Why you should consider burning-in your headphones? (Or should not)

Headphones burn-in

What is headphones burn-in?

You might have heard of breaking-in new shoes but are you familiar with the myth of headphones burn-in? A new shoes require break-in because the rigidity of new shoes gave wearer blisters. The only solution, albeit counterintuitive, is to actually wear it more often to soften the rigidity. The shoe is considered done breaking-in after the wearer have achieved the most comfortable state for the shoes.

In the world of headphones, you can supposedly enhancing the state of headphone’s performance via this process call burn-in.

How to burn-in my headphones?

Basically the process of burn-in is relatively straight-forward and pain-free. All you have to do is to continuously play music through the headphones. It is recommended to play for at least 40-50 hours.

Burn-in gurus usually play pure tones like sin wave, sweeps, pink noise, and or AM/FM static. You can layer them with more complex tones like classical music to give the headphones a more robust workout.

Normally people do this in a single sitting instead of separate sessions to expedite the burn-in process.

Pro-tip: You need not wear the headphones during this process unless you are considering going nuts. 

Why it sounds like a plausible idea?

To understand this, we need to look within the headphones. If you ever had your hands on a a pair of broken headphones, consider opening it up to see the full glory of the internals.

Look out for this piece of thin, semi-rigid piece of membrane call diaphragm. This piece of diaphragm converts mechanical vibration from the voice coil into sounds. Such a device is called a transducer. This is where the sweet music is coming from.

Similarly to a pair of new shoes, some believed that a freshly minted pair of headphones has  diaphragms that might be rigid, hence deemed to be ‘weak’ or not at a optimal state. By burning-in the headphones via methods mentioned above, the physical structure of the diaphragm can be loosen up.

To know why the rigidity of diaphragm might matters, we need to dive deeper. How does diaphragm produces sound?

Headphone burn-in with diaphragm
Credit http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/how-headphone-dynamic-drivers-work

When an electrical audio signal reaches the voice coil, the magnetic property around the diaphragm forces it to move in a linear motion back and forth. This mechanical movement pressurizes and rarifies the air in front of the diaphragm, hence producing the sound wave representation of the original electrical signal.

A rigid diaphragm might not be able to compress and rarifies air at a greater ease than a loosened diaphragm, hence it might not be able to create an accurate representation of the electric audio signal. Overall, this leads to poorer sound quality from the headphones.

There was an “experiment” done by a Tyll Herstens, who had to undergo double blind test to identify a burn-in headphones from a new pair of headphones. Firstly, both headphones are of the same model and it was known beforehand that the green headphones was burned-in for at least 1000 hours.

Even though they are of different color, Tyll wouldn’t be able to see it since it’s on his head. He will then randomly pick one of the headphones from a flick of a coin and he had to identify the headphones(either green or white) that he was listening to. He did it for 15 times and he only got it wrong twice.

At the end of it, Tyll gave insights on how he identify the burn-in headphones. To him, the burn-in headphones gave him significantly “smoother” sound. However, do take note that such judgement are purely subjective and was not reflected consistently among everyone.

So what’s the catch?

There have been no scientific approach to investigate the effects of burn-in on headphones. No one is able to come up with a conclusive results of the relationship between headphones burn-in and the improvement in quality of sound.


So is it worth burning-in your headphones? Well, it depends. If you are a audiophiles, why not? If every slight change of sound quality can be picked up by your well-trained ears, then this is definitely at advantageous to you since you get improve sound quality at no cost!
Otherwise, just keep calm and carry on listening.

💬 Conversation: 4 comments

  1. I have been listening to music critically for the last 37 years. In my experience it is more than advantageous to burn in your headphones. Oftentimes when they come out of the box their dynamic range is very limited. Also Austin times and you don’t burn then man you get a very boxy sound.

    1. I think that any pair of headphones or floors tanning speakers etc definitely need to be, what i used to call it broken in. All cones to a degree, and price change a lot, listen to a track you know before and after, and if you listen instead of just hearing, the difference is definitely there.

  2. I noticed the difference isn’t a big when compared to, say loudspeaker midwoofer drivers, but it does exist. While woofers resonance freq usually drops by a few Hz, as the suspension loosens and other parameters related to it, the difference in headphones, at least with impedance sweep was very minimal. I wonder if anyone attempted to do Thiel/Small comparison before and after burn in on headphones, if the T/S model applies.

  3. I absolutely agree, that there is a difference between used and brand new headphones of the same type / model. I purchased a pair of ATH M20x in 2019. They have been great (particularly for the price). Although they are still working fine, I decided to replace them for Xmas 2022. The new ones just didn’t sound right, so i compared the two sets, with the same sound source. The difference was ‘alarming’ i immediately checked to see if there had been any spec changes. No, none at all. I actually thought they might be faulty? As there was reduced bass , mid and treble response compared to the older set. I was all set to send them back but then read this article, which made complete sense. So, will be keeping them for sure. Many thanks, to ‘headphonesty.com’

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