The problem with headphones

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I like headphones. Readers of this blog know that I went through a whole period of not liking them, then being introduced to the wonderful Audeze products, which changed my mind. Long history there. I learned.

Headphones have many great traits and advantages. They are not colored by the room. They can get really good bass—better, often, than speakers—and they’re resolving power is unmatched.

But headphones don’t reproduce what we hear in real life. Speakers come closer.

When we go to a concert we feel the music through our skin. If we’re near enough, it can physically vibrate our bodies.

Our ears naturally hear everything together. Sounds from the left and sounds from the right. Those sounds, of course, are delayed in the ear farthest away. It’s what makes imaging natural and we hear the orchestra or band in front of us when live, divorced and behind the loudspeakers in a proper listening room.

Headphones block one ear from hearing what the other does. There are crossfeed schemes galore, but they are just Band Aids.

Headphones are great in their space, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing they can bring us closer to the absolute sound—to a high-end experience that transports us to another venue where the recording took place.

No. For that, we need loudspeakers and rooms.