For music lovers who are into their high-quality audio, there’s a longstanding debate surrounding the concept of “breaking in or burning in” new headphones. Some folks swear by it, claiming it’s essential for achieving the best sound quality, while others argue it’s little more than a myth.
In this article, we’re going to delve into this fascinating topic and find out whether or not headphones really need to be broken in. So, grab your favorite pair of cans and let’s dive in!
Do Headphones Really Need Breaking In?
Headphones likely don’t need a break-in period for better sound quality. Limited scientific evidence suggests that any perceived improvements are more a placebo effect than a physical one. It’s a case of our ears and brain adjusting to the new sound signature, rather than the headphones breaking in.
To better understand what’s going on, consider what is happening inside your brain. You don’t just have ears and hear things, your ears detect vibrations that your brain translates into what you perceive as sound.
The thing is, your brain is able to recalibrate how you interpret these vibrations and can compensate for damage or wear and tear as your ears age.
“Break in” is just your brain becoming used to new tonal balances.
If you listen for a while to any half-decent pair of headphones, your brain normalizes them and you get to like them.
It’s like when you first try a great pair of headphones that were recommended to you by a friend. You wonder what all the fuss was about because at first they don’t sound great but once you spend a week or two listening to them, then you couldn’t be without them.
The Theory Behind Breaking-In Headphones
The idea of breaking in headphones is rooted in the belief that, like a fine whiskey, they get better with age (or, more accurately, better with use). Proponents of this theory argue that when you first purchase a new pair of headphones, the internal components—such as the diaphragm and voice coil—are stiff and need time to loosen up.
By using the headphones for a specific period, usually, somewhere between 40 and 200 hours, these components become more flexible and responsive, leading to improved sound quality.
Skeptics, on the other hand, claim that the break-in process is little more than a placebo effect. They argue that any perceived improvement in sound quality is a result of the listener’s ears and brain adjusting to the headphones, rather than any physical change within the headphones themselves.
So, who’s right? Let’s look at the evidence.
To date, there hasn’t been a wealth of scientific research on headphone break-in. However, a few studies and experiments have been conducted which have shed some light on the subject.
One such study, conducted by the team at InnerFidelity, tested the idea of headphones needing to be broken in by comparing the sound of a brand-new pair of headphones with a “broken-in” pair that had been used for over 100 hours. The result? There were minor differences in sound quality, but they were so small that they were deemed insignificant by the researchers.
This study, while limited, suggests that the headphone break-in phenomenon might be more psychological than physical.
Psychology at Play
It’s important to consider the role that psychology might play in the headphone break-in debate.
If you’ve read somewhere online that headphones sound better following a period of breaking in, it’s more likely you will imagine a sound quality improvement doing the same with your own new pair.
When we invest in a high-quality pair of headphones, we naturally want them to sound at their best. This desire can lead you to believe that the whole break-in philosophy is real, even if there isn’t much scientific evidence to support the idea.
In reality, it’s more plausible that your ears and brain are simply adjusting to the sounds from your new headphones. This process is often referred to as “psychoacoustic adaptation.” It just means that as you listen to music through your new headphones, you become more familiar with the sound signature, and that makes it easier to pick up on nuances and details in the audio which in turn can make you feel like the sound quality is improving.
This can give the impression that the headphones are improving over time, when in fact, it’s only your perception of the sound coming from the headphones that is changing.
Related Article: Can Headphones Break If Too Loud? (Explained)
The Comfort of the Headphones
Another factor to consider in the break-in debate is the physical comfort of wearing new headphones. When you first purchase a pair, the ear pads or headband might feel tight or uncomfortable. As you wear the headphones more, these materials will conform to your head and become more comfortable.
This increase in comfort could contribute to the perception that the headphones are sounding better, as you’re more likely to enjoy the listening experience when you’re not distracted by discomfort.
How do you Break In Headphones, Anyway?
Breaking in headphones is pretty simple. Just play your favorite music through them at a moderate volume for several hours, or even days (some recommend 40-200 hours). You can also let them play overnight or while you’re not using them.
Some people that do it also suggest using a mix of different genres to cover various frequencies.
Remember, though, that breaking in headphones is more about personal preference than a proven process, so feel free to experiment and see what works for you!
To Break In or Not to Break In?
So, do headphones really need to be broken in? Based on the limited scientific evidence available, it seems that the break-in process may be more psychological than real. While there might be some minor changes in sound quality over time as components get worn, these differences are likely too small to have a significant impact on the listening experience.
Instead, it appears that our ears and brain are the ones adapting to the new headphones, and this psychoacoustic adaptation is responsible for the perceived improvement in sound quality.
Additionally, the increased comfort of wearing the headphones over time can also contribute to the impression that they’re sounding better.
With that being said, it’s important to remember that this is all highly subjective, and your individual preferences play a massive role in yy listening experiences.
If you find that breaking in your headphones gives you a more enjoyable experience, then go for it, there’s no harm in sticking with that. After all, the ultimate goal is to enjoy the music, and what works for you might not work for another.
While there mightn’t be solid evidence to support the idea that headphones need to be broken in, the listening experience is highly personal, and your own individual preferences should come first.
So, if you’re a firm believer in the break-in process, go ahead and do what feels right for you.
If you’re a skeptic, rest assured that you’re not missing out on a world of untapped audio potential by skipping the break-in period.
Now, it’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy your favorite tunes through your headphones—broken in or not!