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Is burn in real or placebo?  

post #1 of 520
Thread Starter 

When people say they "burn in" their headphones, it could mean that they leave them on and don't listen to them, or they wear them and play stuff through them for extended periods. There's been claims that this 'improves' the sound. Is this measurable, or what? I don't know how people come up with this stuff, but if it's actually true then I'd be interested in an explanation of "burn in".

post #2 of 520

Read this article for more info. Burn in for headphones is real.



post #3 of 520
Originally Posted by thegunner100 View Post

Read this article for more info. Burn in for headphones is real.



Quote from the article:



 Did I show break-in exists? No. There are too many variables still. Was it simply movement? I don't know. If I did it again to another brand new pair would I get the same results? I don't know. If I did it to an already broken in pair would I get the same results? I don't know.


If it is real, it's pretty minor and I wouldn't worry about it too much.

post #4 of 520

I agree that it's generally pretty minor. If you don't like a pair of headphones before break-in, then burn-in probably isn't going to make you really like it.

post #5 of 520
Originally Posted by thegunner100 View Post

I agree that it's generally pretty minor. If you don't like a pair of headphones before break-in, then burn-in probably isn't going to make you really like it.

It could if "burn-in" is partially (or completely) about the listener taking enough time to adjust to the sound of a new piece of equipment and appreciate it. I know whenever I hear something with a different sound signature, my initial reaction is to not like it and pick at how it differs from what I'm used to. If I force myself to give it time, my brain adjusts to what its hearing and begins to counter what was initially offensive. I've been forced to listen to some terrible, cheap Sonys at home while I'm waiting for new drivers for my Grados. At first, I couldn't stand them. The treble response was non-existent - everything was overwhelmed by muddy bass. After a few days though, I'm starting to hear the highs a bit more. I think my brain is learning to filter out the overpowering frequencies. There's no burn-in happening here. These phone are several years old and have been played a lot. I still don't like them, but I've become much more tolerant of them over hours of listening.

post #6 of 520

Uhm, this is a very discussed topic. 


My thinking is that it have more noticeable effects in some headphone models over others. 

post #7 of 520

Sometimes i think burn-in is a little bit of both technics and psichology.


For example a pair of headphones clearly has more bass after a ton of burn-in, because at the beginning they were bass-shy but now it's just right. I asked a friend of mine who tried them at the beginning and now to see if i am right and he agreed.


On the SR80i at first they kinda pierced my ears, but after some time i didn't mind it as much and i can barely sense it now. I also asked some people to compare them how they were before and after the burn-in and they didn't see any difference so it is all in my head.


So IMO since it's both in your head and the diafragm may get a little more flexible from use, modifying the sound a little, both of these combined make a big/small difference in perceived sound signature over time.

post #8 of 520
I used to be skeptical but then I had a pair of Ultrasone PRO2900s...

Just look up all the threads of people asking 'did I break my ultrasones?'. The burn-in process for those is quite strange. For the first 20 hours the bass gets louder and more fun. Then a little while latter you lose it completely. At that point myself and many others wondered if we had broken them somehow. When they got really bassy I put one of my bassiest albums on repeat and listened to it for most of the day.(Electric Wizard - Let Us Prey). Must have been the 6th time I was going through suddenly the bass disappeared.

It did settle out over the next 100 hours or so and from that point on I didn't notice any more changes. Of course the 'big bass' never resurfaced either which was a little disappointing.

Every other headphone that I've owned the burn-in has been subtle enough that I wasn't really sure if it was the headphones or me. Only the Ultrasones had a complete tonal shift during the process.
post #9 of 520

As many have stated before and will state again, burn-in is a combination of your headphones and yourself. Some models have a very pronounced difference in sound between the shipped product and the product after 100 hours, but the vast majority of headphones undergo only a little bit of change (or no noticeable change at all). It's usually much more important to get your ears used to a new pair of headphones than to shove it in a drawer for a few days with music blaring, but both can make a difference.

post #10 of 520

I burn in every pair of new headphones for at least 50 hours. One pair of headphones changed significantly in it's sound signature: the igrado's. Out of box, these were ridiculously bright, practically unlistenable. After about 60-70 hours, the sound signature smoothed out, so that some treble sparkle remained, but all of the extreme treble harshness disappeared. Now, these are a very pleasantly warm sounding pair of headphones retaining a bit of top end sparkle. Very nice. 

post #11 of 520

One thing I can't get my head around is how the proponents of burn-in are so sure of the changes - when our accurate aural memory (perception of differences over time) seems to be much less than 20 seconds?


For a discussion on it - see this thread from hydrogenaudio (http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=71595)


I'd be really interested to know if there are any studies that show (for perception of details) how much we can actually retain over time - and reliably differentiate.


The reason I ask is simple - how on earth can anyone tell what the actual difference is between 2 points of listening several hours apart - if our aural memory for detail only extends reliable for a few seconds.


I have personally found no audible effect of mechanical break-in with any of the headphones I've owned - but then again, I wasn't expecting any.  I have found that at first listen - I may find a headphone's sonic signature to be strange (not what I'm used to) - but after a while listening to it (and only it). my wonderful brain adjusts it's expectations - and the sound changes.  This is an easy experiment to do - especially for owners of multiple headphones.  Take you headphones with the most 'different' sonic signatures.  Listen to one for a few hours.  Now switch to the second - note immediate reactions - but keep listening to the second (again for as much time - hours - as possible) - then switch back to the first again.  Write down your observations.


Switching from HD600 to SR325i to HD600.


  • HD600 initially sounds spacious, textured, natural - incredible timbre.  No sign of veil.  Switch to 325i ......
  • 325i sounds narrow, overly bright. harsh even.  After some time with it - it sounds energetic, highs are enticing, everything sounds alive and brilliantly clear - not harsh in the slightest.  Don't notice the narrow stage as much any more.  Bass is tight and accurate and a lot of fun.  Switch back to HD600 after 2 hours ......
  • HD600 sounds slow, dull, distant.  Bass is boomy.


Give it a couple of hours - and then the HD600 returns back to the first bullet point again.  I know this is an extreme example - but it highlights the reality of our brain's impact on perceived sonic changes.  Have the headphones changed over the 5-6 hours listening ....... no - both my cans would be considered well broken in by now.  So how can the change be so 'night and day' ........ wink.gif


Tyll's experiments with the AKG 701s highlight how little measurable mechanical change actually happens.  Is there a change - definitely appears to be.  Is it going to be night and day - not according to his measurements.


People will believe what they want to believe - but my position is simple.  Any burn-in (mechanical) is going to be so minute that my aural memory would never be able to differentiate it anyway. Therefore perception of change is all in my mind.  And I can show this (repeatably) by simply swapping different sonic signatures over time.

post #12 of 520

I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to cables etc, and even to some degree expensive amps, but my experience with burn in has been too convincing to ignore. Of course we're all familiar with the psychoacoustic arguments, with the effects of changing from headphones of one extreme to the other (Grado to HD650 etc), but none of that explains how a headphone that can sound extremely bright out of the box can sound much less so after many hours or days burning-in in a drawer, without being listened to. True, aural memory is short, but the memory of listener fatigue, particularly on specific passages or even single notes, is somewhat longer, and when an "unlistenable" headphone eventually becomes not only listenable but even enjoyable, then I know something has happened, and since I wasn't listening while the burn in was taking place, it isn't my brain burning in.


Another argument for the reality of burn in is that it seems so random--not the sort of thing one could talk oneself into. Some headphones change enormously, some barely or not at all, regardless of one's hopes or expectations. Some seem to change quite quickly, others almost imperceptibly over months. If it's all pure psychoacoustics, us imagining a change or our brains compensating, wouldn't it be more regular and predictable? Wouldn't we always hear a change of around the same magnitude over the same period? If our brains are compensating, wouldn't the compensation be more regular rather than happening hugely with one headphone and not at all with another? (At least, that's my experience. Can't speak for others).


Points to ponder perhaps.

post #13 of 520

@pp312 - good points - but I think that is where expectation bias comes in.  You're expecting a change  - so it eventually "happens".  Ever noticed how it's always for the better?  Ever heard of a headphone that turns to crap after burn-in?


What I'd love to do is grab three new headphones (same brand model - one that said subject has alluded to major changes in the past) - get a subject to listen to two, burn one in - then ask subject to listen again.  But to mix it up - leave the one with the 'burn-in' out of the test without him knowing.  Would be interesting to see if the expectation for a change, and the sighted knowledge that he expects one headphone to be 'burnt in' (pre-label it) would influence perceived hearing ........


I just wish there was a way to tell for sure - but even Tylls tests were non-conclusive (and supposedly on the one headphone that a lot of people think changes - the 701).


Anyway - interesting discussion.  I definitely can't say my stance is right (or wrong) - but I respect that we can all share opinions / viewpoints.

post #14 of 520
I'm finally convinced that it can occur. It just happened with my ASG-1. They still have the same sort of soundsig as when I first got them. But the midrange is pulled back a bit and the bass is more lean leading to a more balanced form of its original sound signature. Some of it is placebo, but considering that I thought these were too warm when I first heard them and now they aren't I'm a believer. This is the first time I'm convinced that it is burn in rather than me getting used to the sound.
post #15 of 520
Originally Posted by Brooko View Post

 Ever heard of a headphone that turns to crap after burn-in?

Yes, the Ultrasone PRO2900... The audio memory explanation doesn't cover that one either.(And I do agree with you on that point that it makes listening for such things difficult) The change in bass quantity was instantaneous hence why many of us thought that something broke. And the headphone actually did sound better before burn-in as the already overdone highs were even more noticeable with the bass quantity lessened.

Generally every headphone that I've owned, save my 20+ yr old SR-5s which I got last year, has sounded either grainy or veiled out of the box. Half of them I sold off before they would have gotten a chance to burn-in; the other half I stopped noticing it sometime during the first two months of ownership. The difference that I perceived was small in all cases so I remained skeptical that the change was in the headphones. Only the Ultrasones took on a different tonal balance through burn-in. The rest of them, assuming they changed at all, just became less grainy/veiled/boomy/not-good

And to be honest I was not expecting a change with any of my headphones, especially my Grado SR-80s which I got before I had ever discovered head-fi, burn in, and all that. Approximately 100 hours in I remember thinking to myself "these sound better... no that couldn't be? Could it?"
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