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Source differences and headphones vs speakers

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Short version:
When comparing two sources, I found the differences more obvious using a 'cheap' hi-fi speaker setup than a direct 'decent' headphone setup.

I would have expected the headphones to be more transparent. Am I just not giving the speaker setup enough credit?


Long version:
I've recently spent a lot of time comparing two sources and have mostly used three different pairs of headphones over the sessions. I'm reasonably aware of the shortcomings of each pair of headphones and have been listening for differences in the sources, not particularly between the phones. It's not been easy, they sound reasonably similar.

Yesterday, I connected the sources to a pair of speakers instead. The marginal differences (mostly tone and bass tightness) became more apparent. I'm not saying the system sounded better but the differences seemed to be more exaggerated.

I'm surprised by this. The speaker system is a not overly impressive integrated system (~£150 10 years ago) while the HPs included the clear, tight and detail-pushing DT931.

I have two theories, neither of which is that convincing. i) the fundamental differences between the sources lose something in the direct connection of using headphones, rather than the sound travelling in open air; ii) the differences mostly affect lower frequencies (this doesn't necessarily mean the differences are in the lower frequencies) and are filtered out by the DT931.

Is there any reason why the differences should be more pronounced using speakers (the opposite of what I'd expect)?

Apologies if I've not explained this very well.
post #2 of 18
I would say it's possible that you're so used to hearing your headphones, that the details feel less pronounced because you're already expecting them, and thus it's lost some of its charm. Thus the speakers, which obviously are going to sound totally different since it's not even the same set up, will sound clearer because your brain is going to be more active in trying to understand the new sounds.

It's like when you step into a pool, and at first the water is really really cold. But after 10 minutes it doesn't feel so cold anymore. It's not because the water got any less cold, it's because your brain was desensitized to the unchanging stimulus. It would have to get colder or warmer for your brain to decide it was important again (meriting attention).

That would be my first guess, from a psychological perspective. You'd really need to ask a couple friends (who listen to neither) to listen to both and tell you which one they think is more 'transparent' or whatever. That would make your data slightly less unreliable.
post #3 of 18
I think you're underrating the speakers.

That happens a lot here. A commonly held belief is that headphones offer better sound quality than speakers at a much lower price.

It's not true any more. Headphones have become increasingly expensive over the past few years. You used to be able to get a new K-1000 between $400-$500. Headphone amps used to cost less, as well. There's been an increasing arms race for headphones and amps - new models are more and more expensive. Meanwhile, the "top" discontinued headphones continue to increase in price.

On the other hand, there's quite a few used speakers and speaker amps on the market. Prices are falling, too. The level of equilibrium has just about been reached, too. You can get used high-end speakers and an amp for less than the cost of new high-end headphones and an amp.

For example, I've been running Quad ESL-63s from a Conrad-Johnson MV52. The ESL-63s were $650 and the MV-52 was $700. The HD-800 was $1,400 and a new Zana Deux is $2,200. Honestly, I prefer the Quads. I do love the HD-800 and Zana (and use them), but the speaker rig is one third the cost and does things no headphone can do.

A lot of people here get hooked on headphones then don't consider the speaker world because all they're ever heard are things like how a $300 pair of headphones beats $5,000 speakers. Not true at all. You can get excellent speakers that outperform headphones for less than a headphone rig.

There are valid arguments why headphones are excellent (isolation, detail, coherence because there's no crossover, etc.), but too many people here ignore speakers thinking that they're a poor value and/or will need extensive room treatment. Untrue. If you have the money and a place to put them, used speakers are an incredible value today.
post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 
@Chef
I expect that something psychoacoustical is happening but I'm not sure what. The speakers don't sound clearer BTW, they don't have more detail.

@Uncle Erik
I take your point about the relative value of speakers and headphones but in this case I still believe that the headphones are better than the speakers / speaker system. The obvious benefit of speakers is the soundstage and maybe the differences (or at least my perception of them) are heavily weighted towards this.

What other differences would you expect to be more obvious when using speakers?

As always, more listening is required!
post #5 of 18
I think headphones mask lower quality sources, I can easily tell between lossy and lossless on the Hi-Fi but not so easily on the headphones.

Quote:
A lot of people here get hooked on headphones then don't consider the speaker world because all they're ever heard are things like how a $300 pair of headphones beats $5,000 speakers. Not true at all
Agree on that, I think they spend so much money on headphone rig, and keep on spending (multiple phones, expensive cables etc) and deny to themsleves that speakers can sound better, and it's not the ratio people make it out to be. A £1000 amp/speaker rig easily out performs my Grado RS-1's. I've seen people use the £100 headphone/£1000 speaker ratio which I think is ridiculous.
post #6 of 18
I think it's because humans don't instinctively hear for things so close in proximity to their ears. Headphones often make people feel uncomfortable due to the nearness of the sound source/no natural crossfeeding, the fact that you have something on your head, and also when you turn your head the sound goes with you. If you can ignore these three things then headphones can be more detailed (or transparent of recording/gear) than speakers.
post #7 of 18
how about when you add the Smyth SVS Realiser to the headphone system?

Smyth Research

then calibrate in a great room with excellent surround - like the AIX studio?

Decent loudspeaker listening room dimensions would cost a lot more than 10x the cost of SVS+HD800+Headroom Balanced Ultra in renovation and take up over ½ the floor area in my apartment – before buying the speaker system
post #8 of 18
I wouldn't be surprised if SVS still has kinks to work out, and I wouldn't pay $3000 even if it could emulate speakers perfectly because it's just DSP. With $3000 you can buy speakers that would satisfy 90% of audiophiles and you don't have to mimic anything, but I'm sure with a modified SVS software you could do to speakers (to a great extent with the right speakers) what the SVS does to headphones. And why does it set out to replicate speakers anyway when speakers are known to be flawed? Shouldn't it have software to try to tackle the flaws of recording and speakers? Another thing that makes me believe that it is not completely worked out is that they make you make your own room memory files. Shouldn't it be possible for them to have the software so that they provide the room memory files and all you have to do is get the headphone and ear shape memory files? One thing is for sure, headphones don't really have convenience over speakers anymore unless you use a portable setup in which case it is no match for speakers in terms of fidelity.
post #9 of 18
the SVS choice to calibrate to a particular room/loudspeaker/hrtf/headphone signal chain is exactly because the Engineering/Science isn't up to sythesizing "real" sound from 1st principles - the Smyth system is a very good compromise that fits within current technology
Just about any multichannel material is going to have been produced/processed with extensive DSP in the studio and in the player in your home

also - stereo/multichannel surround sound source intended for loudspeakers/home theater systems is the most available audio source - and likely to be for the indefinite future - there is no good theory or standard for some psychoacoustically superior "wave front reconstruction" recording/encoding process

and you seem to simply dismiss the cost of a really good, properly dimensioned, acoustically treated loudspeaker listening room - simply not an option for most apartment dwellers
post #10 of 18
Quote:
the SVS choice to calibrate to a particular room/loudspeaker/hrtf/headphone signal chain is exactly because the Engineering/Science isn't up to sythesizing "real" sound from 1st principles - the Smyth system is a very good compromise that fits within current technology
Just about any multichannel material is going to have been produced/processed with extensive DSP in the studio and in the player in your home
I'm talking about how the SVS requires you to find your own room memory files. I don't get why they don't give you free room presets, or make it so you can swap presets with other people and then create a new headphone and ear shape memory file to go with it.

Quote:
also - stereo/multichannel surround sound source intended for loudspeakers/home theater systems is the most available audio source - and likely to be for the indefinite future - there is no good theory or standard for some psychoacoustically superior "wave front reconstruction" recording/encoding process
It's certainly high time to rethink recording. Without drastic changes there, there will never be real strides in DSP because they are all designed to compensate for the shortcomings of recording.

Quote:
and you seem to simply dismiss the cost of a really good, properly dimensioned, acoustically treated loudspeaker listening room - simply not an option for most apartment dwellers
I'm dismissing the SVS in regards to the topic at hand, which is "what has the most transparency for differences between sources". If you're replicatng speakers with headphones it is anyone's guess how well it can retain the nuances of an expensive speaker system or if it'd even be transparent of differences between sources.
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
I'm talking about how the SVS requires you to find your own room memory files. I don't get why they don't give you free room presets, or make it so you can swap presets with other people and then create a new headphone and ear shape memory file to go with it.
Everyone's ears hear differently - especially with regard to how the differing shapes of ear canals change sounds based on direction.

Go read the thread about the unit - reports are universally that profiles people make themselves sound very good and other people's profiles sound horrible.
post #12 of 18
Why can't they make it so the room profiles can be adapted to ear profiles?
post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by iriverdude View Post
I think headphones mask lower quality sources, I can easily tell between lossy and lossless on the Hi-Fi but not so easily on the headphones.
Interesting. Can you expand on your first statement, e.g. what aspects do you think are masked? A lot of people would have you believe that headphones reveal more differences, due to the drivers being so close.
post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by iriverdude View Post
I think headphones mask lower quality sources, I can easily tell between lossy and lossless on the Hi-Fi but not so easily on the headphones.
I tend to lean the other way. I've listened to 320k MP3 and ALAC with my dads speakers - Magnat Monitor D's (they're old but still sound nice) - and with my HD600s. I found that I could nearly always pick the difference with HD600s but was a bit inconsistent with the Monitor D's. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact the headphones put you in your own world rather than bringing the music into your room. It's hard to explain, but with my HD600s, along with the difference in texture, decay and extension in the highs I could hear the the ALACs had a more music aura to them (if that makes any sense). However using the Monitor D's I couldn't hear the same musical aura and had to rely much more heavily on listening to the texture, decay and extension in the highs which proved more difficult as my HD600s seemed to have a much more detailed top end.
post #15 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Menisk View Post
I tend to lean the other way. I've listened to 320k MP3 and ALAC with my dads speakers - Magnat Monitor D's (they're old but still sound nice) - and with my HD600s. I found that I could nearly always pick the difference with HD600s but was a bit inconsistent with the Monitor D's. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact the headphones put you in your own world rather than bringing the music into your room. It's hard to explain, but with my HD600s, along with the difference in texture, decay and extension in the highs I could hear the the ALACs had a more music aura to them (if that makes any sense). However using the Monitor D's I couldn't hear the same musical aura and had to rely much more heavily on listening to the texture, decay and extension in the highs which proved more difficult as my HD600s seemed to have a much more detailed top end.
MP3 likes to remove some of the higher frequency parts and if your headphones are brighter than the speaker system in comparison, it's apparent that it's harder with the speakers.
But that has nothing to do with headphones vs speakers imo.
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