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Cost effectiveness of Headphones vs. Speakers

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 

You know, I've heard a lot of different speakers in the past... from Bowers & Wilkins, to Mirage, to Definitive Technology, to Martin Logan's electrostatics through amazing sources and amplification.....


And I have to say, that by far..... for the money headphone audio is simply amazing for what you get.


With my current setup, PC>Musical Fidelity V-DAC>Matrix M-Stage>Sennheiser HD650.... it honestly trumps every reasonably priced speaker system I've ever heard, reasonably priced being sub $5-10,000 for the entire setup... at least from a cost effectiveness standpoint. 


I know I'm stating the obvious here, but I just have to say...... thank you Head-Fi, for taking me on the audio adventure you have. 

post #2 of 33



I've monkeyed around with hifi for the last 25 years...built my own speakers, built my own tube amps, preamps, turntables even.


I've sold everything and gone back to headphonessmile.gif

post #3 of 33

I strongly agree and disagree with the OP.


No headphones I've heard come even remotely close to making me feel like I'm in the front row at a live rock / metal concert like a good 2.1 stereo can.



I have a modest $1500 stereo consisting of a Harman 3490 paired with a couple Monitor RX6's, and I would take them over a pair of HD800's any day and twice on Sunday... for Rock / Metal.


For other genres, I can imagine headphones blow speakers out of the water in terms of cost effectiveness. Classical immediately comes to mind...


post #4 of 33

+1 for OP


I have 1, count it ONE speaker that rests behind my monitor.


I've built it and left it there for when I take breaks from listening and I can't understand the people who buy thousands of dollars on speakers since that sound quality will never be delivered to you correctly. You pretty much have to blast you system to even hear anything and headphones can do that without a problem. 


The only thing I like about speakers is that they can play audio without a cord length from where your sitting. 


post #5 of 33


Originally Posted by BotByte View Post

+1 for OP


I have 1, count it ONE speaker that rests behind my monitor.


I've built it and left it there for when I take breaks from listening and I can't understand the people who buy thousands of dollars on speakers since that sound quality will never be delivered to you correctly. You pretty much have to blast you system to even hear anything and headphones can do that without a problem. 


The only thing I like about speakers is that they can play audio without a cord length from where your sitting. 



Wait until you have your own place and can crank it without noise complaints, there's nothing like having a soundstage the size of an entire room. cool.gif

post #6 of 33

The thing that concerns me about speakers isn't just the cost for good ones, but the room they're positioned in. I don't have a room in this house I could give the proper acoustic treatment to and lay out speakers everywhere, precisely where they need to be for pinpoint imaging.


With headphones, I can just put them on and be sure I have the proper soundstage and imaging, at least as much as the headphones can deliver. Thus, I know fairly consistently from what angle that guy trying to shoot me is shooting from regardless of what game it is, among other things, and in the better implementations, it's not "from the rear left speaker" or "from the side right speaker", but more like "160 degrees" or "245 degrees" on a compass. Of course, it also does a good job for those music tracks where sound generally comes from all around you, front and rear, but everything I currently have music-wise is stereo (in which case I don't like applying HRTFs; I'm fine with the way stereo music is generally presented out of headphones).


Also, I'm not the only one in this household; don't want to disturb anyone else with my games or music, after all. Especially later at night, when people are trying to sleep.


I'm sure that there's some proper speaker setups I haven't had the luxury of listening to that could possibly blow any headphone out of the water, but it's just too much expense for me at the moment, especially because of the room requirements.


There's one more fundamental difference someone else on this forum pointed out: "With speakers, they're here. With headphones, you're there." Which one the listener will prefer is just that-personal preference.

post #7 of 33



For detailed listening, the headphones are simply impossible to beat for the price range.


For immersion, nothing comes close to simply being at a live performance, but what comes close for me is a good 5.1 setup for movies at home. I listen to movies in my headphones often late at night due to it being so late and not wanting to be loud to neighbors and others in the house. But during the day? My 5.1 home theater that I built is simply too enjoyable. Headphones just don't compete with that for me. The bass alone from my sub is felt, not just heard. The surround and positioning is very satisfying.


Detail goes to headphones.


Feeling a movie? Well, home theater or speaker setups.


That's my take anyways. I go both ways.


Very best,

post #8 of 33

I've heard some great 2.0 systems being amped by peachtree receivers, and they definitely do sound better than what headphones have to offer.  They are significantly tighter, and of course provide the visceral properties that headphones will never bring you.  


I do agree headphones give a better performance per price in the price range under 500 dollars though.  If I didn't believe that I wouldn't be here.

post #9 of 33
Originally Posted by MalVeauX View Post



I go both ways.


Very best,

You heard it here first, folks.

post #10 of 33

IMHO, no comparison, speakers beat headphones at virtually any price range, apart from the lowest price bracket. Even the smallest high quality bookshelfs from manufacturers like Kef, Klipsch, Monitor Audio, B&W, Wharefedale, etc. connected to a entry level speaker amp in my opinion beat headphones such as HD650's, DT880's, K701's...in every possible imaginable way, even in the detail department which is often the area which is thought to be better on headphones than on similarly priced speakers. Its not, its an illusion. Headphones in general sound brighter than speakers, its just how it is, its the physics of sound, the closer you are to the speaker, the brighter it will sound. That makes the details on headphones seem "more obvious", but there's nothing you can hear on headphones that you can't on speakers, on the other hand, there's a lot of what you CANNOT hear on headphones that you can on the speakers.  Up to mid-end category, about 600$ for speakers + amp, or headphones + headamp, I believe headphones have the edge or are equal to speakers, but above that, speakers just go to a different dimension. Take a 1500$ headphone with a 1000$ head amp, and compare it to a 2500$ speaker setup, and there will be no mistake, speakers will outperform them in every way. And as we go higher, speakers get closer and closer to sounding totally realistic.


Headphones can sound great, they can nail the tonal balance, they can nail the details, or extension, or clarity, but when it comes to naturalness, realism, soundstage, imaging, separation, etc.  headphones just don't have a chance. I'd take a 5000$ speaker + amp setup over the best headphones ever made plugged into the best headphone amp ever made regardless of price, any day of the week, for any genre of music or any listening purpose.


And of course there's the issue of what you get for your money. In the case of headphones, you usually get a little tiny piece of plastic or metal, some foam, some wire, some velour or pleather, and that's it. With speakers you get nicely crafted, very  weighty, very solid, beautiful pieces of furniture made of wood, kevlar, silk, metal...so in that department speakers win again, if that matters to you.

Edited by derbigpr - 9/7/12 at 9:45am
post #11 of 33

I been a speaker/headphones guy for years and i enjoy both. It depends on various factors, such as my mood or if i want to keep my listening more personal (avoid bothering the neighbors) but in relations to cost headphones is the way to go. You can have a decent audiophile setup for around 1k. 

post #12 of 33

To me, it's the amount of space u have for your room.

Some of us do not have the luxury of a bigger rooms for better acoustics.

In some countries, rooms are actually small and we sit pretty close to speakers.


Thats when headphone do us more justice than speakers.

Of course speakers is better but comes a lot of cons with it such as volume level, noise pollution and position etc.

post #13 of 33

You can still make a small room sound pretty good if you use the right type of room treatment.

post #14 of 33

True, room matters. But my room is small, 16 square meters, not acoustically treated, full of things that vibrate and resonate, but my speaker setup easily beats any of my headphones. And its not an ideal room either, speaker placement is far from perfect, and one speaker has to be exactly in the corner, but still, headphones cant match my speaker setup.  Its Kef Q300 (800$) + Onkyo A5VL amp (400$) + some 50$ worth of Supra speaker cables + homemade 30kg each steel speaker stands filled with sand which cost me about 200$ in material and about 5000$ (my estimate) in work.  So, its about 1500$ total give or take. I don't think any headphone setup can match the sound. Something like HD800's alone cost more, and still, I don't think they come close, no way.


And when I put the speakers into my livingroom which about 35 square feet, completely square in shape with a 4 meter tall ceiling, I can place the speakers away from walls, give them room to breathe, then they take on a completely different level of clarity, and imaging is amazing.

Edited by derbigpr - 9/7/12 at 10:48am
post #15 of 33

I've dabbled with both and find it hard to believe anyone thinks, price per performance-wise, that speaker could ever beat headphones.  I've had some decent 5.1 setups and even decent 2.1's for my computer in the past and they are miles away when it comes to the headphones.  Maybe I just don't have an acute ear for these things.

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