Do You Really Need to Burn In Your Headphones?

Burning in headphones, headphones break-in—people use different terminologies to describe this headphone burn in test, the act of letting new headphones sit and play noise for hours to improve the sound quality. This is also known as headphone burn in time.

You’ve probably landed on this page because you’re looking for a spot-on guide on how to make your new TaoTronics headphones have the best sound they can. You may also want to know the different noise headphone burn in findings.    

At one point, you may even have wondered, “Is headphone burn in real?” In this detailed guide, you’ll discover the answers to any questions you may have. You’ll also read about headphone burn in tests, pink noise headphone burn in, and white noise headphone burn in

We’ll tell you what you need before you burn in headphones—if you want to test several pairs yourself. 

But before that, let’s start with the basics, shall we? 

Quick Jump

What is Headphone Burn In?

Why Do Some Audiophiles Believe Headphone Burn In is Necessary?

Debates and Experiments Over the Years 

How to Burn In Headphones (Step-by-Step Guide)

Tips for Successful Headphone Burn In

What is Headphone Burn In?

To understand the concept of headphone burn in, let’s take two examples:

  • Brand new shoes
  • A car’s engine

When you buy a new pair of shoes, they’ll hurt a bit even if they are the right size. You may get blisters on your small toes or may experience painful arches or a sore Achilles tendon. But after wearing the shoes a few times, the discomfort will just disappear. 

You’ve also heard that one of the best ways to care for your car’s engine—after it’s been off for a while—is to switch it on and let it run for a few minutes.

What do these 2 examples have to do with headphone burn in?   

These are all forms of breaking in (burn in).

Audiophiles believe that a new pair of headphones needs to play back several hours of music or various sounds before it can reproduce the finest sound. This burning in will make it sound better than a fresh-out-of-the-box pair. 

However, many audiophiles can’t say for sure exactly how many hours of headphone break in are needed for the best results. Suggestions range from 4 hours to an insane 400 hours.

But do you need to burn in your headphones in the first place? Is headphone burn in real or is it just an audio equipment myth?

Let’s find out.

Why Do Some Audiophiles Believe Headphone Burn In is Necessary?

To thoroughly understand the gist of headphone burn in, you have to understand how headphones work to reproduce sound. 

That way, you’ll know which headphone components are targeted during the process.

How Do Headphones Work?

Headphones are essentially speakers. Contrary to common thinking, speakers do not produce sound. They reproduce sound. 

Modern playback devices (for example, smartphones) store sound in the form of encrypted digital data. When you tap “play,” you transfer the data to your headphones. Since it’s encrypted, it has to be converted into electrical signals then sound waves that your ears can pick up and your brain can interpret as audible sound.

The headphone component that helps convert electrical signals into sound waves is called a diaphragm. A coil is attached to the diaphragm. When an electric current courses through the coil, it makes the diaphragm to go back and forth. This movement causes the diaphragm to compress and displace the air around it, producing the sound you hear. 

Headphone burn in is based on the belief that a brand new pair of headphones comes with a brand new diaphragm, voice coils, and a magnet—which are rigid. 

A rigid diaphragm does not compress and rarify air the way it is designed to. It does not create accurate sound wave representations of the original electric signals.    

So, audiophiles recommend playing hours of pre-recorded sounds to exercise a potentially rigid, new diaphragm and its related components to a high level of sound quality.

But, Is Headphone Burn In Real?        

A yes or no answer won’t suffice. 

While passionate opposers of the process decry that breaking in headphones doesn’t work, there are even paid apps that run on the idea that headphone burn in works.

Are there credible tests to prove that this process works?

Debates and Experiments Over the Years 

There are 3 headphone burn in tests that had unbiased procedures; credible tests this post can reference with confidence.

Test #1: Tyll Hersten’s Double Blind Test

Tyll received three sets of brand new AKG Quincy Jones headphones Q701 from the manufacturer. He put one pair away and tested the two. 

He took one, put it on a dummy test head, played pink noise, and measured the headphones’ frequency response over 90 hours.

He took measurements at intervals of 5, 25, 60, 120, 300, 600, 1200, 2400, 3900, and 5400 minutes.

Tyll decided to plot the data. Here’s what he recorded:

noise headphone burn in, is headphone burn in real

He went on to publish a series of graphs indicating different results for the right and left channel frequency responses.

Of note is the period of headphone burn in time between the 20th and 40th hour. Tyll reported evidence of a gradual, slightly increasing bass response at about 80Hz that he could not credit to earpads’ movement .

Take a look:

Then this happened at the 20th hour mark between the ranges 800Hz and 2,000Hz:

Headphone burn in time, is headphone burn in real

Tyll didn’t want to come to a conclusion after just one test, so he went on to conduct another test five months later. 

Test #2: Tyll Hersten’s In-depth Test 

Tyll’s second headphone burn in test was a subjective test. He still went for Quincy Jones Q701 headphones. 

He listened to two headphone sets without checking which one was which—green or white. He was aware, however, that one of the two was broken in. 

He didn’t know the green pair was broken in for about 1,000 hours, and the white one was spanking new. Once he wore them, he had to make out any sound quality differences to determine which one was green (broken in) and which one was white (not broken in).

Here’s a video showing how he did it:

If you watch the video on YouTube, be sure to read the comments.

Tyll concluded there were slight differences in sound but couldn’t say that it was as a result of the burn in effect. 

The problem with Tyll’s tests is that they only used headphones by one manufacturer, so it’s not clear if another brand’s pair would show any differences at all.

Test #3: The 120-Hour Burn In Test

RTings used four different headphones (by different brands) for its headphone burn in test. But each had a different transducer. 

To attribute any changes in sound to the burn in effect (after a headphone burn in time of 120 hours), the changes had to be audible to the human ear. The difference was inaudible to the ear, so burn in was discredited here.   

Test #4: Oluv’s 2018 Pink Noise HeadPhone Burn In Test  

Oluv shot a video showing his test. See it here:

He concluded there was a difference, yes, but declared it was “insignificant” and “negligible”.   

So, does breaking in your headphones mean you’ll enjoy better sound?

All of the above tests show some differences before and after breaking in a set of headphones. But the changes are tiny, so tiny that they are discredited. 

Furthermore, each test had its own limitations—such as using headphones by one brand (Tyll’s tests) and using headphones with different transducers ( test).   

Oluv’s test showed some difference, but he said it was negligible. Yet, the ability of the human ear to capture subtle differences in sound quality, especially from a headphone set placed so close, can be astonishing 

Some sources suggest a headphone’s sound output can be affected by wearing eyeglasses. Others suggest that what actually burn in are the earpads, which after repeated use, seal around the ears and lock out leakages well enough to boost the perceived sound.

Yet others say burn in is a “placebo effect.” It doesn’t matter about headphone burn in time because the human brain thinks that the sound quality improved, when in actual sense it didn’t. 

But perhaps you’d like to test headphone burn in yourself? Simply follow these steps.

How to Burn In Headphones (Step-by-Step Guide)

Before you start the burn in process, here’s what you should do. Get pink noise, white noise, or long music mixes with a wide range of frequencies.

White noise headphone burn in refers to the sound made by combining all the frequencies of sound waves. Pink noise headphone burn in is considered the best for burning in headphones and is widely used as a reference signal in audio engineering.

Some people call it relaxation noise, but unless you want to go nuts, you’ll not want to listen to it for the amount of time a typical burn in will take.

You should do these 2 things before you choose noise headphone burn in:

  • Choose a variety of music

 Create music mixes, combining all genres—even if you aren’t a big fan of all of them. 

The goal is to ensure your headphones hit a wide range of frequencies and loosen the diaphragm as evenly as possible.

  • Get one of the best headphone burn in apps

Don’t have time to create a 9-hour track mix?

Save time by getting a burn in app for Android or IOS. These apps have pre-recorded sounds at the right frequencies. Alternatively, you can get desktop or mac audio software to loop white and/or pink noise with the music files in your computer.

Our Short Guide to Burning In Headphones

Step 1: Put your hardware, looped tracks, pink noise, and white noise files handy.   

Step 2: Use an app or software to loop them all together in 4-hour parts. Each part should comprise of continuous white noise, followed by pink noise, and then the music tracks.

Step 3: Hang the headphones somewhere they won’t drop or be a nuisance to you. 

Step 4: Connect the headphones to the PC or smartphone with the software you used to loop the music.

Step 5: Play the sound mix for up to 4 hours at a time daily. The headphone burn in time is critical.

Step 6: Pause, put on the cans, and listen carefully for any differences in sound output.

Step 7: Stop when you attain the ideal sound quality for your needs. 

There you have it! That’s the best way to burn in your headphones.

Here are more hacks to help you effectively break in your headphones.

Tips for Successful Headphone Burn In

  • Watch your headphone burn in time – don’t listen to hours of white/pink noise. After you create the setup, let the music play on its own.
  • Do not burn in headphones while driving, operating machinery, or working. Neurologists say the different noise frequencies can make you—the listener—sleepy. 
  • The more premium your headphones are, the longer the time you should set aside for burn in. Aim for at least 45-60 hours. For higher end cans, a burn in time of 90 hours and above is ideal. Be sure to listen periodically to check if the set has achieved a desirable sound quality.    
  • Set the music’s volume to medium to ensure you don’t damage your investment.
  • Use the headphones for not more than 4.5 hours a day
  • Remember, “good sound quality” is highly subjective. Headphones that sound great to you may not sound great to another person. When you burn in headphones, focus on the sound quality you like.

That’s all the information you need to burn in headphones successfully.

Wrapping Up

Wired vs. Wireless Audio, Burn in headphones

As you’ve seen, some sources say headphone burn in works while others believe it to be a pure waste of time. You can decide to skip all the talk and test the phenomenon yourself. Just like rooting (jailbreaking) your phone, you don’t have to perform headphone burn in.

All the tests we’ve discussed in this post didn’t find objective data to support the idea that headphone sound output significantly changes after burning in. So, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to do it. Have you tried headphone burn in before? Feel free to share your tips to help fellow audiophiles. 

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Rebecca Lee has a penchant for writing about all things audio-related for TaoTronics. Her editorial endeavors include testing out the latest headphones to write in-depth product reviews that benefit our readers.

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