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Headpones good?
post Jun 12 2008, 21:18
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Are headphones good for music listening? I put on a cheap plantronics one, and the sound was much clearer and detailed than my 5.1 system of pc speakers. And even the low frequencies are clear! So are headphones the best way to listen to music?

Even if so, do they cause hearing damage? I don't mean the cheap earplugs, I meant the good noise cancelling ones.
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post Jun 13 2008, 23:18
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So what I don't understand is, why can headphones, with such small size, produce so much detail? I'm surprised to hear details in the music that my 5.1 speaker system didn't produce as clearly!
Mainly, because you don't need much volume when the "speaker" is so close to your ear...

An average pair of headphones can go "rock concert loud" without requiring lots of amplifier power and without badly distorting. It takes good-big speakers and a big amplifier to reproduce "realistic" levels in a living room. (Even a classical orchestra can play louder than the average home stereo.)

With headphones, a single driver can cover the whole frequency range. With a speaker system, you need a large driver to "move lots of air" and generate bass in the room. But, a large, heavy, woofer can't move fast enough to generate high frequencies, so you need a tweeter.

Since the components are smaller and cheaper, you get more sound for the money with headphones. You can get very "high end" headphones for a few hundred dollars. High-end speakers cost thousands.

The headphone manufacturers have an advantage that they don't have to worry about room acoustics. The room can make a big difference! I've had my speakers in a "dance hall", and they sound waaaay better than they do in my living room!

On the other hand.... Sound is much more natural in a "good room". You get reflected "ambient" sound that comes from all-around you (even with 2-channel stereo), and you can "feel" the bass (at higher volumes) from a woofer/subwoofer. I prefer listening to music through good speakers.

Another thing is, there are there "surround" headphones around, are they the best? If so, can you recommend one for me?
I've never tried these, but I'm skeptical because I know something about directional perception.

You detect direction mostly by level differences (and maybe phase differences) between your right and left ears... When a sound comes from directly in front, directly behind, or directly above you, the sound in both ears is equal. In order to detect (triangulate) the direction in 3-dimensions, you need to move your head slightly. Of course, this doesn't work with headphones, since the sound-source moves when you move your head.

Most of the time we are not aware of these head-movements, but you've probably seen an animal turn it's head in reaction to a sudden or strange noise. When we hear a sound, sometimes we look around to see where it's coming from. This head movement gives you more "readings", and if you do see the source of the sound, the visual clues feed-into your overall perception.
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