Jul 11, 2016

Headphones VS. Speakers

Maybe I'm just an old fart at the age of 54. It seems like the modern trend is to listen primarily to headphones through a headphone amp rather than a traditional preamp, amp and speakers. Other than portability and ease of use with today's what is the real appeal to having multiple sets of headphones.
Just a discussion of us old farts with the new farts. I love the fact we have a resurgence of tubes and vinyl.
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I (a young fart) like headphones/earbuds more because they give me a sense of privacy. Other people can't listen to my music so they also won't get anoyed if they don't like it. Which would probably be the case if i used speakers to listen to my music (techno, metal, rock and pop)
I'm a youngin at only 18, and I prefer the sound of Speakers, but I still use headphones almost always because of the privacy of them. I'm not doing anything that I need to hide but its still just nice to not have people in your business.
Before anything else, on your quest for the best sound, you must come to grips with the quality of your recordings, and remove and replace low bit rate (highly compressed and therefore very degraded) mp3's with high bit rate quality audio files, or better yet, lossless files. ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is ideal if you like to listen on an iphone and use itunes. But honestly it is very hard (for me to hear) much difference between ALAC and a 320kbps mp3. Just make sure that your files are at least 256kbps bit rate, and ripped directly from a CD, (or the current 256kbps AAC mp4 format download from itunes) and you will be ok to proceed with buying better gear. If you try to listen to lower quality recordings, you will be wasting your money buying better audio gear. Get rid of them.

After that you will need a high quality DAC to get the most out of your high quality recordings, (even if you buy great headphones, that alone won't get you there.) The cheap DAC's in most computers won't compare at all to the quality of even a very affordable outboard DAC, such as the Fii0 E10K ($70). But do yourself a favor and just get an Apogee Groove and be done with it. The Groove is an AMAZING portable DAC that will drive 600ohm cans (if you feel the need for those things) and is about the size of a pack of gum, runs off usb power on both windows or a mac.

For utility purposes it makes sense to have a few kinds of headphones:

A pair of EIM's (in ear monitors) to plug straight into your phone for when you are on the go, and want total isolation from the outside world without having a giant goofy pair of cans on your head in public. (unless you want that kind of attention, in that case get a big bright colored pair of Beats to let the world know you care about sound)

After that it makes sense to have a great pair of circumaural (that is, around and over your ears, not resting on directly on them) OPEN-BACKED headphones that are comfortable on your head for hours and hours, but will also allow you hear what is going on around you. (to hear and get the door bell for example, or to hear people talking to you. But just remember that other people can also hear your music if you have the volume up with open backed headphones)

Next, a really good pair CLOSED-BACKED circumaural headphones that are comfortable for hours on end and won't make your ears feel hot, but with more isolation for when you don't want to hear your surroundings, or have other people hear your music (or more importantly when recording, will not bleed sound (as will open-backed headphones) into a nearby condenser mic while you are recording your acoustic guitar for example).

If you record, and have people over to make music, it is good to have a few pairs of closed back tracking headphones for them to use.

For me:

IEM: JH Audio JH-16pro IEMs - for on the go listening straight from my iphone.

Open-Backed Headphones: AKG K7xx/K702 - The most comfortable headphones ever made IMO, that also allow me hear what is going on around me.

Close-Backed Headphones: Shure SRH 1540 - The best sounding closed back headphones I have ever heard and more importantly, are SUPER comfortable all day long and don't get hot on your ears. (think hours of tweeking and mixing tracks)

Tracking Headphones: Audio Technica ATH-M50x - two pairs for tracking/recording with other people. Also they are excellent all-around headphones. If you want just one pair of reasonably priced awesome sounding headphones, these are the ones to get. (they are not circumaural, and will get warm on your ears after a while)

DAC: Apogee Groove from a Macbook Pro to get the best from your high quality audio files.

Finally, an audio interface if you want to record (or convert and digitally preserve your vinyl collection forever). Focusrite 2i4 ($200) is perfect for starters, runs totally from USB power, and will give you a mobile recording rig that will fit in a backpack. (Or get a UA Apollo if you decide you want to jump in the deep end)

If you want to listen to LP's, I would first clean them with wood glue, and then play them on a high quality turntable with a brand new stylus, into your audio interface, connected with balanced XLR cables out to powered studio monitors such as JBL LSR 305 or 308. That will give you amazing sound. Or just use good headphones instead of monitors. Record your LPs right after cleaning them, using a program such as Audacity (free), and then convert the resulting wav file to ALAC or high bit rate audio format of your choice in iTunes. After that listen to your recordings and leave your LP's freshly cleaned in (new) protective sleeves.

I really have no use for tubes, outside of my guitar amp or the one tube mic that I own. If you get a UA Apollo, you will have access to a vast arsenal of every kind of tube voodoo that has ever been made. Want warmer tube-ier sound? Slap a Fairchild or a Neve 1073 on it. That will warm it up. Lol (but most likely that stuff was already used making the record in the first place)

Not that you wanted to know all that. But there you go.
I would love to get a decent pair of speakers and let me play non-stop all day but first let me be old fart.
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For me at least the reason I use headphones is to respect other people sleeping patterns. I enjoy loud music and i play it during the day through speakers, but at night my loud music is not tolerated so I play it through headphones instead. I am a young fart living with his family.
I would consider myself a "new fart" but the main pros of using headphones are of course portability and ease of use. Other than that I think there really aren't that many. I personally have a traditional audio system with a receiver/amp and speakers. I also have my collection of headphones. I would say style is one of the pros of headphones, not just looking good but having one around you kind of says that you like music. Also, the sound signature is a bit different. An audio system sounds more like a natural sound as if the band/musician/vocalist is performing for you, headphones sound more like you are listening to exactly how the audio file is supposed to sound.
Maybe young people wear headphones so they don't have to hear all the old fart music coming from their old fart speakers.
CBob
Now that's funny!
I'm 52 and recently started my pseudo-audiophile hobby. So in the last couple of years, I refreshed my 5.1 system with decent quality speakers and electronics. Then I proceeded to buy nicer headphones and dac/amps. For me, the speakers are preferred but are only usable when the volumes don't bother anybody else in the house. I enjoy the stereo imaging as an extra "dimension" of the listening experience. The various headphones I have are for late night (when others are asleep) or at work.
I am in fact 60, and now live in a four story two hundred and fifty or so apartments, with upstairs, downstairs and next door neighbors. For the holidays I got a bluetooth speaker with 72 watts of power. I turned it on and the downstairs neighbors started knocking on their ceiling. I decided soon after that to go the headphone way, so I wouldn't bother my neighbors.
For one, headphones are much more versatile. It's real easy to have a pair of on/over ear headphones for the PC (maybe with an integral microphone), a pair of IEM's for on the go or general listening, and a sweatproof pair for exercise.

Also, it's increasingly inconvenient to listen to music out loud. About a third of those 18-34 still live at home (sadly including me). Due to scheduling mismatch and paper thin walls, listening to music out loud is a special treat for me, and being able to play it loudly is a rare luxury. I bought a Peachtree deepBlue2 bluetooth speaker a while back. It sounds absolutely amazing, but sometimes I wish I didn't buy it since I don't get to listen to it very often. It's great to bring to a friend's apartment, but even then it's disappointing to have to keep the volume down.

You get a lot more bang for your buck with headphones. Ridiculously more. I bought some Macaw GT100S IEM's on a previous drop for about $60. They sound simply exceptional. The same $60 might buy junky computer speakers or a low end bluetooth speaker.

>>>It seems like so many young Audiophiles have so many headphones/earbuds of varying
>>>quality and price that they could almost afford a few pair of quality speakers.

Kind of. Because headphones are such a stronger value, it's easier to buy a pair here and there over a course of years. It adds up over time, sure, but you get to sample a variety and have dedicated pairs for various purposes.

>>>I was talking to my brother about this and he seems to think that newer music listeners
>>>appear to prefer the personal experience with their headphones then a shared experience with
>>>loudspeakers.

In my opinion, I think it's more about the convenience of portability. It's possible to listen to headphones at school, on mass transit, possibly at work, or anywhere else you might be.

I'd love to listen to my deepBlue2 all the time, but it's not really practical, and especially so outside the home.
well, the big two reasons are. 1, money, headphones get you better sound at a sliver of the price of speakers do. two, is also in part about money, you see due to every increasing price rising of housing people now have to commute for longer and even at home must think of those around them. headphones let you listen without invading the personal space of everyone else around you.
I personally would prefer a nice set of speakers for a long listening period than headphones. The problem is, I'm pretty new to the audiophile scene (probably only been interested in all of it for about 3 months) and I'm young, too young to actually own a set of proper speakers for myself.
SephHaley
Seph, I would start with a nice pair of powered monitors... It can get the ball rolling on speakers without having to buy all the components typically necessary for a traditional Hifi Stereo. The Emotiva Airmotiv line is quite reasonable and they've never let me down (I've got 5 speakers, 3 amps and a DAC from them, most well beyond the warranty and still kicking). You can get in for as cheap as $299 but I would recommend the extra cash for the 6's at $499. Another "cheap" option is getting a stereo receiver from Yamaha or HK and picking up some passive speakers. The pioneer Andrew Jones line has a good reputation as does his recent work with Elac. You can get a pair of the Pioneers + an HK receiver for like $400 or so with a deal.
ElectronicVices
Thanks for the help! I was actually going to ask, I'll do some more individual research on these things you told me about.
For me it's just different uses for them. My speakers are there for movies and games whereas my headphones are strictly for music. It's just not feasible to listen to music on speakers at the office or late in the night at home with the volume I typically listen at. I also feel that you get a more intimate listening session through open back sets vs speakers. While playing music through my speakers sounds good, it just isn't as immersive and impressive vs listening with headphones and I've never gotten goosebumps from tracks playing through a speaker. Also for my part, my speakers just don't resolve certain details and nuances of music as well as some of my headphones do.
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sure, I don't have what I could call "great" speakers. I have neither the space nor money to spend on something I can't really use though. At home, I mainly listen late at night as I'm going to sleep, and by that point, it's too late in the night to play music through speakers not just for neighbors (live in a condo unit) but also for other people in my own place.
EinTheVariance
Perfectly understandable. I merely suggest that at some point in your life you will experience a set of speakers that will give you that immersive involvement.., and, they may be less expensive than you thought possible. Enjoy
I'm an apartment dweller, it's game on before 8:30-9:00 PM weekdays and up to 12:00 AM on the weekends. I'm respectful... typically only using one sub and a reasonable volume. But if the neighbors want to crank it, I'll fire up the second sub and return fire with 2.5 kilowatts (RMS) spread amongst my monoblocks, stereo and sub amps. Chasing the "dragon" of my HiFi after those hours led me to headphones.