I think it's about time we all weighed in on this: headphone psychology.
Mar 23, 2006 at 6:54 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 33

Meyvn

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I never really hear this subject discussed much here, only hinted at: psychology. placebo effect. prosumerism. Most of this is probably due to the fact that the vast majority of people in this world do not (or cannot) appreciate quality headphones. And for awhile, you might look at that 100 dollar pair of Grados or E2c entry levels, and think, 'that's just so much money to spend on headphones.' Then you hear them for the first time, and it blows you away. Everyone says you're crazy; their 20 dollar cheapos are just as good as those. You just think it's good because it's expensive. You're just experiencing the placebo effect. Then you come here, and people are all saying the same things you are. Thousands of miles away, people are able to come to a general consensus about the general character of a headphone, and thus we know we're not crazy (in general). Therefore, I do not mean to pose the question: "Are these headphones really worth it?" Naturally, for many of us, the moment we "set foot" on these boards, that question was already answered in our minds. What I'm here to ask is this:

With that basic question aside, how much of our decisions about headphones is psychological, and how much is factual and real personal opinion?

What got me thinking about this was, among other things, the big debate about the AKG K701 that's been going on. I don't pretend to have experience or expert ears, so I'm not going to comment on that right now, but as I was deciding about my headphone purchase, I read a huge number of threads. There were all sorts of dynamics to the arguments on either side. One side claimed they sounded better in some applications than even the Sony MDR-R10s and the AKG K1000s. AKG themselves even compared the K701s to this higher end model. Many were reviled by this argument. How could a 300-400 dollar headphone rival their headphones that cost multiples of its price? For the purposes of this discussion, whether or not the K701 is that good is irrelevant. What I am getting at is: so what if it is? So what if the K701 is better than the MDR-R10? Would people, could people really accept it?

I guess it'd probably be easier if I put the question in terms that are not currently being warred over. This example actually may even be more to the point. Let's say tomorrow, Skullcandy decides to release a new set of open circumaural headphones which cost 35 dollars. Despite all possibility, logic, component costs, or anything else, these outmatch the Orpheus in sound quality, despite being dynamic, and economically priced. Could people accept it? Would you, would anyone believe it, even if it was true? Would your psychological aversion to a traditionally crappy brand and such a low pricepoint render you unable to make the judgment call? Are we really capable in this prosumer, capital-driven world to accept anything at face value?

Think about it. Get back to me.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 6:59 AM Post #2 of 33

Cyrilix

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I think a lot of it has to do with how much money you pay. If you don't pay enough, people won't feel satisfied, thinking they got a cheap product that doesn't compare. There are a few exceptions, but this is the general trend anyway.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:07 AM Post #3 of 33

granodemostasa

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I would love if that happened and buy one right away.
i really don't buy into small differences... so far all of my purchases have made such a difference that anyone could tell. if there is something between two items, one expensive and one cheap and i can't tell the difference immediately i run it through multiple music types. the best example of this is the equinox cable and the senn stock cable at the SF meet. because it was so loud there was not a chance of me hearing any differences it might have made in detail... so i ran the cables on many musics. I was nearly convicend that the only differnce was the sweeter mids (which are obvious), when i played Muhler's 1st symphony, the last movement. right in the first 30 seconds everything came blarring out and the verdict was made-the equinox is better. Personally i actually think the stock cable at 12 dollars is a better cable than the cardas (at 150 dollars), and several at the meet actually agreed with me... but of course it was too loud to listen to details.
Same thing with the large wooden sony's which i didn't like... and only the L3K on the AT line did i actually think sounded good.
the placebo affect however is found in playback... where i sometimes wonder if the difference i think i hear between itunes and foobar is really there... it's so small.
so for obvious reasons i really only spend the money if can really hear a difference and it's so obvious that it is undeniable.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:17 AM Post #4 of 33

spaceconvoy

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It's human nature - we all like to think we're better than everyone else. People who spend thousands on audio gear like to think they're hearing something special that other's can't. I like to think that I know better because I'm happier with my KSC75 than I was with my A900LTD - therefor I'm not a fool who wastes money on audio placebos. We all have our rationales, but when it comes down to it, it's about making ourselves feel special.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:19 AM Post #5 of 33

markot86

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In all honesty, I personally think that price has little to do with percieved sound quality. Sure it plays a role, but there are too many exceptions to make this a fair assumption.

Case in point: the ksc-75's. There are people out there who believe that these are sonically better than MANY other headphones costing many multiples more, and I tend to agree with them, yet they only sell for 15-20 dollars. I'll be the first to admit that these inexpensive headphones are as detailed as any 150-200 dollar headphone I've heard.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:22 AM Post #6 of 33

Cyrilix

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Quote:

Originally Posted by markot86
In all honesty, I personally think that price has little to do with percieved sound quality. Sure it plays a role, but there are too many exceptions to make this a fair assumption.

Case in point: the ksc-75's. There are people out there who believe that these are sonically better than MANY other headphones costing many multiples more, and I tend to agree with them, yet they only sell for 15-20 dollars. I'll be the first to admit that these inexpensive headphones are as detailed as any 150-200 dollar headphone I've heard.



Well, I did say that there were exceptions, and also, the KSC-75 are very well known on these forums...but lets say you compare two entirely new products or two products that haven't been tested often before. I think the bias will be there depending on price.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:23 AM Post #7 of 33

Scotty757

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Quote:

Originally Posted by markot86
Case in point: the ksc-75's.


I think mark hit the nail on the head. The anomoly of the ksc-75 undermines the whole psychological argument. If headphone purists were really only concerned with the dollar amount, these would be reviled, not revered.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:36 AM Post #8 of 33

kramer5150

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Just listen, and demo. If it sounds good then it IS good.
Its a very simple concept.

I think this forum works both ways. I read both the positive comments and negative comments so it kind of balances them out in my mind. At that point, forum impressions become a moot point and its all about what YOU hear and what sounds good to you.


Garrett
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:40 AM Post #9 of 33

Meyvn

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Scotty757
I think mark hit the nail on the head. The anomoly of the ksc-75 undermines the whole psychological argument. If headphone purists were really only concerned with the dollar amount, these would be reviled, not revered.


I disagree. If you pushed the limits on the KSC-75's value, many would push back. I guarantee you, a large number of people would say even the SR-60s sound better than the KSC-75s, let alone more expensive ones. And I'm making no insinuation that purists are ONLY concerned with a dollar amount. I'm merely saying I think it plays a role at least to some degree; in some cases (and hopefully most) it plays a very small role, but I'd argue that it does play one.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:46 AM Post #10 of 33

Alexcy

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Hi Meyvn, you present a difficult question. I think the answer lies in between, being both a psychological factor as well as actually factual or perceptible.

I think its very hard for a mind to be completely objective all the time when making decisions. For example, occassionaly I have reached for a cup of water thinking there was milk in it. I was expecting cold refreshing milk. Thats what I got for a split second, until I realized that I was drinking something different. The mind is powerful and can trick us. I'm sure theres alot more examples of this. So when, say, a $50 headphone is technically better than a $200 headphone, I would believe it would be psychologically difficult to cope with that, especially if that $200 headphone is your most favorite headphone of all headphones :).

Certainly no one can deny what is there and what isn't though. Facts are facts. Audio is percieved through the ears, a sense that is susceptible to damage. To add to this, everyone has different ears with all varying sonic abilities. Once the sound goes through the ears, the brain processes it and then we percieve the sound. So yeah, sound doesn't seem to be as clear as mathematics, but I still think our senses are "real" enough to discern reality.

As a final note, my own experience with this is interesting. I'm a newbie to headphones if you couldn't tell and have just bought a SR225, What most would call a significant upgrade from some creative earbuds. Embarrasing as it is, I have compared the two headphones and I'm having trouble finding how the grados are superior, if at all different. I have this gut feeling that they are though (soundwise), I simply can't pinpoint it to anything. Is this psychological or reality? My hearing is fine, and I truely believe that these headphones are superior based on the reviews on this message board (In other words, I trust that the majority can distinguish the color red from blue, but maybe I put too much trust in the preconception that audio is as easily distinguishable as sight?).

So I will continue to search for any differences and hope soon that it will dawn on me. I'm sorry for the long post. I just wanted to give out my thoughts.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 7:46 AM Post #11 of 33

gevorg

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Price is commonly perceived as the only indicator of how good the product is. Personal opinion aside, in reality there are many other factual indicators, such as time (date of R&D), manufacturing technology, country, production run, brand name/status symbol, etc - all of which contribute to the final price. Therefore it is normal to have a $300 product that is better than a $1000 one. Unfortunately, most averege consumers just go by the price, because they don't know any better.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 8:05 AM Post #12 of 33

edstrelow

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Meyvn said:
I never really hear this subject discussed much here, only hinted at: psychology. placebo effect. prosumerism.

Actually it's been done to death that's why there is a ban on dbt (double blind testing) arguments in the tweaks section.

I would say if you don't hear enough of a difference, or you think your brain is playing tricks don't buy. It 's only a hobby so who cares if you get fooled now and again.

You can ask the same questions about most consumer purchases. I mean is a $6,000.00 Rolex a better time piece than a $25.00 Timex. Sometimes people want flash and prestige too.

Many in these forums try very hard to shop down prices or buy old equipment with a good reputation. I don't see much consumerism or prestige or placebo in buying up old audio equipment and if there is ,at least you are not wasting as much money.
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 8:26 AM Post #13 of 33

Comfy

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I think that the KSC-75 love on this forum proves that it's not all about elitism and "people with more money than brains"-effect...
biggrin.gif


Of course hearing is a very subjective thing, and your mileage may most certainly vary, but on the long run you can tell why some headphones are worth lots of dollars.
The average listener hasn't had the chance to live with a pair of high-end headphones, and can't really appreciate their character because of that. Even me, being the headphone freak that I am, have only heard a pair of high-end Sennheisers (HD-600, HD-650) in a department store, with lots of background noise, very poorly driven and most probably un-burnt-in. There is no way I would have paid hundreds of euros for them after that experience. But when I listen to my Grados and AKGs at home, properly driven and burnt-in, I realize those cans are worth every penny. Or even more...
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 9:30 AM Post #14 of 33

WhiteShadow

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Well.. I am going to say that my newly aquired ep630 sounds so close to my super fi 5pro that and I might return the later. Of course the super fi 5pro has better clarity if I listen carefully but when comuting I don't devote 100% of my brain power to my music, so with the execption of a little detail and bass they sound the same. Especially when you consider the price to performance ratio: $260 Super fi 5pro vs $30 ep630. IMHO the superfi 5pro is NOT 8 times better than ep630, maybe 2 or 3 times better ,but the price isn't multiplied by 2 instead its by 8. For $260 you would expect better durability, but just 3 weeks in, my superfi 5pros have a cracked driver casing and torn wires from normal use. In comparison my 6 month old px100 had better durability. Again, you would expect a $260 IEM to be more comfortable than a $30 one but it is not; with the ep630 I can sleep, on my side, not suffer from air pressure and enjoy its very low profile. One more thing, The ep630 are not as balanced as then SF5Pros but when "Equalized" properly it can be. I would be satisfied if the super fi 5pros cost $100, but above that the price to performance ratio isn't great.


END RANT
 
Mar 23, 2006 at 2:18 PM Post #15 of 33

markot86

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Cyrilix
Well, I did say that there were exceptions, and also, the KSC-75 are very well known on these forums...but lets say you compare two entirely new products or two products that haven't been tested often before. I think the bias will be there depending on price.


I disagree; I've had several times where I've compared something that's not very well known and cheap to something that's more expensive and VERY well known and had the cheap one win. The biggest place where this has occurred is in the area of interconnects. I found that in my system, the interconnects that came for free with the pocket dock sounded better than the cables from a very respected head-fi'er from these forums; the interconnect in question was infinately more expensive then the pocket dock one.

I see where you're getting at, but in all honesty, headphones and headphone listening is all about self happiness, if that makes any sense. There will always be those people who will post on these forums and try to justify expensive purchases to make themselves feel better (hell, I've done it on several occasions) but these are also the people who usually put up their headphones on the FS forum shortly afterwards, so in the end, the justifications are no longer valid.

Also, I don't know where you got that there is a concensus that the sr-60 is better than the ksc-75; many people think that it's actually worse, despite the higher price tag. I seem to be one of the few who thinks it bests the ksc-75 by a VERY small amount, but this is only on the basis of the sr-60 being the magical grado sound; as far as technicalities are concerned, the ksc-75 has a better transducer IMO.
 

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