The biggest myth of this Century – Headphone Burn-in

Headphone makers seem to be either too polite or scared to say anything about Headphone Burn-in. Let me say it for them: Earphone burn-in is a bunch of hokum.

Yes. You read that right! Headphone burn-in is the biggest myth of our times. Read the Amazon comments on a standard pair of $50 earphones and you’ll probably find people talking about how long they need to be burned in, and how much different they sound after 400 hours of pink noise. People already have enough trouble getting a decent fit with their earphones (something that really does affect the sound quality). Next time you buy a new pair of earphones, try this alternative ritual: Open the box, remove the earphones, put them in your ears (using the correct method, of course), and then start playing music.

For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, it basically amounts to pumping different kinds of sound into a new pair of headphones or earphones for a given period of time. Think of it as the sonic equivalent of breaking in a new pair of shoes– the idea being that the true character of your earphones will only surface after some robust exercise.

 

 

During the 15 years Shure has been actively selling earphones, its engineers have reached the same conclusion again and again: The sound produced by these tiny transducers during final testing is the same sound you’ll get in a day, in a year, and in five years … unless something goes wrong.

All of this variation gets at the real thing people are reacting to when they buy new head- and earphones: mental burn-in. If you’re used to dark-sounding headphones, neutral ones may sound bright at first until you get used to the new sound.

I did some research on the “Experts” and stumbled on this particular video that is actually good in terms of the headphone. You may find out how “burn-in” is stressed out. Anyways, Audio Street is a really cool headset and you may want to check it out. I definitely have it in my list of items to be bought next month. Amazon link to buy Audio Street headphone. 

Audiophiles will often apply their own burn-in technique to any number of music-listening devices: earphones, headphones, amps, speakers, even cables. With larger headphones, mechanical burn-in is supposed to describe the gradual settling in of the design parameters of the cone diaphragms (the things that vibrate back and forth to create the air pressure changes that we interpret as sound in our ears) into their intended or optimal state. After this period, proponents claim they are able to vibrate more freely, thus allowing for better sound.

What keeps this debate going is really the lack of quantifiable evidence debunking the advantages of burn-in. It’s kind of a Pascal’s Wager for audiophiles: It costs them nothing, it does no harm to the headphones, and you potentially have more to lose not believing in burn-in than you do believing in it.

It’s not.

Optimal burn-in times range from 40 to 400 hours, and the process itself can also take myriad forms. Manufacturers like Ultrasone offer specific burn-in times for their cans, but others are happy to leave the details to the true believers. Others simply prefer the soothing sound of rain sticks.

The company has an even longer history making microphones, which use the same technology as headphone transducers. “We’ve got a lot of data on those over the years, and we’re not convinced on mic burn in either,” Engstrom says.

Think about it this way: Why would any headphone and earphone manufacturer design and ship something that’s not already in its optimal state? People already have enough trouble getting a decent fit with their earphones (something that really does affect the sound quality). There’s the mind-boggling variation in performance that comes with the actual music files and equipment you use to listen to your music.

 

To be fair, the physical properties of any mechanical device can and do change over time. Whether those changes have a perceivable (and beneficial) effect, that’s another story.

As with many of the numinous subjects in the audiophile realm, this odd little custom sits squarely at the intersection of psychology, science, marketing, and that eternally subjective thing known as “sound quality.” And that makes it particularly troublesome.

Matt Engstrom, director of monitoring products at Shure, admits there is evidence that suggests transducers in larger headphones can experience burn-in, and that this could, in theory, produce different sound over time. Again, no one has shown this conclusively, largely because a) companies aren’t rushing to tell audiophiles they’ve been wrong all these years and b) there’s no single industry standard for testing headphones.

This much is known: When it comes to the tiny balanced armatures used in many earphones, there’s just not the same potential for mechanical deviation. We’re talking about things the size of a baby’s tooth. And unlike the large drivers in over-the-ear headphones, there’s just not that much room for things to change.

Shure has tested some thoroughly used pairs of its E1 earphones, which first launched in 1997. During the 15 years Shure has been actively selling earphones, its engineers have reached the same conclusion again and again: The sound produced by these tiny transducers during final testing is the same sound you’ll get in a day, in a year, and in five years … unless something goes wrong.

Please Stop ‘Burning In’ Your Earphones
Earphone makers seem to be either too polite or scared to say anything. Let me say it for them: Earphone burn-in is a bunch of hokum.