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The Inherent Value of Burn-In

post #1 of 372
Thread Starter 
I am relatively new to the Head-fi arena and continue to turn up fresh facts and factoids every day here to "enhance" my listening enjoyment, despite being a receptive "lurker" over the last year or so. I do have an undying obsession with music of all kinds, however, and Head-fi provides an invaluable counterpoint. Apart from appreciating the consistent good quality of the writing of this forum, and most member's unquenchable lust for aural innovation and insight, one thing has always enthralled me: driver burn-in.

Subjectively speaking, most of us know that burn-in most often improves the performance of a headphone, smoothing out rough perimeters and ripening raw noise emitters into transportive, beautiful devices. At best, what really goes on and how much of “it” is required to allow the driver to achieve its most natural, supple state is a slippery subject. On top of the debatable fruition that arises from these “can calisthenics”—pink noise, sine sweeps, Slayer’s “Show No Mercy” on repeat for a week, or whathaveyou—there is something to me that is more ethereal about the phenomena and it is far less easy to pin down.

Face it: most of us have joined Head-fi not to find one excellent stereophone in particular, attain contentment, then part ways. It’s a process, and it’s as dynamic as our drivers. We are thirsty for sound in a way that causes others to involuntarily scratch their heads, if not roll around the floor in a fit, alternately laughing and crying. When something new arrives that perpetuates its own hype, bolstered by an ever-expanding allegiance based on quickly establishing value, our ears literally perk up. Time for the next journey to the source. Maybe I’ll get closer this time if my wallet so allows!

We like to grow as listeners and improve our “abilities” over time. And apparently our headphones do to! Every little tidbit gleaned from these forums, and the ever-changing arsenal of ‘phones tallied in our signatures, tells a story of some sort of refinement. For some rapid, for some slow. And our headphones literally echo this as we fall in favor with a potent can or two, choosing to follow them along their journey to the ideal state.

If drivers typically started wearing out from the first moment they started making music, headphoning would be a pessimistic predicament first, and a junk yard for opportunists second. Instead of waiting for our headphones to lose their voices and then die, we await their maturation into something blissful that we cannot fully imagine. I recall one Head-fi member likening burn-in to breaking in a pair of shoes. But shoes wear out far too fast! It is more like being able to let a fine wine mature, while at the exact same time having the opportunity to take frequent sips along its course without it spoiling. What a way to reward oneself for indulging in several hundred hours of good music. Sounds great to me!

I would like to hear how burn-in has impacted your listening experience.

All the best,

Vince

post #2 of 372
Wow Vince, well written. Is this what they teach you in the Chemistry department? :P
post #3 of 372
im a fan of burning in headphones by listening to music through them myself. with the shoe analogy, i wouldn't have someone walk in my new pair of shoes (burning in with pink noise etc) until they were worn in before i started wearing the pair myself.
post #4 of 372
Burn in is mostly about allowing the owner to participate in a meaningful ritual prior to listening.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. People perform wedding and funeral rituals, too, but they're only incidental to marriage and death. The ritual certainly isn't necessary.

But if X number of hours with pink noise makes you happy, go right ahead. You won't hurt anything and the ceremonial aspect might make you appreciate your headphones a little more.
post #5 of 372
It hasn't impacted my listening experience at all and that's they way I like it.

1. I just listen to and enjoy my gear right out of the box.

2. It would be a shame and an obvious design flaw if headphones were to change dramatically after 100 hours or so. Changes that people "hear" are quite large and always a positive change. "These cans completely opened up after 300 hours". I find that difficult to believe.

Nate
post #6 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by ABathingApe View Post
Wow Vince, well written. Is this what they teach you in the Chemistry department? :P
x2 - I'd love to see what you do for a review sometime.

My experience with the (some would say "mid-fi") Sennheiser HD-555's was rather intriguing for me, being my first set of open 'phones. Out-of-the box I remember not being hugely impressed--they were nice, but not "amazing." Ten hours later the difference was quite astonishing. I keep a headphone log of my listening impressions and at 30 hours and even 100 hours out, they continued to "age" (following your lovely metaphor), and have since settled in. Thus settled, I've been able to "craft" various changes into them, voicing them to my preferences.

I didn't know what I was getting into--who would've thought this would be so much fun?
post #7 of 372
I don't agree that burn-in is always good. It may make things perform "better" in terms of accuracy and grain-free sound, but it is not always better in terms of musical enjoyment. People just don't say they wish things didn't burn-in because it is inevitable.

But if your gear is too smooth you might wish you could retain gear at a particular stage of burn-in. I know I miss the grainy highs of partially burned in pro 900's and big fat bass of partially burned in hfi-2200's. I always listen for the first 100-200 hours without leaving things on for burn-in because I want to savor the character of new gear, as they burn in their character tones down and allows more of the music to go through without coloration. The only exception was the iCans, those things sounded like sh*t for the first 50 hours.
post #8 of 372
Nothing has any "inherent value." Value only exists in the mind of the person doing the valuing.
post #9 of 372
Hmmm.. Personally I've been through abit with headphone burn in, in a not so positive manner.



Coming up from a line of Philips (oh I miss those ear scorching highs and overly bright tonality ) and the Alessandro MS-1, I've finally obtain my first pair of HD580. On first impression, it sounded fine, crisp for me, while my friends mentioned it was abit bright. Gave it over 50 odd hours of burn it without listening to it, and when I put it back on my ears, I nearly had a slight headache from the increasingly warm presentation of the HD580, and the edges had been smoothen out, bass starting to appear bit by bit.


I am the type of fella who gotten his ATH-M30, burnt it in for three days, listened to it for another three days, and sold it off.


But well, our ears also have their own 'tuning in' or 'burning in' process, given myself some time with the HD580, I am currently coming to love the slightly warm presentation, especially with silky female vocal music.



Hmmmm.. Now.. *ponders* Time to grab a pair of cans for heavier music next I guess..
post #10 of 372
Think about this, people. When was the last time you heard of a component that was burned in incorrectly?

If there's a "right" way to do it, then there also must be a wrong way. That necessarily means that there are poorly burned-in components that sound bad as a result of the poor burn-in.

So where are they?

Also, if burn-in is integral to sound quality, why don't manufacturers burn-in before they ship the product?

It's very simple to construct a burn-in board where components can be left to cook for X number of hours before they're installed. So why doesn't anyone do that? It wouldn't cost anything and then you'd have a "burned-in" product that customers could enjoy straight out of the box. So why doesn't this happen?
post #11 of 372
Uncle Erik, it doesn't happen because burn-in happens in the mind of the listener, not in the headphone itself (as you know). I'm not just talking out of my behind here, either; I have expereinced it for myself.

When I first got my DT990, I thought it sounded very bright. In fact, I had to turn down the volume in very bright parts of songs because it hurt my ears, even though I listen at low volume. I let it burn in for several days and heard it change so much. After a week, the highs didn't bother me at all. This was early 2007.

About a year ago, I got my HFI-780 and loved it, so I stopped listening to the DT990 all together for a few months. I think almost three months had passed when I took them out again and gave them a listen. I was intrigued to find them much too bright, but that went away after a few hours as my mind adjusted again.

What could explain my headphone becoming unburned-in? The only sensible explanation is that my mind had gotten used to the less bright sound of the HFI-780 and was noticing the contrast between the two sound signatures when I put the DT990 back on.

EDIT: tvrboy, I like what you said about value only existing in the mind of the one who values. You are correct.
post #12 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
Think about this, people. When was the last time you heard of a component that was burned in incorrectly?

If there's a "right" way to do it, then there also must be a wrong way. That necessarily means that there are poorly burned-in components that sound bad as a result of the poor burn-in.

So where are they?
People sometimes do complain about it, like the sound becoming less lively. Read people's opinions on the net about using demagnetizing cd's.

Quote:
Also, if burn-in is integral to sound quality, why don't manufacturers burn-in before they ship the product?

It's very simple to construct a burn-in board where components can be left to cook for X number of hours before they're installed. So why doesn't anyone do that? It wouldn't cost anything and then you'd have a "burned-in" product that customers could enjoy straight out of the box. So why doesn't this happen?
Because it counts as wear-and-tear. The sound changes during burn-in, not everyone thinks for the better, but since it is inevitable they just deal with it. Generally the changes are good for most setups and tastes, primarily less grain and smoother easier presentation.
post #13 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
Because it counts as wear-and-tear. The sound changes during burn-in, not everyone thinks for the better, but since it is inevitable they just deal with it.
So why don't manufacturers do it, and 'settle' the character of the phone, so what the buyer hears is what they get?

Why would they imply, "We're not going to burn in our products because every single buyer has to accept what they audition and buy, will be completely different after x amount of time."

Why do none of the big manufacturers take a clear position on burn in, and attach hrs guidelines to each of its products?

Why do people choose products (after audition, or on recommendation) that they find either too bright, harsh, clear, dark, bassy, trebly, whatever, and yet still buy them thinking, "They'll be completely different in 400+ hrs"

If these changes are so significant, how many listeners say their phones sucked after burn in, compared to those who say something positive?

I'm not telling what people to think on burn in, but I'm asking people to think, and not just follow. Listen and make up your own mind.
post #14 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by sampson_smith View Post
I would like to hear how burn-in has impacted your listening experience.
Not at all, Sampson. Not at all.

I listen from the moment I get a new pair of cans. If they break in, great!
post #15 of 372
Drubbing, lots of questions. If you want to think and not follow then find the answers yourself.
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