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My *OPINIONS*: Burn-in. Comparison between two ER4-PTs.

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

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*warning: this thread is very long and laden with trivial details so better grab some coffee, put on some tunes, and block out some time before proceeding*

 

Introduction:

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As those of you who watch the Deals Alert thread know, the price for Etymotic Research's ER4-PT has been fluctuating and mostly dropping for the past couple weeks. 

 

Well I bought mine two weeks ago for $210 and right before the Fourth the price dropped down to $191. Amazon would not refund the price difference but instead suggested that I buy another pair at the new price and return the old. 

 

I decided to get the new pair first and make sure everything's peachy before returning the old, and when they arrived I realized what a perfect opportunity this is to compare the old with the new, and see if burn-in does affect BA-based IEMs. 

 

A brief preview of my conclusion:

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ER4-PT does change/benefit from burn-in. Most definitely. Maybe. Yes. Possibly..?

 

Background:

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It seems that the general consensus around here is that some Dynamics do change/benefit from burn-in, like GR07 and EXK and DDM. Of course, these are the obvious ones. But what happens with BAs is still debatable.

 

My personal opinion has always been that it does. I've detected noticeable changes with all my BA phones: CK10, TF10, UE700, SE535, PS200, SE315, etc etc, these are just the few that sprung to mind without searching through my memory.

 

 

I think as old and classic as the ER4 is, it is a very authoritative representation to the general characteristics of BA-based IEMs. I am not saying that whatever my findings are with the ER4-PTs are necessarily true and applicable to all BA phones, no. But they can shed some light onto the subject nonetheless. 

 

 

Anti-BI (burn-in) Arguments:

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- Most literatures written on burn-in are based on memory, impressions, and they can be easily distorted. With my own IEMs, and I believe is the general experience with most users, I've never had a brand new pairs to compare with my already used and burned-in ones. So one of the anti-BI arguments is that it's all in my head, that I'm experiencing "burn-in" only because I so blindingly believe in it.

 

- YOU are getting "burned-in" instead. Another "theory" is that it's not the IEMs, but rather your own ears, or the nerves in your brains, that are receiving the "burn-in" instead, that you are getting accustomed, used to the sound. For example, someone who at first think the CK10s are too bright and shrill will get used to the sound signature after listening to them for x hours, and mistook it for the mythical process known as "burn-in".

 

- Technical/scientific argument: while for Dynamic-based IEMs the diaphrams need time to loosen up so they can reach their most natural and intended performance, BA IEMs don't really have diaphrams that move air around. So, it is "physically impossible" for BAs' sound to change. 

 

Comparison Premises:

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Majority of the comparisons are done straight out of my iPhone 4. 

 

For a desktop configuration, I used a Fiio L9 line-out cable, connected to my Fiio E11 portable amp, and then to the ER4-PTs. 

 

Source files are all Apple Lossless format ripped from original CDs. 

 

All test tracks are personal favorites that I've listened to countless times and know like the back of my hand. Classicals, vocals, oldies, alt. rock, symphonic metal, musical, opera, film soundtracks, ACGs, and some Billboard Top 40s. 

 

Two ER4-PTs:

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As said, one pair I've had for two weeks. Somewhere between 50-100 hours of use. (I absolutely love these and have pretty much neglected all my other IEMs since.)

 

The other pair is brand new and tested as such. However, there is no telling as if the sound gradually changed during comparisons. But the total run time after comparison should not exceed 1-2 hour. 

 

Thoughts on comparison:

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Very, very obvious differences.

 

I tried to blind-test, as the only physical distinction between the two pairs of ER4-PTs are the serial numbers on the ear pieces. And it was obvious which pair was the used one. The sound is more natural, more open, and effortless. It was like one warmed-up and stretched out athlete against one that has not done so. Or maybe one girl just starting to get good at sex, has loosened up a bit, and the other a virgin who's just tighter. 

 

ER4 is already one of the most detailed universals available, but the burned-in one is even more so. Listening to the 10th-Anniversary edition of Les Miserables, again sound-checked and lossless: with the old pair you can hear such delicate little details like the faintest hint of vibrations echoed, bouncing off the walls of the concert hall; or a sudden surge of desperation coming out of Valjean as he breathes in and readies for the climax of his solo, or the conflicted emotions battling inside of Inspector Javert - very delicate and tiny details that aren't fleshed out with the brand new pair. With the brand new pair you can hear the contradicting thoughts between Javert's sworn service to the law and the urge to let Valjean go, but it's  a free-for-all mess of a fight that you can't tell what's going on; but with the burned-in pair, you see that both forces are evenly matched, and one is not going to overcome the other, then at once you feel the surfacing of desperation and hopelessness, as Javert sees that there is no solution to his conflict but to end his own existence, that death was the only way out. The one pair is just able to catch that fleeing emotion, that racing thought which comes and goes in a fraction of a second, and bring it to audible representation. Of course, that one pair turns out to be the "burned-in" one. 

 

I don't expect most of you to relate to what I just described without being terribly familiar with the original novel, the musical, and all the materials. All I can say is that the sound travels "further" and fills more corners of the soundstage on the older pair than the brand new one. I wouldn't even call that the "soundstage opening up" because they are about the same on both sets, but one pair actually is able to present those remnants of tiny vibrations traveling to the outer bounds of that soundstage, where with the new pair the sound just dies out, not extending or traveling as far and wide. Generally it's just more opened up, more accurate, and more natural with the old pair. The new one is just more focused, more concentrated, ***"tighter"***. And yes I'm saying the old pair doesn't sound as "tight", but it makes up for it with better techniques and stuff ;)

 

On other notes, I hadn't noticed any parts of the frequency range being different - same amount of bass, mids, and treble. So there's none of that "bass settling down" or "treble gets tamed a bit" bizwax as with some Dynamics. The general sound stays largely the same. This is exactly what I expected though: 90-95% same sound.

 

Aftermath:

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Even though I said it's about 90-95% same between the brand new pair and the two-week old pair, I have to state for the record that I would never listen to the brand new one if the sound is expected to stay that way. That 5% made all the difference. I couldn't even listen to the new pair after comparing and realizing how good it potentially is. I had to put it through artificial burn-in (whereas when I first got the older pair I just listened to them normally without intentionally burning-in)

 

So after about 10 hours of white-noise and another 10 hours of shuffling through my library, I did another, though not as thorough or extensive as the initial, comparison. This time, the two pairs are barely distinguishable that I can't rule out the possibility that I am subconsciously perceiving them to be different. What I'm trying to say is that, the differences are minimal. 

 

Conclusion:

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Well, I'm getting pretty tired of typing and articulating intelligent ways to express myself. 

 

Please note that these are solely my own experiences and opinions. I'm really not trying to establish anything as hard-facts. 

 

Also note that I listed the three main anti-BI arguments just for information purposes that would hopefully spark meaningful discussion. I do not intend to rebuke or disprove these points and did not attempt to do so in my comparison. FWIW, I think they could still hold true and applicable to what I experienced during my comparisons: you could say that it's in my mind that these two pairs sounded different, even though I tried to eliminate some of those possibilities and make the comparisons as scientifically correct as my laziness allows me to do so.

 

If burn-ins are true for ER4-PTs, then I must say the brand new pair caught up with the old one awfully fast at under 20 hours. Perhaps the changes in sound for BA earphones through burn-in are so small, and the changes happen so quickly, and they are hardly noticeable, or relevant. But I can say for my CK10 that I detected changes at the 10-hour, 20-hour, and 50-hour mark, and I stopped caring after that. (Or maybe I just got burned-in myself)

 

As a final disclaimer, let it be known that I did not intend to start another verbal war on burn-in, but rather simply describe a direct A-B comparison I've done with two identical BA-based IEMs, and report my experiences. Your own experiences may vary, and please don't yell at me or be rude or anything because I have a fragile little mind. ksc75smile.gif

post #2 of 8
Thread Starter 

Can't believe all this effort and not one reply.

 

Self-pitying bump.beerchug.gif Cheers to me.

post #3 of 8

Thanks for the observations, actually really interesting! Even cooler because the er-4's are the iems I want!

post #4 of 8

Outstanding post! I've also noted the effects of burn-in on BAs. In my case, I took the frequency response on 14 points after 5 hours of use and again after 100 hours on the DBA-02, using a sonometer with a hollowed out cork to mount the buds. The difference was quite interesting: a big dip where I assumed was the cutoff frequency of the crossover disappeared and the bass went up a few dB. I wasn't really taking note of how the soundstage changed, but the sound was definitely more natural after time. Can't confirm it with numbers though- might just be my brain doing a number on me. :)

 

A while back a Head-Fi member tried different burn-in techniques on two pairs of Monster IEMs. One was done with pink noise while the other was done "naturally," if I recall, and he noted that the sound was completely different between the two. Interestingly enough, it seems not to be the case with your ER4. I'm guessing this means that burn-in doesn't mean the same thing for different types of drivers.

 

I'm getting a pair of Ortofon moving armatures in a couple of weeks, and I'll definitely be watching how the frequency response changes over time.

post #5 of 8

Based upon my own experience, I personally found the SM3's opened up, and were no longer as veiled to my ears as they were right out of the box, after which I was convinced that with the very same tracks, to these ears, there certainly was an improvement. Nevertheless, great post, and wonderful effort might I add!

beerchug.gif

post #6 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yggdrassilious View Post

 

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Very, very obvious differences.

 

I tried to blind-test, as the only physical distinction between the two pairs of ER4-PTs are the serial numbers on the ear pieces. And it was obvious which pair was the used one. The sound is more natural, more open, and effortless. It was like one warmed-up and stretched out athlete against one that has not done so.

 

Great write-up.  Thanks!

 

I agree with this statement and generally thought that majority of BA burn-in occurred in first 10-15 hours and quickly leveled off after that.

post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spyro View Post



 

Great write-up.  Thanks!

 

I agree with this statement and generally thought that majority of BA burn-in occurred in first 10-15 hours and quickly leveled off after that.


Mostly agreed, at least on BA that I can detect burn-in. In fact, I personally think the first 5 ~ 10 hours is most noticeable. It is usually either there or nothing.

 

post #8 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by ClieOS View Post




Mostly agreed, at least on BA that I can detect burn-in. In fact, I personally think the first 5 ~ 10 hours is most noticeable. It is usually either there or nothing.

 



+1 with this statement.  With most BAs, I can either notice it or not.  I still burn them in for a minimum of 50 hours.  If they still change, then I keep going.  But most of the time, but the 20 hour mark, it sounds done (except sometimes or a few minor things).

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