Interesting "First Experience" With Good Headphones

I have been exchanging emails with a friend back home on the topic of audio quality from both a hardware and digital formats perspective. He is a ‘active but casual listener’. This was interesting to me. Note that my friend is a software kind of guy (now retired).


Where I last worked there was a guy who was a highend-audiophile buf. He would build (put together maybe, not sure how deep he got) his own stuff. He bought a new, really high end set of headphones and let me borrow his older, kind of high end headphones (I don’t think I would have been allowed to use the new headphones) to let me hear the difference compared to my $25 headphones. When I would be coding I would use my headphones and play classic rock at very low volume I guess to drown out the noise in the office. Using his headphones was a completely different experience and I have never understood what was going on. After just maybe 10 minutes it was like the song was drilling into my head, no matter how low the volume I was using. I tried it around half the volume level I normally used with my headphones and would still get that feeling of the song drilling thru my brain even though I could barely hear the music. It was so distracting there is no way I could concentrate to be able to develop code at all. Strangest thing I ever experienced.


Interesting? I suppose;,but high quality, well presented music is often distracting or all consuming, at least to a certain degree.
It’s certainly more difficult to relegate/dismiss high SQ music to the status of “background noise”.

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I do understand where he is coming from.

For me personally it depends on the task I am doing. When I am working on financials in excel (which is row after row of digits, maybe in someway similar to coding) then I find that I have to either listen to instrumental or acoustic music at very low levels to be able to focus 100% on the task.

However, there are other tasks, such as schedule planning etc., where I can listen to anything and not have issues concentrating.

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This doesn’t surprise me, as I experience myself. Several overlapping things could be going on:

  1. Habituation over a long period to the sound profile of cheaper/basic headphones, whereby the brain more or less learns to tunes out the sound and accepts it as the normal state of stimulation. This is akin to being able to sleep with a fan running.
  2. The expensive headphones likely spanned a broader range of the audio spectrum (low and high) and thereby stimulated different auditory receptors and/or nerves. Cheaper headphones tend to either be sloppy with high and low tones or not even reproduce them at all.
  3. The expensive headphones perhaps involved more expansive dynamics and thereby forced attention and/or caused elevated fatigue (e.g., similar to the drumming that happens when you drive a car with one window down).

Several songs provide the ‘drilling into the brain’ sensation for me – likely how my ears and nerves interact with a particular frequency range.

With enough exposure (hours to days or even weeks) one’s ears are likely to learn and adapt. Sometimes this involves training the senses and sometimes it’s just habituation.

You might follow up with specifics about the headphone models involved.

On the question of headphone models, this experience was something like 7 years ago and my friend really has no idea what these headphones were. High end audio is just not his thing.