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Headphones vs Speakers according to Secrets of HT


Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Sep 20, 2018
If I have to speak in a purely subjective way: Absolutely no headphones I've heard give me the kind of enjoyment I listen from my stereo system...

The amp that drives your speakers is a hundred times better than the average headphone amp.
Well... that's so wrong from a easurements-point of view...
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Active Member
Aug 9, 2019
I will repost some things that I just posted on another thread...

As to headphones, they fail to take into consideration head related transfer/impulse functions and the auris externa - see the lectures from Dr Land at Cornell below...

Also see this -https://www.jneurosci.org/content/24/17/4163

And this: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0e76/923ed6c85fcdd8d9a2f269d5c7493b3c3abd.pdf
"Clearly, localization is not isolated to simply the sounds heard. Many more effects contribute to
localization than that proposed by the duplex theory. Although Wightman & Kistler have shown that a
virtual auditory space can be generated through headphone delivered stimulus, they are still lacking some
key features. The ability to accurately reproduce elevation localization may be a problem for aircraft
simulations. Other cues such as head movements and learning may also help in sound localization. For
commercial applications where localization does not need such accuracy, an average HRTF can be
created to externalize sounds."

Also see this https://pages.stolaf.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/406/2014/07/Westerbert-eg-al-2015-Localization.pdf
View attachment 44078
There's been many a patent that discusses trying to get headphones to accurately mimic human hearing and it's interaction to the environment

In addition - see this https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/33427652.pdf

I wrote this a while ago on the Hoffman forum:
Typically, bass is pretty much omnidirectional below about 80-100 - the entire structure begins moving.

During studio construction one of the things we do with infinite baffle/soffit mounting designs is to isolate the cabinets from the structure to minimize early energy transfer - this keeps the structure from transmitting bass faster than air to the mix location. Sound travels faster thru solids - recall the ol' indian ear-on-the-rail thing?

Why does sound travel faster in solids than in liquids, and faster in liquids than in gases (air)?

One thing you want to avoid is the bass from speaker coupling to the building structure and arriving at you ear sooner than the sound from the speakers. This can cause a comb filtering where you lose certain frequencies due to cancellation.

Google recording studio monitor isolation and note the tons of isolation devices sold for this reason...

Here's a doghouse design for UREL 813's I did a while ago:

As to mixing - I rarely use pan pots for directional info in my mixes. I use various time-based methods to try and simulate the precedence effect as well as directional cues and stimulate impulse responses / head related transfer functions (HRTF).
Head-related transfer function - Wikipedia
"A pair of HRTFs for two ears can be used to synthesize a binaural sound that seems to come from a particular point in space."

One thing it does is to really open up the mono field, since instruments are now localized and can be sized depending on the early reflections I set up in something like a convolution reverb.

A great write up here on the Convolvotron:
HRTF-Based Systems – The CIPIC Interface Laboratory Home Page

Part of a great resource for modern sound localization efforts for HMI audio:
The CIPIC Interface Laboratory Home Page – Electrical and Computer Engineering

As to low frequency information:
From Sound localization - Wikipedia :
Evaluation for low frequencies
For frequencies below 800 Hz, the dimensions of the head (ear distance 21.5 cm, corresponding to an interaural time delay of 625 µs) are smaller than the half wavelength of the sound waves. So the auditory system can determine phase delays between both ears without confusion. Interaural level differences are very low in this frequency range, especially below about 200 Hz, so a precise evaluation of the input direction is nearly impossible on the basis of level differences alone. As the frequency drops below 80 Hz it becomes difficult or impossible to use either time difference or level difference to determine a sound's lateral source, because the phase difference between the ears becomes too small for a directional evaluation.[11]

Interesting info here from Dr. Bruce Land on sound localization - end of #25 and into #26

Note the comment concerning using a bus on a DAW to mimic HRTF. Also note his refernece to the CIPIC database .

This prevents the "ear pull" associated with unbalanced RMS levels across the ears. As Dr. Land mentions, your ear localizes based on time as well as amplitude. The interaural time difference ITD (Interaural time difference - Wikipedia ) is as critical as Interaural Level Differences (ILD). As he states, humans learn early on to derive directional cues from impulse responses at the two ears.

One thing that has to be said is the significant differences in head related transfer function between various people - but note the chart where he mentions the one person with a -48dB notch at 6kHz - the curves up to around 5kHz are fairly close and in the A weighted range...

Another great lecture on sound localization from MIT:
20. Sound localization 1: Psychophysics and neural circuits

I used various time-based techniques on this - a remix of Whole Lotta Love from the original multitracks:
Remix of WLL

Watch/listen to the Comparison video...

Another technique is to use double tracking and artificial double tracking (ADT) which will spread the instrument/spectra across the panorama - Automatic double tracking - Wikipedia
- tho this can lead to mono compatibility issues... some effects that do this use a bunch of bandpass filters whereas you can set the delays for each band. Note what George Martin and Geoff Emerick mention using older analog style, tape-based ADT during the Anthology sessions. Again, these techniques reduce the unbalanced feeling across the head but still open up the stereo field to allow all the instruments to sit in the stereo image.

Double tracking - both natural and ADT - is prevalent in a lot of the metal mixes - for instance:
Remix of the Curse of the Twisted Tower
Note that the opening of the first clips was locked into what it is since it didn't exist on the multitracks and was flown in on the original release. But on the other samples compare the mixes and notice they don't sound as disjointed across the panorama as does the older, pan-only mixes. One of the band members commented on how he was able to hear his solos better

This was followed up by this:

I would like to ask a sub question in this regard. Let's say we have a mono recording, for simplicity. Will it ever be possible for headphones in the future to make sure that the sound does not form inside the head but in the front with normal recordings? In nature there are very few sounds that we perceive inside our head. Except when we have phlegm in the ears or eat or pat on the forehead

There was an AES paper written about this a while ago:

A paper on out of head Headphone Sound Externalization

As i mentioned, there's a lot of research and patents that deal with various methods to externalize headphone audio. None that I know of are completely accurate in their representation of sound localization.


Video from that page:
Yamaha 3D Headphone Technology : Post-production Demo



Active Member
Aug 9, 2019
Those posts were then followed by this:

Interesting concept, tho I still find it lacking in representation of a concert hall. And as to on stage - I stood right in the viola's of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra during Aaron Copeland's Rodeo. I was doing sound for one of their outdoor gigs at Point State Park (Westinghouse had built a "symphony stage" - a giant steel structure with crappy wood inside) Wow - you couldn't hear anything except brass and percussion. Amazing what the stage and hall does to the sound...

As to modern pop type music, it's so artificial to begin with - you're simultaneously inside the piano, in the middle of the drum kit, in the middle of the guitar amp, horn, etc... while also being right in front of the mouth of the singer. The artform of pop recording that pioneers like Sir George Martin, Quincy Jones, Roger Nichols and others created is that it IS an artificial aural landscape.

Sound design for film - the genesis of n-Channel systems - also have created an artificial acoustic landscape that fit the 2 dimensional visual presentation.

Game designer - now they have a real difficult task, especially those using some sort of virtual reality visual system. They need to be able to faithfully reproduce a fully 3 dimensional (with time as an integral of the 3 spacial dimensions) sound field.

I think the only way that we will ever get to a method of TRUELY realizing any acoustic environment is through a holographic method of controlling the listening environs' air molecules. I doubt that any conventional multidriver transducer type system will ever work.

Either that, or direct aural nerve stimulation bypassing any need for "transducers" That system would need to account for listener physical movement, via things like IMU feedback to the source streams for each neural interface.

Just the term "transducer" limits the accuracy of the concept. There needs to be a way - besides electomechanical means - to move air in such a way that the entire listening area has air molecules moving as they did in the original source environment. I don't believe that any recording method (again a futile attempt with multiple mechanical-electro single point source diaphragms) nor any current storage method (stereo, n-Channels) with be completely effective.

In order to be a faithful system of reproducing the original environment, the first criteria would be that if a listener moves around in the reproducing area, they will experience the same changes in arrival times/amplitude as one would moving the same way in the recording environment. That in itself is a daunting task - since any actual recording method belies the ability to capture the infinitesimal variance that occurs at each infinitesimally small unit area of the source environ. Then to reproduce that in a listening environ would probably require a direct, non-electromechanical method of controlling the air molecules, with the size of the air molecules being the quantitative limit.

One can dream, eh?

I have to add to this - a recent Bob Lefsetz (the guy Taylor Swift wrote the song "Mean" about) article talking about Jimmy Iovine. Yea, he's great and all, nice to see he's actually trying to play an instrument:

But his statement:
"I find out a lot through the artists I work with. Dre is a perfectionist of audio,
maybe one of the greatest audio producers that ever existed. And when I found
out what Dre was concerned about, that the equipment his kids were listening
to the music on — an entire generation was learning about audio through
cheap, inefficient equipment. That’s how Beats started."

got this response from me:
"What the fuck, over?

For one - Beats headphones suck - ask anyone on any of the forums like Audio Science Review and Steve Hoffman. Everytime I've seen Beats at Best Buy they're in pieces on the display... Geezz

For two - the statement "...an entire generation was learning about audio through cheap, inefficient equipment."

What the fuck over 2? Cummon - what were the Beatles listened thru? A transistor radio... or an old Magnavox with a stylus that was running at about 5 grams and made for 78 RPM's "

So I guess what I'm saying is:

"Be happy with what you got"



Active Member
Aug 9, 2019
And I have to say that the Yamaha 3D headphone demo - to me (using HD414's) - still sounds like it's coming out of the center/top of my head. I did notice that when the locomotive first passes that there seems to be a large hole as it goes by... They do mention that the audio on the youboob thing is sub-par.

But you can't fool Mother Nature - at least not all the time...

Blumlein 88

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Feb 23, 2016
If you'd like an extreme example of double tracking (or actually multi-multi tracking) try the Enya recordings. I think I read where her voice in most of the songs on Watermark were tracked 30 to 120 times. Sounds like it would be very tedious for her to record.

Oh, and my first record player was much like the one shown above. Used steel sewing needles you were told to replace every 100 hrs. My first radio was pocket AM with 9 transistors. So one up on the Emerson shown above.
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Active Member
Jan 28, 2018
Valencia California
There is bit of truth or at least a high likelihood of being true in each point.
1. "headphones, taken as a class, have significantly more frequency-response variation than loudspeakers. It doesn’t have to be that way – headphone manufacturers could produce ruler-flat frequency response if it were their priority. But it isn’t. Instead, many (most?) headphone manufacturers want to produce a sound that will persuade you to buy THEIR headphones instead of someone else’s. "
I don't know how "siginificant", and whether they could be "ruler flat" but I do believe when everyting is said and done it's not about accuracy but preference.

2. "Many headphones either can’t play loudly without gross distortion or the anemic headphone amp in your source electronics can’t supply enough current to make the headphone drivers linear. The amp that drives your speakers is a hundred times better than the average headphone amp. "
Not sure how many is "many", but there is probably "a lot". As for the amp that drives the speakers I often wondered what is wrong wih the "speaker" amp and why one might need a separate "headphone amp".

2 True,. Some hadphones are most blasting friendly than others.
,3 Great source material on semi-decent headphoneswill sound bettra that crappy source material on the best headphones in the history of everything.
,4 Anyone that has spekers on the left and right side of their monitors knows that's true.
5 This poing is close to 2 . Depends on the headphones , just like it depends on the speakers. Some go shrill others don't.
6 Ha...that's a great one. Can't tell by price what they'll sound like or if you'll like it.
and of course .... "Curley, Larry, and Moe around now offers designer headphones at stratospheric price ranges. " also slightly connected to #1

Do I feel I "learned something" by reading the article? Nope. But I also "didn't get into headphones yesterday" ...


Active Member
Aug 9, 2019
If you'd like an extreme example of double tracking (or actually multi-multi tracking) try the Enya recordings. I think I read where her voice in most of the songs on Watermark were tracked 30 to 120 times. Sounds like it would be very tedious for her to record.

Oh, and my first record player was much like the one shown above. Used steel sewing needles you were told to replace every 100 hrs. My first radio was pocket AM with 9 transistors. So one up on the Emerson shown above.

Here's a link to a song we did about 10 years ago. The intro is the chorus - when I was mixing I solo'd up the bkgnd vox's and everyone mentioned using it for the intro... so i cut/pasted the tracks to the head of the tune... Back in the day this would have been a blast to do with razor blade and splicing tape on a pair of two inch 24 tracks machines. I did a lot of the in the early 80's.

This is only two guys:


The end get's even more dense as to vocals... about 100 tracks of Marc and Jon singing


And all the leads are an old Martin acoustic. Jon was living in his car when I met him...
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