Headphones and Speakers

Kind of curious to see if there are others who have fallen into the speaker-rabbit-hole as well. And if so, how much of your experience with speakers influences your choice of headphones?


I’ve almost always preferred speakers over headphones because of the more convincing soundstage (the HD800 and HE1000 are the only ones I’ve heard with a convincing center image) and physical sensation, but living in a dorm/apartment often limits when I can use them. But I’ve shuffled between a few pairs of speakers. I started with a pair of Pioneer BS22’s, then upgraded to Bowers and Wilkins DM17’s, then Klipsch Forte I’s, then Moth Audio Cicadas, and now I have a pair of Selah Audio Veritas.

Now I’m looking for a proper speaker amp. I had a Great American Sound Son of Ampzilla to drive my speakers and HE6 until it blew up one day and since then I’ve been using either a Bottlehead SEX or Harman Kardon HK430 which aren’t nearly as beefy. I’m looking at building a Firstwatt F5 clone this summer but projects rarely seem to get finished so I may look for a used one.

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I actually started with speakers, Martin and Logan motion 40s and Marantz amp, but since I’m in a condo now I don’t to use them to there full potential thus it’s headphones for now.
But they don’t really have an influence on my headphones, I treat them as a separate category (if that makes sense)

aaaahhhhh memories of college, a nice sunny day outside the dorm, music blasting from the speakers, frisbee or just working on the tan.

I use both and each have their place. At work most of us use headphones until Friday, then the boss cranks his music and they have to listen to it down at the end of the hall :hear_no_evil: For pure music enjoyment I stick with headhpones. Interestingly enough, depending on my gaming at the moment, sometimes I like headphones for noise orientation, and other times I like speaks to get the full body experience.

As for how my experiences with headphones shapes my use of speakers…when I listen it has to be 2.1 at the very least and they need to sound good. Headphones have spoiled me in that regard.

In high school, back in the early 70s, one of my friend’s parents had a “quadraphonic” system boasting the flagship Polk speaker (SRS-1, I think) of the day. Dynaco tubes. It was the first speaker that really made an impression on me. When I think back on it, some of that transmission-line design is rather similar to some good headphones. The tweeters were revealing, I recall listening to some Jamaican album with steel drums that sounded like they were right there.

As I started to pay attention to sound, I got to hear lots of AR-2s and 3-s. Hegeman 1 speakers with the 7 inch aluminum drivers. Opus one. Early Maggies. Dhalquists. I didn’t own much of anything myself. Finally, in my junior year of college, I made a deal with a friend who was a grad student in engineering acoustics. He also sang barbershop, and was a theater organ enthusiast. Back when theater organ enthusiasts in engineering were sampling famous organs, and designing their own custom electronic stops on their own equipment.

This friend introduced me to Norelco’s speaker book and solving speakers as electronic equivalent circuits. He desperately needed to fund some more sound for his theater organ hobby. He’d already created “BMF-1” an 8+ cubic foot cabinet for most of his playback, but had some 15 or 18 inch Electrovoice subs that he wanted to use to “synthesize 32 foot pipes”

In return for what I had in available student cash, I bought his modified Rectilinear III highboy speakers, which I still use today. Julian Hirsch had named them Speaker of the year in 1968. My friend had done some work on them (after blowing out one midrange and replacing it with another similar one). We further modified the high end with the substitution of a Phillips-Norelco soft dome tweeter in one of the tweeter legs (originally 4 tweeters on 2 circuits). McKendry (my friend) tested them in the anacholic chamber, and made a few crossover adjustments. And that’s what I’ve used for over 40 years.

They are showing their age, but I don’t want to replace them with something that’s about the same quality but different. This means that although I’ve listened to a number of better speakers, I’ve just not been able to pull the trigger on what will be a multi-thousand dollar purchase to properly upgrade. Not to mention that any new speaker must have spousal approval and be relatively cat-proof.

I did cat-proof the Rectilinears, having lost the original grilles, and replaced them with a metal grille designed for speakers.

My headphone taste HAS influenced what I listen for in potential replacement speakers. I like electrostatics, and I like speakers that pay close attention to time coherence. My wife likes the look of Wilson Audio, but not the price…

Hmmm I seem to have sputtered all over me trousers. I’ll be toddling off now.

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Well, I’ve always had a set of speakers at my PC anyway, but ever since I got my Vanatoo Transparent Ones, I’ve been focusing more on matching a closer to neutral sound signature in/around my ears as well.

I’m still not where I want yet, but so much reading yet to do.

I find that headphones and speakers are a very different experience.
My big system has top class speakers (20K) KEFs and to my ears varies more than headphones due probably most to temperature. It has a particular voice that is OK but not as good as top class phones. The bass does have a different quality but not necessarily better,
I have always had the best big system I could afford and wouldn’t want to lose it if only for social reasons but actually spend much more time listening to headphones. I particularly like trying different amps and phones which would be impractical with the big system.
I don’t think my speakers influence choice of phones but the phones do set a standard for the speakers!

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Maybe temperature is a variable when installed, but room acoustics and speaker placement have such a profound effect on speakers. At least headphones are consistent.

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I can relate to that. I spent a fortune on Full Room listening. Its not nearly as personal as headphones.

Different worlds IMHO. When I want to really feel the music and be totally immersed (and crank it) it’s my big speaker system (5.1.1 Klipsch Reference with dual subs). But when I want to chill it’s headphone time. I think they both influence each other. Good source material is critical.


Amen I can’t say enough about " Source " To me this most important and not discussed enough.

This is one of the finest source material sites ever had the opportunity to learn from.

I do not mean to get a little off topic. Since source was mentioned I could not help but point some people to this site

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That’s my next project to improve acoustics in my listening room. I came across this article that looks interesting.

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Are you looking for recommendations?

I really came into headphones from a speaker-centric setup. A first headphones were a necessary evil (or purely for portable use). Then a way to get decent quality music at work without getting fired. But whenever possible I’d be listening on my speaker rig at home.

Changes in living situations mean that if I ran my speaker rig properly in the evenings then the neighbors would have a hit-man looking for me in pretty short order. My fiancé might be on their side, too. So the headphone rig has become progressively more capable and gets a lot more use than I ever thought it would.

Other than being fairly immune to concerns about stage with headphones (which is not the case with speakers), I find the bigger works (typically full orchestral works) are more involving and have a better sense of scale with the speaker system, as to tracks with real spatial cues (live jazz-club recordings for example) … but this doesn’t really translate into any specific influence on my choice of headphones (nor vice-versa).

One thing that WAS a major change was that for the longest time, until about 18 months ago, in fact, was that I didn’t generally like to listen to LPs via headphones. Even today, at home, the turntable is in the speaker rig and I have no plans to put one into my main headphone setup. Though at the office I do have a turntable feeding my headphone setup (it’s that, or don’t listen to vinyl at work at all). And that has, curiously, ceased to be “an issue” … I no longer find it “odd” … it’s very enjoyable in fact, but I have no desire to do it at home!

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I come from a speaker background, headphones when I got into this game were either uncomfortable or just sounded bad (with the exception of some Stax I heard).
My first speakers were Allison Acoustics IV, I still have them but haven’t listened to them in a while.
Current speakers are Sonus Faber Concertos in piano black.The sound is as lush as the finish to say the least.
Are they the most neutral, uncolored speakers out there? no but I don’t care I just like the sound.
To avoid bugging my wife, or while I’m at work I tend to spend more time under headphones (or with IEMs stuck in my ears). It’s a bit like comparing oranges and grapefruit, both play music and sound good but they’re definitely not the same thing.
I’m fast getting to the point where I’m not interested in chasing perfect sound, I’d much rather just sit back and
enjoy the music.

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Very different experiences with phones vs speakers. If I had the right room and could play music at a reasonable volume I would always choose speakers. You need to have the speakers properly positioned each at least 3 feet from the side walls and ideally at least 4 feet from back wall and then separated by a distance equal to your distance from the speakers. Usually about 6-8 feet. If you have quality speakers you will hear a truly 3 dimensional image. I once heard a pair of Quad Electrostatic speakers set up this way except they were about 10 feet from the back wall. On a large orchestral recording I could hear instruments 8 feet behind the speakers. It was magical and very difficult to do in most home listening rooms. With headphones getting a deep soundstage is also difficult but other than that you can eliminate the room as a factor as well as the need to sit in a specific location for the best imaging. Plus you don’t bother those around you and you can listen anytime at any volume you are comfortable with.

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Although I’m in the camp of “speakers sound better than headphones”, I’ve somehow never gotten sucked into the speaker rabbit hole. I think part of it is that to get serious about it, I would have to do some make some modifications to the listening space which seems both onerous and requires negotiation with my significant other! Also, it seems a lot more expensive to get into high end speaker setups than high end headphones.

Talk about a speaker rabbit hole. I could never get it right. There has never been an end-game or Holy Grail for me. I’ve come to the conclusion there is no " Holy Grail " I gone the super high end speakers. In the end the custom-built “North Creek” Catamounts I fell in love with. Then it was room treatments, cables. I even bought little bells and sculpted wood designed by Pro cable maker in Tampa. I think that one might have been snake-oil I fell for in my early audio years. “Synergy Synergy Synergy” It’s an endless trap, yet it still is fun until I get the bills.
Imagine this, I finally got smart and, discovered the wonderful world of used. It was finally a break on my wallet.