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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  1222 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Please Stop 'Burning In' Your Earphones.

We'll call it 'the Beats Effect'

So funny story. I run with my headphones. Headphones you get with your iPhones have microphones. Sweat annihilates these microphones and, as a consequence, these headphones. As such, I've been buying whatever cheap shit Meei is selling that day, usually 2 or 3 pairs at a time. Subjectively speaking, they don't sound much worse than iPhone headphones. Which you're listening to MP3s or 128kbps AAC streams anyway so who cares?

Anyway. Couple weeks ago I misplaced all of my Piece of Shit Meei garbage cans. And I needed to go running. Desperate, I remembered stumbling over an old shitty pair of Sony in-ears I'd bought as a secondary pair to use with the Minidisc recorder I bought in 1996. I dug 'em out, slapped 'em in and pressed play.

Oh. My. God.

I haven't heard earbuds this good in so long I can't remember. They were probably $30 new, nearly 18 years ago. They have low end. They have high end. And they have them in approximately the same proportions as my good cans, which I've had since 2002. Just to see, I dug up some of those shitty Meeis and then some iPhone earbuds, and then some Klipsch S4s I had.

Yeah. Headphones suck now.

It used to be that you'd buy a set of headphones and they played music. Now they're a fashion statement. Now they've got flat cables and orange thingies and they're branded by J-Wow and Dr. Dre endorses them and they come with special detachable Monster Cable leads and there are so many brands now that simply didn't exist back then because they were pieces of audio equipment, not fashion items.

Take it from a former acoustician: headphones work via a physical phenomenon called "close coupling." The wavelength of a 1kHz sine wave at sea level and standard temperature is about a foot. A 500 Hz sine wave is about 2 feet and so on. It doesn't take a lot of math to determine that the lowest free-field frequency your ear canal can support is in the land of ultrasonics. At which point it pretty much comes down to whether or not your drivers have an accurate frequency response and a uniform power curve.

Hard to sell that, though. No differentiation. So we've got aluminum bodies vs. plastic bodies vs. wood bodies. This driver vs. that. This plug material vs that. And you know what? If it tests okay at the factory, it'll test okay until it wears out. I suspect "burn-in" crept into the audiophile community from the audiovisual audiophile community that used to talk about "burning in" CRT tubes and plasma displays. That was the kind of "burn in" you wanted to avoid, though.

So all these shit manufacturers perpetuate the notion that you need to do some ritualistic lovin' of their products so that they'll work better. It leverages the sunk cost fallacy - after you've spent 400 hours playing Lou Reed on endless loop into your headphones, you have damn well attached to those headphones more than if you just whipped 'em out of the package. And by participating in a community that tells you what "burn in music" does a better job, you've invested them in your product without having to make the product one iota better.

Headphones now are a pale shadow of headphones 20 or even 10 years ago. Myths such as this allow vendors to differentiate their mediocre product in the market without actually excelling.

Beats in a nutshell.

onlythelonly  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

jeeze dude I read all these insightful posts and I think, "man this guy knows what he's talking about," and half the time i look and it's freakin you.

kleinbl00  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  


onlythelonly  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I can't keep walking in circles

CaptainObvious  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The principle is not necessarily completely unsound. I bought a pair of Quadral Chromium 50 speakers a while ago. I replaced the foil tweeter element with copper leaf, which is approximately 3.5 zillion times thinner than the original material. I made a tool to make a jig so I could form a strip of copper leaf into the /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ shape which would allow it to flex as it is suspended between the two magnets in the driver. (With me so far? Current through the strip of leaf interacted with the fixed vertical magnets to make it flex.) Long story short: about a month after installation, the speakers opened up and the 'sound stage' exploded. The quality of sound produced was then about 1.8E7 zillion times better than factory original speakers.

I don't know what the technical term is for what happens when metal becomes 'accustomed' to limited flexing, but that is what seemed to occur. (It is also possible that the new foil was lightly rubbing against one or the other magnets, but anyhow.) After a time, the sound improved more than just considerably.

Depending on the drivers involved in the manufacture of specific ear buds and the materials involved, it may be that so many thousand hours of use works the materials such that they require less energy to move, which would allow more accurate reproduction of the signal. With crappy MP3 files, the loss of detail resulting from compression is not noticeable under normal circumstances, but when accurate reproduction is possible the difference in quality may astound. Whether or not "burn in" will improve any given headset will depend on materials and construction, so a crap shoot at best. But I would not discount the notion completely out of hand as per my experience with full-size speakers.

(P.S. Do not buy Quadral products from the Canadian distributor or Mount Pleasant Stereo. They both suck. Otherwise, the kit is really good.)

kleinbl00  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Uhm... you replaced ribbon tweeters.

This is a discussion about earbuds.

Ribbon tweeters are their own exotic weirdness. Home-rolled ribbon tweeters are another thing altogether. To use an analogy, the discussion at hand is Briggs & Stratton flathead lawnmower engines ...

...and you're talking about your experiences with pneumatic valves in Formula 1.

    With crappy MP3 files, the loss of detail resulting from compression is not noticeable under normal circumstances, but when accurate reproduction is possible the difference in quality may astound.

MP3s do not lose "detail." If you check 'em on a 'scope they got plenty of high frequency info. What they lose is accuracy. Articulation ain't never going to put that back, it's just going to more faithfully reflect the error.

Mindwolf  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I agree with you there. Beats by Dre is a an extremely cheap product with someone's name on it. It is still possible to get good earbuds/phones but you will have to pay for them.

I think the burn-in thing came from several different places. For instance, back in 2003 when you wanted to stand up a new server it had to undergo a burn-in period. the server was hooked up, and a special program was run. The job of that program was to put the server through it's paces. It was designed to keep it at full utilization for as long as you wanted. We usually kept is going for about 24 hours. If something was going to fail on the server, it was going to happen at that time. Not at some random time which usually ends up being when it costs the company the most in lost revenue and down time.

Actually, I just goggled the term "burn-in" to see if what other uses existed for the term. Wikipedia lists my above description as the definition. So I feel kinda proud of that...

Oh, and it has a little blurb about burning in earbuds at the bottom but who cares about that....

kleinbl00  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I remember burning in servers. I've burned in drives before. It was a 24 hour process designed to find the flaws before you put the device in service.

Did you ever run across anyone who thought the server "ran better" after burn-in? I dunno. The whole thing is weird.

briandmyers  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

In the early days of hard drives, I worked for Seagate. Part of my job then was involved in the burn-in process. In those days, we'd make the drives seek continuously for 48 hours, and a few percent would always fail and be scrapped. We improved on the process though, and I developed the code we ran on the drives themselves during burn-in. We converted it from a simple pass/fail burn-in, to a flaw-mapping / media characterisation phase - so that, for the drives that survived burn-in, we would have a wealth of info stored on the drive itself. This allowed tuning of the read-back parameters later, which saved the company a shit-ton of later testing and flaw-mapping. The genius part was that all this manufacturing phase needed was a power supply for those units. Saved millions in test equipment costs.

kleinbl00  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Not a bad thing to put on the resume at all...

briandmyers  ·  1221 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Oh I did - I think it helped too.