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#3100150 03/31/21 09:14 AM
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Boy, the questions posted here about headphones. So so many. Why?

Or more to the point:

- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.
- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?
- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?
- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?

Peace
Bruce in Philly


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My guess is that for most DP players / practicers, they aren't important. But then again, they don't spend a lot of time posting on message boards. The gear / audiophile segment is strong on the Internet. I see the same thing in bass forums. It's cool, don't get me wrong: that is the purpose of a discussion forum. But it gives the appearance of more importance than I think there is.


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Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?


No! They’re exposing spoiled brats!

My first pair of headphones was a pair of empty cans of beans connected by a string, and I never complained. I listened to the songs in my head day-in/day-out.

But I’m not resentful, no, I’m actually glad I grew up so poor because that strengthened my inner core and prepared me to deal with anything in life; including living in a van down by the river.

Sure, you think I kid around, but you don’t know the half of it!

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In the days of the Walkman, and then the CDMan (was that the name?) on ear headphones had just one purpose, and everybody was just super happy. My views as a piano student:

- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.

1. Headphones are important because I myself wouldn't like to hear 90+ minutes of piano tone which are basically exercises

- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?
2. I have been on the happy - unhappy - happy - unhappy - happy roller coaster. Along the way, I threw several hundred dollars out. Now I am just tired. But when I put on the first serious headphone I ever bought (SR60), it makes me smile. I guess I gave too much importance to 1) "what could be...", 2) reviews about what other people thought etc. etc. Without giving importance to what my God-given ears thought.

- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?

3. I don't think so.

- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?

4. To some extent. With pure audiophile amps and headphones.


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Many digital pianos lack speakers. And they sound pretty lousy through keyboard amps or cheap studio monitors. They sound quite good through headphones.

Also, no one wants to listen to you practice for very long, so it's a kind, considerate thing to do.

What I find odd is that so many people find that a particular set of headphones won't work with a piano. I've never had a pair of headphones that didn't work with my digital piano or any of my stereo equipment. But probably I haven't bought outliers in either pianos, stereo equipment, or headphones.


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Most young people just got GAS. Headphones are cheap/inexpensive relative to all the important stuff they can't afford like cars and houses. grin

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Of course a lot of people have issues with neighbours and such.

But for some like me its an issue of sound quality. Compared with the nearly perfect way in which good electronic equipment can reproduce sound, the front and back of the chain--microphones and speakers--are really bad. None of us can do anything about the microphone side of things, but headphones are small signal devices that need to generate good sound in a very small space. And so they eat even high end speakers' lunch. That being said, when playing, I always find the headphone experience lacking impact, and so usually go with the internal speakers rather than my headphone amp/headphone combo.

But getting into headphones can be a trip down the rabbit hole. Everyone has a range of sound qualities that they like and others that they do not like, and every model of headphone sounds different. I even use different headphones in different contexts, depending on the sound they produce. So for instance I tend to use HD650s on my high end DAC + headphone amp setup, but HD600s on my Yamaha N1X...

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Originally Posted by NormB
headphones are small signal devices that need to generate good sound in a very small space. And so they eat even high end speakers' lunch.

Headphones are more linear in some ways, but overall less realistic in others. If you consider how the majority of music is designed for playback on speakers, all headphones incorrectly images the sound signal spatially, quite a severe distortion. Good vs Bad, that's not descriptive. If you like the distortion then it's still good. The binaural recording is more scientifically correct, but sources are extremely limited.

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There's the issue of reverberation, as well. I've never completely understood the physics around why reverb sounds completely different through heads vs loudspeakers.


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Trouble with headphones and speakers is that after prolongued and heavy use, they'll lose their edge. The cones and stuff get flabby, and so the treble may lack bite. That's my experience over the years.
My ears may also exhibit similar . . .
This could cost us all money as we grow older. Be prepared!

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I regularly use five pairs of headphones:

Sennheiser HD 595 (open, 50 ohms): Hooked up to my stereo
Sonnheiser HD 569 (closed, 20 ohms, high efficiency): Usually hooked up to my phone
Sony MDR-7605 (closed, 63 ohms): Hooked up to my audio interface for monitoring
Sony MDR-1000X (closed, wireless bluetooth, noise canceling): My traveling headphones
Yamaha HPH-150 (open, 48 ohms): Hooked up to my Yamaha P-515

And I'm happy with all of them. They were all affordable with the exception of the wireless phones, because NC seems to demand a hefty price tag. So the total amount spent is much less than what some people pay for one set of high-impedance audiophile headphones.

Each pair has their specific purpose. The HPH-150 are very lightweight with a thin cable, so they are the least distracting during practice while still sounding much better than the built-in speakers of the P-515. The MDR-7605 are well insulated, so I can monitor myself next to my condenser microphone without causing feedback. At the same time its spiral cable prevents creating a tripping hazard. The HD569 gets the most out of weak-output sources while doubling as a handsfree if someone calls. When I sit down to listen to a real CD the HD595 delivers the necessary fidelity. And last but not least traveling with noise canceling MDR-1000X while listening to classical music is a great experience.

Considering the alternatives: My stereo has great floor speakers, but the phones outperform them by a margin. Same goes for the digital piano. Monitoring a live microphone with speakers simply causes feedback. And phone "speakers" ... nuff said.


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Why headphones for the obvious reasons: not bothering others, being able to go as loud as I want. But, it's also a poor mans hi-fi, you get much more sound quality per dollar than you can with speakers.

That said, I only use them when I have to. Like with my es920, I can hear the improvement in sound quality (esp the lowest registers, but overall as well), and yet I still prefer hearing it thru speakers. I'll often use one of my 8" 2-ways to augment the onboard speakers, which does a terrific job of filling out the sound while still getting the full stereo effect from the onboards.

Headphones have limited use for me because even with open back phones, like my Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros, it quickly feels like the space is too confined, it feels a bit uncomfortable usually like within 10-20 minutes, like the air doesn't have enough room to breath. I prefer hearing sound in an open space.

My favorite place of all time has been when I was playing music in Golden Gate Park with friends: I'd bring my keys and amps, friends would bring their guitars and hand drums- besides being a beautiful place to make music, the sound was very open, no walls to bounce off!

Would have loved having an AKG model I saw on the NAMM floor one year. It was designed to sit AWAY FROM your ears (1" or so if I remember correctly), which is taking open back to the next level. I imagine they'd be useful for mixing engineers who want the speaker experience but need to be quieter about it.


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The AKG702 is really nice. I use it to play the piano without disturbing my neighbours.

I am lucky to find it at 130€ : https://www.amazon.fr/AKG-2458X00190-K702-Casque-Studio/dp/B001RCD2DW/ref=mp_s_a_1_3

But Amazon dot com proposes it at $383 quite the double !!! https://www.amazon.com/AKG-Referenc...phones/dp/B0798Y6Y6C/ref=mp_s_a_1_2_sspa

Last edited by Frédéric L; 04/01/21 03:14 PM.

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Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.
I don't know about others, but personally using headphones isolates both ways, since I live in a pretty poorly soundproofed building. I feel more in my bubble with my headphones on because 1- I can't hear my upstairs neighbors screaming and 2- I don't have to worry about the entire building hearing me get excited on my piano (it really cramps me up if I feel I'm bothering people).

Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?
People will be people. I've upgraded headphones twice and every time I tried to go back to the previous pairs I thought "wow, they sound so flat and dull".
I'm quite happy with my current BeyerDynamics DT 770pro 80ohms (been using them for 3-4 years), but maybe if there's another model that I feel outdoes them, I'll change.

Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?
Maybe it can really make a difference in lower-end DPs. I've personally never encountered a DP where my first thought was "it's a shame the speakers are not as good as the sound/action".

Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?
At least they provide a common reference point between pianos. It's sometimes hard to compare when there are different speaker systems, and headphones really help with that (especially if they're yours), so they help you choose I guess.


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Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
Boy, the questions posted here about headphones. So so many. Why?

Or more to the point:

- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.
- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?
- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?
- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?

Peace
Bruce in Philly

There's two simple answers to this (IMHO), and they both boil down to "money" . . .

(a) I can get much better sound quality, [i]per dollar spent[/], using headphones, than by using loudspeakers.

(b) I can listen to music any time, at any volume, without disturbing my spouse or neighbors, with headphones;

. . . Doing that with loudspeakers would require _very_ expensive
. . . modifications to my townhouse.

"Why are so many unhappy with what they have?" -- I think a lot of that is driven by (relative) affordability of headphones, compared to loudspeakers.

If you have a good set of speakers, getting a _better_ set is usually way more expensive, than upgrading (or just changing) a good set of headphones.

So it's cheaper to get GAS (or "climb the upgrade path") with headphones.

I'm quite sensitive to distortion, but my high-frequency hearing is poor -- I'm 75. These discussions are less and less important to me, as I get older.


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We all get flabby with age. But at least you can replace headphones and speakers. smile
Originally Posted by peterws
Trouble with headphones and speakers is that after prolongued and heavy use, they'll lose their edge. The cones and stuff get flabby, and so the treble may lack bite. That's my experience over the years.

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This is curious ...
Originally Posted by Meap6
Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?
Maybe it [crappy speakers] can really make a difference in lower-end DPs.
I've personally never encountered a DP where my first thought was "it's a shame the speakers are not as good as the sound/action".
I've found that nearly all digital pianos have crappy speakers and also mediocre tone generation ... hence the need for virtual instruments and a proper sound system.

The N3X certainly was an exception when I tried one some time ago. And I'm hoping that the affordable N1X will likewise prove to be so.

But those aside ... the sound system is the weak spot of all the others I've tried.

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Originally Posted by MacMacMac
This is curious ...
I've found that nearly all digital pianos have crappy speakers and also mediocre tone generation ... hence the need for virtual instruments and a proper sound system.
The N3X certainly was an exception when I tried one some time ago. And I'm hoping that the affordable N1X will likewise prove to be so.
But those aside ... the sound system is the weak spot of all the others I've tried.
Huh. Maybe I just subconsciously don't pay enough attention/care since I mostly tried them with headphones !
Action & sound are basically the only things I look at since 99.5% (give or take .5%) of time I use my DP is with my headphones.

Last edited by Meap6; 04/02/21 04:37 AM.

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Originally Posted by MacMacMac
We all get flabby with age. But at least you can replace headphones and speakers. smile
Originally Posted by peterws
Trouble with headphones and speakers is that after prolongued and heavy use, they'll lose their edge. The cones and stuff get flabby, and so the treble may lack bite. That's my experience over the years.

hahaha, this guy!... smile

Anyway my neighbor, once a week plays music so loud, you can here it two houses down the street. Her excuse, the speakers needed their exercise to maintain performance... laugh crazy


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For me, it's entirely about not disturbing family. I've got young kids who are doing work, taking naps, etc. I wake up at 4:30am to get a couple hours of practice in few times a week, and that's all the time I have. Doing that isn't possible without headphones.

If I could play and practice during the day without bothering anyone, I'd have an acoustic grand right now.


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Neighbors up and down. The by-product of overpopulation, when houses become harder to find and more expensive to buy, and small crammed flats pop up everywhere.


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Originally Posted by Gombessa
For me, it's entirely about not disturbing family. I've got young kids who are doing work, taking naps, etc. I wake up at 4:30am to get a couple hours of practice in few times a week, and that's all the time I have. Doing that isn't possible without headphones.

If I could play and practice during the day without bothering anyone, I'd have an acoustic grand right now.

+1



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I agree ... but there are a few more "if" conditions ...
Originally Posted by Gombessa
If I could play and practice during the day without bothering anyone, I'd have an acoustic grand right now.
If I could afford a fine quality grand piano.
If I had the space for one.
If my arthritis doesn't get worse.

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I use headphones all the time. Not just for piano, for general listening as well. It just helps me enjoy what I am listening to or watching/listening much better. It also helps me enjoy the audio at very low volumes. I suspect I have a very sensitive ear - I don't know, but I'd never take off my clean sounding headphones.

I do love a good audio system from time to time for movies - but that's about it.


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I also use headphones nearly all of the time. A very good set of headphones will sound better than most sound systems.

An aside - you can also buy after market headbands and ear cushions when your favorite headphones start displaying wear.


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Originally Posted by MacMacMac
If I could afford a fine quality grand piano.
If I had the space for one.
If my arthritis doesn't get worse.

Please don't let this "reality" thing get in the way of my DREAM! smile


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Here's my take:

- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.

In truth I'm not sure that anything more is going on, but it could also be that headphones are the cheapest way to get good fidelity with a digital piano.

- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?

Headphones are tricky to design and build in a way that both sounds great and is very comfortable to wear. Yep, that sort of contradicts my reply to question no. 1, but headphones often have a region in their frequency response that people eventually find annoying and thus the search begins for something better: in both playback and VSTs.

- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?

I'd bet they factor in quite a bit.

- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?

I'd bet on that too. Most built in sounds and built in speakers are close to garbage in the grand scheme of things. Good VSTs and playback systems are certainly more fun to play than my built in sounds through the built in speakers from my Yamaha P121. In fact I have several VSTs that I'd rather play though my HD598 or HD650s than my digital pianos costing several thousand dollars--which is far more that I have into my piano gear. The computer would bring that a bit closer, but I had the computer before I had the DP so I really didn't factor that in. If I did I'd still be ahead when you include that number of VSTs I have and their quality. Only the very best DPs can really approach what I've got.

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Listening to yourself play piano is different from listening to recorded music. a) You press the key and you are paying very close attention to the sound you made - you want it to be right / good. b) You are just hearing piano, not a whole wash of different instruments mixed together, there is no place for bad sound to hide.

When the headphone frequency response isn't flat because it has resonances at certain frequencies, that is going to change the sound on a note by note basis. When the resonance is at the base frequency / first harmonic of a particular note its going to amplify that note _and_ the ratio to the higher harmonics is going to be off. It will sound louder and 'boxy' and stand out, sound not good, and distract you. That same resonance will also amplify different harmonics of other lower notes, changing the tone of those notes making them stand out too, and possibly making them sound bad.

I was happy listening on Grado SR60 headphones to my Roland FP30, but then I discovered virtual pianos and went off exploring them all in search of different sounds. This lead me to I headphone eq and found out that my Grado headphones had a couple of significant / bad resonances that were changing the tone of the whole piano and making certain notes painful. So I upgraded to Seinnheiser 599s which have a flatter response, ie their resonances are less extreme. Every virtual piano I listened to sounded different. All of a sudden my favorite vst was just OK still, and a couple of vsts I tried to love but just couldn't play because of a few bad notes suddenly sounded really great.

But it doesn't end there, the Seinnheisers are not perfect either. But now I know about eq and I know what to listen for. I put the vst pianos into Mainstage (simple macos DAW) and play a clean piano or even a synth sound while I have open a parametric eq that shows the frequencies in the sound live. Play up the keys of the piano starting low and listen for loud / resonant / bad notes. You can see the frequencies live in the eq and its easy to find the note with its first harmonic at the resonant frequency. The add eq at that frequency until it sounds even with its neighbors. Its easy to do - the resonance just feels bad in your ears and the eq fixes it. When you fix a higher resonance (like C5 - C8) you can also go back and play some lower notes and see how the eq helps balance out the harmonics from those lower notes too - changing their tone to something either different or better. If you are playing Pianoteq you can experiment with the harmonic balance in Pianoteq to get a feel for how getting the harmonic response out of balance changes / breaks the sound of the piano.

With my old headphones I hated Pianoteq and I hated Ravenscroft 275. With improved headphones & eq I no longer hate Pianoteq, and I LOVE the Ravenscroft. Now one step further, once you have a clean balanced sound for your headphones, you can go back over your piano sounds and check if there are resonances you don't like in the actual piano sound itself (ie resonances in the samples from the piano, the mics, or the room). I love the Ravenscroft's rich tone in the middle range but I still hear some resonances that stand out and distract me. Easy - do the same eq procedure just on the Ravenscroft vst itself and smooth out those last issues to get it just how you want it. (Specifically I have an eq cuts at 169Hz E3 and 338Hz E4 for the Ravenscroft. Can anyone else confirm they hear this? I could be mistaken in thinking the problem is in the samples. But for these I don't just hear it in my headphones, I can actually see peaks in the live frequency response graph of the piano in the eq.)

So headphone quality really matters to pianists. There is a lot you can do with parametric eq. Your listening setup is really going to effect how you like to different vsts.


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Originally Posted by MacMacMac
I agree ... but there are a few more "if" conditions ...
Originally Posted by Gombessa
If I could play and practice during the day without bothering anyone, I'd have an acoustic grand right now.
If I could afford a fine quality grand piano.
If I had the space for one.
If my arthritis doesn't get worse.
Upright pianos are also acoustic, and they are quite fine substitution for a grand. Talking to the OP of course. :-)


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Thanks a lot all for this interesting thread. It made me realised how important are the headphones and how they change the experience of playing not only in a subtile manner.
I have bought the HPH-150 from Yamaha, which is a world of differences with normal earphones, but I was really far from thinking that the differences could be that huge between headphones.
Another things to dig out in the future.


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Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
Boy, the questions posted here about headphones. So so many. Why?

Or more to the point:

- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.
- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?
- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?
- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?

Peace
Bruce in Philly

The problem is many buy headphones having the impression that they will be 1-headphones do-it-all. Unfortunately, it's not.

If you know why you're buying headphones and how you're going to use them, the chances are very limited that you regret your decision.

The only headphones I don't like their output are my Bose QC 35II. But they serve their purpose: wireless and noise cancellation at work. The quality is not as good as my wired ones.

Every pair of headphones you buy have characteristics, they are suitable for certain applications and not other scenarios. So knowing all of these, I'm happy with my choices of headphones so far and I never regret buying them.


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Originally Posted by Abdol
Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
Boy, the questions posted here about headphones. So so many. Why?

Or more to the point:

- Why are headphones so important? Something more is going on here than just personal playing... not annoying the family or neighbors.
- Why are so many unhappy with what they have?
- Do crappy speakers and amplifiers have anything to do with it?
- Are headphones exposing crappy pianos?

Peace
Bruce in Philly

The problem is many buy headphones having the impression that they will be 1-headphones do-it-all. Unfortunately, it's not.

If you know why you're buying headphones and how you're going to use them, the chances are very limited that you regret your decision.

The only headphones I don't like their output are my Bose QC 35II. But they serve their purpose: wireless and noise cancellation at work. The quality is not as good as my wired ones.

Every pair of headphones you buy have characteristics, they are suitable for certain applications and not other scenarios. So knowing all of these, I'm happy with my choices of headphones so far and I never regret buying them.

Yes, I agree to this! No one do it all headphones exist.
However for piano use we narrow it down to wired ones.
Noise cancellation? It's not mandatory, if we are to keep prices down.
In form factor, I'm not sure anyone would want an open back pair of headphones. My choices are either over-ear, on-ear, or even IEMs.

The most important one is bought it without regrets, because you knew you have made an informed choice.


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I don't know if the following point was mentioned, but having destroyed several headphones over the years, I would now only consider headphones with a detachable cable.

You'll typically only see that feature on more expensive headphones.


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Originally Posted by josh_sounds
Yes, I agree to this! No one do it all headphones exist.

I now know this after spending well into the thousands on headphones. A particular model from Sony showed 14,000+ five star reviews on Amazon. In my search for the ultimate headphone, I thought this model was going to be the ultimate solution. I bought it, and not even 30 seconds into my first track, I threw it down hating it.

Originally Posted by Dave Horne
I don't know if the following point was mentioned, but having destroyed several headphones over the years, I would now only consider headphones with a detachable cable.

Yes! Though now I don't mind headphones with attached wires, but of a good length (3 meters or more) - the detachable ones are the best. Of the detachable ones, I need ones that go in with a "click" and don't come off easily.

My beyerdynamic DT150 has a "hybrid option" - it has a detachable cable - but also supplies a tiny screw which I can use to screw the cable in to the headset.


A man must love a thing very much if he practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practice it without any hope of doing it well. Such a man must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it.
G. K. Chesterton
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