I’m fortunate to have a pair of JH Audio Roxanne Universals handy for comparison. These IEMs retailed for $1,300 and were critically acclaimed for having superb clarity and transparency in vocal detailing. In other words, they had really good midrange sound, and I’ve confirmed all of this from my own testing.

oculus-rift-earphones-earbuds-2However, even if the Roxannes perform well for what they were designed for (vocals), they don’t fit certain other tastes of music or use cases as well. It could be said that the technical capabilities of the Roxannes are beyond those of the Oculus Earphones, but the their tuning doesn’t work with VR as well. For VR, the frequency response should follow a balanced curve so that things are as accurate as to what you would hear in real life, and the Oculus Earphones achieve this. A balanced frequency response has a huge impact on almost all characteristics of sound perception, so it can not be underestimated. That’s why I’ve concluded that these Earphones sound (mostly) better than the Roxannes for use with VR.

In almost all instances when dealing with audio that wasn’t mainly vocals, the Oculus Earphones represented sound with more accurate tonality, clarity, and spatial positioning. When I was listening to Let it Rain by Amanda Marshall, the Roxannes sounded slightly more congested and closed in with regards to the instrumental track, but truly did output the vocals with a feeling of tactility that was not present on the Oculus Earphones.

When I examined the Roxannes’ frequency response with sine waves, I could perceive a very smooth curve across the whole range with really only one big peak at around 6-8 kHz that rose gently. On the other hand, the Oculus Earphones had a more bumpy and wild curve. They also had a bit of harmonic distortion, which wasn’t present on the Roxannes, though it was only noticeable with close listening of sine sweeps. Despite that, Oculus Earphones still sounded better for the majority of my time using them, and definitely had the upper hand when used for VR.

Oculus probably pushed their transducers as far as they could with the budget they had, and the result is something that’s technically imperfect, but impressive in practical usage. So yes, to those who were skeptical of Oculus’ claims, it would seem to me that the Earphones can in fact compare favorably to $900 or more IEMs, even if not in every aspect necessarily. But speaking honestly, this doesn’t come as a surprise to me. It’s generally observed in the headphones industry that the more you pay, the less you get back in value per dollar. And with technology constantly improving, the returns keep diminishing, so it makes sense that this special case of IEM is partly able to compete at a much higher price point. Nevertheless, it is highly commendable that Oculus has achieved this level of proficiency.


Disclosure: Oculus gave all attendees of their Connect developer conference, including this reviewer, a pair of Earphones.

 

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  • user

    how much did they pay you for this review?

    • CURTROCK

      If you have been following R2VR from the beginning, you would know that this website does not schill for Oculus, or any other VR company. Considering we are talking about a pair of pretty cheap ear buds, the idea that Rift owners need to be artificially hyped to try this product is ridiculous. After what I spent on the Rift & the computer to run it, $49 is a no brainer.

      • user

        ya, i guess oculus is better than all the companies who are building speakers / headphones for decades and they have disrupted the industry for professional headphones with just some cheap parts. they are magicians.

        • CURTROCK

          I didn’t say the parts are cheap. I was referring to the price Oculus is offering them to their customers. The quality & fidelity of the current headphones that come with the Rift is excellent. They have demonstrated a commitment to high quality audio. If you have tried the Oculus earbuds, and you find that they are lying about the quality, please do share your insights with us.

          • user

            its not possible to produce the same quality with 10% of the costs.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Not the exact quality, but a close enough approximation it will do the job. People are really going overboard on this comparison; the author simply used a high end set of ear phones to compare against, and said they acquitted themselves nicely, but someone serious about audio would detect the difference, not the average Joe.

            As to costs, lets compare cars. For about 45K one can get a Corvette that will do the same speeds as a 450K Lamborghini. Are they equivalent experiences? To someone who isn’t into driving, they may seem on the surface very close, but to a trained and experienced driver the differences stand out. The same holds true in this case. Base cost with a strong curve upwards for diminishing returns holds true for most technology.

          • user

            read the cnet review

          • Mateusz

            You clearly have no idea how branding works

          • german kyote

            Well, in a lot of technical related products you get to a point where you can spent 90% of the money for 1% of improvement.
            And that counts especially for audio/hi-fi.
            Audio isn’t rocket science.

        • DM

          I guess you think 99% of the population think a $900 pair of earbuds is a perfectly reasonable price to spend, and they can all tell the difference between a $50 pair and a $900 pair right away then, and all those people would try the Oculus buds and say “ugh these sound like they are only worth $50 and sound $750 worse than my earbuds at home!”

  • Nord Doe

    I’m still skeptical of the $900 claims, because this reads like a paid review.

    • benz145

      So your hypothesis is that Oculus got up on stage at Connect 3 last month, lied everyone that the headphones could compare well against a high-end pair of in-ear-monitors, and then paid media outlets to perpetrate their lie?

      Or maybe they’re just a decent pair of headphones.

      https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor

      • ummm…

        thats totally possible tho. may not be the case here, but your rebuttal is faulty. you do know how marketing works right?

      • Nord Doe

        It isn’t necessary to make extreme assumptions. But I think the review read just like an ad and I remain skeptical that $50 headphones can really compare favorably with $900 headphones. I for one do not believe the hype.

        • Aeroflux

          Ads do not try off-brand ear tips or compare to anything that is half as good. There is nothing wrong with your disbelief in a comparison to $900 IEMs, but I take issue with your claim that this article is an ad. You are using slander to back up your opinion and it isn’t necessary.

          • Nord Doe

            Parroting fatty sales pitches like “$900 value” does make it read like an ad. I stand by that. Being so easily influenced by marketing is a poor trait for a reviewer.

          • Aeroflux

            Meh, whatever.

          • benz145

            If the company got up and claimed their product compares well to something much more expensive, you don’t think a reviewer should test that claim?

        • Foreign Devil

          In this case I’d suggest $900 headphones are overhyped and overpriced.

          • DM

            $900 headphones basically have to be massively hyped for anyone to spend that much on them. And those are the guys who would throw down $900 for a headphone amp and probably the same again on a turntable or valve amp, and spend a small fortune on interconnects.

            Expensive audiophile headphones are a fairly niche market even for hifi dealers, or at least that was the case when I spent 3 years selling hifi gear about 12 years ago.

            I think we had one guy who spent £700 on some Beyer Dynamic(?) cans, they came with an apology that their usual luxury wooden box packaging wasn’t included as the 9/11 attacks had disrupted their usual source :-/

            At that time we were still selling loads of Bang & Olufsen 32″ CRT TV’s for £5k and £500 telephone handsets. For reference we were also selling Meridian, Rotel, NAD, Bose, Denon, Yamaha, Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Cyrus, M&K, Mission, B&W, Sharp, and had an online servise too for the usual cheaper stuff.

            We also had a rep from Nordost who made crazy expensive speaker cables and hifi interconnects. They also did cabling for the NASA space program and on the shuttles. They demonstrated cable that cost £1k per meter, we tried it out on a £1k amp and £1k CD player with some decent speakers, and as we listened to some short clips from the same song we could actually tell the difference between the different levels of cable quality from their “cheapest” all the way up to the best.

            In short, if the rest of your system is good, expensive hardware can make a real difference, you just have to know what to look for and what to pair it with. It’s up to you if it’s worth the money or not. There are systems out there that can take advantage of headphones genuinely worth £900, but not many people will own them, and most people won’t ever justify spending that much or immediately notice the difference.

      • user

        yes, they lied. that’s what companies do. 20 years ago mc donalds and coca-cola claimed they will reduce hiv in africa by 50% in 10 years.

        • DM

          so you are comparing a 10 year goal to reduce a sexually transmitted disease in the worlds least educated continent, against actual hardware that exists and has been reviewed?

          Are you insane?

          • user

            the point is that companies lie. which i gave an example for.

            and yes. a few reviews exist. show me another one that says the oculus earbuds sound like professional earphones.

            cnet: 》”These sound as good as some of the highest-end earphones in the world,” he said.

            Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. I’ve spent a few hours in VR with the Oculus Rift Earphones, and I honestly like my Oculus much better without them.《

    • Get Schwifty!

      It’s very possible that a $49 pair is not far off from a $900 pair according to the few audiophiles I know. It’s very much like wine believe it or not; you can get a $20 USD bottle of wine that is comparable in most regards to one that is $200 or even $2000 that most folks would think is equivalent unless you are a true wine connoisseur or in this case audiophile to detect the differences.

  • wowgivemeabreak

    Thanks for the review. Read it and then ordered a pair since I like that the sound is improved (the standard cans actually sound quite good and surprised me) and I really want the better isolation since the standard cans are useless for that.

    I do have some high end closed headphones but don’t want to deal with wearing them and the rift straps and I also have some decent IEMs but don’t want to deal with having a separate connection/cord to manage so these should do the trick for what I want.

  • xebat

    This is so relieving to read.

  • ummm…

    vive killer!……..??????

    • Get Schwifty!

      LOL not even close… thats not the intention, but you know it won’t be long before HTC incorporates better audio, and i would bet the current CV1 headphones go away in time and these replace them in the standard package.

      • ummm…

        yeah. i did know i needed fancy headphones for my vive. but now that oculus has them i guess i need to get a second job to enhance my experience in VR – otherwise the 900 bucks i’ve already spent will have been completely worthless.

  • PK

    This has me very curious to try them. I own a vive and spent $1100 on my Andromeda IEM’s and paired with a subpac they’re incredible good, but now I wonder if I could have gotten something comparable for VR for a lot cheaper. Either way I’m really pleased they’re putting this much focus on audio because then more developers will create experiences that actually take advantage of my setup, right now most don’t have that level of sound design.

    I will add that the vive is too noisy for super sensitive high end IEM’s, they need to be plugged in directly to the computer, wireless doesn’t seem to be an option.

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    It is so funny to see you guys making so much noise about a pair of earbuds lol.
    Im fine with the one that comes with the vive although i have also better headsets for audio.
    The problem you are actually not mentioning here and is worth to mention is quite simple.
    Most game devs dont have high end audio equipment to be able to make that clear audio for a game afterall.
    Your earbuds or even headphones can only produce nothing more as the source audio file.
    Many times those audio sources are also compressed to save load times.
    The entire story here is just not fitted to VR at all, as i can tell you, there will not many applications with real high audio quality.
    At the end we are talking just about some games to play, and the audio will sound good, just will not be the quality music studios produce.
    I think the most important thing is that they feel right on your ears when using vr and second they produce a clear sound, but for sure it will not be super high detailed sounds in game, at least not in most of them.
    Oculus price seems fine, but earbuds and stuff like over 1k usd is in most cases just overkill.
    As a devloper it is useless to invest in such high end equipment for 2 reasons.
    1. games sell very cheap, yes even $40 is cheap for a game, so investment takes huge time to get it back,
    2. the amount of gamers which even buy your game, most of them will even not have those high end headsets or earbuds afterall.

    Therefor it really does not matter for VR as long as you have fun it will be fine.

    • Get Schwifty!

      So let me get this straight… the main argument here is the cost to access of high end audio equipment for development… and yet we are talking about a $49 USD pair of ear bud that are almost competitive to a $900 USD pair?

      Another distinction here is that one of the strengths of the Oculus Home platform is the aid and direction in development, this includes standards and access to guidelines in developing including audio.

      Audio is going to be a an important part of immersion, and its clear the reviewer has experience in judging audio qualities and has provided some compelling information that for the price the ear phones do make a real difference.

      I will say that I agree many people may not notice the difference consciously but will react better to VR, and not all content will utilize the ear phones to the best effect, but the difference should be noticeable for properly made content which only increases VR experiences. They are optional and $49 USD, a cheap refinement if there ever was one.

    • PrymeFactor

      Good thing every Rift comes with a very decent set of headphones, eh?

      Not sure why you’re so determined to downplay this

      • DiGiCT Ltd

        Yeah lol, I got already used to it, as they also had a statement VR cant be played with a gamepad, eventually it shipped with it too.
        But its good for their sales as people feel bad and just feel they need to upgrade again lol.
        Anyhow my point was simple that most VR games will not have audio on that quality included, so the max you can hear is the quality of the source.
        However they might feel more comfortable, but thats something else.

    • DM

      How can one post say so many wrong things?

      You get what you pay for, that includes PC audio, and is the reason I still pay for sound cards rather than relying on poor quality badly insulated/shielded on-board motherboard audio chipsets.

      There are hundreds of sound card and speaker reviews around that prove that even relatively small budgets can improve PC audio with little effort.

      A lot of games can sell hundreds of thousands of copies, they make their money back, and can afford some decent audio mastering.

      Yes, audio can often be overlooked, however there aren’t many games that are well known for terrible audio, other than the recent Skyrim remster, which was immediately called out for it’s over-compressed audio format which should be getting a patch.

      Audio matters massively for VR, if you skimp on the sound you will not be having fun in VR.

      • DiGiCT Ltd

        I agree audio matters, but what i said is that your hih end audio system is in many times overkill due to bas source included in the game, not bad to hear but simply you dont need a studio high end stuff to listen to 256 kbit audio, many audio devices can reach that range clearly for a cheap price.
        We are talking about games, for music production yeah I know what you need for that, and its not an onboard audio card but rather a terratec board and we could all go into detail about crystals be used on them to generate the audio etc etc. that not the point here.
        There are many headsets, even cheaper as oculus provides that can give you good quality sound in VR, thing for $800+ is just nonsense.

  • Justos

    Dangit, I was trying to convince myself that I don’t need these. But i do. Oh man I really do. Thanks for the honest review.

    • Get Schwifty!

      I think the author is Frank He ;)

      • Justos

        Wtf. I swear it was edited. Thought it said ben. thanks for correcting me

  • KoolKoala

    I’ve had them for about a month now. Got them on eBay. They sound great. Definitely worth getting.

  • crim3

    +$1000 earbuds exist? really? Damm, I’m such a loser

  • Peter Hansen

    tl;dr

  • Nein

    Wireless headphone industry has good prospects.

  • mbze430

    I absolutely hated the on-ear that came with the Rift. Actually I hate ALL on-ear headphones. So in the mean time I have been using my PSB M4U 2 and using Active Noise cancelling to get isolate myself from the real world.

    One thing that I haven’t bought these was because I didn’t know if I can use Comply foams, thank you for trying them out on these IEMs. I only use Comply for my IEMs as well.

    After reading the sonic performance on these IEMs, I am now incline to get a pair. I have very critical listening tastes (my best headphone is a Audeze LCD3).

    I think it’s safe to say $50 would be worth it, as last night i tried out using the Touch with my Rift + PSB (2 wires now) and it wasn’t worth the extra wire hassle.

    So thank you for the review, and hopefully they will sound as good I *think* what this review has described

  • Great Guide. Will look into it later.

  • My wife got me those for Christmas and they are awesome! :)

  • That’s totally possible though. may not be the case here, but your rebuttal is faulty. you do know how marketing works right?

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