Headphone Technology, Transducers, and Fatigue

Per an emerging discussion, this topic is to discuss factors that cause listening fatigue.

Valid topics include:

  • Transducer type (e.g., dynamic, planar magnetic, etc.)
  • Transducer characteristics (e.g., size, shape, composition, etc.)
  • Biological and psycho-acoustic factors (e.g., natural sensitivity to specific frequency ranges, neurotransmitter depletion, etc.)
  • Mitigation methods (e.g., equalizers, tone controls, tube amps, filters/screens, etc.)
5 Likes

I find I get a bit of fatigue in general toward late night, even when listening to the Verite. Gets to the point where I feel like everything sounds flat… everything. Took me a while but have come to realise my brain just needs a break.

So on that note, the brain, current mood, how tired you are, I think, play heavily into what is fatiguing and after how long it becomes that way.

3 Likes

Human biology is extremely important, but often overlooked in discussions of product strengths and weaknesses. People tend to react to the device and blame IT for being bad. They do not consider the many variables and daily changes in their own bodies.

Here are some very quick outside links (simple google search) on fatigue. I’ll look for better sources soon.

https://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advice/q-how-can-make-using-headphones-less-fatiguing

1 Like

I remember putting the AD900 on for the first time, after using Sennheiser Headsets. And it was like knives to my brain. Gave my brain some burn in time, and loved them. From then (18 maybe? 20?) all through my 20s I didn’t find any headphone too bright, even Beyers and Grados (Allesandro MSPro). Now at 32 I’m finding a preference toward warmer and darker toned headphones.

Brains are weird…especially everyone else’s brain.

2 Likes

There is also just plain old ergonomics outside of acoustic phenomena. If the headphones dont disappear when you are listening you aint listening for long. Crappy wt distribution, flat cup padding, etc all matter. I have a bigger than average head so design factors that dont take that into account make a number of products uncomfortable/fatiguing even if the sound isnt.

I also find the more and more trained my ear gets the less acceptable I find transducers that were previously deemed “good”. You start picking up on the bass distortion, the lack of dynamics, that kind of thing and it starts to bother you… probably would fall in to the psychoacoustic category.

3 Likes

This! This is why I am having issues right now.

1 Like

I agree w/@perogie about ergonomics being critical in causing headphone fatigue. I have sold headphones almost 100% because they were unbearably uncomfortable to wear for even 5".

I’m impervious to headphone weight (lucky for me, 'cause I have a few heavy headphones). My main vulnerability is headache & tinnitus. I find that headphones that are closed back designs (no matter how pleasing & good) tend to exacerbate headache & tinnitus more quickly than open-backs.

My long-time preference in headphones & speakers/monitors is the musically natural, organic, non-edgy/bright sound. Even when I was much younger, unaffected by headache & tinnitus, this was my preference. Edgy, bright, insistent/aggressive sound always hurt my ears, even more so now.

1 Like

At the expense of taking this topic even further off topic maybe we can create a topic or merge it, can someone explain to me why say Beyer’s, and Focal headphones seem bright or fatiguing to me say after an hour or in some cases with focal or with the Beyers after 10 minutes or less. Is it the way they are tuned, or the materials used? I say this as the Ananda is considered a bright or a thin sounding headphone to some but it doesn’t sound bright to me at all and I can listen to it for hours yet say the Elegia sounds brighter and thin, or the Elear, Clear, is more fatiguing after say an hour or so and some of the Beyers sound very bright to me? Is it a tonality thing, or a driver thing, or a tuning?

2 Likes

Probably a combination of all of those factors.

1 Like

Kind of what I figured but I wondered why and if I should start looking for headphone measurements to stay away from.

2 Likes

When the loaner program is back up, I think you’ll find certain signatures from certain brands that you gravitate towards. So far, I really like Audeze and Focal, granted the Audeze I own aren’t the typical Audeze tuning.

I’m looking forward to hearing other brands, especially ZMF (not in the loaner program) which I know you’re enjoying.

It’s a great hobby, and a great community.

1 Like

Usually the most fatiguing areas are at around 8.5khz, but generally if there’s a peak anywhere between 6-10khz it can cause issues. The reason beyers often sound fatiguing is that many of them have an extreme treble spike at around 8.5khz. I think the point of this is to A) give the immediate perception of extra detail (faking it in a sense), and B) for studio use where you’re specifically looking for flaws in the recording. A harsh S, F or T sound here and there is very noticeable on those headphones.

Focal headphones don’t have this problem, for any of them. The closest to it would probably be the Clear with a bit of an elevation there at 8khz but it’s far from a peak. But there may be other reasons why you find them fatiguing. For all the open back Focal headphones, the soundstage isn’t particularly large, and while the image distribution is fairly even, there’s a tendency for them to present the details of your music very up close and personal. The Clear is a great example of this.

7 Likes

Done…now we need to move some posts over here:

4 Likes

Exactly why my Audeze LCD-X were sold on the used market. The weight was fatiguing for me. Good sound, poor comfort.

4 Likes

I’m particularly susceptible to two sources of fatigue that are, at times, bound up with each other. One of them happens with very punchy headphones, as with Focal’s open-back lineup, which are too dynamic when I’m tired. When well rested, they’re not a problem, and their slam is a quality I really like. The other is a wince-inducing reaction to certain drum sounds. Some percussion instruments, such as snare drums, can be too piercing, and I suspect this also has to do with my susceptibility to specific frequencies. This is especially (and unsurprisingly) a problem with some headphones, such as my Focal Clear and HD 800 (I realize I’m stating the obvious here). What’s more interesting, though, is that some warmer headphones like my LDC2-C can still present a few of these sounds in an excessively piercing way, which makes me suspect that the problem has to do with certain specific frequencies that aren’t recessed on the LCD2-C. I’d be interested in trying to figure out where those frequencies are.

All this means that I have to subject headphones to certain stress tests when auditioning them. Mogwai’s Superheroes of BMX (on the Government Commissions BBC recording), is good for identifying too much punchiness, especially with kick drum in the middle of the song. Its distorted, screaming, feedback-blaring guitars will probably trigger immediate fatigue for many reading this thread. For bright, piercing drums, pretty much every song on Doolittle by the Pixies is a stress test (and this one the worst).

The perfect headphone for fatigue-free listening when tired? The good, old faithful HD 6XX.

5 Likes

Here’s a university research article on speech/music quality ratings based on hearing aid technology. It considers compression methods, listening volume, musical pleasantness, etc.

This adds perspective relative to audiophile explanations, and sparks ideas.

5 Likes

Yes, closed back headphones have two major issues:

  1. They seal in the air so every sound compresses the air inside. The sensation of pop-pop-pop becomes really unpleasant and obvious over time.
  2. Closed headphones often/usually generate echoes and reflections. This can result in exaggerated frequency bands or random, noisy modifications to the source.
5 Likes

Much as some cars demand to be driven fast so some headphones seem to need to be cranked up to sound their best. I’m finding this with my LCD2-C. Does anyone else experience this? I assume it’s less an issue with headphones that have rich or forward mid presentation, or that resolve well? And I wonder if this has a lot to do with fatigue?

[edit: seeing similar observations in the Aeon 2 thread; I wonder if it’s a planar thing?]

It is. Most planar need juice to be driven properly… You will have some Planars that can be driven better than others… IE: HiFiMan HE6 you basically need a car battery to drive them (not really but you get my point :slight_smile: )

On the other hand you can have HiFiMan Edition X and they can be driven by almost anything and sound good.

I have Ether Flows and LCD3 and they require some serious power.
oh and the HE560… OMG those things are supper inefficient.

2 Likes

Thank you for this. It would be interesting to read direct comparisons of planars by the same company that require different amounts of power (or rather current). I wonder if the HiFiMan and Audeze house sounds vary much between harder- and easier-to-drive models.

The thing with my LCD2-C is that it’s a bit too sleepy until I’ve turned up the amp to a higher level than I’d like. I’m driving it with a Magni 3, which is far from being feeble. The Audeze, then, remind me of an old diesel car my dad had that chugged along laboriously until you got above 3 or 4 thousand rpm. My Focal Clear, by contrast, are bright and dynamic enough that I can keep the volume much lower and be perfectly happy, like having a light, turbo-charged sports car that I’m happy to pootle about in well below the speed limit.

The Clear are often described as fatiguing but I wonder if the ability to enjoy lower-level volume listening offsets this, especially over longer periods of time and in comparison with the LCD2-C?

1 Like