We all know that music can do wonders for everything from increasing productivity to helping with depression. But how does music sound best, through headphones or speakers? As exhilarating as it can feel to blast music from your speakers as loud as it goes, many prefer the more intimate experience of connecting with a beloved song (or discovering a new one) through a pair of headphones. However is there something more going on with headphones that cause them to technically sound better?
In some ways, it could be psychological ‒ when no one else can hear, it’s just you and your music. It feels a bit like having a soundtrack to your life. As you ride the train, or go jogging, or walk through town, you’ve got your own music setting the mood and determining the rhythm.
Do Headphones Really Sound “Better”?
No, it’s not just in your head. Music really does sound different through headphones to the vast majority of listeners, and you have physics to thank for that. Here’s why. the speakers being so close to your eardrums, and the design of the headphone or earbud sealing other sounds out, directs the sound waves straight into your ear canal. This creates an immersive experience that allows the listener to pick out minute details in the audio.
The way our brain perceives sound makes a difference, too. We asked the headphone guru Carroll Moore of Audio46.com what from a technical standpoint is going on when it comes to what’s called sound-staging “The brain understands that if you hear a sound to your left, your left ear will hear it a few microseconds before the right. Therefore, if sounds are staggered between the ears in an audio mix, your brain will understand the sound as coming from a fixed point in space. This is what helps to create the 3D effect from certain recordings.”
What’s Going On Between Your Ears
By making use of the brain’s ability to precisely place sounds in space, producers can recreate the impression of being seated in a large concert hall while listening to a symphony, or being surrounded by performers playing their instruments. EDM music can bounce beats from one ear to the other for a particularly satisfying effect.
But for all the interesting sonic effects that can be achieved more easily using headphones, speakers actually recreate reality better. For this reason, audio engineers always listen to their final mix through speakers, not headphones. Headphones are too controlled — so it’s impossible to predict what the music will sound like in a real-world environment with uncertain acoustics.
When we perceive natural sound from the world around us, our ears aren’t isolated. The sound is being picked up at the same time by both ears, and (with the exception of expensive surround-sound setups) we’ll generally perceive it as coming from the direction of the speakers.
It’s also not just about the source of the sound waves and our ears. How we hear things is affected by the way the waves bounce off the walls and structures around us, resulting in sound becoming slightly distorted depending on where we’re listening. What we’re hearing through speakers isn’t as clear and precise, but it is a more natural auditory experience.
It’s Not Just One Size Fits All
Ultimately, most audiophiles agree that there’s a time and a place for both headphones, speakers and even different types of headphones for different purposes. Enjoying every nuance of the sound while feeling cut off from the rest of the world is certainly a special experience, but nothing can quite top the sensation of the bass thumping in your chest while the walls rattle around you.
Whatever listening experience you prefer, just be sure to do your research and select a high-quality product that will do your favorite music justice. If you found this post helpful remember to share it with your friends! If you’re looking for help choosing the perfect pair of headphones check out, check out “The 10 Best And 10 Worst Headphones You Need To Know”.
Featured photo credit: Milena Trifonova via unsplash.com