Headphone Listening: We've Tricked Our Brains?
Mar 29, 2006 at 4:17 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 39

Zanth

SHAman who knew of Head-Fi ten years prior to its existence
Joined
Oct 11, 2001
Posts
9,570
Likes
39
So I am enjoying a morning tea and I thought I would browse a few forums while I had the chance, in hopes of relaxing before a big day of paper pushing. I came across this thread over at AA and particularly this post which caught my attention.

The topic matter of that thread has been discussed here and there many times and I'm not interested in discussing it again save for the context I'm about to present. I think the second link I provided really asks a good question or provides insight to the reason that many speakerphiles have a difficult time coming over into the headphone world.

Over the past 3 months I have had the opportunity to listen to some truly fine stereo systems, two of which cost in excess of 50k USD one of which was 150k-200k USD.

Now, these systems were incredible, better than anything I had ever heard anywhere else save for well setup live venues, but even with the incredible dynamics (these last two were very high efficiency speaker systems using low powered amps, one using a sweet 300b from Wyetech) and impeccable detail, I still couldn't get over how much detail was lost, even when listening pretty close to the speakers in the "sweet spot." I have listened to the top of the line Martin Logans with MONSTEROUSLY powered amps from Classe in a very well setup room and even here...headphones, even low models like SR60's, have more detail.

My brain is simply used to hearing far more information, information that usually is impossible for a speaker system to get out there. I also found that the music was not as intimate - two aspects I didn't think a top speaker system would lose out to to even a modest headphone system. Of course, soundstaging, real imaging, wide dynamics the ability to "share" the experience with multiple listeners destroys any headphone setup save for those capable of having more than one listener join in with a separate set...but I can truly say that my brain has most definitely acclimated itself with the style of listening I am "forced" to use most often given my living conditions at the moment. Given how much I enjoy this form of listning, until recently I always felt I was short changing myself, now, I feel sorry for speakerphiles who don't know any better
biggrin.gif


In time, when I move and I have spot to setup a system, I'm sure that with much listening, my brain will adjust itself and then going back and forth will reveal the inherent flaws in both worlds but that I will come to appreciate them on equal grounds. This is my goal anyway.

However, it brings me back to the original thought for this post, do our brains adjust? And if so, is it quite possible that those who enjoy headphones more than speakers aren't "fooling" themselves but have truly adapted to focus in on extra information, perfect imaging, and an intimacy speakers can't provide, shucking the need for a realistic soundstage and life-like dynamics with chest pounding bass and all the pitfalls of room setup etc?

We've had the debate numerous times about which is better, and why, or why one person listens to headphones over speakers or vice versa. I would prefer this thread stay within the realm of psychology and neurology. Perception and what is happening to our pathways by listening to headphones. Without experimentation, this will all be conjecture, but I think it will be informative and maybe even fun
wink.gif
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 5:12 PM Post #2 of 39

jagorev

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
May 16, 2005
Posts
3,316
Likes
15
Apart form headphones vs. speakers, even different models of headphones take the same kind of adjustment and learning time. Switching from Sennheiser to AKG to Grado to Beyer can be a highly disconcerting and dissatisfying experience, since your brain is used to a different presentation.

I think this also explains a lot of the burn-in phenomena.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 5:27 PM Post #3 of 39

F107plus5

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 23, 2006
Posts
5,920
Likes
15
I'm the perfect lab rat!!

I've only had my first pair of earphones for one week and three days!!

I have a very good home theater system in an imperfect room(the old room in the old house was great, and spoiled me for the current one. Outstanding soundstage and imaging and all that, which is what promped me to look at cans in the first place-to get back some of what I'd lost.)So enter a set of Alessandro MS-1s as a test case since they have a similar "sound" as my Axiom Audio speaker system. But the difference in extraction of detail is phenominal!!

Do I believe in break-in? Uh, no, not really,....no.

(...ok,...maybe,... don't have enough experence with phones to tell; didn't find any "Real" break-in with bunches of speakers over the years, though)

Anyway.

Got the MS-1s and found, as I'd been able to determine here in the forum before buying the MS-1s, that Grado cans have very little soundstage. But a similar timbre to my speakers made up for it.

Have been listening to them for about ten days now and I suspect that my ears are adjusting cuz the stage is opening up quite a bit.

So, for what it's worth, after only ten days, a relatively normal set of ears has successfully adjusted to a totally foreign experience and addapted quite well!!

What is the personal choice for a listening experience?

The rat chooses to push button "A"

Button "A"....

....MS-1s for music!!



(Shhhh....not too loud....but when I go over to my old "Speaker" forum and attempt to excitedly comment on cans, I don't get much of a responce, except by those very few "in-the-know")

Wonder if it has something to do with an "I have Xkbucks tied up in speakers and you only have a simple hunret in cans."

....nahhhh
very_evil_smiley.gif
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:03 PM Post #4 of 39

creyc

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 26, 2006
Posts
742
Likes
10
Which Martin Logans were you referring to Zanth? I was listening to a few last weekend, some electrostatics some not. Honestly I enjoyed the sound and detail of the Paradigm Studio series much more. Being in the headphone space for quite some time and relatively out of the speaker world it was difficult for me to tell exactly what it was between the two speakers. When I mentioned the upper mids and highs seemed a bit muffled the salesman gave me an odd look, and I'm sure at that point probably figured I was a head-fi guy.
rolleyes.gif


There are definitely pro's and con's to both situations and each have their places in a Hi-fi system. But between the detail, intimacy and "closeness", I just find headphones to be a more enjoyable experience.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:09 PM Post #5 of 39

sgrossklass

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Dec 3, 2004
Posts
2,803
Likes
19
What about listening levels? With cans you tend to listen louder than with speakers. However, the lack of room influence and sheer distance certainly also has a lot to do with the perception of detail.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:09 PM Post #6 of 39

stew007

New Head-Fier
Joined
Mar 9, 2006
Posts
4
Likes
0
I have been a long time speaker fan, but just recently turning more and more to the head-fi dark side
580smile.gif
The key to good sound from a speaker system is room treatment, a cheap system can sound amazing in a treated room while an expensive system can sound average in an untreated room. This is why listening to headphones is such an amazing experience, it takes the room out of the equation, no reflections, But.. also the phase of the signal is near perfect over an inch using headphones, but can be miles out over 6 foot even using the most expensive speakers.

I like both types of system, they both have good points, headphones cant rattle your chest cavity and blur the vision like my diy Tempest sub can
biggrin.gif
, but headphones offer a much more personal relationship with the music, I personally find myself listening to my X5 most of the time, entire music collection right at my fingertips, just select the album that fits my mood in just a couple of secs coupled with the pure bliss of my new ATH-A900 cans im in heaven
eggosmile.gif
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:41 PM Post #7 of 39

slag

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 3, 2005
Posts
301
Likes
10
You may also be experiencing some placebo or nocebo effects. Your situation forces you to use headphones most of the time, which could be causing you to believe that headphones are superb (this is the placebo effect - if it sounds good, it must be good; this sort of reinforcement over time could be why some of us believe in burn-in.) You may have even at some level decided that because headphones are so good, stereos can't be as good. This would be the nocebo effect - headphones are better, so stereos sound worse.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:49 PM Post #8 of 39

Zanth

SHAman who knew of Head-Fi ten years prior to its existence
Joined
Oct 11, 2001
Posts
9,570
Likes
39
Quote:

Originally Posted by creyc
Which Martin Logans were you referring to Zanth? I was listening to a few last weekend, some electrostatics some not.



The Statement E2's driven by all Classe Omega upstream components. Cables range from Nordost Valhallas to Elcos top of the line squishy hose-like things.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:54 PM Post #9 of 39

warrior05

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 16, 2006
Posts
3,899
Likes
16
Personally, I adjust to what I'm listening to fairly easily. I love listening to music through my M-Audio studio monitors but realise I don't hear nearly the amount of detail as with my Senns. But that's okay by me. Also, the aural experience between my Senns and my IEMs is different - cool. I appreciate the different aural experiences between varying pieces of hardware and the different strengths and weaknesses they bring to the table. I feel it adds to the experience. That is unless it's listening through anything Bose!
evil_smiley.gif
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:54 PM Post #10 of 39

allenf

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 5, 2005
Posts
1,110
Likes
11
Quote:

Originally Posted by slag
You may also be experiencing some placebo or nocebo effects. Your situation forces you to use headphones most of the time, which could be causing you to believe that headphones are superb (this is the placebo effect - if it sounds good, it must be good; this sort of reinforcement over time could be why some of us believe in burn-in.) You may have even at some level decided that because headphones are so good, stereos can't be as good. This would be the nocebo effect - headphones are better, so stereos sound worse.


Or of course we may really be experiencing "extra information, perfect imaging, and an intimacy speakers can't provide, shucking the need for a realistic soundstage and life-like dynamics with chest pounding bass and all the pitfalls of room setup etc?"
Placebos suck - unless you are these guys:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4808836.stm
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:54 PM Post #11 of 39

Zanth

SHAman who knew of Head-Fi ten years prior to its existence
Joined
Oct 11, 2001
Posts
9,570
Likes
39
Quote:

Originally Posted by slag
You may also be experiencing some placebo or nocebo effects. Your situation forces you to use headphones most of the time, which could be causing you to believe that headphones are superb (this is the placebo effect - if it sounds good, it must be good; this sort of reinforcement over time could be why some of us believe in burn-in.) You may have even at some level decided that because headphones are so good, stereos can't be as good. This would be the nocebo effect - headphones are better, so stereos sound worse.



Yep, this is true and I have considered this yet having the money I have in my headphone rig and the fact that I can't do some things that I would like to do (like hang out with my son or my new little one and listen to tunes) I would sell my headphone rig if the situation was right. I could rearrange my dungeon to get things semi-alright but again, I don't know if the merits would outweigh the love the headphones provide. I will say this though, any time I have been over to a friend's place to listen to speakers, it was not a short listen...usually on the 6 hours + scale, just recently it was closing on 8 hours, in that time certainly if I were to be blown away, it would have happened at some point in those spans at least partially. Note too that I'm not saying headphones excel at everything, but that I merely am prefering the merits of headphones over the merits of speakers and I don't do so consciously, hence me thinking my brain is simply used to the sound of headphones and enjoys those traits more out of familiarity and as stew007 mentioned, perhaps because headphones, though inferior in some aspects are able to provide near perfect sound in other ways. Though, in the end, without long clinical study, I could just be in self-denial
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:55 PM Post #12 of 39

Bones13

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Dec 21, 2005
Posts
1,579
Likes
43
I recently started the HeadFi habit, after years of ipods with various cheap headsets. I also have listened to some quality systems, and of course gone to concerts as well.

Although, I find the headfi listening to quality cans with good source and amp to be very gratifying, and actually the only way to listen to audiophile music in an office setting, there is a bit missing.

I think with listening to open air music, live or reproduced with speakers, there is a whole body experience that is different from headphone listening. There is a visceral feeling to some music available outside of the headphone. The sensation of the music on your skin, and in your bones adds to the music experience imho.

I am trying to learn the nuances of headphone listening, and I am sure that it will improve my listening ability to a large degree, hopefully enough to really enjoy audiophile quality room size music when I can afford the time/space for it. As my first of 3 kids heads to college this fall, that time is a good ways off, and I am glad to have my headphones to enjoy for now.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 6:57 PM Post #13 of 39

Zanth

SHAman who knew of Head-Fi ten years prior to its existence
Joined
Oct 11, 2001
Posts
9,570
Likes
39
Quote:

Originally Posted by sgrossklass
What about listening levels? With cans you tend to listen louder than with speakers. However, the lack of room influence and sheer distance certainly also has a lot to do with the perception of detail.



I listen very very softly. I rarely have the dial above 8 on any amp I use. I've never listened past 9 for more than a minute or so unless the levels were horribly recorded on a given album. That said, any time I have ventured out to listen to speakers, perhaps it was because the situation called for a demo of the gear that the levels were louder than I would usually enjoy, but to the host, it never seemed they were loud at all, in fact, it seemed this was at the typical level they all seemed to listen to to have the system sound "live." Each and every time, it was like listening at 11 or so on my amps at least. Far louder than I would ever like to listen to.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 7:06 PM Post #14 of 39

Zanth

SHAman who knew of Head-Fi ten years prior to its existence
Joined
Oct 11, 2001
Posts
9,570
Likes
39
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bones13
I think with listening to open air music, live or reproduced with speakers, there is a whole body experience that is different from headphone listening. There is a visceral feeling to some music available outside of the headphone. The sensation of the music on your skin, and in your bones adds to the music experience imho.


I agree, headphones can't do this not at all. The only real way this can happen it seems is by introducing a subwoofer while listening to open designed cans, particularly the "ear speakers" made by AKG (K1000's). However, realistically, if one is going to that much effort, I personally would just recommend buying speakers. However, even in missing this open air feeling, this chest cavity shaking bass, the sensation that the venue is RIGHT THERE in the living room etc...even with these things missing, I for some reason just feel speakers are stripping some of the emotion from the music and I think that falls under the term intimacy for me. Having the music forced into my head, no room interactions...seems more personal and gets me going more on a regular basis? I can get OC about music reproduction, but I am consistently striving to overcome some things to focus on other elements I seem to prefer (like that elusive musicality if it means losing out on a bit of detail and clarity or extension). With speakers...I think that perhaps the systems I have heard though world class, were just not up to snuff in terms of the emotional value I look for. Maybe the problem was vinyl...in the 3 best systems I have ever seen/heard, they all used Redbook, and they didn't bode as well as the more modest but more emotional sounding smaller rig, still, what those big boys lost out on using Redbook, they more than made up for in all other ways and still, no matter what...I missed that intimacy. My brain needs to readjust to listening to speakers methinks.
 
Mar 29, 2006 at 10:45 PM Post #15 of 39

bahamaman

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 23, 2003
Posts
1,270
Likes
21
Quote:

Originally Posted by Zanth
I for some reason just feel speakers are stripping some of the emotion from the music and I think that falls under the term intimacy for me. Having the music forced into my head, no room interactions...seems more personal and gets me going more on a regular basis?


Very, very well said. Since getting bitten by the headphone bug, I have abandoned my above-average speaker rig. While it can, of course, deliver unmatched visceral impact, it just does nothing for me anymore.

I, too, prefer to listen at very low volumes. The ability of headphones to deliver gobs of detail while playing softly, and deliver it with great emotion, is just indescribable.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top