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Cost effectiveness of Headphones vs. Speakers - Page 2

post #16 of 33
Originally Posted by bleudeciel16 View Post

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.



Well your mistake number 1 is comparing 5.1 or 2.1 systems with headphones. Stereo is what is for music. A stereo 2.0 setup will beat any 2.1 or 5.1 or 7.1 system in terms of sound quality when listening to music.  Mistake number 2 is comparing computer speakers with headphones, which is silly. The best computer speakers on the market aren't a shadow next to 300$ bookshelfs. Honestly, I'm complete opposite, I find it hard to believe that anyone could like headphones more than speakers. As soon as we go past 500-600$ for a setup, speakers are superior, even when not ideally set up. I say, I doubt any headphone setup in the world available today, regardless of price could beat a 1500-2000$ speaker setup.  Not to mention a 10000$ speaker setup, which is about the price of the most expensive headphone setup available new,  Stax 009 and an amp for it.

post #17 of 33

Maybe he wasn't talking about pc speakers in the first place?  Who knows.  There's nothing wrong with a 2.1 system for music.

post #18 of 33

I have Bowers & Wilkins and a REL sub. I much prefer speakers to headphones, but I also like to listen at night or when I'm out.


TBH, thinking about it, the price difference is debatable. The speakers I would buy if I had the money and space would be Jamo 909. You are simply not going to get this experience with headphones at any price; these are boxless towers of bass for people who actually love music rather than just enjoy admiring their audio equipment. In a large enough and properly treated room they will pound you to pieces with bass, like an outdoor festival setup.

Edited by BBBS - 9/7/12 at 3:36pm
post #19 of 33

After years of recording and building acoustic guitars, my ears are extremely sensitive to distortion and rogue vibrations, and even the best headphones occasionally hit me with subtle distortion that I just can't stand. They never sound "anchored". On the other hand I've heard external speakers that were almost 100% clean within reasonable volume so officially I prefer speakers/monitors.


However on a cost effectiveness basis there's no competition. Those crystal clear external speakers cost thousands of dollars. You can get good headphones for $100. I also prefer the privacy of headphones.

Edited by machoboy - 9/7/12 at 12:29pm
post #20 of 33
Originally Posted by machoboy View Post
Those crystal clear external speakers cost thousands of dollars. You can get good headphones for $100.



I don't know man. I take my DT880's (which are one of the "clearest" headphones out there) off and compare to Kef Q300, and I'd let someone cut both of my arms off with a dull knife if the DT880's have more clarity, or detail, or if they're superior in any way, and they don't cost that much, twice as much as DT880's, but I bet even T1's don't come close. Especially in terms of how they reproduce the sounds of single instruments, there's just no comparison in terms of realism, timbre, naturalness and nuances in sound. For example, take something like Miles Davis - Flamenco Sketches from Kind of Blue album...there are brass instruments playing. On DT880's or HD650's, they all sound very similar, apart from being on two different sides. On Q300's the difference between them is blatantly obvious.    


But true, I also cant listen to speakers all the time, so I do have to use headphones sometimes.  Up until recently it was 80-20% for headphones, now its about 50-50%, but I wanna make that 80-20% for speakers in terms of usage. Gonna sell all headphones except DT880's.

Edited by derbigpr - 9/7/12 at 1:50pm
post #21 of 33
Once I read that headphones are to speakers what motorbikes are to cars. You get more SQ for your money when you buy headphones, but they are totally different things.
Edited by mudo - 9/8/12 at 8:45am
post #22 of 33

I don't think you can really compare, speakers have a whole different use that headphones sadly can't take part in, group stuff.

And often I'll be wanting to wander around my room etc while listening to music, and it's far easier to use speakers than have a wire trailing all over the place :P

post #23 of 33

I also used to think that Headphones couldn't be beat as well, especially after I bought a pair of Audeze LCD-2 (rev2) in january this year.
It made it woefully clear that my speaker setup just couldn't even remotely come close to the LCD-2.

I did find the LCD-2 quite restricting though as I do like to move around the flat a bit while listening to music.
From the outset I reckoned I'd be spending around 5000$+ for something that couldn't possibly match the LCD-2 but would at least be a significant upgrade over my current setup.
After auditioning a considerable amount of speakers (including some more exotic setups such as Rowen (omni directional) and a pair of 10k a pair Martin Logans Electrostats) I came away very disapointed, Not only had I auditioned speakers far outside my financial comfort zone, but none of them felt like a significant upgrade over my much cheaper existing setup.

As none of the high-end shops around here had shown me anything I was willing to spend money on I decided to give monitors another shot and headed out to a pro-audio gear shop.
Now, anyone will tell you monitors aren't exactly tailored for living room setups (I do own a pair of Genelec 6010 + 5040Sub as a Desktop setup and while they sound fantastic at close range (i.e. across a Desk, which is what they were designed for) they simply can't fill a room with sound and even at 2m distance they very quickly start sounding "off")
So I also went into this with a fair bit of apprehension and a knowledge that I'd have to pay attention to the size of the audition room and my distance to the speakers or I'd end up with something that sounded great at the dealer and awful at home.
I think it really helped that I already knew what the main problem with my Genelecs was, and what I was looking for in terms of improvement that helped us to narrow it down fairly quickly (also a big thumbs up to the sales rep - he did a brilliant job at helping me without introducing any of his own bias).
And while a lot of the monitors sounded very good (better than any of the so called high-end speakers I auditioned previously), I still recognized enough similarities to my Genelecs to realize that these wouldn't be a big upgrade - I told the rep just that, also saying that I was looking for highs that were maybe just a tad less aggressive, even if that meant sacrificing a little bit of accuracy in the process.
He then suggested trying out a pair of odd looking speakers (I'd never even heard of that brand before), to put it lightly the first song already knocked it out of the ballpark - amazing detail, without the overt aggressiveness as well as beautiful mids and the tightest bass I'd heard to date (easily providing more punch and definition than even the Grado PS500 (which I also own)).
I put them through through the paces with a large selection of my own music collection - they excelled at it all, in short I was sold.
To my very pleasant surprise they also turned out to be much cheaper than I'd even dared hope for - 2650$.

Now that I have these at home I love these speakers to death and the LCD-2 have been gathering dust ever since.
There's still something that I really like about the LCD-2, but I'd say that I'm currently at around 95% speaker usage vs 5% LCD-2.

So what to take away from this:
1) finding good speakers isn't easy, but auditioning unconventional solutions may pay off - the point is not to settle really listen and be patient until you find the speaker that really nails it for you.
2) if you like balanced sound, monitors may be worth a listen (bassheads probably won't find what they like here) - but you have to carefully keep in mind what they were designed for and carefully take into account the setup you audition them in - most are nearfield (i.e. 1-2meters listening distance), the ones I got are midfield and provide full room filling sound even at 6-7meters.
3) a good sales rep can make a world of difference (one that actually tries to help you instead of just getting you to buy the most expensive stuff)
4) A brilliant setup doesn't need to be obscenely pricey - my current setup of a pair of KS Digital C55's with a Peachtree Nova (+ 80$ worth of cinch cables + XLR>Cinch Adapters) comes in at under 4000$. If the Audio MDAC had been available when I got the Peachtree I probably would've gone for that easily shaving another 500$ off of that total

Some other notes:
- I do listen to a fairly wide selection of Music. For Auditioning I always try to touch all genres I enjoy. In my case this ranges from Metal (Between the Buried and Me, Nevermore, Devin Townsend), Prog(Metal) (Animals as Leaders, Yes, Cynic) to Jazz (Hiromi, Microscopic Septet) to Classical (Mussorgsky, Sibelius) to Postrock (Godspeed You, Black Emperor, Mastodon, Made out of Babies, Julie Christmas) and beyond...
- My living room is very far from acoustically optimal - my living room is not accoustically treated, I have hardwood floors with no carpet and my living room is rather asymmetrical (8mx4m, 3m ceiling), windows on one side, as well as an open kitchen on the far end and large open hallway on the other side in the middle
- As a reference I consider KS Digital C55>LCD2>Genelec 6010 (@ 1meter max dist)==Grado PS500
- I consider myself just a regular music listener, I don't have "golden ears" or anything close to it, nor do I do any professional audio work
- Right now I couldn't be happier with my current setup...the Audiolabs MDAC is tempting me but I really don't think it'd be noticeable upgrade for me...tbh I think it's more a case of too much spare cash, a love for new gadgets and none of my many other hobbies eating it up my cash atm :-P
- I do not believe in expensive cables or any of that other esoteric stuff - imo >90% of the sound is due to the speakers/headphones and the rest ist the amp/dac, if I can't hear a difference in a blind test I do not consider it an upgrade.

Sorry if this is a bit of a longwinded post, but I think context is very important as well as acoustic preferences and the type of music (I personally find it next to impossible to judge speakers/headphones with electronic music, while (well recorded) Metal in particular makes flaws stand out immediately, while Jazz & Classical allows for judging of nuances and natural representation)


Edited by keltren - 9/8/12 at 4:15am
post #24 of 33

Damn good thread here, with thought-provoking comments all around.


A little under 25 years ago, at what would be the zenith of my involvement in the land of high-end audio, the shop I worked in assembled a "statement" system in our main listening room. The main draws of this system were the cream of Mark Levinson's Cello line-up (setup overseen by Mr. Levinson himself) and Duntech's Sovereign loudspeakers, whose shipping costs alone (from Oz) would likely buy a pair of solid upper-mid-range speakers from other renowned brands. The front-end was an ever-changing lineup of turntables, single- and two-box CD players/transports/DACs, and a modified Technics DAT deck with Mr. Levinson's own live recordings.


Some weeks after the system was installed, and after numerous demos, I was fooling around with the setup, listening to some of my recordings through it. A friend dropped in to say Hi, and we both listened for a bit. He turned to me and said, "So this is what $100k of hi-fi's supposed to sound like?"


"I guess so" I answered, with what must have been a weak grin.


"Is it $95k better than what I have?"


"Um, no. Definitely not"


I likened that system, and especially those Duntechs, to a top-fuel dragster or Formula One car: great at what it does, and where it's designed to do it, but utterly useless under any other circumstances.


The first two halfway-serious hi-fi systems I owned, in fact, did not incorporate loudspeakers at all: because of the sensitive ears of parents/roommates/Significant Others/next-door neighbors (the last still an issue), I realized I could not enjoy loudspeaker listening at anywhere near "life-like" levels. Why blow three or four grand (or even $1k) on a pair of boxes that will do little more than take up space and gather dust?


Yes, a decent speaker setup (talking strictly 2.0/2.1 here...burned out on multichannel long, long ago) can throw a convincing sonic image that would be a challenge for most any headphone to mimic, which is why, even in my ridiculously tiny abode here in Brooklyn, I have a space-appropriate pair of stand-mounted bookshelf speakers (well-kept Celestion 5s, which I got quite cheap from their original owner). But I kept an eye on that nexus of cost, quality and practicality: I want decent SQ, of course, but I also know I'll rarely get to play 'em loud, and on more than a few nights I won't get to play them at all, so dropping even semi-serious dough on boxes was out of the question. Matching the speakers with equally-modest electronics (in this case, an NAD C740...yes, Back To the Receiver) was a bigger deal, The front end is well-represented: NAD 515 three-disc changer (with an inboard DAC that sounds almost impossibly good for an old one-box job), NAD 616 dual-well deck (don't cringe...I've got a boatload of transcribed tapes from the days when I dragged a two-track Tandberg TD20A SE to live gigs around the city), and the one letfover from my high-end days, a 40-pound Mission 775SM 'table with Mission 774 arm and Signet TK10ML cartridge. (Since the C740 has a line-level "Disc" input, but no phono section of its own, I bought NAD's PP3 outboard pre-amp, which happily includes a solid A/D and USB digital-out, a great unit all-around.)


After putting this setup together just last year, shortly after moving, I realized I hadn't owned a really decent pair of cans in an embarrassingly long time...and now, I was seriously going to need them. Again, the same equation I used for loudspeakers came into play, but this time I would loosen the purse-strings a bit. The very first set of headphones I paid for with my own money were AKG K-240s, way back in the late 70s. From there I bounced between dynamic (AKG) orthodynamic (Yamaha) electret (A-T/Signet) and briefly electrostatic (the cheaper Stax). I got to listen the very first top-end Grados (HP-1) when they came out, but couldn't swing the price at the time, even with a dealer discount. But I never forgot the sound.


After a brief audition up and down the price line, between the four brands I know and like best (AKG, BeyerD, Sennheiser and Grado), I picked Grado's 325is. Wow...I'd been away from good cans for way too long. At three times the price I paid for my gently-used Celestions, and within sonic striking-distance of the next two tiers of cans I auditioned (for old times' sake, I tried - and tried to love - the K701s, but it just wasn't happening for my ears), I had what I wanted and needed.


For the things that loudspeakers typically do better than even the best headphones - soundstaging and spatial cues, to name the two biggies - you don't have to pay anywhere near astronomical prices. My Celestions, when new, typically sold for somewhere south of $600/pair (within Celestion's own line-up at the time, the 5s were more or less "the poor [wo]man's SL6), got a lot  things right, and it's relatively few sins were more of omission than commission. And they could immerse you, wide-screen style, in ways that even a then-contemporary Stax Lambda set couldn't totally pull off. (Could hardly afford Lambdas, either, but got to audition them at home from time to time...never let it be said that working retail in high-end doesn't have its occasional perks.)


However, unlike the Staxes - or most other headphones, for that matter - those speakers' superior attrbutes are subject to interruption without notice, by way of the above-mentioned housemates/neighbors/etc.. Which is why I strongly feel that spending more than, say, $2k on a pair of speakers is not too many klicks away from daft, unless you own your own (detached) house, preferably a goodly number of klicks away from your neighbors. Headphones? Knock yourself out. But the law of diminishing returns rules here, too. My time with the Sovereigns cured me of that particular lust, and not just regarding hi-fi.



- Barrett

Edited by amateriat - 9/8/12 at 6:19pm
post #25 of 33

This would be rather subjective as the comments show.


I prefer headphones because I don't have the dough to afford a remarkable speakers setup which costs several thousands. I also don't have to worry much about space with headphones because the only space I need is for the headphones themselves (or a stand to hold them) and the equipment to drive them (or not if I use a sound card which I can just add into a PCI or PCI express slot if my computer allows for expansion cards of the bus type). Speakers I have to worry about space if they're large, which they can be. The acoustics of the room and placement of the speakers can make a large impact too. There are just too many factors, which if you account for them and decide to take the time to get the conditions right, for a pleasurable experience. Headphones are easier for the people who don't have much space or aren't just too audio-savvy or just lazy to get everything right, although that takes lots of effort and money in most cases.

post #26 of 33
Hmm, as far as speakers vs headphones: Headphones are There's better value for money. While I'm not an expert, I demoed $330/pair PSB monitors and my current speakers (pioneers Andrew Jones value like @ 100 a pair) and I believe headphones produce much more detail, but soundstage is much more "fun" with a speakers. There's something about having sound broadcast in front of you that is more interesting to me than with headphones. While my amp isn't the best I'm sure, sometimes I enjoy my speakers more than my HD600s, even though they're 1/4 the price. There's also the fact that you can feel the bass with my subwoofer in your whole body as opposed to just in your head. But details and value? Headphones...
post #27 of 33

My main stereo, I spent about $3000+ to build:

RX-V1400 - paid approx. $600 on sale.

Mirage OM8 - $1000 / pair

Mirage OMDC - $600

Mirage OM series 10" Subwoofer - forget what I paid.

Polk dipole Rears - $600 pair



I got all of the above for much less than retail prices.


The above is a mid-fi set-up imho.  For $3000+ I could get some super-fi headphone gear.  But nothing like watching a movie in full surround.  So nominal cost is far more with a speaker set up.  But the value is subjective.  I regret neither my speaker set-up purchase nor my headphone set-up purchase.  They both have great value for my happy ears.

post #28 of 33

Agree and disagree with this statement.


I started out with headphones awhile ago. After awhile, I got into speakers and building my own speakers + woodworking, and it's the best thing ever. I only go to my headphones when I'm not allowed to listen to my speakers.


If we're talking price to performance wise dealing with cost vs how flat of a frequency in commercial speakers and commercial headphones you can get, I bet the headphones will win.



However, subjectively speaking, the marginal benefit I derive from : 


1. building my own pair of speakers and having immense satisfaction

2. building/having a sub that seem to disappear and fill the room

3. and a whole bunch of other reasons (with a few more listed below)


far surpasses the cost of the speakers. It's really cheap if you can build them yourself + they sound extremely good.


Speakers also have huge benefits in that you won't feel anything on your head, you can listen and enjoy with friends, you can double them as home theater for movies (5.1 / 2.1 set ups)


So, I think it all comes down to what YOU believe is important.




Don't get me wrong. I love the sound of my headphones and enjoy using them, but I personally end up using speakers more for what I use them for + they sound great (especially maybe biased because I build them myself!) I also think I love doing it myself + experimenting with audio physics / crossovers.


So again, it all comes down to YOU and what YOU want!

post #29 of 33

From reading this I get the feeling that speakers can be amazing, but at high prices. With regards to the original idea of the thread, headphones have greater cost effectiveness at prices which most people would be willing to spend on audio gear (and some price levels above that, too). Once you get into the range of thousands of dollars for a setup, why not get both?

post #30 of 33
Originally Posted by PastaChief View Post

From reading this I get the feeling that speakers can be amazing, but at high prices. With regards to the original idea of the thread, headphones have greater cost effectiveness at prices which most people would be willing to spend on audio gear (and some price levels above that, too). Once you get into the range of thousands of dollars for a setup, why not get both?


Which, for the most part, is my point: for many if not most of us, the reality is that we can't enjoy loudspeaker-delivered music anytime we want, or at the desired volume levels we want. A good pair of headphones is often a necessary option in this case. This is not a "speakers good, headphones bad" screed, simply a cool-headed (so I hope!) assessment of the overall strong and weak point of each transducer. I loves me my Celestions, and my Grados (when I can't use my Celestions), and my Senns (when I'm out and about with my iPod). Horses for courses and all that.



- Barrett

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