What Makes "Stuff" Fatiguing?

Over in the Monolith Balanced Headphone Amplifier and DAC with THX AAA Technology thread.

There is the start of a good discussion about some things, in this case the THX AAA amplifier being fatiguing to some vs other amps.

I am not debating that this is true or false, just wondering what this really means, and how does one measure or quantify this ?? Is this even possible or it this one of those subjective things we humans will never totally agree on?

To me when I listen many things influence my liestening experience, time of day, hungry or not, stress level, what my wife wants me to do that day, amount of beer consumed (and type!)…music, did i get a good nights sleep etc…so many variables.

So is it just the equipment and its “performance” or is it a specific thing with a specific piece of gear that makes something “fatiguing”?

Interesting to hear your thoughts and ideas…



For me, high end noise or hiss, excessive dynamics, and air pressure in closed headphones.


Listening here this morning with my Monoprice THX AAA 887 amp with HD 600s and the first song was Eric Claptons, Old Love from his 24 nights CD. Live performance, from the opening to the end it is an enthralling experience to me…absolutley non - fatiguing for me. I could listen all day with this setup and music source…its that good to me…

But if I had started with a different song, less “well” recorded in a studio, lesser recording equipment and technique I would probably be less enthusiastic and think this is “fatiguing”…and pressed skip and onto the next song.

Once I have what I would consider a decent setup…one that makes me smile more than frown…the actual source material seems to be my major issue when it comes to listening “fatigue” rather than the decent stuff in my setup…

I can see where “stuff” that is not that “great” with poor source material would excerbate this feeling.

There is a lot of good gear out there that I believe can and does allow for a good listening experience and the fatiguing thing just might be in part “hey I am just tired of listening right now for a variety of reasons…”


Note: apologize for any mis-spellings!!


For me it is generally overly bright treble, sibilance, the quality of the recordings I’m listening to and the comfort of the headphones I am wearing. I would also add where I am sitting and how comfortable I am can definitely make a difference as well to my listening experience.


Various individual factors can do it, not all of which apply to all types of gear. Some are properties of the gear itself, some are environmental, physiological or psychological. But for the sake of this discussion I’ll keep it to things I find fatiguing at the gear level.

And in that vein, it is worth noting that because there are so many potential non-gear factors in listening fatigue, I don’t usually ascribe fatigue factors to a piece of gear until I’ve had lots of listening time with it, in different situations, moods, levels of tiredness and on/off alcohol/caffeine. If the effect isn’t consistent across multiple sessions, including blind ones (where I may not be listening to what I think I am), then I simply assume it’s not the gear causing it.

There are also time factors involved. Not all gear that does exhibit fatigue factors does so in the same length listening periods. I often listen for 8-10 hours straight. And by often, I mean several times a week. Some gear handles that without any fatigue at all. With other pieces it might take an hour or two to occur. And that might further be affected by what it is paired with at the time. Really poor gear bring about fatigue in minutes, reliably, even in blind conditions.

Things I find become fatiguing faster and more reliably include:

  • Unbalanced frequency response (more a factor with acoustic instruments), with exaggerated bass or treble having an effect much faster than a prominent mid-range.

  • Clearly audible distortion (say, above -70 dB)

  • Non-directly audible distortion (say, below -90 dB), that seems to be progressively faster acting as the levels rise, particularly odd-order distortions

  • Noise that intrudes beyond silent/very quiet passages (say, above -60 dB)

  • DACs that have issues with inter-sample overs (exacerbated with lossy source material)

  • Very lean renderings (which might be higher in fidelity, or might not)

  • Minimum phase/apodizing digital filters with slow roll-off

  • Dynamic compression (though sometimes this just winds up being dull, which results in raising the volume, which then causes fatigue)

  • Anything approaching clipping (but not actually reaching it, on technical terms) in the solid-state domain

  • Significant veil in reproduction (to a point it can be “forgiving”, but that’s a very narrow thing, and beyond that I start trying to “hear through” said veil)

  • Exaggerated/fake detail

  • Sibilance not present in the original recording

  • Phase and coherence issues (most commonly a transducer issue)

  • Issues with temporal/transient response

Combinations of the above tend to result in faster onset of fatigue (somewhat obviously, I suppose).


Very interesting list…

Do you find any of these as “top” contributors to listening fatigue?


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I think it’s down to preference too. For me at least, I like a brighter tonal balance in my headphone. This is why I picked the HD600 over the HD6xx, for example. I really like having some room to breathe in music, and I realized I prefer setups that offer the blackest background possible. It’s fantastic to hear the most subtle nuances. This is why I love the THX 789.

That said, there are certain headphones and cheaper IEMs that ended up fatiguing to me fairly fast because of too much energy in the lower treble combined with a crushed stage. That feels shouty and claustrophobic. I don’t like tracks with too much distortion and chaos in that region either.

Or if detail is not available either due to the track or the gear, I prefer a good Harman tuning with punch (this is why I love the BLON BL-03). In that situation, tracks can get boring if the presentation is a bit muddy and lacking definition / dynamic range.


I agree with @lost33 that the quality of a recording is probably the greatest source of fatigue, especially when you have two speakers strapped to your ears, which is why I prefer to listen to less than steller recordings with the speakers a good 8 feet in front of my ears.

Headphone listening also entails a physical fatigue associated with the
inherent discomfort of having a couple of speakers strapped to your ears.

@Torq has compiled a very comprehensive list of items that cause fatigue at the gear level, several of which I would not have thought of until now. I don’t have anything to add to that except to say that as regards the THX 789, I have never heard the 887, it is the somewhat thin rendering of its presentation coupled with what I perceive to be a slight brittleness in the higher frequencies that caused me fatigue. Considering how well it measures as regards distortion and frequency response I must admit I have no explanation for these perceived sonic attributes.

Is that because my mind is playing tricks on me or because the manner in which audio gear is measured is still rather rudimentary and can not give us a full picture of how sound sound is reproduced and perceived? I honestly don’t know.


I honestly think my listening experiences change daily. Even when using the exact same gear as the previous day. I also feel (like others) that both psychological and environmental factors can and do play a large part in determining what kind of listening session you’re going to have. I find it quite fascinating just how many factors may indeed influence us in the end. I would bet that there have been many studies into this precise issue. I haven’t looked into it in any great depth myself though. I may browse and see just what I can find.


I’ll change my DAC filter from apodizing to fast or sharp roll of. I was thinking the apo filter is somehow rounder in the presentation and this would help with fatigue.
Later this evening my wife is out with the girls and I will give it a try for some hours


This for me. Can’t take these qualities for too long.


Yes too loud with extra bass in closed backs is nothing I see as healthy- can’t be good for us in the long term


Too loud is definitely not good. Some bass tracks can be pretty fun sometimes though! These Aeon2C are just right with the proper amp. I am no bass head by any means but definitely like it on some tracks if it’s done right.

https://open.qobuz.com/album/0881034154262 Bass Nectar

https://music.amazon.com/albums/B00L2FHIRA?trackAsin=B00L2FHKOG&ref=dm_sh_850a-6afe-d80d-d77e-3aa0b Space Jesus

some of these tracks you can test for bass and treble fatigue…


Lots of good points being made. For me, headphone comfort is equally important during long listening sessions.


Listen to Bassnectar- this is still completely human
on the Elegia out of SMSL SU-8 to THX AAA 789 balanced to the hf
The Atom + Eve Space Jesus the same- no fear of damaging anything haha

Reminded be a bit:

Though this is fatiguing over some period with the fast short skips (if you know what I mean) at least to me


Agree with generic. “Air pressure in closed headphones” has driven me to open-backs.

“Excessive dynamics” is at once enjoyable and fatiguing. My preferred rigs are balanced for enhanced dynamics across the frequency band, but they are fatiguing after a period of time because they lock me into the music. For more relaxed and longer listening, I turn the volume down to a point where the dynamics are less demanding. But this defeats the purpose of balanced.

To counter fatigue for listening that’s not overly demanding of my attention, I turn to single-ended, open-ended cans and rigs that are flat, with minimal distortion.

Imaging, soundstage, and dynamics are fatigue factors, too. I’m irritated by line-ups that roll off at the low end or climb at the mids and high end. This irritation turns to fatigue. A compressed soundstage, ambiguous imaging, and uneven dynamics are also irritating, and these, too, translate to fatigue.

I guess the word I’m looking for is accuracy in re-presenting the music as it was intended by the recording engineer. Any lack here becomes distortion, and that creates negative attention or irritation.

I just got my first electrostatic system, and I find it non-fatiguing. The words that come to mind are “easy” and “smooth,” i.e., accurate yet non-irritating. It’s like the HD800 but “crisper,” if that makes any sense.

In short, for me, fatigue is associated with the inability to focus on anything but the music. The ability to disengage and free associate while listening is an important part of enjoyment. Too much of a good thing becomes too intense.

Thin and Brittle are similar attributes that I found fatiguing about it, and only after listening for extended periods… I also listen for usually anywhere from 2-10hrs in a day throughout the week (not everyday mind you). Recordings play into it for sure, same with any physical attributes that are unique to me =)

Also, I suffer from “air pressure” fatigue as well…depending on the day it will kick-off my tinnitus (should have been more careful while in the military, and as a kid)


Sibilance, jitter (or timing errors), and excessively bright sounds. I don’t know the mechanics of what causes these issues in audio reproduction equipment, but I can determine that these are the things that I find fatiguing.


For me it’s definitely sibilance with an over-emphasis between 8-9khz, over-emphasis between 3-5khz and an over-emphasis above 11khz.

In general, peaks in the treble as well.


For me it’s:

  • Sibilance 8kHz onward with excessive treble boost
  • Excessive bass boost. I am not a basshead, as many know.
  • A random peak at like 14kHz on IEMs can also bug the heck out of me too.

And then, in general, poorly recorded music paired with one of the above, or a lot of EDM/pop music which is mixed with heavily boosted bass and treble.