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catman

For really critical listening are headphones preferable over speakers?

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G'day all, last night I made a real mess of the system in here rearranging patch cords and such to plug in my best stereo 'phones and stereo headphone amp, and spent a while listening to various program sources, and although I don't particularly like wearing headphones, I was impressed at the increased detail and general sound quality as revealed over headphones. 

 

I know that the headphone amp has a lot to do with this, especially the advantages of low impedance drive.  That makes a real difference in the 'tightness' of the bass and general quality and my best DIY headphone amps are all designed and built with this in mind.  All up it seems to me that for the ultimate in sound quality, headphones are the way to go.  Am I right?  Regards, Felix.   

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People are kidding themselves if they call their listening critical just because they listen attentively. Real critical listening involves actually analysing the musical contents, composition and the instrumental roles. If the latter is what you mean yes headphones are often preferred over speakers


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2 hours ago, catman said:

I know that the headphone amp has a lot to do with this, especially the advantages of low impedance drive.  That makes a real difference in the 'tightness' of the bass and general quality and my best DIY headphone amps are all designed and built with this in mind.  All up it seems to me that for the ultimate in sound quality, headphones are the way to go.  Am I right?  

 

I think you're most likely right, but attributing way to much to your headphone amp, I think it has very little to do with it.

Two words, room acoustics or rather lack thereof.

 

But headphones can never thump you in the chest or make you feel vibration from head to toe.

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No.

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My Audeze LCD2, Mojo and Node2 headphone setup was miles behind my main system, that's by far not in an optimal room. 

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I think if more people thought really hard about this - or listened harder - there'd be more 'yes' votes here...!  

 

As previously said, room acoustics play a huge part in any traditional speaker set-up. And in my opinion, very few people are lucky enough to have a listening environment with a reasonably flat frequency response across the spectrum, favourable acoustics to timbre and a soundstage that isn't skewed somehow. Personally, I regard these factors as crucial to the enjoyment of hi-fi listening.

 

I know I've been guilty of trying to correct acoustic problems with expensive cables, room treatments, DSP, equipment racks, anti-vibration gimmicks, equipment 'upgrades' (DACs, speakers, amps...), all while ignoring the only pertinent issue - my listening environments. I've also heard the same problems in many other set-ups, and witnessed others caught in the seemingly endless cycle of 'upgrades' and equipment changes due to the same fundamental problem.

 

In my opinion, room acoustics that are less than ideal will undermine any speaker set-up regardless of price. We've all read threads ranking the importance of the equipment chain, with most people ranking speakers as the main priority. I think there's a far more important factor: room acoustics.

 

I'm sure there are a lot of people on SNA who do have ideal rooms for speaker set-ups,  but I bet there are far more who don't. In the latter scenario, I would question the idea of trying to set up anything larger or more expensive than a mini-system or desktop speakers. Because there simply is no point.

 

Far more sensible to get some Sennheiser HD-650s, a Schiit Vali 2 and enjoy good fidelity. 

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Something to do with headphones blocking reflected sounds that naturally would reach the ear in normal life that creates a different type of sound.

Some people it doesn't matter but others find something off with the sound with headphones.

These reflections in real life supposedly gives us depth and placement to the sounds.

Edited by rocky500

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12 hours ago, was_a said:

Far more sensible to get some Sennheiser HD-650s, a Schiit Vali 2 and enjoy good fidelity. 

 

I bought some HD-650's a month or so ago and can't listen to them...they are soooooo far behind the big system even with the same source and preamp.  They sound tight, flat, fuzzy and compressed.

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You need an aftermarket upgrade cable - the supplied cables aren't very good - I've settled on the Zu cable for the best balance on the 650's but it came with the round plugs suitable for the 800's and required changing to the flat ones - it's still a bit heavy in the bass area but much clearer and you can now listen to them for extended periods - there's a thread on one of the headphone sites (Headwize ?) about some other slight mods

They do require a 'breakin' period too 

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3 hours ago, was_a said:

Cool, you can sell them to me!:)

 

Maybe.  At the moment I am using the headphone out from my Placette Active Linestage which is a magnificent linestage/pre but I am now dubious about its suitability to drive the HD-650's (the owner of Placette Audio uses HD-650's so I thought they may have been a good choice of headphones for me).  I am most of the way through a build for a nice little Class A headphone amp which hopefully will do the trick at let me use them a bit but I may just sell them on.

 

1 hour ago, jrhill said:

You need an aftermarket upgrade cable - the supplied cables aren't very good - I've settled on the Zu cable for the best balance on the 650's but it came with the round plugs suitable for the 800's and required changing to the flat ones - it's still a bit heavy in the bass area but much clearer and you can now listen to them for extended periods - there's a thread on one of the headphone sites (Headwize ?) about some other slight mods

They do require a 'breakin' period too 

 

These are secondhand, but I take on-board your comment and perhaps I should look for a cable as well.

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I think that having an acoustically "perfect" room is fine if you want to test and compare speakers but the reality is. for me at least that I want to enjoy music and getting a better system that sounds good in my room is far more enjoyable than getting a mini system or desktop speakers as @was_a suggested,

As I have moved up "the chain" I have noticed a considerable improvement in sound  ..and I would much rather listen to music in a room with a view than sit in a "listening studio" in a basement.

@catman And yes great headphones are incredible fun too - I have also been carried away by enjoyable music on headphones .

Is that critical listening????? Do you mean careful listening, attentive listening or analytical ...analyzing the music or the sound????

 

Edited by Toyboyo

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G'day mate, all the rooms in this house have pretty terrible acoustics.  In that case headphone listening is always better.  Regards, Felix.

 

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I've never experienced that wonderful "right there" feeling with headphones that you get with a great pair of speakers.  That feeling that the musician(s) are right there in the room with you.  I've heard more detail on a great pair of headphones, but never had that magical experience - it always sounds artificial, if you know what I mean, on headphones.  You just can't get that same sense of a sound stage.

 

@catman if the acoustics sound terrible in your listening room, buy some room treatment.  It'll be some of the best money you've ever spent. If you can get someone to come over and measure your room and help you set up the treatment, even better.  You obviously love your music and I reckon you owe it to yourself to maximise your enjoyment.  :thumb:

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Nope.  I hate listening to music with headphones.

 

  Even worse is trying to listen to a band live with headphones :)      

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same here.

with speakers you get 'air' and the movement of air.

as already mentioned, you also get soundstage and the placement of instruments in that stage; the recording room in your room.

headphones are anti-social as well.

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I might suggest that they are less anti-social than forcing everyone in the vicinity to endure your choice of radio station by blasting it from a boombox or keeping the neighbours awake and rocking in the small hours.

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2 minutes ago, ophool said:

boombox

107kdj.jpg

 

It's always best to invite the neighbours too... :D

 

I think the "anti-social" comment was more in reference to social events like a live performance or a party.

 

JSmith :ninja:

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On a more serious note... if headphones were best for critical listening in all situations, then studio monitors would not be used much in recording/TV/film/radio studios. ;)

 

JSmith :ninja:

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Headphones appear to be more detailed, etc. and I am doing quite a bit of headphone listening at the moment. I find it easier to pick out lyrics through headphones as well.

However, when that NPR test page (the one with the hi-res and MP3 samples) was first posted here, I could easily pick out the difference with speakers, and struggled with headphones, to give a counter example.

If we are talking about the evaluation of music, better musicians than I am can give a full analysis of content from youtube playback through cheap computer speakers... experience and knowledge count most.

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I'm enjoying reading all these opinions. I agree that a soundstage can only be realistically created with speakers, although much still depends on having symmetrical sidewalls etc. However - and I say this as a former anti-headphones man - when it comes to tonality and even frequency response, you really have to get everything right to enjoy good sound quality IMO. 

 

I regularly go to concerts at the Sydney Symphony and piano recitals at Angel Place, where it's immediately apparent how unforced and natural the sound of acoustic instruments really is. With decent headphones and matching amp, you get that same 'body' or 'warmth'; with speakers and the inherent complicated acoustic factors, it's much, much more difficult. Same goes for solo violin or piano. My Harbeths do a reasonably nice job in a reasonably favourable living room (with source and accessories tuned to suit) - but I won't get rocking bass or growling beats. Only a dedicated listening room with a trully high-end system can do everything well. 

 

Which is where headphones come in. Oh, and with decent cans it's very easy to identify an MP3 or a badly mastered CD, I find.

Edited by was_a

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@was_a You need laaarge speakers with so call symmetrical sidewalls etc yeah but once you have them dialed in speakers sound way closer to the real thing when it comes to what you hear at the concert halls.

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yup ..... everyone is right

funny that

but all the comments make sense

so where does that leave @catman ?

 

btw I do get carried away whether with headphones or speakers ... I still remember that feeling I got listening with my first Stax headphones over 30 years ago!! and an hour ago I got it with dynamic cans (HD800S) and last night with my main system which is in an untreated room. Maybe I am not critical enough?

but it is all fun !!!!

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On 22 September 2017 at 11:07 AM, was_a said:

Cool, you can sell them to me!:)

No Sell them to me, I need a set of cheapie headphones for emergency music, which inconsiderate folk are "Sleeping"

 

And if you think headphones sound better, you need to upgrade your speakers :)

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