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Is "Burn-In" Real?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by gooeyrich, Dec 12, 2019.
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  1. gooeyrich
    Regardless of whether it's ears adjusting or the headphones/earphones/speakers mechanically burning in, is this real or not based on the science?
  2. Killcomic
    Short answer - No.
    Longer answer - You could see some change with usage, but it may not be audible or even beneficial.
    There's no evidence that I've seen to back the claims that sounds improve with usage. If anything, it's your brain adjusting to s new sound signature.

    For example, I was used to using bright headphones like the MSR7.
    Recently, I bought the Etymotic ER3XR and it sounded muffled and overly warm.
    After a month of usage, my ER3XR now sounds perfect, and my MSR7 sounds bright with peaky treble.
    It's not that they both changed sound at the exact same time, it's actually the brain compensating for a new sound signature.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2019
    Marutks and old tech like this.
  3. bigshot
    If a transducer starts changing over time, it's time to buy a new one.
    atahanuz likes this.
  4. penguinofsleep2
    IMO it depends on the individual piece of equipment.

    - Biggest case of burn in is true NOS tubes. They often have noise or other issues within the first 20-30 hours that goes away there after. From what I understand, it's usually "various impurities" such as a little flake of cathode material burning off (or going elsewhere in the tube where it isn't in the signal path anymore). I also wouldn't be surprised if small bits of expansion and hence warping due to thermal expansion / contraction caused stuff to sit ever so slightly differently after initial usage and hence a small difference in sound.
    - OP it also looks like you're new. Most tubes need to warm up before use. If you listen to a cold tube it will most likely sound different and you may also get noise such as tube crinkle.
    - Some stuff does seem to burn in. This isn't a surprise as some components do change slightly with use.
    - Some say that headphones are a case of mental burn in, but I've had headphones that I thought were harsh at first, I used a burn-in program without listening to the headphone during burn in, and upon listening later they did smooth out a little bit. Wasn't a huge difference but there did seem to be a difference.
    - Some stuff does not seem to burn in at all. And sometimes it is mental burn in (not physical changes to gear).
  5. Killcomic
    That's not burn in, that's actual operational requirements of the technology. It's not a permanent change due to long term usage.

    Care to elaborate? It's pretty vague and not saying anything.

    Classic case of mental burn in. Unless there are measurements to show an actual permanent change in sound, it's probably mental.
    No idea. but that could be the actual technology that was designed that way. I don't know. I'll defer to someone with better knowledge in this forum.
  6. castleofargh Contributor
    If we leave a rock on the ground long enough, some amount of change will occur(at least at molecular level). So for moving parts like a headphone driver, of course there is change over time. And some day that change will break the driver.

    Now if your question is to know if science's findings correlate with the usual feedback from audiophiles, then we can very confidently say: NO! Not even close.
    and of course they don't. Most people claiming to know that burn in is real, got their "data" in ways that science would never ever consider conclusive. Only ignorance can push an audiophile to claim objective stuff based on distant memories of subjective impressions over uncontrolled listening sessions.

    What we do know relying on science:
    1. Human memory is not a hard drive.

    2. Humans don't experience new stuff the way they experience familiar stuff.

    3. Only measurements/recordings can confirm an objective change in the sound of a headphone over time. Being lazy or overconfident is not a valid substitute to objective evidence.

    4. Actual measurements, seem to attribute most significant changes in sound to placement on the head, and pads' compression over time.

    Obviously those changes from pads do not exclude the possibility of other changes. Like smaller changes that went unnoticed because of how small they are, or changes affecting variables we don't usually measure. But without first finding consistent objective evidence of such changes, and then testing the audibility of such changes with blind tests, burn in and its audible consequences as described by audiophiles are simply not facts.
  7. SeEnCreaTive
    The only one I know is real (and I learned first hand) is my Ether CXs. Out of the box they were not great. This was coming from my Open Alphas and He-4xxs. I was slightly deviated I just spent as much money as I did for something that sounded thin and muffled. The Ethers should be in a whole other league. Bass was not existent. However after about a week, it filled in and became totally alive. After a month they leveled off. Now I can't take them off. But Ethers and other Mr. Speakers products have very different diaphragms than what most other Orthros use . They are pleated. Which does require breaking in, and it really really shows.

    None of my T50Rps, Porta pro, Momentums, or my 4XXs had break in at all.

    However drivers WILL change over years. You tend to see it in loudspeakers more than anything. Usually you can't hear it, but using a Q measuring tool, it will show up on graphs.
    Hexibase has a great video about this in loudspeaker drivers.
  8. bigshot
    My main speakers were made in the mid 70s and they still sound the same. What kind of speakers do you have that have degraded? Can you please link to the article you're talking about?

    And why can’t it be heard? Does it even matter if it can’t be heard?
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2019
  9. Killcomic
    Sorry, but unless there are measurements of the changes, I would say it's mental. This is exactly what has been said over and over, and I'm going to repeat it again for the 40,000th time. Your brain is really good at adapting to sound. Unless you have reliable measurements, your statement cannot be submitted as evidence.
  10. bigshot
    I don't know how any headphone manufacturer could run quality control tests when they are shipping units that sound totally different than the way they end up sounding. Why wouldn't they break them in themselves then, so they aren't shipping out of spec stuff to their customers?

    It's only logical that if something is going to fail, it will probably fail sooner rather than later; and if something changes, it's probably degradation, not improvement. Likewise, if sound characteristics shift once, odds are that they will continue shifting.

    If headphones actually do burn in, it isn't necessarily a good thing.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2019
  11. Sgt. Ear Ache
    If burn-in was an actual thing, there should be lots of people complaining about how they loved the sound of their new phones when they first got them but now after a month of use they sound crummy. Why would a change in tonal characteristics ALWAYS be for the better? I like how burn-in is apparently the magic remedy for whatever ails a set of headphones though. Too trebly? Burn-em in for a while and voila they are bassier! Too bassy? Well just burn'em in for a while and enjoy the new airiness! Too lifeless? Burn them in and wow the dynamics! lol...
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2019
    HipHopScribe, PointyFox and Bytor123 like this.
  12. castleofargh Contributor
    If I was a manufacturer, I would bother "burning in" the drivers for a while just to reduce the number of products that will break early and have to be repaired and sent again at my cost(plus a lot of early issues is bad PR). There are stats and I'm sure any reasonably big manufacturer has them, about how defects tend to come in early or not at all(it's true of almost any device with moving parts), so they can significantly improve their stats just by playing a signal into the headphones for a certain amount of time. I doubt that they would bother spending 400hours on each driver, the infrastructure to handle that given how many are made per day, that looks like a nightmare. But a few minutes or even half an hour probably already make a difference that's worth it in the long run.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2019
  13. bigshot
    Oppo told me that every set of cans off the line was tested to see if it fell within standards, and every once in a while they would pull a set for more intensive and long term testing. I imagine most manufacturers do that. Oppo also told me that burn in wasn't necessary. They didn't argue with people who claimed to hear a difference after burn in, but I don't think they believed them.
  14. christianmc
    As a pro audio guy I have this conversation often. Some rare products may change slightly, but I've always felt that it was more common amongst less expensive things. The main reason for burn-in, in my semi-informed opinion, is that manufacturing defects will show up during that time, enabling a quick return/repair.

    Same goes with any electronic product really.

    My 2 cents.
  15. bigshot
    Then if something changes during the warranty period, for good or for worse, it would probably be better to exchange it.
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