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Headphones vs Speakers - The Age old debate

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

Hello Head-fi.


Its been a while since i opened up a thread so here goes- also in the general discussion forum


I'm currently looking at getting a speaker rig to go in my 4x5m bedroom (13x16 feet for the Americans). I've already set my heart on the kef ls50 after going through a huge number of reviews and demoing them in a hifi store. I've also demoed extensively, however there were a number of problems 


1. I was unable to use my own source and amp of choice

2. The listening conditions were less than ideal.


That being said. I loved the tactile feeling that speakers produced, but was unable to accurately gauge at how much detail I would be getting in a quiet isolated home environment.


I currently own the Audeze LCD-2 paired with the WA7 amp/dac, a combo that I would heartily recommend to any head-fier looking into the high end but not wanting to spend a small fortune.


Now here is my problem. At the moment I'm faced with a couple of choices choices.


1. Upgrading to a cost no.object headphone rig consisting of the

Audeze LCD-3

Burson Conductor or Schiit mjolnir and gungnir

Audiophileo 1 with purepower.


2. Wait out for the ALO studiosix to become widely available and making a decision then. as to my source and dac. (LCD3 as well)




3. Switch entirely to a standmounted speaker rig consisting of

Kef LS50 Standmounted speakers

Naim NAP-100/Burson timekeeper

Naim DAC-V1/ Wyred4sound DAC-2 DSDse

Dynaudio 4 speaker stands

Various acousting panels and a skyline diffuser


Note that if i were to go with option 3, the sheer cost would force me to sell my current Headphone rig to fund this endeavour. Another bit of background information is I also own the UE900 for portable use, so I won't be entirely taking flight from head-fi-dome.


Would any of the head-fi crew in their infinite wisdom, be able to provide me with some more insight as to what I would be trading off if I were to switch entirely to a speaker setup. Additionally, It would also be helpful to know what I would be expecting if I were to upgrade my current headphone setup- As I will be buying blind (no chance to demo in south australia- adelaide jokes, here we come) and the reviews and impressions here frequently conflict and contradict each other.

post #2 of 17

We all hear differently.


YMMV is the word.


We can't really do your homework for you.


Find some posters in the forum who have the same musical and sonic preferences as yourself.


Only then can you make a reasonable guess as to whether you will like a certain piece of gear or setup by judjing their comments.


This method is NOT foolproof, but should put you in the ballpark of where you want to be.


As for speakers vs headphones, Only you can really decide that and what damage your wallet suffers before you are happy (sort of).

post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 

All I really want is a general idea

post #4 of 17

just to add confusion - have you considered the Smyth Realizer - you can get personal calibration in a decent sized room(s) - one(s) with good acoustics, sound treatment, stereo up to 7.1 - at a mastering studio, a high end dealer demo room, local audiophile's maxed out home theaters...


your room is a bit too small for really good speaker reproduction even with some treatment



if the the LCD-2 system is loud enough, smooth enough, not too distorting (should be fine on all counts) then the Smyth Realizer will be able to make it give very closely the the sound of whatever loudspeakers and room you calibrate in


very much "outside of your head" - "those speakers there in that room" sound - not a subtle crossfeed or fragile Dolby Headphone effect



no obvious need to "upgrade" headphones, amp - just add the Realizer, maybe a multichannel source - Oppo universal players seem fine


headphones don't do room rattling bass - so there is a difference there - could add sub woofers (multiple, with room correction) and still listen with open back headphones and the Realizer...



and you should consider that the speaker/amp combo you call out has 10 dB less SPL/headroom than the headphone/amp you already own

Edited by jcx - 6/21/13 at 9:13am
post #5 of 17

I happened to own a Naim XS system hooked up to a pair of Proac Tablette bookshelf speakers at one point, so I think I can relate to you question.


The two experience will be different, both with their own trade offs.  


Headphones will always sound more intimate and personal, even in the case when headphone signature is laid back.  Headphones tends to present music "in your head", because headphones cannot present the cross-feed effects achieved by speakers.  Headphones are easier to system match because there are less components to match with.  One can afford to have multiple headphones, but probably not multiple speakers setups.  


Speakers tend to sound more natural and correct, but losses a bit of that personal intimacy that the head-fi hobby can provide.  With a speaker set up, the room acoustic and the speakers placement will have the largest influence on the quality of sound, so keep that in mind.  Also, a pair of bookshelf speakers will not provide the equivalent bass impression you get from your headphones below 40Hz.  On the other hand, full range floor speakers can reach the sub-bass region that headphones fail to reach.  Lastly, two major  advantage with a speaker system is that you can share the music you listen to with other people, and that you are wireless and free to do other activities while the music is playing.  


If I have to choose between the two though, I will go for a speaker setup provided they can be properly setup.  Again, I must emphasize that proper speaker placements and room treatment  is a must for any speakers setup.


BTW, the headphones I currently own include the HD800, HD700, HD650, T1, AKG 701, ATH-W3000, Grado RS-1i and Denon D7000.  I don't have experience with LCD headphones. Headphone amps include the Bryston BHA-1, Luxman SQ N-100 and Woo WA3.  


My currently speaker system is a pair of Magnepan 1.7 driven by Bryston Gears.

post #6 of 17
Nice speakers, Momo! I haven't dabbled in the new x.7 Maggies yet, but I love my 3.6s. Stainless: I agree with what has already been said, that a smaller room is a real challenge in terms of getting speakers to sound their best. I was in a room similar to yours, and it took 22 sound panels (GIK Acoustic) to finally get the sound I was looking for from my former DeVore Fidelity Super 8s, which are a smallish floorstanding 2-way. I think going with those Kefs is a great choice, but I wouldn't suggest letting go of your headphone rig. I have been into home audio/video for a long while now, and it's only been since late 2011 that I have played around with headphones. I've since come to love having the flexibility to have great audio anywhere I want, without having to worry about whether I was in the sweet spot or being restricted to one main seating location. Sometimes I want great sound when I'm in bed getting ready to go to sleep....or maybe when Im on break at work...or somewhere else in the apartment ...etc, etc. When I just want some of that Maggie Magic, it's there. But if I want great sound AND flexibility in terms of my location, headphones are it. So my vote? Go for BOTH :)
post #7 of 17

So if I were in your shoes, I would buy an inexpensive home system and keep the headphone gear, which you can use at night, when people are around etc. Please don't underestimate the engineering prowess of prior generations and don't assume current hifi gear is better than vintage stuff. From a sound quality perspective, headphone systems have certainly evolved a lot recently but I don't know if hifi has.

Fmtunerinfo.com is a good place to learn about old and good tuners.
Edited by Skooter - 6/27/13 at 11:42pm
post #8 of 17
+1 for the Smyth Realiser, your gear is good enough.For me this little device has been a revoloution in my Headphone experience. Now I am more in hunting excellent setups to record than buying new gear.
post #9 of 17

Stainless i find that i can really just kick back and enjoy almost anything through my speakers.I love to crank them up when possible.Headphones are great when on the move but i find that i can only listen to music that is very engaging through them.If i had to choose id go for speakers and just a reasonable headphone rig.Ps have you tried the epoz aktimate speakers that are made in Australia?

post #10 of 17

Great headphone setup.  Tough, tough choice.  


How do you listen with regards to musical detail vs musicality?  Cerebral vs emotion?  It might be a tough question to answer as you can't completely separate the two.  If you get caught up in the musical details, I would stay the course with headphones and not look back.  Speakers in my experience just can't match the level of detail of a truly high end headphone system.  If musicality is a higher priority, then a good speaker system might be the ticket.  There is an emotional connection when you feel the music throughout your body and and the music completely fills the room that headphones just can't match.


For reference I have a KEF Reference 201/2 system, and also LCD-3 headphones.   Full size headphone amp TBD.


A couple of thoughts.  A friend of mine has the LS50 in a small room and loves them, but they need power to sing. They would certainly sound nice with the Naim, but 50W might not be powerful enough to get the most from the speaker.  But it would reward you if you ever upgraded components in the future.  The LCD-3?  It will be as good as the components feeding it.  It is a very musical headphone, and you can discern incredible detail if you feed it with high end components.  It sounds great with modest components and absolutely amazing with high end amplification and sources.


Personally, I listen to the music.

post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 

What I've found when playing around with 85db sensitivity speakers is that the wattage provided by the manufacturers don't mean jack. I've compared the naim unitiqute which supplies 30w per channel to a marantz pm7004 70 watt stereo amplifier.


When turning up the volume so the sound fills the room and is generally pleasant, no higher, the naim just had a grip on the speaker that the marantz just didn't. You can just tell that the drivers are moving with much more force and authority- quickly as well to add. This was coming from the baby naim- a network all in one player where they just happen to add speaker outputs (though very high quality outputs at that)


At first I thought that all i needed was a unitiqute for my modest bedroom system, but then I thought about  scalability- what if I wanted even more power hungry floorstanders in the future? What if i wanted to move the setup to the living area? So i settled on the NAP-100 cos it fit the budget, is a petite amp, but has a dedicated power supply for each channel so I could imagine that it would drive the LS50 with more than enough authority. I could always just swap it out for a more powerful power amp later when I see fit (if i see fit :) )


My other option was to buy the timekeeper blind- but the cost in conjunction with the fact that I've never heard it has stayed my hand thus far.


I greatly enjoy the way that a good pair of speakers convey emotion. This would be the primary reason for which I've decided to look into making a switch. The more detail the speakers can produce though, the better I say without the sound becoming clinical and sterile like a pair of bright studio monitors in an acoustically dead room- which is why I'm starting off with the KEF LS50 - a standmounter thats said to be highly detailed with the right gear- paired with Naim- electronics which have a reputation for sounding full, gutsy with excellent PRAT.


If my preferences veer in either direction, I could easily swap out one component- the speakers due to the scalability of the electronics I've selected.


I guess time will only tell if I start yearning for headphones again. I will have a JH16 freqphase in a couple of weeks for on the go though- will I still miss the LCD-2 when i have both CIEMS and speakers?

post #12 of 17

I've just made the move from headphones to a pair of speakers. I believe only you can make that decision as the listening experience is vastly different and dedication to one or the other solution a pretty strong commitment (as others said room treatment is important for speakers, perhaps a little less so for very near-field listening). 


But I would advise you to give a very thorough look at active speakers instead of passive ones, most particularly pro monitors. I spent several months trying out different solutions and came at the conclusion that you usually get quite a lot more for your money with pro monitors. Some people think that they're too clinical, too technical - that isn't my experience with all of them. Some sounded very detailed but pretty bland to my ears, but others sounded just as detailed but fairly musical as well.

Edited by MayaTlab - 6/23/13 at 12:15am
post #13 of 17
Thread Starter 

I strongly considered looking at the dynaudio monitors, the Kef X300A, the adams and emotiva stealth series, but due to being stuck in adelaide, I haven't had the opportunity. I've only been able to try yamahas, and KRK's. They were not my cup of tea. What are your thoughts on the ones that I've mentioned. The LS50 was originally built for monitoring, so may work out.

post #14 of 17
Originally Posted by stainless824 View Post

I strongly considered looking at the dynaudio monitors, the Kef X300A, the adams and emotiva stealth series, but due to being stuck in adelaide, I haven't had the opportunity. I've only been able to try yamahas, and KRK's. They were not my cup of tea. What are your thoughts on the ones that I've mentioned. The LS50 was originally built for monitoring, so may work out.


In that list, I tried the Adams, more precisely a couple from the S series. I too didn't fall for them that much. But from what I gather there isn't a "consistent" Adam sound, so other models may sound different from the ones I heard. Of the monitors I tried, I preferred the PSI Audio and Geithain monitors. These I preferred to every other passive or active speakers I tried in a similar price range. At least to the extent that they changed my mind on speakers and pro monitors in general. Some people told me that "you'll never get as much details with a pair of speakers as with your pair of HD800", or "pro monitors can't be musical". I doubt I would agree with those comments after giving them a listen.

But remember that this is just the opinion of somebody pretty new to speakers. I just suggested to give a long, thorough look at monitors, I'm not saying it's the best solution for you. 

If that can shed light on my tastes, so that you can take what I say with a pinch of salt : my ideal pair of headphones would be a slightly more impactful and a bit less bright / sibilant HD800. 

EDIT : Forgot to say that I too did like the LS50 when I tried them several months ago and probably would have bought something similar if I didn't extend my research to less well-known monitor brands.

EDIT 2 : I managed to try almost everything with my own source, a Lavry DA11, but obviously not in the same room or with the same amp for passive speakers.


To answer more precisely your original question, to me the two drawbacks of the speaker rig in comparison to my not so well optimised HD800 rig : 

1) bass extension, the best compact bookshelves won't go much lower than 40hz +/- 5 db.

2) weight, size, and need for room treatment, unless you listen in very near-field - if you frequently move that can be an issue.

Appart from that I think it does everything else better, from a little better (details, frequency balance for example), to a lot more better (obviously imaging).

Edited by MayaTlab - 6/23/13 at 1:06am
post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
I'll go do some more auditioning soon enough. It will be very hard to find these brands especially when i'm already having trouble finding emotiva. I never quite understood the bit how high end headphones had more detail than speakers. Every time i tried a speaker over 800 ish passive, they always had more detail even in less ideal environments. This is someone who spent a lot of time with a W4s DAC2 sourced hd800.

Its just speakers arent as convenient. They're tethered to one room. But I'm perfectly ok with that so its really up to what i enjoy more. I live in a suburban environment whith lots of space so noise wont be much of an issue especially with windows and doors closed.

I think ill need both setups in my room to eventually make a decision. Tradeoff between tactile feel or intimacy i think will be the deciding factor. Gosh i wish i can keep both. A bit hard to stretch it though.
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