Songza updated their iOS app this week with a clever feature—adjust playback according to what headphones you are using with your device. Powered by Audyssey, the tuning does make a difference, but there are still a few bugs to be worked out.
My favorite music listening and discovery app (and an app of the year) is Songza. It’s not just the concierge that helps me pick a playlist to match my mood, etc, it’s the quality of the songs (both in output and artists) and clever UI that makes it a top app for me. Usually I stream music to AirPlay speakers or the Sonos Play:3 (that I still thankfully have on loan), but occasionally I will pop in a pair of earbuds when I’m working at one of my favorite coffee places (Milano coffee is my favorite and if you’re ever in Vancouver you owe it to yourself to try it).
For pretty much every app I’ve come across, when you plug in a pair of earbuds, they all get the same music signals coming in. We all know that not all headphones or earbuds are created equal, so they sound you get depends on what you’re using. Now, what if the app you’re using tuned the output to sound the best for the specific headphones or earbuds you’re using? A way to take the most advantage of the strengths and downplay the weaknesses. Sounds like a smart feature to me. That’s what Songza has done with the latest app update tapping into technology from Audyssey. Testing it out, it works brilliantly, if you stick to one pair of headphones or earbuds.
How the Audyssey HQ feature works within Songza is easy. Start the app, plug in your headphones or earbuds and you’ll see a little HQ button. It’s in a slightly different place on the iPad and iPhone (iPhone version is shown), but the function is the same after you find it. When you tap the button you’re prompted with “Are these your headphones…” the default are Apple EarPods, but tapping to choose different headphones you get a list of headphone makers to pick from. Pick your choice and that’s it.
When the music starts you might not notice the difference, so tap the HQ off and back on. I’m betting you’ll notice the improvement immediately. I noticed that without HQ on there was a little hiss in the music. No hiss with HQ. But here’s the rub, if you have different headphones, right now getting Songza to switch is nearly impossible or just plain frustrating. There is a growing thread on GetSatisfaction on this topic and some people have been able to get Songza to prompt them to switch headphones, others (like me) had to delete the app and start over to pick a different pair of headphones to tune for.
I wanted to test three or four pairs of headphones I have (two Apple, a pair of Moshi Vortexes, and a pair of SkullCandy earbuds) so I could tell you how the app worked in each scenario. After trying for several minutes and needing to delete the app (I didn’t want my old Apple earbuds set as default, I wanted at least the EarPods), I gave up.
I hope that Songza fixes this in an update. No, it’s not a deal breaker for most people. Most people have one pair of headphones or earbuds they use and only a few folks switch between them. Here’s how Songza describes the Audyssey feature:
New High-Quality Audio powered by Audyssey Laboratories dramatically improves headphone sound without increasing data plan usage!
The full story behind HQ Audio:
Music is mixed in acoustically calibrated studios by professionals listening at very high volumes. When you listen over headphones two things change: (1) every headphone has its own acoustical characteristics that are different from the studio and (2) most people listen to music at volumes well below studio levels, so their perception of high and low frequency balance is completely different from the original recording.
Audyssey’s audio engineers developed new technology to measure headphone characteristics and bring them closer to studio sound while adjusting the music balance so that it preserves the original content even when listening at lower volumes.
The HQ Audio feature on Songza works by applying a headphone-specific filter to the song file in real-time that makes adjustments to the music at each frequency so that the signal that the media player sends to the headphone has taken into account its particular fit and specs. The result is sound that has the quality of a much bigger music file and can be heard the way the artist intended it to be heard.
You can turn HQ Audio on from the Now Playing screen when you have headphones plugged in to your device. Simply slide the HQ switch down, select your headphones and you’re done! The HQ switch will turn blue when active.
Regardless of the (minor) bug, I think this is a really nice addition to the Songza app. Give it a try yourself and let me know what you think.