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Can speakers be as precise as headphones?

digitalfrost

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When I was young, I spend hours in the living room while my parents were watching TV, listening to music on headphones. They were either closed or half-open, whatever it was, sound didn't leak out enough to case a nuisance. From that age, I remember that headphones were somehow more detailed, more in depth with the music than speakers.

I have a good hifi system. ER18DXT or KEF LS50 speakers, Benchmark AHB2 amp, Topping D50 DACs, corrected with DRC-FIR. I know what I'm doing. I use NAD HP50 headphones in the office, I bought them when they came out and they were 270€. For a closed-back headphone it was the only one that didn't give me that 'can' sound. That said, it's not really better than the hifi I have at home.

I never cared for headphones. Why would you use them unless you had to.

Recently, I bought a Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro for home use. It's an open-back headphone. It has a big bass boost and rising highs. Bascially a smiley face curve. I corrected it with AutoEQ to pretty much the same frequency response as my HiFi system. I feed it from a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 1st gen I have lying around. The thing is. I hear so much more details with the headphones.

I don't have the stage, and the 3D effect of the speakers - and this was something that has always been very important to me - but I can hear so much more detail. My hifi can come closer if I turn up the volume really high. I put my SPL meter into the headphones, and it read 70dBC. I'm not sure if that's a valid way to measure headphones loudness, however I feel I have use _much_ higher volume with speakers to get same amount of detail, and even then it can't reach the phones.

Now, this is funny to me. I have very good speakers, excellent DACs, excellent amps, I have everything corrected via DRC, and somehow this cheap 115€ headphone that I run from from an equally cheap interface destroys my whole hifi setup that easily cost 10x as much.

What is going on here?

More importanty: Can I have this amount of detail from speakers? If yes, what do I need to do? Is it just more expensive speakers or rather room acoustics? Or is this just reality? - I mean, you have room noisefloor at least at 30-40dB that you have to overcome with speakers, with headphones, probably not as much. Maybe that's just how it is.
However, given the extreme price discrepancy I wonder why headphones are not more often recommended then. I'm just blown away by the performance for this little money invested.

Since I was a child, this is the first time I have headphones that are better than my speakers.
 
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aarons915

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It depends on what your reference is for good sound. I personally don't think headphones are going to ever achieve any kind of realistic presentation of live music because the natural reflections are absent. Headphones can sound very detailed because they lack reflections but I've never heard a pair that recreates any kind of live music I've heard.
 
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digitalfrost

digitalfrost

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thewas

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Imho the main reason is usually room acoustics, if you listen to good loudspeakers under near field conditions (i.e. the direct sound dominating) you can suddenly hear also details you didn't hear before. Also I have the feeling that sometimes good active speakers (especially 3 ways) seem to mud up less details in the musically often most important mids. For listening to details a great headphone can be really revealing but for me like aarons915, normal headphone listening of usual stereo recordings doesn't fascinate me as much, mainly due to the less realistic in-head localisation. Nowadays you can also have great spacial reproduction with headphones by using binaural simulation based on your own measured HRTF like the Smyth Realiser, but its quite expensive, not simple to use and for me wearing headphones for a long time is less comfortable than listening without them.
 
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digitalfrost

digitalfrost

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I can appreciate both aspects. I spent a lot of my time to get my system to have a wide and deep soundstage, and I'm at a point where the sound is not coming from the speakers at all, but rather it is 'just there' all around the speakers. Especially outside the speaker width. I love that.

I'd just like more detail - like I can hear with headphones. It's so precise it's hard to describe it. Pure.
 

sejarzo

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After spending a lot of time swapping gear to correct a basement home theater/music room with low ceilings...my only option in this house...I turned to headphones for critical listening, and never turned back.

The fundamental question seems to be what you want as a listener. I value detail and clarity. Perhaps it's because boxiness/comb filtration effects are particularly obnoxious to me and I was not successful getting rid of those in my room?
 

sejarzo

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.... normal headphone listening of usual stereo recordings doesn't fascinate me as much, mainly due to the less realistic in-head localisation.

Point well taken. I have always wondered what other folks were hearing when they commented about a particular headphone's soundstage placing vocals "properly"in front of them. Even with carefully done binaural recordings, I don't really sense a circular soundstage, but more a half ellipse that curves around the back of my head...perhaps better described as "far less depth than width"?
 

sejarzo

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I can appreciate both aspects. I spent a lot of my time to get my system to have a wide and deep soundstage, and I'm at a point where the sound is not coming from the speakers at all, but rather it is 'just there' all around the speakers. Especially outside the speaker width. I love that.

I'd just like more detail - like I can hear with headphones. It's so precise it's hard to describe it. Pure.

How much depth is correct, though? I always asked myself how much was right, but then when one realizes that much of that in modern pop/rock recordings depends on how much reverb is added during the recording process...perhaps there is no correct amount.

I no longer have the ability to attend many concerts, but when I sat in the first balcony a number of times at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, I never heard the level of detail I hear in headphones, nor the precise localization of instruments that most of us typically strive for when setting up a speaker rig or get with most decent headphones.
 
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digitalfrost

digitalfrost

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Artificial recordings are almost always better than live situations. Studio recordings are above real world perfection usually. Live sound usually sucks. What is live anyway? With modern music, there's so many amplifiers and effects involved, it's hard to say what is 'original'.
 

majingotan

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but I can hear so much more detail.

You need a really quiet room noise floor to hear those details that you hear on headphones. My room is about 30 dBC and I hear the faint orchestral version of the Beatles song "Ticket to Ride" on Pink Floyd's eclipse track at 1:39 - 2:10 mark with my Yamaha HS7 speakers at 70 dBC listening volume. You can hear the same on your speaker setup but you would need to crack up your speakers to over 100 dB if your room noise floor is terrible.

Just a side note: I would never trade the subjective naturalness in the sound's timbre emitted by speakers that no headphones could ever hope to achieve. In that sense, speakers are more precise to my subjective preferences especially after extensive room treatment. Studios themselves mix their tracks primarily on speakers for this reason as well.
 
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sejarzo

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When I was at Purdue in the late 1970s, my dad commented when moving me in everyfall that the dorm would likely levitate if not for all the big speakers that were crammed into those residence hall rooms. When our son was there a generation later, I was surprised at how I never heard much music...and it was because hardly anybody has speakers now, only headphones/IEMs. I recall a comment by Ian Anderson that when he remixed some material in the 1990s, he did it so "it sounded best on my wife's Walkman."

I read an interview with a producer who discussed how one popular artist's standard for excellence in a mix was how good he thought it sounded when played at 110 dB in his Corvette.

:facepalm::facepalm::facepalm:
 
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napilopez

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I said it before and I'll say it again: Good binaural >>> everything else:). You need to get lucky with the HRTFs - assuming the music wasn't recorded with a model of your head and ears - but when it's right, it's oh so right. You do miss some of the tangibility of the bass, and you can't share binaural music easily with a friend, but the best multi-channel setups pale in comparison - they don't have the depth and precise localization of binaural.

I do know some people are working on making binaural happen for speakers too though.

I think a lot of it depends on what you started on too. Older audiophiles generally seem to have started on speakers, while a lot of younger audiophiles started with headphones. Noise floor (although I have a rather low one), room issues, distractions, etc mean that in practice, speakers never really come close to the detail of headphones for me, and I think that'll always bug me. I'm more into speakers nowadays, but that's purely for the spatial cues in most music, and because I do so much of my listening with my S.O.
 

q3cpma

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I'm pretty sure speakers are more "precise", since the goal is to hear what the people in the studio heard while making it, and it was probably made primarly on speakers.
 

cryptout

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Speakers can come close to the detail of headphones if no frequencies are cancelled by reflections. You need room treatment to get that. The cheapest way to get a very detailed speaker system it to go with a near-field 2.1 setup and some absorption panels at reflection points and a bass-trap. This is how many small studio's are setup. Still many engineers use headphones to check micro detail.
 

sejarzo

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I'm pretty sure speakers are more "precise", since the goal is to hear what the people in the studio heard while making it, and it was probably made primarly on speakers.

Which studio? The control room during mixing when the artist is likely present, or what the mastering engineer decides to do with the final mix in a different studio, likely without the original artist present?

In either case, one would be assuming that one's own system response matches that of the mastering studio, and that's highly unlikely.
 

q3cpma

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Which studio? The control room during mixing when the artist is likely present, or what the mastering engineer decides to do with the final mix in a different studio, likely without the original artist present?
That's not a problem you can really solve yourself, right? But I'm gonna say "the last" because that practice of final mastering/mix done without any opinion from the artist happens probably more with artists that wouldn't know what to do in this case. Mostly big labels churning genres I don't care about. But yeah, it's an interesting part of the problem.

In either case, one would be assuming that one's own system response matches that of the mastering studio, and that's highly unlikely.
Of course that's unlikely, especially since you won't match every possible studio of every possible release you possess. Still, it's probably best to match a common denominator for your material: for me, it's probably speakers all the way and the usual trying-to-be-flat studio, since it's mostly metal before 2000 and prog rock. I also listen to lo-fi black metal that has been "mastered" on god knows what or even maybe without multitrack recording and I find that the most "revealing" speakers do justice to the intended sound quality/ambiance, most of the time.
 
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