Are You Experienced?

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Headphones sound different from speakers. For different reasons, I like both, but all speakers come with one undeniable disadvantage: the room you play them in. I don't care if you're running pint-size Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a's or giant Wilson Audio Alexandria XLFs—they're at the mercy of your room's acoustics. Losses are inevitable.

Sure, some rooms are better than others, but their size, shape, and furnishings alter your speakers' sound in ways their designers can never fully anticipate, leaving it up to you to dial in the best sound you can. With headphones, those variables and uncertainties are much smaller—just pop on the 'phones and you're good to go. With them you'll hear more—a lot more—of what's really going on in your music.

One other thing: most over-ear headphones are full-range, single-driver designs that don't suffer from the losses associated with speakers' crossover networks. Take, for example, Sony's MDR-Z1R over-ear 'phones ($2299.99), whose frequency range is 4Hz–120kHz. Do you know of any single-driver loudspeaker that can do that? You may, of course, still prefer the sound of speakers, but the best headphones are more truthful messengers than the best speakers. There are fewer ways for the sound to go wrong.

Before you dash off a snarky letter to the editor, I'm not suggesting that you put your speakers on the curb, just that today's headphones are good enough that you should at least consider including a pair in your system. It's not an either/or choice—you can have both—and one thing's for sure: you can buy any of the world's best headphones for a tiny fraction of the cost of any speaker listed in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components"!

I'm not completely sure why, but it's been a long time since audiophiles gave headphones a fair shake. Sure, headphones are useful when speakers aren't available, or when traveling, and they're essential tools for recording and broadcast professionals—but headphones are the Rodney Dangerfields of high-end audio: they don't get no respect. That wasn't always true: Stax electrostatics were popular in the 1980s, the Sennheiser Orpheus HE 90 'stats from the mid-1990s were praised in the February 1994 issue of Stereophile, and I was a big fan of the first-generation 'phones from Grado Labs in the late '80s, each hand-crafted by Uncle Joe Grado and his nephew John. But all of that is ancient history.

And the pace of change is accelerating. The new surge in headphone tech is visible in the recent introduction of Audeze's iSine series of planar-magnetic in-ear headphones, with prices starting at a mere $399. Their sound is more dynamic and spacious than most in-ears I've heard, including ones that sell for upward of $2500. Then there are Shure's KSE1500 electrostatic in-ears ($2999), which John Atkinson swooned over in the November 2016 issue—and from what I know about AudioQuest's upcoming in-ear model, it's going to really shake things up. The sound quality of these 'phones wasn't available at any price even a few years ago, and I haven't seen this level of innovation and new ideas with loudspeakers in ages. Headphones are where the action is.

So I find it more than a little strange that when it comes to headphones, my boomer pals who are so heavily invested in all types of audiophilia seem oddly content with a pair of Sennheisers they bought when Reagan was in the White House. It's hard not to bust out laughing when these guys lose it over the prices of the Abyss AB-1266 ($5495) and Focal Utopia ($4000) headphones. Do they read the same magazines I do, in which reviews of $7000 phono cartridges are nothing special? Or reviews of the dCS Vivaldi SACD/CD transport ($41,999), or Bang & Olufsen's BeoLab 90 speakers ($84,990/pair)? Now those are what I call crazy expensive. Add up the prices of the top headphones from Abyss, AKG, Audeze, Beyerdynamic, Focal, Fostex, Grado, HifiMan, Oppo, Sennheiser, Sony, and Stax, and you'll see that all of them together sell for a fraction of the cost of Magico's Q7 Mk.II speakers ($229,000/pair).

Less exalted high-end headphones and headphone amps are still downright affordable by high-end standards. For around $2000, you can live large with a pair of Beyerdynamic T1 headphones ($1099) and a fully balanced headphone amp from Schiit Audio, the Mjolnir 2 ($849).

One by one, audiophiles are coming around. After my friend Bruce tried a few 'phones—Audeze's iSines and EL-8s, and AudioQuest's NightOwls—he said, "The EL-8s are sort of like a headphone cousin of my Avalon Eidolon speakers in terms of their emphasis on resolution, speed, and transparency." Bingo. He bought the Audeze EL-8s and couldn't be happier.

Are you worried that, with headphones, the sound will be stuck inside your skull? Granted, headphones can come off that way, but the better open-backed headphones let the soundstage bloom—it's not inside but around your head. With closed-back 'phones, you can seal out the noise of the outside world, or play music as loud as you want at 2am without disturbing your family.

It's worth the effort to search out the best of these headphones and hear them for yourself. There's more music in your recordings than you've ever heard through speakers.

If I've made you even a little curious about the latest, greatest headphones, check to see what your local dealer carries. Or get over to Axpona, CanJam, T.H.E. Show Newport, High End (in Munich), or the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest—any show that has a tasty selection of headphones to audition. Try 'em—you might like 'em!

sasami's picture

Headphone for me just a strange way of listening to music. The thing is you body don't feel the weight and you don't breath in the air of music. Unless the situation not allow I will choose speaker even it does not sound as dynamic and detail. Having said that I would say get a pair of easy to drive audiophile headphone for good reference of dynamic, detail and image to compare you speaker with and for those situations you can't use speaker.

To say the truth headphone gives me headache after an hour. If I put them on longer I will feel sick even after take them off for hours.

Golden Ears's picture

I wrote about this on head-fi a few years back.

Steve G says the room acoustics are taken out of the equation, this would be true for IEMs but part of the problem is the shape of our outer ear helps with imaging and so these normal auditory cues are gone.

And of course even if you use headphones that spray the sound off of your outer ear, you still are limited to the voicing of those particular headphones. For instance, the ultrasone house sound. And if your ears are oversized they may not fit within those ear cups. So you end up with a problem of Ear cup acoustics .

I see a few reasons why headphones have become popular. Portability for Millennials moving from home to home, using headphones at work to prevent interuption by co-workers. Etc. But the main reason headphones have become popular is more a function of changing architecture .

We now have many homes with "great rooms" (which are anything but "great" ) because they combine kitchens (noisy) and TV rooms with living rooms(noisy) and the architects have chopped off a corner here or there so there is only one wall long enough for a couch and really no optimal speaker placement position.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the Internet listening and private headphones on so many cell phones caused many peoples musical tastes to WIDELY DIVERGE – that they really can't agree on "common" music very much. Gone are the days when you could play ON SPEAKERS to a family the Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Who, The Doors Led Zeppelin, Boston, and have everyone like it.

So lousy acoustics caused by sheet rock and odd shaped rooms make headphones more attractive. Plus neighbor's tolerance for loud music in multi unit dwellings is pretty much gone because people expect you to blast music in your car only.

I'm not anti headphone . I have hosted headphone meets before

dalethorn's picture

For serious music listening, speakers have decades of head start and many, many times the number of adherents/demographic behind them. The times they are a'changing - rapidly.

Anon2's picture

Far from issuing a "snarky" letter to the editor, my comments to the prescient insights offered here are overwhelmingly laudatory. This writer has his finger on the pulse of music lovers and hi-fi enthusiasts. May the industry pay heed to the words written in this column.

The rationale for many to migrate towards headphones are manifest. In short, as one might read in a business periodical, "changing tastes and disposable income" are behind this change. Now, let's have at it.

Disposable Income:

I was a speaker guy all along. I wanted better speakers. I suddenly realized that getting out of lower-end but highly-rated speakers (more on this in a moment) would require one of two things. One: I could spend 4, 5 times what my admittedly entry-level speakers are, all to buy $2,000 to $3,000 per pair speakers that, based on my most charitable and generous assessments, only offered a marginal (let's say 20%-30% by my personal tastes) improvement in sound based on my own auditions at a dealer. Two: I could spend 8, 10 times my entry level speakers to buy $4,000 to $6,000 per pair speakers offering a more compelling sonic improvement.

Of course, to buy either of these scenarios of speakers, I would have been forced to contemplate the "hi-fi hierarchy," to which I continue to subscribe for its very logical construct and progression from source-to-playback-to-amplification-to-speakers. Buying $3,000 to $6,000 speakers, according to the "hi-fi hierarchy" would require similar, or greater, investments in playback and amplification gear. So, in the end, plumping for $3,000 to $6,000 speakers might entail an overall expenditure in ancillary gear of, $6,000 to $12,000. Since this total outlay of $9,000 to $18,000 has a midpoint just shy of what I spent as downpayment for my newest car 4 years ago, you can see the troubling economics of such an outlay. Add in 401(k) contributions, and the incessant rise in medical insurance, the economics get much worse. I am at a pretty good distance from the lowest and highest earners in this country; probably I'm closer to the high-end by a bit. Sorry, I am not going to do the "upgrade" just to "downgrade" my savings disciplines.

Changing Customer Tastes:

I spend a shrinking amount of time before my stereo systems. Why? Time constraints now grow beyond monetary constraints. I enter work at 6:00 am. I get home at 5:00 pm (give or take). After dinner, household chores, and a favorite TV show or 2, it's 8 hours, or less, before I have to "get up all, and do it again," as the great Jackson Browne once sung. Hi-fi gear in our house gets turned on Friday after work, and turned off Sunday evening. The rest of the time, it's all covered with old shirts (after allowing it to cool off). This schedule means that 6:00 am through 4:00 to 4:30 allows for headphone listening at work. And with great, and free streaming options available all day (like, headphones, a PC, and a portable USB-powered DAC/headphone amp, has become my "stereo" for most of my waking hours . You can take your system to work now; headphones win the day again.

The Solution, Headphones:

To solve my wants for better sound, a monetary budget constrained by my predilection for thrift, and a greater constraint of time, headphones emerged as the logical solution. I was never a can-guy. My listening on headphones, until recently, consisted of perhaps not a Regan-era set, but a Florida-2000-hanging-chad-vintage pair of headphones (which I just rehabbed with some new earpads).

I recently purchased two pairs of new headphones, for work and home listening; both are highly regarded models that have stood the test of time. They cost less, together, than what my speakers cost. I still use the older ones as work headphones whose theft or loss at work I could survive. Without even purchasing a dedicated home headphone amp, the benefits of headphones have brought many unexpected benefits. I can finally avoid the racket of A/C and outside noises in the summer. I can finally spot a poorly mixed recording in a way that would have required a dead-silent room, and a pair of speakers costing more than my aforementioned automobile.

As to the "small fractions" to which this writer referred, right again he is. I read a CNET article by this writer just yesterday. He compared three models of B&W speakers: 685 S2, CM6, 805 D3. An excellent pair of headphones, perhaps even two, could be purchased for the $700 which the 685 S2 costs. Make that two great headphones and a good headphone amp for what the $1,800 per pair CM6 speakers cost. Make that, without stretching it, a superb headphone amp, and three or four superlative pairs of headphones for what the $6,000/pair B&W 805D3 cost.

You can have great sound and still make 401(k) contributions, you can take great music to work, streaming has never been better and cheaper, you don't bother your neighbors or cube-neighbors, you can drown out picnics and pool parties all summer long: headphones make the mark on all counts. I hope the industry reads this column; it's a critical one that they ignore at their own peril.

MAbx's picture

I don't think anybody could have said it better!!

Kal Rubinson's picture

It may be heresy to say this but I do not agree that upgrading speakers necessarily requires any upgrade in associated equipment.

dalethorn's picture

Especially if the speakers are larger and more efficient.

Kal Rubinson's picture

In those cases, to be sure. However, even more generally, speaker choice and setup is more critical than amp choice (assuming adequate power).

Anon2's picture

You are right, you probably don't have to get better amplification and playback gear with a new pair of speakers.

But then we get back to the problem--for those of us constrained to low-dollar gear--that speakers alone, without investments in ancillary gear, won't move the needle all that much. You do the 4x to 5x costing speaker auditions I've done and, yes, it's better, but not by a lot. That's why I have sought the refuge of headphones for a significant, though enclosed, boost in sound.

You'd be better off taking a bunch of badly recorded source material to 1/2 Price Books, or put up for sale on Amazon, and getting better recordings.

I do agree with your assessment on placement of speakers. Buying appropriate stands for my speakers was one of the best, and low-dollar, investments I've made. If I had a bigger place, placement of speakers would provide even further benefits. If we had the living quarters that allowed show-level or dealer-room placement, the world would be a much better place for the hi-fi enthusiast.

So you can spend $2,000 to $3,000 bucks on new speakers and keep the rest of your gear. You'll get an improvement--an improvement that will leave you wondering if you would have been better off spending the money on better recorded materials or, heaven forbid, the flavor-of-the-month-streaming-download-option, with the associated monthly fees and/or waiting all day (and night) for your downloads to finish.

If you are a Stereophile guy (or gal), then sure, your dealer will spend all day (and night) showing you every conceivable combination of gear in his or her showroom, in hopes of getting a plug in these pages. If you are the rest of us, then I'd compare a dealer's time somewhat less than what we'd all get from our PCP or specialist, with 3 or 4 other patients waiting in examination rooms down the hall.

Without being critical of dealers and their time, most of us get a matter of minutes (without pushing our luck) to get 15-20 minutes of time to decide on an outlay for speakers in the thousands of dollars. For most of us, "see your dealer," is like seeing a prescription drug ad with the 14 paragraphs of fine-print of symptoms and side-effects, ending with a phrase to "see your doctor."

I sympathize for dealers, and for speakers in general. Speakers are a "tough sell," literally. Compared to most playback and amplification gear, speakers have some disadvantages from a manufacturing and inventory carrying cost perspective. Without having toured hi-fi manufacturing sites, it's a safe bet that speakers are probably the most human-labor intensive components, overall. While even "custom and handmade" amplification and playback gear may require manual labor, the circuit boards and metal stamping needed for their fabrication are far more machine-operated affairs.

Speakers, since we can't 3-D print them, require two hands, a spray gun, screwdriver, saw, bills of material, packaging, and shipping that are more complex. Speakers are bulky, delicate, and probably relatively prone to breakage in transit and storage. High mark-ups for speakers (i'd wager they are the highest in the hi-fi industry) only offset the inventory carrying costs of space, weight and breakage that they entail.

Whatever the supply chain and manufacturing costs are for speakers, they do incur a cost on the final consumer. These costs, if we are to close the circle, get us back to an expenditure of 4x to 5x for a modest upgrade versus an entry level pair, all for a very modest boost in sound. Customers, in the end, have a budget, and a more constrained one at that. This brings us back to the core argument of Mr. Guttenberg for headphones.

Headphones, even hand built ones, have few parts. They don't take up much space. They don't require large workshops. They don't require semi-truck load, but costly and riskier less-than-full-truckload (LTL) shipping like speakers do. They don't require a whole corner to be roped off in warehouses and stockrooms. Most importantly, they provide, dollar-for-dollar, pound-for-pound, much superior sound resolution and portability than most speakers .

Of course, if there's a low-risk path for upgrade for the consumer, then this is where this publication could provide a valuable service. Dealers don't want people there all day. Many people don't even have dealers. Stereophile has a growing opportunity to guide enthusiasts on the "how-tos" of upgrading. It's a lot tougher than you might think for many of us to gain this information.

Kal Rubinson's picture

You are right, you probably don't have to get better amplification and playback gear with a new pair of speakers.

That's all I am saying.


If you are a Stereophile guy (or gal), then sure, your dealer will spend all day (and night) showing you every conceivable combination of gear in his or her showroom, in hopes of getting a plug in these pages.

Dealers, generally, have no real interest in us although most are cordial.


That's why I have sought the refuge of headphones for a significant, though enclosed, boost in sound.

I am glad that you have found a good solution and do not dispute Steve's arguments or yours. Stereophile has covered headphones over the years and, of course, Inner Fidelity does a bang-up job.

However, because I find headphones intolerable and much prefer even very modest speakers, I will step aside.

dalethorn's picture

This is the perfect seque for Stereophile and headphones - in the late 60's I think, and continuing to the early 70's where I picked up on it, Gordon Holt described a "Beyer DT-48s with round cushions" as a class A or B product having "Extremely tight and well-defined bass" etc. etc. I bought one - couldn't believe just how tight that bass was - so tight that it could easily be missed. But things have improved since then.

dalethorn's picture

One interesting perspective on this is how speakers are generally preferred at home, if they can be played as loud as one wants and any time of day or night one wants, without problems. Go outside the home and the situation reverses, not so much because the speakers would cause a noise problem for other people in the vicinity, but because headphones will provide a superior experience there.

So you can see the practical limitations of speakers for high fidelity listening, but you also have to factor in economics - not just the cost of the ancillary gear, but the cost of having a room where you can play as loud as you wish, day or night. As time goes on, fewer people have that available to them.

misterc59's picture

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Guttenberg's article. My curiosity comes from the point regarding how a room affects the interaction of sound before it gets to the listener, which is quite correct, very logical, and proven. This made me ponder as to the interaction between head gear (whether the 'phones are in ear, on ear, or surround the ear) and the ear's physiology. Since everyone's ears are not shaped identically, would not the sound from a particular set of 'phones interact differently between individuals so each person may hear something slightly different, similar to having the same set of speakers set up in different rooms? Perhaps there are plenty of statistics out there already that I'm not aware of. I would think the head gear companies will have a lot of statistics to show any measurable differences on how sound eventually gets to the auditory canal. Perhaps the shape of one's ear is not of consequence, I don't know. I think it does. As to how much, that's another question. However, I'd just like to put this out there since I think this topic is relevant. And I'm curious.


dalethorn's picture

My experience has been that with the very large open-back headphones like the Sennheiser HD800, there will be less variability than with smaller or closed headphones in how each user hears them compared to live sound. In-ears are the most variable of all.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Custom in-ear headphones should minimize variable interactions as they bypass the pinna and the HRTF completely.

Johan Bottema's picture

My KEF XQ20 uniQ drivers are tested by audiomagazines as high-end in imaging & neutrality. In combination with my decent subwoofer and my NAD amplifier; I challenge anyone who claims that they need to pay more than $10000 to have enjoyable highend audio to a blind test. Lets face it that Audio recording is the bottleneck above a certain price range. Katy Perry's new album sound quality is appalling for instance. Its like driving a Ferrari in a queue. Just be glad that you don't spent > $10k on listening to a handful of recordings that may be worth listening high-end for.

georgehifi's picture

The biggest thing for me with cans, is not having a image in front of me that I can see, point at, and almost touch, the singer/s and instrument, placements with width and depth, even to the outside of the speakers.

This is missing with headphones, and your left to try to imagine it, in the space between the cans (your head) which just doesn't work for me.

Cheers George

dalethorn's picture

In many years of headphone listening, I never tried to imagine an "image" in front of me, I just accepted that different recordings have different soundstages, and few if any are perfect. But there are a few recordings I have (very few thankfully) that sound unnatural because a lead voice is way off to one side, or similar things. But again, extremely few - most of what I have is well-balanced.

georgehifi's picture

You don't have to "imagine" with a well setup speaker system it's there for your eyes to see, it's like being at the venue, but you don't get it with cans.

Cheers George

dalethorn's picture

I've had a lot of well-set-up speaker systems. Same difference.

Glotz's picture

He proves one of the central failings of headphones, but then lies below to state it doesn't matter... to him.

"It's like being at the venue, but you don't get it with cans"... agreed. That does not matter to him. OR should it matter to you, in his mind. Only frequency response and "THE SOURCE" matter to him. It's not about replicating the live performance, as all of the other people that listen to speakers usually hope to do. It's about accuracy! That's all that matters, that and graphs and numbers that validate his convictions.

Your pursuit of the live sound or the absolute sound, is 'irrelevant' to him, as he states for over 40, FORTY, posts here and over 10,000 words.

dalethorn's picture

Trolling doesn't prove anything for you, but my experience proves my case, at my website. However, you're welcome to prove your end by pointing to your own research and reviews.

donlin's picture

This is the best piece of audio journalism I've read in a long time. Loaded with clearly stated truth. After listening mainly to high quality headphones for the past 25 years, even the best speaker systems sound sluggish and unrefined. One of the best parts of attending audio shows is confirmation that I'm not missing a thing by sticking with good headphones.
I also appreciate Steve's mention of the original Joe Grado headphones. The Grado Signature HP-2 phones with Melos SHA-1 headphone amp was my first high end system in 1992.

Glotz's picture

25 years later and every single speaker manufacturer still makes crap that sounds sluggish and unrefined. Right. I wonder why they're still all in business?

Because we all love lies and bs, but you are going to set us straight on the "truth". GTH.

GeneZ's picture

"*You may, of course, still prefer the sound of speakers, but the best headphones are more truthful messengers than the best speakers. There are fewer ways for the sound to go wrong.* "

Well? I have never heard a live performance where I heard both the band playing in my head and hearing bass but not feeling it.

Though, I have to admit headphones will sound better in certain ways than mediocre systems playing with speakers that are not phase coherent.

dalethorn's picture

It's more complicated than that. For example, the deepest bass tones I feel on headphones, down to around 16 hz - I feel them but don't hear the tones. We only hear the bass tones down to about 25-30 hz as adults, but can feel the fundamentals easily with headphones. I'd suggest it's an extremely rare speaker setup that allows one to even feel a 16 hz fundamental on speakers. You'd need a room with at last one dimension of 35 feet and no large openings.

GeneZ's picture

16 hz? That is very rare to find on recordings. I think you must be listening digitally if that is the case? In my opinion, and as a musician, hearing deep bass is not simply about subterranean frequencies. Headphones are good. But, they are not the messiah for music lovers. I wish you well and hope you continue to find enjoyment with them. But, as for me? Being a musician, I long for that "you are in the room" feeling a good recording will give you. With headphones? Your head becomes the room. But? Enjoy! Let's not try to make the other envious of each other. Its just that what you prefer is not preferred by all. But, many others do. I prefer nearfield speaker listening. But! Those speakers must be phase coherent! Then you step into the best of both worlds of speakers and headphones in a certain way.

dalethorn's picture

I countered your notion about hearing bass but not feeling it. In my answer, 16 hz was just an example, and I could cite more examples. Pipe organs go to 16 hz with ease, and that's acoustic. Some orchestral instruments go to 27.5 hz, and that's certainly for most people more a "feel" than a tone, yet headphones make that very real. And don't forget what I said about room dimensions for bass. Headphones have very little issue with room resonance nodes in the bass. Perhaps if you had a few years of experience with some of the best headphones it would give you more insight into why so many extremely picky audiophiles love them.

PeterInVan's picture

I believe I am a typical retired boomer/audiophile. Downsized to an apartment, albeit with a well insulated listening room. Careful with my spending. Spent a couple of years learning about great headphones (LCD2F and Oppo PM-3), and tweaking my DAC and bi-amped tower speakers.

I now enjoy my KEF LS50W in a small 8' triangle with my LaZ-Boy. Perfect for difficult small rooms. Sold all the stereo gear.

Soundstage, bass, and ambiance are better than my headphones, which I only use when I need to isolate myself from outside noise, or respect for others late at night.

Conclusion: the KEF powered speakers are more enjoyable than my headphones.

dalethorn's picture

That LS50W is the hottest topic I've seen on Computer Audiophile.

Tony Dyson's picture

And the price / performance ratio keeps improving. What more could I ask?

Snowdog's picture

Nothing wrong with enjoying some peace and quiet with a nice pair of headphones. But you won't find any of the real Pro engineers using them to do a Pro mix. "Golden Ears" response above had it correct. The auditory cues are missing with headphones, amongst other issues. Pro studio engineers know this, and always mix on speakers (monitors). And if most pro mixes are being done by the pros on speakers, then why subject yourself to using headphones if you have a decent amp/speaker setup? If its a budget issue, or convenience issue (not disturbing others nearby), then it makes sense. Otherwise, you take the risk that the mix won't translate well to headphones, as if often documented. There is a reason the pros use speakers... your mileage may vary.

donlin's picture

You're on really thin ice using the work of most pro engineers as any kind of standard for good sound. It seems like whenever really good sounding recordings list the gear used in making them headphones are mentioned. I recall reading an interview with Bob Ludwig where he made a big deal out of listening on good headphones.

dalethorn's picture

True, and besides, given the preponderance of headphones today, the notion that mastering engineers ignore headphones is ludicrous.

GeneZ's picture

In the studio many of the musicians record while wearing headphones.
Why? I believe its for isolation of their performance. So they can hear themselves clearly and distinctly from the rest of the performance. But, real music is a blending of musical instruments into a stew .. a salad... where each musician is a part of the flavor and spice. Not to be eaten (heard) alone. Headphones are a tool in the recording process. What is being worked upon are details in the performance.

If my apartment did not have better sound insulation? I would be an advocate for headphones for sure. They can be a life saver. Even a marriage saver in some cases! ;)

Glotz's picture

He never said that. YOU did, once again twisting the argument to your bs ends.

Ludicrous indeed.

dalethorn's picture

Wow - playing attacker now, SIX days later. Hey, Elvis has left the building. Nobody's reading this anymore. (But I was right)

Snowdog's picture

My original post talked about mixing engineers, not mastering engineers. (Bob being a mastering engineer, receives a finished mix, done by the mixing engineers, who almost always prefer speakers as their primary mixing tool). Yes, every studio has headphones available. Bob and others use them to reference something once in a while, but its not their primary go to tool.

My post also referenced an earlier post about the missing auditory cues. Some of this is discussed at length in various publications. Below are excerpts from the Mixing Concepts/Tools from 2008:

"Mixing engineers work had to create sound stages in mixes using speakers. When these mixes are played through headphones,these sound stages appear completely distorted. While this does not seem to bother most listeners, most serious music buffs insist that listening to music via speakers is far more pleasing, largely due to the lack of spatial sense when using headphones.
Headphones can be great when dealing with frequencies and useful when treating certain dynamic aspects in a mix, but there are disadvantages in using them and they are almost useless for some mixing tasks.
As discussed, the spatial image created by headphones is greatly distorted and conventional tools make it very hard to craft appropriate sound stages on headphones. Any sound stage decisions - whether left/right or front/back - are better made using speakers. As depth is often generated using reverbs, delays, or other time-based effects, the configuration of these effects benefits from using speakers.
The lack of room reverb together with the close proximity of the headphones' diaphragms to our ear drums mean that ear fatigue is more likely to occur. At loud levels, headphones are also more likely to cause pain and damage to the ear drum more rapidly than speakers."

dalethorn's picture

I see little merit in trying to assert what the average mixing guy does, and how it might relate to audiophile listening to those recordings. But, I would like to know why people think that most recordings today ignore the massive preponderance of headphones, and instead mix them for less than one percent of their customers - i.e. serious audiophiles who have properly set up speaker systems and who sit and listen without distractions. I see a disconnect there.

Snowdog's picture

I agree that times are changing. And the industry needs to better consider headphones as a final delivery/listening medium, especially for audiophiles. But still, the preponderance of folks still listen (or hear the music) via some type of speaker system. Cars, Home, Bars, Offices, Radios.... speakers are still far and away the largest monitoring system out there. The point I tried to emphasize about why it matters what system the mixing engineer uses, is because its documented that mixing on speakers does not always translate well to headphones. If most stuff is still being mixed using speakers, it certainly makes sense to try and use speakers as your listening medium when possible.

dalethorn's picture

"...the preponderance of folks still listen (or hear the music) via some type of speaker system. Cars, Home, Bars, Offices, Radios..."

I fail to see what that has to do with creating a realistic hi-fi sonic image. There's no question in the experience of users of the better headphones that those headphones give a much more realistic experience than the speakers in cars, bars, offices, radios...

ottovonbismark's picture

Mixing engineers are musicians, and their concern is to record the music as accurately as possible - and so they mix on and for speakers. Not just any speakers either - studio monitor speakers are some of the best made. It is true that in the days of cassette audio in automobiles they would sometimes check to see that their mix sounded "good" by taking it to their car and playing it back there. I haven't been in the business for a number of years so maybe now they check their mixes on some cheap earbuds in the same way. And of course they sometimes check things on headphones - but good professional headphones to be able to exclude outside noises, but the final mix is I'm certain done on really good studio monitors - because they want the song to be as good as it could possibly be. So I doubt (and certainly hope) that songs don't start being mixed "for" earbuds or headphones. That's when I quit listening to new music.

dalethorn's picture

I think you're looking at this from a single narrow perspective - that you believe the mixing engineers ignore headphone sound entirely for their mixes. I think you'd better appreciate why so many very expensive headphones are being sold if you'd look at this from the other end, and ask how recording technicians are able to ignore 95 percent of their target audience. I'm about 95 percent sure they don't.

donlin's picture

It's really hard to believe most recording engineers' goal is to record music as accurately as possible. If so, they are routinely failing miserably. Outside of classical, some jazz and a small handful of examples in other genres accuracy is completely missing and replaced by compression, hyped bass and treble, synthetic sounding drums, etc.

Glotz's picture

As he always does, for anyone that disagrees with him.

Once again he claims that you disregard headphones entirely in the recording or monitoring chain, and you have explicitly stated that is not the case, that BOTH speakers and headphones have very real uses for monitoring.

Talk about falling on deaf ears.. he doesn't care a whit about your comments.

dalethorn's picture

Wow - you're on a tear today, posting angry comments left and right. But you fail to realize that all that anger doesn't equal one good informative post or link. Go for it.

GeneZ's picture


Glotz's picture

with headphones. I believe it has a direct correlation with the in-the-head soundstaging that headphones present vs. the performance of speakers (or the reference of live sound) in front of ones' self. This in-front presentation simply seems more like live music to our brains. Perhaps DSP used in headphone technology can change that, but I have not heard a convincing portrayal personally.

Many times when a top tier headphone throws a stage, we hear in our minds' eye a more accurate picture of the soundstage development, but many times when a sound or portion of music occurs in real space (from speakers), the ear hears it as more 'live' or the act of being produced rather than reproduced.

When I hear a cymbal tapped to the far left of the room (on a great speaker system), my mind wants to 'find' that sound in the that particular section of my room (as it would in a concert space or outdoors). My mind is not fooled when I listen to even top-tier headphones; I get the soundstage's details on a higher level, with more complete envelopment, but I simply am not fooled by the live experience by headphones in the way one can be with speakers.

The brain is fooled from what I consider a more 'truthful' facsimile, if not a more accurate one. Bipolar and Dipolar speakers tend to do this in free space with greater convincing, to my ears.

dalethorn's picture

I think experience makes a difference. When I went from mainly speaker listening to mostly headphones, I suppose there was a mental adjustment since there are big differences. Yet in spite of that, I have no issues today enjoying close-up live acoustic combos and playing the same type of music (sometimes the same artists) on headphones. Either one sounds perfectly natural.

ottovonbismark's picture

Although I have some what at the time I bought them were considered Sony's top of the line mixing headphones - I forget the model - and paid all of about $250.00, headphones have just gotten crazy - and I know it's mostly a life style thing for a generation that finds it normal to walk around staring at a tiny little screen all day. The thing that headphones will never have is real bass. If they can't move my pants legs, I'm not interested. To me music is more than an auditory sense, it's also a tactile sense - something you feel as well as hear. And there's no way you can get that using headphones. So when I was mixing a song I would occasionally put the phones on to check out something isolated from the outside environment, but as soon as I was satisfied with whatever it was that I was interested in that way off they came and back to the monitors. And $1000+ headphones? You gotta be kidding me. The profit margin on those must be unbelievable.
One confession I should probably make - I play bass guitar. That might have something to do with my dislike of listening to music on headphones.

Glotz's picture

Great example, Otto. The physicality of music suffers with headphones as well.

The 'fight or flight' reaction elicited from live music to our brains is something partially missing from headphones as well.

dalethorn's picture

This is true, if you can recreate such a realistic experience from a large percentage of your music, in your listening room. But as the average audiophile is further and further removed from that ideal, it becomes more a theory or legend than a reality. I would love to get some statistics from you on how many audiophiles are able to enjoy such an experience for a significant number of hours per day, or week. I'm betting it's a fairly small percentage. I've done the 'nearfield' thing with several small speakers, but that really wasn't satisfactory for dramatic music. I tried subwoofers, but they never were able to reproduce organ pedals realistically, and for whatever reason, never blended seamlessly with the midrange of the small speakers. To do the organ pedals realistically, you need a fairly large room with strong walls, and no large openings.

ottovonbismark's picture

You may have hit my head with a nail right there. Luckily it's got so many I hardly notice the new ones. What is "the average audiophile"? Does such a thing exist? Certainly we live in a ever changing world as well. I must admit to my personal circumstances and how they surely affect my perspective on this whole matter. I almost feel sorry for the writer when one of the magazine reviewers talks about setting up the latest piece of review equipment in his Brooklyn apartment somewhere. If that's where I had to listen to music my feelings about using headphones might be totally different then they are, but hey, I made some life choices, had a lot of chance events and happen to have been born where I was, the the parents I was, etc. etc. Before you start thinking I'm one of those born with a silver spoon it hasn't all been a bed of roses - for instance I was drafted in August of 1972 - the draft ended I believe in December - my draft number was 86 - they took individuals up to 95 before ending it. Had I known (we all thought the draft was over) I could have taken an extra semester to graduate from college - but I didn't and spent 6 years in the Army Reserves. Not a bad experience, good training as a medic. Anyway - getting a bit off subject.
When we built our current house on part of the 30 acres my parents had bought for their retirement home, we had a basement media room built under the middle of the house - basements are pretty rare in these parts (La Grange, Texas) but I realized the potential for a music lover. 14' X 22" underground with 8" poured concrete walls. When we did this in 1987 our audiophile card was still pretty small on two teachers salaries - our pride and joy was a pair of Klipschorns and a small McIntosh amp. But over the years we've done what most audiophiles do and slowly added until our current system. Still have the Khorns - but modified with Volti Audio mid horns driven by BMS 2" drivers and JBL tweeters. We just added Atmos to bring us to a full 7.1.4 system - all the surround speakers are Klipsch. It has a 109" screen and an Epsom projector for video. Now none of this is $25,000 stuff - just good equipment I've put together over 30 years. I even build my own subwoofers - a dual 15" EV system in a push/pull configuration to get maximum bass out of the smallest possible box. So yeah, I don't have much use for headphones to listen to wonderful music anytime I want - don't have to bother with the neighbors - biggest problem is getting heavy equipment down a spiral staircase. I tuned the room to taste with homemade panels on the walls. And of course - I'm retired - so I really can spend all day (yeah, right with a wife) if I want listening - but even before we retired I spent several hours most days down here. The biggest drawback is out here we can't get fast enough internet to stream reliably - like 5mbs! I can download from Hi-def sites if I let it run overnight doing the downloads! But I can't complain. So I may be a bit jaded on the side of speakers vs headphones - and I do like bass at 100 dB+ (I started playing in bands in high school, so my hearing is probably already shot - the wife hates my eq settings.) I guess the whole point is that it's a big world our there with room for all of us - This is my first adventure into forum writing - thanks for giving me a chance to share my views - and here's great listening to all.

dalethorn's picture

I wouldn't want to go off topic (heh), but I'm curious how you got the different speaker units sync'd for equivalent volume. I assume the Klipsch and EV's are highly efficient, but maybe all of your drivers are that efficient. I've heard that people write PhD papers on crossovers. And BTW, someone here noted that headphones are single-driver units per side, but there are many dual-driver headphones on the market, multi-driver IEMs, headphones with a standard driver plus balanced armature, and hybrid driver types.

ottovonbismark's picture

I left out some of the details as I thought my comments were getting too long considering I was already somewhat off topic. As I said, this is my first foray into this forum, or forums in general, so I'm sort of lost as to the unwritten rules for posting comments.

Greg Roberts who founded Volti Audio makes everything needed for his Klipsch upgrades, including crossovers.

His crossovers take into account the differences between the horns and speakers used vs the originals. In addition they give you the ability to add various amounts of boost or cut in the speakers to meet your particular taste. I don't know how familiar you are the Klipsch Heritage speakers like the original Klipschorns, but the Volti upgrades turn really good speakers into great speakers. For whatever reason, Klipsch has continued to use essentially the same components in their speakers since they were first made some 50 years ago. While great speakers,you have to admit that there have been a lot of advances in drivers since the 50's. True, they have made some changes over the years - but my 1979 versions used the same EV T35 tweeter and Atlas mid driver they had used for years, and continued to use for years. They also used the metal K400 horn with a 1" opening for a screw on driver forever. Volti developed a wooden horn with a 2" opening that can be used as a direct drop in replacement for original Klipsch K400. Combined with the BMS driver this greatly improves the midrange - consider the difference in area between a 1" opening and a 2" opening. Well, you can read all of this on the Volti web site, and I don't want to sound like nothing but an advertisement for them. (BTW I believe some of Volti's own speaker designs are being reviewed in Stereophile)
But I can see why you would wonder if using different drivers, horns, etc might have matching problems - and I'm sure with the original Klipsch crossovers they would - I just forgot to mention the upgrades also included a revised crossover. It is true all of the Klipsch Heritige speakers are extremely efficient due to their use of horns. The Klipschorns are rated at 104dB/W throughout their audio range - one of the reasons they are so popular with low wattage amplifier users, typically tube users. But they require corner placement for correct use. On the other hand I'm using a Denon receiver that is rated at somewhere around 100 W/channel and for direct two channel listening a NAD M22 with over 200 W/channel. When I said I often listen to things loudly I wasn't kidding. But I've had to play standing in front of Marshall stacks back in the old days when the PA only carried the vocals - the rest of the volume came from the stage - where it often got really loud.
I also have Audyssey MultEQ with the Denon receiver to eq the entire system. Hopefully that covers your question.

As to your comment on headphones, there are certainly cans out there with multiple drivers, both cone types and armature using models. I think I read somewhere recently about a 9 armature model. I'd love to have to develop the crossovers for those! Luckily (?) with DSP you're not stuck using capacitors and induction coils for crossover develop. It's a new world out there and it's getting hard for this geezer to keep up. I guess I'll just hide down here in my basement and crank it up. Life is good.

dalethorn's picture

Thanks - I never had the Klipschorns, but I got a 2-page handwritten letter from Paul himself in the late 70's when I enquired about the K'horns' acoustic wattage. I've spent time in a commune where the principals had a pair of the Voice of the Theatre speakers, and that was much fun playing Suffragette City etc.

ottovonbismark's picture

Paul was quite a guy. I really missed it when my brother lived in Las Cruces and was not aware of the museum to him there. On the other hand we did get a private tour of the factory in Hope, Ark. in 1979 set up by our retailer in San Antonio (who we got the Khorns from). As we were leaving Paul drove up in his Mercedes but we didn't get a chance to talk with him. We did get a Klipsch T-shirt that had a drawing of him and the word "Bullshit!" on it. Of course that little factory that made all their speakers is hardly the center of the huge corporation Klipsch has since become. I don't know if it is true or not but I heard that the Heritage speakers are still made there the same way they were in 1979, by hand.

I always wanted a pair of "Voice of the Theaters". A while back I found a pair of the multi-segment aluminum horns but never had the time to do anything with them and they went to eBay. I first saw a pair at a theater in Lansing, Michigan while watching "Jaws" when it first came out. The things one remembers. I think that's where I first found my interest in horn speakers. In the early 90's I built two pairs of the EV TL4025 15" W-bins when I was doing pro sound. Now those put out some serious bass - cut off was fairly high by home theater standards but fine for pro sound. In fact I used their T series plans with the S200 equalizer as a starting place for my dual 15" push-pull subs currently in my home theater. I always loved EV because they put out plans and information for the DIY'r for any out of production speakers - and would help you on the phone if you had a question.

Glotz's picture

Subwoofers have come a looooong way since the 60's...

georgehifi's picture

Also beside headphones not being able to paint an image in front of you with depth and width to see with your eyes.

They also cannot do internal organ rumblings of low bass and dynamic impacts that hit you in the chest like a hammer.

So they do miss out on so much of what makes listening to speakers more than just an aural experience, they miss the visual and the sensory body vibrations as well.

Cheers George

dalethorn's picture

I've attended many pipe organ recitals, and in supporting one large church in Cleveland, I was able to get the organist to play some of my favorite Bach. The only speakers that played those deep organ pedals I couldn't afford, nor could I afford to buy a room large enough with strong walls and small openings that would sustain those waves. But my headphones reproduce the deep organ pedals realistically, since my chest was never really involved at the recitals (and I'm glad for that!)

Glotz's picture

And I do not listen to pipe organ much. But, in your example, you do show it is possible to derive other forms of sensory cues from speakers that headphones cannot. The physicality of the live event has many cues that other reproductions do not. Time and research will continue to address those areas.

I do not believe that because headphones do a few things right, and speakers do other things right that either is invalidated, but rather each have strengths and weaknesses, inherent to their designs (or at least the current state of the art).

dalethorn's picture

"....but rather each have strengths and weaknesses, inherent to their designs (or at least the current state of the art)"

Reminds me of a Star Trek episode where Spock was on trial on a Romulan ship, and he was given a last statement before execution. He began rattling off some statistics as a delay tactic, and the commander said "Spock, you're just stating the obvious - get on with it."

As to strengths and weaknesses, when I sit down to a Bruckner symphony I'm mentally prepared for two hours of bliss, contemplating tone and texture, rhythm and dynamics, and the conductor's own interpretation of the music. I never find myself contemplating how different it would sound on speakers, but then if I had that option, I wouldn't be contemplating how it might sound on headphones.

Glotz's picture

you devoted a paragraph to say "get on with it". Ironic. (And you say Spock was going to die? Understandable why he chose to be verbose...)

You disregard my original points about Bipolar, Dipolar and Omnidirectional speakers producing sound much differently than monopoles or headphones, open or closed. I feel this approach is much closer to live sound.

Sound produced by these types of speakers have a tendency to sound more like live music as they fill the acoustic space with height and width information that I have not found headphones to produce. I still contend that the radiation pattern of a great bipole or dipole still brings listeners closer to what our ears hear as a 'flight or fight' reaction that I have never heard from headphones as well. I mean, we are trying to replicate sound in a live space as the absolute sound. I still think speakers are trying to do a few facets of live sound that headphones are not even trying to attempt. And I really don't care if these effects are additive or not; they convey the absolute live sound better.

We know the sound (of headphones) exists in our heads, even if the presentation appears to be 'out of the head'. Will the ear demand us to quickly turn our attention left or right when we are listening to headphones as it does with speakers? Some may attribute this to dynamics or the abrupt stop/start of a fast, highly resolving system, with correct time and phase delay, but I think there is more, despite not being able to pinpoint the intangibles with speakers' reproduction. And I do believe headphones never fool the listener like multis' do.

If one had the chance to own 6-figure speakers or the best 5-figure headphones (and the required ancillary electronics for both), I would surmise that 90% of the listeners would prefer the speaker set up for the scale and majesty of a live-concert feeling. Sound waves bouncing off surfaces have a way of constantly commanding the brain to pay attention.

There is definitely something coming together, where sound waves affect the skin, internal organs and our brains that cannot be explained by our ears hearing alone. A twenty-year research process to understand how ultra-high frequencies cause beta waves to tell the brain to relax just was published (with a link provided by Stereophile). This means we are still discovering how the brain works on greater bandwidth. I think we still have much to uncover about free-space sound waves affect the brain, our body and our ears.

dalethorn's picture

Some of those points may be valid, but room smear, resonances, and a dozen things I don't even have the technicals for alter the otherwise rosy picture for speakers, ignoring cost of course. I've had Advents, Rogers, Dahlquist, FMI and others in a dozen different rooms - all very unique experiences, none really ideal even with EQ. Way back when one of the audio journals asked a bunch of speaker mfrs. what speaker would be best in what room, or conversely what room their particular speakers would work best in, Roy Allison famously said that "A good loudspeaker is a good loudspeaker in an auditorium or a broom closet". It sounded cheerfully optimistic at the time, and very memorable. But having been there, I don't agree. Give me speakers and I'll design a room for them, to let them "breathe" and provide the level of drama they're suited for. With good headphones, good recordings, and a good equalizer, I have very little incentive to get back to any of that, except as a job, or for adventure and drama I could find some other way, a lot cheaper. But that's not to say I don't understand others who want to dive in - I did it to an extent.

Glotz's picture

I don't think he was thinking correctly, in hindsight. Understanding of acoustics has come a long way and designs of speakers like dipoles and bipoles have no place in a broom closet.

I think he was trying to sound authoritative and using his clout a successful designer to make a statement, and an incorrect one at that.

i do agree with you that if a listener is trying to get the best for his money, a pair of headphones and a great head amp is the way to go. There is no comparison to speakers in the cost to performance ratio.

I still think there are a number of positives that a well-designed speaker performs vs. the even greater number of positives that great headphones exhibit. Speakers do have more negatives, but some of those positive qualities bring greater enjoyment (to me) and outweigh their negatives.

It's all about what trade-offs one values personally, over another set.

dalethorn's picture

"It's all about what trade-offs one values personally, over another set."

Money. The lack of it, needed to achieve what one consciously knows is ideal (ideal enough, tho' not perfectly or ultimately ideal), makes one lie to onesself in settling for less and being happy and satisfied.

Should I invest in close (row C, D, E....) seating at the Met or my favorite symphony hall, and listen to the grand performances live and close, then I don't think I could ask for better. Hi-fi, as Gordon Holt would undoubtedly agree, is making that happen to the maximum extent in one's home. To enjoy something far worse in one's home after spending tens of thousands of dollars on gear, one has to lie to onesself. That should make an interesting philosophical discussion.

dalethorn's picture

Oh BTW, I'm so used to the visceral experiences I have with headphones, I take certain things for granted without further thought. For example, I was playing a piano caprice by Joel Fan today, and when he hit a particular strong chord, I felt an impact of sorts in my gut. It had to be a mental transference of course, and even that might not have had the same impact without my prior listening to live piano, but it happened and it's a realistic experience.

donlin's picture

I know what you're saying. I've experienced the same thing with headphones.

GeneZ's picture

Record just for headphones?..... That would mean recording would have to be recorded with a binaural dummy head ....

It might prove odd sounding to the millions of speaker owners that are not even serious audiophiles.

look here:

Maybe, there might be two offerings of the same recording? One designed for a natural soundstage with speakers, and one with a dummy head with a mic in each ear.

dalethorn's picture

No, that's a false dichotomy. If you look into the late 1950's stereo recordings for Living Stereo and other labels, described here in Stereophile, which use simple 2-mic techniques, you will discover that those that sound really good on speakers sound just as good on headphones. No need for binaural recording.

As an aside, I have not yet heard in 45 years of headphone listening, a really great binaural recording. But the best stereo recordings are wonderful on headphones. For example, the beautifully remastered Duke Ellington Indigo double CD - it's marvelous, and reviewed here as I remember.

GeneZ's picture

2-mic recordings are not the same thing as binaural recordings. Binaural technique attempts to recreate how things are actually heard by a human head = headphones. 2-mic techniques are a means to recreate left and right channels in a different way. 2 mic recordings when done well sound good just the same. Sounding good, and recreating the event are not the same things. Nit picking aside.. you probably just have earphone DNA. We can both love sports. But, you may love basketball and I love baseball. Yet, we both love sports in that sense... So is it with music many times. Those who like rock, and those who love classical, both are music lovers. c'est la vie. You prefer headphones. Not all will.

dalethorn's picture

Wrong again. Here's an analogy: A friend who leads a photo club asked my advice on a mirrorless camera. I did some research first, then gave some good advice that he followed. He then asked about my current interests, and I described my experiments with long-zoom lens cameras. Somewhere along the discussion he became defensive and said "Well, you prefer zooms and I prefer prime lenses", and he stopped talking. But he misunderstood - I was merely exploring the genre with enthusiasm. Same with headphones. I CAN enjoy speakers greatly, but due to circumstances, I use headphones now. However, I don't make excuses for "headphone sound", nor do I pine for what I ostensibly am missing with speakers. What I am telling you is that if you became sufficiently experienced with headphones, your brain would fix the picture, just like your brain learned to see right-side-up when you were a baby.

Anon2's picture

Since purchasing, at last, two good pairs of headphones, I have yet to test them with RCA Living Stereo or Mercury Living Presence recordings. I will do just that this weekend.

Beyond the 2-microphone experiment between headphones and speakers, there's an even better one. Have you tried your test on the Mercury Living Presence "single-mike" recordings of the 1950s? I'll make that part of my weekend test.

There's nothing like the Antal Dorati or Rafael Kubelík Mercury Living Presence recordings. It will be interesting to sample these on some good headphones.

If I recall correctly, that microphone was hung 18 feet above the conductor's podium in Orchestra Hall Chicago for the Rafael Kubelík recordings.

dalethorn's picture

I like the suggestion - any specific recordings you recommend?

Anon2's picture

Here are a few suggestions from my archive:

For RCA Living Stereo, here are two of my (and the critics') favorites:

Respighi, Pines and Fountains of Rome; Debussy, La Mer; Reiner, CSO.
Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade; Stravinsky, Song of the Nightingale; Reiner CSO

For Mercury Living Presence, here are two favorites:

Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake; Antal Dorati; Minneapolis Symphony (single-mike in Northrup Hall)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Francesca da Rimini, Prince Igor Overture; Antal Dorati; Minneapolis Symphony, LSO.

The Prince Igor Overture on Mercury Living Presence I can state is an example of some the finest sound engineering I have heard, ever.

dalethorn's picture

Been searching for nearly 2 hours, finding only one info-site that spells out the recording details, but in the cases I found, they didn't differentiate between mono and stereo. Went to HDTracks, and there are album cover photos that say Mercury Living Presence, with no mention of stereo, yet in the details the recording dates are 1964 to 1966. I've found one mono album so far on HDTracks, but I may use another download site if I get time.

dalethorn's picture

Finally I managed two albums from HDTracks - Respighi, Church Windows and Roman Festivals from 11/54, and a Tchaikovsky 1812 and Capriccio Italien from 1954-55. I didn't sample them in advance, and the Respighi turned out not good with more of an early 1940's sound. The Tchaikovsky was much better, obviously mono but with good dynamics and little to no distortion. I've still heard better mono on headphones, so I will try to find the recordings you suggested.

dalethorn's picture

Final report here. I downloaded 3 of the mono Mercury Living Presence mono albums, and while some are much better than others, the best (Swan Lake is one) still have a good bit of that "bottom of the barrel" sound, which is very much centered between my ears and behind my eyes. I do not get that at all with stereo sound, and I have no doubt that it's because my brain gets all of the stereo/phase/timing cues from the left/right tracks, and does whatever transform or conversion is needed for natural sound. My educated guess is that one would need to focus their hi-fi listening exclusively on headphones for a good amount of time, and just as important, make sure to EQ out any significant colorations, which can have detrimental effects on the soundstage.

Anon2's picture

Did you try the Ma Vlast recording with Rafael Kubelik and the CSO?

That one was a single-mike Mercury Living Presence. The CSO radio broadcast explained that one in detail once before playing it on WFMT.

Another mono classic is the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 with the Leningrad Philharmonic, directed by Kurt Sanderling. This one is on DG. This recording is known for its artistic merit more than its sonics. You might like it.

Another recording, getting away from classical, that I know is mono is the Frank Sinatra Sings Only the Lonely. This recording has some string playing with a really nice glow. It is a classic from Capitol Records. You might already have that one.

I'll mention others in another thread if I can recall any others.

dalethorn's picture

I haven't gotten any Kubelik yet. I'm still listening to the Swan Lake, getting a sense of mono on my various headphones. As I noted elsewhere, I have no problem hearing a normal live-music soundstage with all of my headphones and most of my music tracks - all in stereo, and part of the reason is I've EQ'd each headphone for its most natural sound. My EQ targeting starts with test tones, correcting peaks and suckouts to a reasonable degree, then correcting any remaining colorations to get that natural sound. It's tedious but not difficult, to make a headphone sound approximately like live music, and it doesn't matter what your hearing is like as long as it's in the normal range - you just keep at it until they sound the same, more or less.

But now with these mono recordings in particular, the soundstage is gone. I suppose that's what some people hear with headphones even on stereo music tracks - no soundstage - nothing except what I hear with mono tracks. I'd hate to have that problem if I needed to depend on headphone listening, but fortunately I got past that many years ago.

Still, I have mono recordings that have a sense of soundstage and "air", but I don't know why. They're not the old-timey fake stereo that some labs put out decades ago - these are still mono, but the Swan Lake has none of that. It sounds center-head, and nearly lifeless. The instruments have good dynamics, and they're easily identifiable, but the whole thing lacks in tone and color, regardless of headphone.

If you haven't heard the remastered Duke Ellington Indigos double CD featured here a year ago or less, get it and listen to the vocal track Autumn Leaves, in French and English. It starts in mono - a lo-fi mono even, and then breaks into a glorious stereo sound that's to die for. Most of the tracks on Indigos are that way. The stereo Dorari doing the Prince Igor track may be as good but I haven't gotten that into the queue yet.

dalethorn's picture

Reporting back on the Prince Igor Overture - the soundstage, the placement and depth of the instruments is exceptional. To think that this is nearly 50 years old .... maybe this is an example of why niche labels and artists/engineers will always produce the best results, on average.

GeneZ's picture

Maybe you're brain did. I was born tubes. ;)

dalethorn's picture

Tubes (some call them 'Valves') are an amazing thing. In spite of having several good solid state amps in the past few years, I purchased a $120 tube amp from Massdrop a few months ago, and wow! What an amazing experience in "liquid" sound it was. Now I can't speak to "speed" or "detail" like you see so much on headphone specialist sites, but still, an awesome experience.

Anon2's picture

I'll leave this parting thought on this discussion thread. My speaker-skepticism (though not rejection) hinges on the thoughts of this 2008 Stereophile interview.

I have posted this one from time to time. As we are now almost 9 years from this interview, I'd still wager that much of what was discussed here, vis-a-vis the speaker industry, remains true. Please read on and make up your own mind:

dalethorn's picture

Interesting article. I didn't know that sealed boxes (like "air-suspension" speakers?) were best for accuracy and detail at low frequencies. Back in the 70's when Gordon Holt was testing speakers, he seemed to get the best deep-bass detail with transmission-line speakers, like Irving Fried produced. The Magicos are quite expensive. Good to know that someone solved the loose-screw problem. I wonder if anyone has done as well regarding the screws and other sealing materials, with cheaper non-metal-box speakers?

Vai82's picture

This is a one-sided view on the subject.
Here is a much better article from one of the leading experts in the HEADPHONE-community:

dalethorn's picture

Disagree. For example, if hearing is turned off completely, the "tactile sensations" of speakers will scarcely be noticed, let alone be relevant. Experienced headphone users get all the tactile they need through their ears. Same for the argument about "natural hearing in space" - you literally see upside down, but your brain flips the picture. Experienced headphone users' brains make the adjustments to the sonic picture accordingly, and that doesn't even address the poor facsimile that small-medium speakers (the overwhelming majority) make of a real experience of live music. I wouldn't say that Tyll totally lacks experience in headphone listening, it's just that his skills are mostly in workbench testing, and he lacks understanding of how humans interpret and adapt to the various artificial sound fields they experience from audiophile speakers, headphones, radios, TVs, and so on. -- Edit: One clarification: The missing info from a lo-fi radio broadcast that's "filled in" by the brain which remembers or imagines the missing info, is not the same thing as the brain reconstructing the soundstage from info that IS present in the sonic image.

Anon2's picture

Speakers have their place. And perhaps, unwittingly, the balance of this thread has attained a balance of tone that we might construe as "anti-speaker." Your contributions, as others, are critical in this discussion; it's a discussion that we should hope the industry and dealers are watching.

The points raised in the Inner Fidelity are valid ones. People might agree or disagree with them, but the points are well taken.

I don't plan on getting rid of my speakers. However, for me at least, headphones have filled some critical gaps--gaps that otherwise might result in my partial abandoning of music for large stretches of the week.

1. Rooms: This is the biggest economic constraint of them all. My prediction is that, whether we like it or not, more and more Americans will find themselves living in multi-family dwellings. Speaker listening, except for the wealthier, will become more of a monitor/stand-mount one. Also, depending on concrete or frame construction, end-unit or hallway-unit, listening will probably become a more low-volume one, lest your neighbors and community's finest intervene.

2. Portability/Time Constraints: Many of us spend long hours at work. Streaming music options through phones and computers, free or fee-based, and superbly curated music programs from overseas all support a movement towards headphones for working hours. This is a good development. Longer hours for many of us mean that our main systems remain turned off or unused during the week. Headphones are filling a non-audio gap of time constraints that are growing in this country.

3. Privacy: This is related to the "room" part of my remarks. I live above a swimming pool and near a major interstate in a large building. We either have to open our sliding door, or have to turn on A/C during summer months. Headphones, and smaller room--too small for speakers--are all that I have to drown out the noises of summer. Winter brings less outdoor noise, and closed doors and windows. Speakers find more use for me in these months.

4. Cost to Performance Ratio: I recently purchased headphones because I wanted to stay engaged in this hobby and get new types of gear. Lower end speakers--as our writer of this article stated in his recent "Jana interview"--are better than ever. High-end speakers (above $5,000 per pair, let's say) are excellent. Between $1,000 and $5,000, by my experience (others are free to disagree) brings a lot of speakers that offer incremental improvements in sound over superb entry level models. So we can do a couple of things: 1. buy $5,000/pair speakers and keep our entry-level gear, but does that make much sense? 2. We can buy $5,000/pair speakers, buy ancillary gear to get the full benefit of expensive speakers. But then we are looking at an overall investment of $10,000 to $15,000 or more.

Many readers of this publication can and are doing this; I can't and won't do it. The Inner Fidelity article did not specify how expensive the speakers were to which he was referring. Sure, a pair of Wilson Alexias might surpass some Sennhesier HD800s in a good room with great gear. Picking an excellent, time-tested pair of headphones for $200 to $500, versus trading in $700/pair speakers for some costing $3,000/pair, and all for a marginal improvement in sound, becomes a much tougher sell for many of us.

I agree with your points, but I'd say that the speaker industry has to up its game in the $1,000 to $5,000 pair range. There are some nice speakers in this price range. The B&W CM5 and the KEF R300 are great examples of speakers that are easy to drive and are well-built.

Other brands (and we'll not name names here) bring a much less compelling offer to the table. I have listened to "top rated" stand mounts, costing around $3,000 per pair that weigh about 15 pounds. Really? We're going to spend $3,000 for a speaker that has as much enclosure mass as one that costs $700? I don't think so.

Another model--which I almost bought--is well built, offered the aforementioned marginal improvement and sound, and cost almost $3,000. Putting two and two together, I concluded that a good deal of the near $3,000 per pair consisted of a complex supply chain and logistics, due the nation's location. I sympathize with the hard work of this company. I sympathize with the fact that it probably takes 4-5 touches in their supply chain, consisting almost entirely of costly less-than-full-container and/or less-than-full-truckload shipping, with shipping agents and warehousers each taking their cut along the way.

Speakers may beat headphones on the sonics. In a shipping and handling sense, headphones knock it out of the park. US headphone manufacturers can, and probably do, just ship out their wares via FedEx or UPS to their wholesalers and retailers. Dealers just throw them on a shelf where they don't get in the way.

European makers of cans, like Sennheiser, probably just throw their wares into an air freight shipping bin. A day or two later these phones are probably in an office-sized backroom in the US manufacturer's facility. A day later, the cans are out the door again, via FedEx or UPS to the retailer or final consumer.

Headphones are probably up there with grocery items for quick and efficient shipping and handling. Consumers, retailers, manufacturers all reap the rewards of the light weight and the just-in-time manufacturing and logistics of headphones.

I could go on more, but will not. Speakers are an integral part of our systems, even for us who are gravitating towards headphones. Speaker makers have the unenviable task of improving their offerings in the $1,000 to $5,000 range. They have made great products for under $1,000. But putting a nicer veneer, and a couple of sticks of bracing in the same model, and charging $1,000 to $5,000: I'll wager that I'm not the only person who views this "value proposition" with greater skepticism each day. (We'll be nice and say that in addition to the veneer and a couple of sticks, they use drivers that have a couple more strands of wiring, a razz-ma-tazz piece of some sort of material, and "high grade" capacitors, that cost a few bucks more at wholesale prices. The answer remains much the same).

Your points are good ones, though. This is an important discussion and everyone has something to contribute to how we make this hobby accessible to all enthusiasts.

dalethorn's picture

I've played the speakers versus headphones game for 45 years, and I can tell you that 45 years ago when I first subscribed to Stereophile, that only the largest most expensive speakers of the time could reproduce orchestral sound realistically, and only in a room whose dimensions were large enough to sustain the deep bass sound waves. The room had to have strong walls and no large openings, otherwise the deep bass would be greatly weakened. Subwoofers don't help. Today in 2017, things haven't changed. There are more options for speakers, but fewer options for rooms, unless you find a house you can afford with an appropriate room. Young people who are tight on money are easily led to believe that they can get that realistic sound for $2000, $4000, $6000 - whatever the cost is, but in the end they have to settle for not-realistic sound because the biggest factor is the room.

A funny thing, on a related note: In Sept. 1981 a ~5.1 earthquake occurred off the L.A. coastline, and there were people at Universal Studios on the Earthquake simulator ride who were suddenly startled by the real thing. It made quite a story in the L.A. press, about the difference between the simulator and the real thing. But earthquakes like that one are experienced as ultra-deep bass sound waves - a topic explored well by AES guru Richard Heyser. It's possible to get a real sense of this on certain headphones, but fewer than a handful of audiophile speaker users will ever experience anything close to that, and I'm not speaking of subsonics, just music.

dalethorn's picture

"....And perhaps, unwittingly, the balance of this thread has attained a balance of tone that we might construe as "anti-speaker.""

A pro-headphone article and discussion is not anti-speaker, it's pro-headphone. We understand this.

Vai82's picture

Sorry dalethorn,
you are trying so hard to ignore the disadvantages of headphones that i can't take it seriously. English is not my first language but i will try to explain it. Please forgive me if i made spelling mistakes and please don't take it personally!

You said "I CAN enjoy speakers greatly, but due to circumstances, I use headphones now". Are you forced to listen to headphones due to a lack of listening room or due to your family? Maybe that's the reason your trying so hard to ignore it?

I love both, speakers and headphones for what they are, but many people in the headphone community can't accept the PHYSICAL FACT that listening to headphones is an artifical way of hearing sounds. Your example "you literally see upside down, but your brain flips the picture" has nothing to do with that because that's hard wired in our biological system like it is hardwired that sounds coming to your ears will be changed by your HRTF and be changed because of the direction they are coming from. And every sound coming from real instruments/voices will be heard by both of your ears. Something that is partial or completly missing when you listen to headphones.
"For example, if hearing is turned off completely, the "tactile sensations" of speakers will scarcely be noticed, let alone be relevant" is also not true, it can't be. It's sound pressure hitting your body, simple physics! Of course you feel it even if you don't hear it. To experience the full power of music you have to include your biggest sensory organ, your skin and your whole body, not just the small part around your ear.

The point that room acoustics are always bad is also wrong. Many people in the High-End community could afford to have an anechoic chamber but nobody uses one to listen to music. Records are made for loudspeakers in rooms and you need some kind of reflection to make it sound naturally. Of course the rooms have to have a good acoustic and that's not easy to achieve but good loudspeakers in a very good room will always sound more realistically than headphones. And to say headphone don't have problems with reflections is also not true. Early relections between the skull, driver, pads and cups will mess up your mids and highs and you won't have a clean transient response. That's the reason why so many people in the headphone community are never satisfied with the highs of their headphones. By the way, it won't match your personal HRTF like the way a neutral loudspeaker will. Concerning mids and highs of loudspeakers the direct sound is much more important than the sound of reflections from the room because of the small wavelengths and the pretty long delay the sound have before it reaches your ears( of course with proper positioning ). But a room can mess up your bass response and that is really a disadvantage of loudspeakers and maybe a reason people prefer headphones when they don't have a very good room. Boomy bass has the tendency to mask mids and highs and that can be a problem, no doubt about that.

You pretend that with enough experience the physical limitations of headphones will disappear like some kind of religious awakening. Sorry, that's not possible. You can get used to listening to headphones and your brain can fill some missing informations but it will never be like the real thing! Of course people can prefer headphones, particulary when compared to loudspeakers in mediocre rooms. That's fine, everybody has their own preferences. I also love headphones for their highly detailed presentation but i don't ignore their limitations.
I think many people in the headphone community either can't listen to loudspeaker because of the already mentioned reasons or like to pretend to have the absolute best, something that is much harder to have when you listen to speakers because of the much higher prices. I think many people have some kind of resentment towards speakers and they can't admit the limitations their headphones have.
In the end we should appreciate speakers and headphones for their individual strengths, accept their weaknesses and enjoy the music which is the most important thing!

dalethorn's picture

I already covered this, but I'll go over this point by point so you can understand. And don't quote me selectively out of context - get the whole message.

1) The physical fact is that sound is all that matters in hi-fi reproduction. If I depended on a "feel" of sound pressure hitting my body when listening to live music, I'd have to give up live music, because "feel" is a rare thing, and of no consequence. Unless you're a gamer - just a guess.

2) The soundstage of virtually all recorded music is as fictional (a facsimile) on speakers as it is on headphones.

3) The problem most speaker users have with headphones is that they're "tuned in" mentally to speakers, and so headphones sound different to them (duh), and they never adapt. That's a user problem, not a headphone problem.

4) The problem many users have with headphone soundstage, *when* they actually give it a good effort, is the headphone tuning has aberrations that are more serious than speakers, simply because the headphones are much closer and more detailed. Equalize it, to remove the "constrictions" and other such issues, and the soundstage is restored.

5) $5000 to $55000 stereo headphones are all the evidence one needs to prove the point - money talks and (whatever) walks.

EDIT-1: The "hardwired" claim is false. The brain turns the picture upside down because the human system senses it's the right way to see based on turning one's head, reaching toward things, etc. Proof of that is the experiments that had people wearing glasses that flipped the picture upside down, and their brains made the reversal in a short time. So their lenses saw upside down, their brain flipped that, then the glasses flipped it upside down again, and their brain compensated. NOT hardwired.

EDIT-2: "Every sound coming from real instruments will be heard by both of your ears". Actually, the microphones pick that up and store it on the recording, so my headphones pick it up from the recording, NOT from a "room remix".

EDIT-3: I never claimed that room acoustics are always bad, even though they're not really good. What I did claim was the absolute fact that you won't get bass reproduction below the lowest resonant node in the room. Headphones don't suffer from that, unless of course the design is more economical and bass is allowed to roll off, to save money.

EDIT-4: "You pretend ..... religious awakening" etc.: That's pure trolling. If you don't have facts, just leave it alone.

Vai82's picture

It obvious that you don't want to understand and that you've made up your mind. I will answer just because other people are reading this.
Concerning your points:

1) You say it doesn't matter because it fits your headphone listening. For other people it is important. That's the reason why you have high sound pressure at Rock concerts because it just more intense with it. You also feel it with big orchestra music. I've been to many classic concerts and although it is not as intense as with rock music, it is there. Maybe more subtle but also important to convey the sense of "big sound".

2) Of course it is a facsimile. But with Hi-Fi we want to get as close as possible to the real event. A big loudspeaker soundstage in front of the listener is just much closer to the real thing than a small headphone soundstage that stays in your head or close to it. Please don't pretend again that with training you will get a similar soundstage, that's just not believable!

3) As i said before you can get used to the headphone soundstage. I've never denied it. But that's not the only problem with headphones. With speakers you hear sounds like you are used to and that's the main difference.

4) That's just a claim that can't be proved. Even most headphone listeners won't deny the problems with the soundstage. That's the reason there are so many attempts to fix it( crossfeed implementations, smith realiser...)

5) Doesn't disprove my point. You will get some of the best headphones for far less money than you have to spend on the best speakers. That's very attractive to many people.

Edit-1: Maybe that's a confusion because of language barriers. With "hardwired" i mean that's the way you naturally experience the world. Of course the human body can adapt to many things but that doesn't mean that's the same as experience it in a natural way. Humans hear sounds coming to the outer ear. They will be changed by your personal HRTF and will be changed by turning your head and they will have a delay from one ear to the other. You experience sounds and music that way your whole life( minus headphone listening ;) ) and it's a stressor when you have to adapt to another way of hearing things. A Hi-Fi friend of mine listens exclusively with headphones for many years and he admits that he still can't stand it longer than 1 - 2 hours.

Edit-2: That's an argument for binaural recordings. Normal microphones don't pick up sounds like you do when listening to sounds. The real localization information are mostly lost because of the already mentioned reasons( HRTF, no comparable delay between one ear and the other, direction in comparision to the outer ear...)

Edit-3: That's an old myth and simply not true!

Edit-4: I just wanted to explain that some of the arguments from headphone enthusiasts are a bit "esoteric" and not backed up by physical facts.

I want to make clear again that i also love using headphones and they have their strengths but also their weaknesses that can't be denied. Ultimately it's up to a persons circumstances and personal preferences which audio devices they use to listen to music.

dalethorn's picture

That's a huge amount of typing against headphones for someone who wraps it up by saying "I love headphones". Make up your mind. Every one of your points is wrong for the reasons I previously stated. For example, HRTF is irrelevant because the facts are:

1) You hear in a recording exactly what the engineers want to be on that recording. No more, no less.

2) You hear live music as natural sound. You hear the recording on headphones and your brain maps whatever is needed to make it natural. Mine works perfectly with most recordings, so if yours does not, then you need to look into that and quit blaming "HRTF" for your failure to "flip the picture right side up". i.e., it's your problem, not mine or the headphone's problem.

3) The only unnatural response I get from a headphone is the frequency response - easily EQ'd.

Vai82's picture

I love headphones for what they are. No more, no less!

I disproved all of your points with facts and you keep on saying everything is wrong and continue to claim that it is irrelevant how humans perceive sounds. Something like "You hear in a recording exactly what the engineers want to be on that recording. No more, no less" completely discredits you. I can explain it in great detail but i think i'm just wasting my time.

In the end everybody should make up their own mind and enjoy music with the audio devices they like the most!

dalethorn's picture

You didn't disprove anything. I told you about direct experience that factually refutes your points and all you can provide is argumentum ad nauseam. I doubt that anyone is reading your "scientific" explanation of things that common sense and direct experience refute, but just in case: Good headphones allow you to hear every single bit and byte of the data in those recordings, and if you can't hear it correctly, then the solution for you is to get tested and learn how to hear better. I don't have that 'limitations' problem myself.

Glotz's picture

in the physical realm. And you too, went on about the cost vs. performance ratio, which should have little to do with the absolute sound. And my biggest issue with your arguments are that you are trying to be pragmatic and mention experience in this philosophical argument. It does have a pragmatic bearing on what we should and can afford- it does not have a bearing on the what each transducer could do, if perfectly realized.

If I owned perfect speakers (for the sake of this important argument) and I owned perfect headphones, both of which replicated ANY experience perfectly, the ONLY thing that would be missing from the headphones would be... the physical sensations touching our bodies that speakers would create. No arguing around that... Headphones do NOT produce what speakers produce. Headphones don't endeavor to do what speakers attempt, as they focus on the ear, not the total body.

What about JGH's "Goosebump Test"? Even though he may not have explored the multi-dimensional nature of soundwaves back then, perhaps there is a portion of the goose-bump generation that lies in the physical nature of soundwaves touching our skin at the same time as our ears comprehend the sound. Just because we don't understand it, does not mean it doesn't exist.

Free-space sound waves affect more than just our ears and brain.

PS- How come no one from the staff has anything to say here? Are they just jet-lagged from the last show? Bummer.

dalethorn's picture

The physical sensations you mention are irrelevant. You may feel that they're desirable or even necessary, but we know from the rapid growth of high-end headphone prices that they're not necessary, so we could argue about their desirability. I don't desire those physical sensations, except in the specific sense of accurate large-scale reproduction of symphonic music at realistic volume levels, with bass ruler flat to at least 27.5 hz. Short of that, which less than 5 percent of audiophiles will *ever* enjoy in their homes, physical sensations would be a nuisance and an irritation. And in case you didn't read it here in another post, I get the physical sensations of deep organ pedal rumble as well as the impact of strong deep-bass piano chords, on headphones. How? Not difficult at all, but you'll need to do a few things. 1) Enjoy live music where you can experience those sensations from a reasonably close distance. 2) Stop listening to speakers for a couple of years. 3) Get headphones capable of accurate flat response across the spectrum, down to at least 27.5 hz in the deep bass. Then you'll get it. If you don't, too bad for you, but I'd judge from your post that it doesn't concern you.

And read my other reply to you above.

EDIT: An objective analysis of JGH is simple given the hindsight of a decade or two: His life, his magazine, his work and his reputation - everything he was, was based around an electronics and hi-fi hobby based on loudspeakers as the final element in the chain. Holt may have pioneered reporting on headphones to some extent, but his Class A (then B, then C) rating of the "Beyer DT-48s with round cushions" is all anyone needs to know about his involvement with headphones. He wasn't involved, except as an occasional monitor for some recordings. You cannot expect anyone, even Holt, to be able to fairly compare things that are so vastly different in his particular experience. Would speakers - the kind of speakers I describe as suitable - spoil me for headphones? If I were to use them for my primary listening, probably yes. But that says nothing about what I hear when I use only headphones. You might say I'm missing something. I'm missing nothing.

Glotz's picture

This isn't just a argument about bass. It covers the entire frequency response range. And I read it all. You still use the low bass range for all your arguments.

No, Dale, you don't get any of what I was saying.

Now I can see why the staff stays out of this and most everything written by readers...

I, too, am done. Super tedious.

dalethorn's picture

My headphones cover the entire FR range, unlike your claim that I deal only with bass. My emphasis on bass is purely about how speakers fail on bass 98 percent of the time. I can go further and talk about how the choppy treble test curves some labs report are useless, but I suppose that would fall on deaf ears for you. If the headphone's treble is neutral or flat, the treble part of the curve should be flat. Don't give me excuses about the dummy head's ear canals, just create a graph that represents the actual sound.

I get everything you said, it's just that your experience is way too shy, and too conflicted by the unresolvable (for you) difference between headphones and speakers. I have no such conflict. The staff stays out of this because you've made any comments they might post unreadable, when you kept posting pages of non sequiturs and repetitive arguments.

Like the original post which is a headphone promoter, I too promote headphones with no apologies that they aren't "as good as" speakers, or "can't do" things speakers can. Hogwash. Headphones do everything needed for high fidelity reproduction, if you use them properly, if you get a really good set, if you have the right attitude, and if you just enjoy the experience without being negative (i.e., "they can't do abc or xyz").