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Thread: Headphones vs Speakers?

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    Default Headphones vs Speakers?

    I have a gaming headset which I've started using to listen to music, and even though I have a surround sound system I have noticed a jump in quality over the headset, maybe because I don't have the distractions of outside sounds and inside sounds to bother me. What are your thoughts on headphones vs speakers?

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    I'm not sure which can create the best listening environment. For me I only use headphones when not wanting to my bother others around me or when there is some external noise that I wish to filter (I have noise reduction headphones).

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    I prefer headphones unless I'm having to move about - listening to classical music through headphones gives me a feeling of cocooning myself away from outside distractions (i.e. if the phone rings or someone knocks the door and I don't hear it then it's just too bad!) and helps me concentrate on the music more. On the other hand, headphones do accentuate things such as the Barbirolli Grunt, the Gould Hum or the String Quartet Stomp!

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    Good headphones are a lot cheaper than a good speaker system, and they work better in apartments where disturbing neighbors is an issue. But a really good speaker setup totally blows away headphones. I recently bought my first house and built a listening room. I haven't put on my headphones since. There's no comparison. Headphones are much less balanced overall and you don't feel the music around you like with speakers.

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    Senior Member kv466's Avatar
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    I love all the things headphones bring out in the music but there is no comparison to the sound of a good speaker system where you not only hear the music but feel it, too.

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    Senior Member presto's Avatar
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    Speakers, I have a reasonably good Hi-Fi and hearing the sound coming from them is a far more natural one compared to the “inside of the head” sound experience I get from headphones.

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    Headphones are good for analytical listening. If you want to listen deep into a recording, headphones will give you a more pure experience. The reason - headphones are not burdened with the problems that speakers in rooms have - no phase issues from complex crossovers, no echoes and reflections, no frequency peaks and dips from room modes, etc. What's more - headphones are much cheaper than a good hifi system.

    However - a hifi system sounds more realistic. There is nothing like having the sound in front of you as opposed to in your head (as presto says).

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    Most of us who have really good speaker systems have dealt with those sorts of problems and disposed of them, Amfibus. The difference then is one of balance. Headphones emphasize some aspects of sound (like upper midrange details) and tend to underplay other aspects (the upper range of the bass). Speakers on the other hand, tend to present sound very much like it would sound live.

    Yesterday, I visited a hospital and they had someone playing piano in a corner of the lobby. I'm so used to my own speaker system, it took me a minute to decide if it was a recording or live. Before I had my listening room, I would have instantly known it was live. The same goes for vocal music. Once I left the room for a minute and as I was walking down the hall to return, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up on the back of my neck because it sounded exactly like the singer was performing live in the next room.

    I only use headphones when I am editing sound or doing noise reduction. Everything else I do with speakers. I've supervised sound mixes as part of my job and the studios we worked with only used speakers, because headphones gloss over imbalances that speakers clearly reveal. Many headphone users have never owned a good speaker system so they don't know what they're missing. I magine my next door neighbors wish I was in that camp when I play Wagner at 1 am!

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Most of us who have really good speaker systems have dealt with those sorts of problems and disposed of them, Amfibus.
    You can never get rid of these issues, you can only minimize them.

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    If you minimize them to the point that they don't matter any more, you've eliminated them. There's a tendency in audiophile circles to be absolutist... That is to say things like, "it's impossible to achieve perfectly flat frequency response, so there's no point even trying to achieve it." That kind of thinking is wrong headed, because the closer you get to the ideal, the better your sound becomes. As for speakers vs headphones, it is quite possible with judicious equalization, halfway decent speakers and a few simple modifications to the room to achieve sound that easily surpasses headphones. Directionality of sound and the feeling of vibrations in the air are a big part of listening.

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    I have both. I view headphones as lunch, and speakers as dinner.

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    Really bigshot? You have the same frequency response everywhere in the room? I can tell you that I need to move my measurement microphone 30cm to the left and the F/R changes immediately. And I can tell you that I am not normally planted in the sweet spot ... I am normally walking around the house listening and humming to myself while the system is playing.

    BTW I have had a dedicated listening room for over 20 years. It has room treatments, digital equalisation, phase and group delay correction, and the system is fully active. I have taken pseudo-anechoic measurements, in room measurements, and done the best I can to achieve a flat response, good waterfall plot, etc. It still ain't perfect. If yours is ... then great for you. It must be nice to live in your world.

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    You don't need to have perfect response at every point in the room. You're putting sound into a space and that space becomes part of the sound. When you go to the opera house, the sound isn't exactly the same from every seat. It's balanced relative to the room. It starts with good acoustic balance, then wraps it around a natural acoustic envelope, depending on where you sit.

    In a home stereo, you balance everything at a central point and the natural properties of the room carry that balance throughout the space in a natural way. The sound of the music coming from the speakers interacts with the space the same way a live band in the same space would. You don't have to achieve perfection, only relative balance. That's what a lot of audiophiles don't understand. It's a little different for a 5:1 system where you're trying to create a complete surrounding synthetic acoustic environment with tight phase. That requires more control over the room and works better in smaller spaces. But for stereo and mono sound where there is a directional orientation to te soundstage, the room should create a natural shape for the sound as you move around in the space. That can actually make sound richer.

    Interestingly enough, the very earliest sound engineers who designed acoustic Victrolas employed acoustic techniques that worked very well that no one uses today. They employed horns to extend te response and suggested placement of the phonograph in the room in a way that used natural ambiences and the shape of the walls, floor and ceiling to mold the sound into a natural acoustic balance, even when the recording itself wasn't at all balanced.

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    You don't need to have perfect response at every point in the room. You're putting sound into a space and that space becomes part of the sound. When you go to the opera house, the sound isn't exactly the same from every seat. It's balanced relative to the room. It starts with good acoustic balance, then wraps it around a natural acoustic envelope, depending on where you sit.
    That is a very different proposition to:

    If you minimize them to the point that they don't matter any more, you've eliminated them.
    I can tell you that I have started to edge away from digital correction in favour of better room treatment. Why - because digital correction adds distortion to correct distortion. What sounds good at the sweet spot sounds absolutely terrible elsewhere.

    I am far from eliminating room induced distortion. You seem to be boasting that you have. Good for you. Either you have achieved what nobody else in the world has, or there is something wrong with what you are reporting.

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    If your equalizer is adding distortion, you need a new equalizer. I don't use a home EQ with one of those mikes and automatic correction. They don't usually work very well. I prefer to use a pro grade equalizer and adjust by ear using a continuous tone.

    I haven't eliminated room distortions. I've gotten them to the point where they don't matter any more. My system sounds balanced. It isn't impossible to deal with these sorts of problems if you keep your focus on the sound and let your ears do the work. If you let OCD make you focus on numbers on a page, you'll never be satisfied.
    Last edited by bigshot; Feb-23-2012 at 19:38.

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