Burn In: Fact or Fiction
Some believe that using an audio product for a certain amount of time will allow it to settle it into itself after the purchase, becoming more clear or perhaps even changing any number of variables in the sonic experience simply due to using the product enough. Burn In is a very touchy subject and one that usually incites mass hysteria and panic. I have a theory:
When suddenly thrust into low light venues, your eyes require time to fully adjust before your vision clears up and objects appear more defined and in focus. I believe this visual effect can be paralleled with your auditory functions. Swapping from the Stax 007 (A dark sounding headphone ) to the Sennheiser HD800 (A brighter sounding headphone) instantly makes the HD800 sound muffled and hazy, emaciated on the treble and with a high sheen as if I were looking at an overexposed photograph. A far cry from what my my ears feel the HD800 to be after using the headphone for any allotted time frame. There is a lot of inconsistency during the comparison process over just using either headphone by itself and fully allowing my ears to soak in the headphones sound signature. When I use the headphone without having that reference point of some other opposing model, my experience is different than if I were to use the headphone alone normally and without something to compare it to.
I simply am not sure that an audio product can alter itself internally over time in the manner most audiophiles suggest they do. The “night and day difference“ after Burn In statements are something I cringe at now, however my view on this has inverted itself in recent times. I believe there is something else happening. What though: is the answer to that question that eludes me. There are many sub- categories of listening that currently cannot be measured. There are no tests to showcase how spacious a headphone sounds, measurements cannot relay the sheer awesomeness the Sennheiser HD800 offers in its sound staging qualities, nor can any current test truly appreciate texture and tone type: Is it warm, cold, neutral, natural or monitor in tone? Whats the bass texture like? Is it solid or a bit watery, does it sound loose or flimsy? What is the decay of the bass like? Is this a fast headphone or one that is more mellow? How much separation and air between instruments is there? Does the treble have a lot of snap and kick to it, or is it a bit softer and relaxed?
Some of these are qualities that are reported post Burn In and it creates a bit of a conundrum when trying to accurately paint a picture of audio qualities with text and keystrokes. I neither fully defend nor fully repel the possibilities of some type of change after time, either electrical or physical that occur inside an audio product over time. My gates will always be open on this subject. I simply found it very interesting that my opinions after a fair amount of time using a product can change so drastically when I have a reference point on par with or exceeding that product. It isn’t until A/B comparisons take place that my ears pick up clarity deficiencies, haze or static that my mind and ears simply no longer pick up on after a certain amount of time.
Is it possible that most claims to audible differences post Burn In are directly related to that enthusiast simply becoming either unadjusted or adjusted to that product? Perhaps, the infant minutes of your experience with a headphone can be etched into your auditory memory and recalled more easily than later minutes. Once a certain amount of time is spent with that headphone, you might now have two reference points: The unbiased newborn sound signature as your memory recalls it, and the adolescent and biased version after your ears have adjusted to the sound signature. Claims to drastic changes seem very understandable now that I’ve played with all of these flagship headphones together and witnessed first hand my own uncontrollable auditory bias as more time is spent with a set of headphones.
After hours upon hours of usage with headphone A, I can swap out for headphone B that offers a vividly different tonality and presentation. After enjoying headphone B for a bit, flipping back to headphone A results in a tone and sound that I am a bit unfamiliar with. My gut instinct now is that something has altered, which may be an absolute illusion. Headphone A now has a noticeably more haze that I feel it to have had just before removing the set from my ears. These problems were not noticeable in the slightest after spending a fair amount of time with it. This effect took place on all 12 headphones I have for this report.
Bottom line, you have to take the journey yourself and discover how your ears settle into the sound signature of any given product. The impression your ears have during the first few minutes may be entirely different from any impressions you might have many hours later. Some audiophiles insist you immediately run pink noise tracks after purchasing a product and letting it play for X amount of time, I say otherwise. Use the headphone immediately so you can fully appreciate any potential change, enjoy your purchase from start to finish and don’t worry about Burning In your headphones as soon as you acquire them. You own them now, so enjoy them from beginning to end.
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