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Ramblings of a Saint

Things to consider about Headphones

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This is a post a from a thread regarding Technology Gamers don't need. My post was in relation to the headphone comments. Some may find it useful

My 2 cents worth on the matter of Headphones:

5.1* Headphones are better than Stereo cans when it comes to creating a surround effect (I'm referring to headphones with actual multiple drivers for each ear rather than virtual surround as virtual surround cans are basically stereo cans). So if precision in sound location and positioning is what you're looking for, 5.1 cans are better than stereo cans in that regard (relatively), but that pro comes with a big con, 5.1 cans recreate the surround effect at the cost of the sound quality in terms of sound replication/reproduction as focused is lost through the multiple drivers.

Stereo cans bring it up the rear with their superior and wider sound stage that projects a similar surround effect as 5.1 cans (maybe not as precise, but close), and because they only use 2 drivers, they don't renege on the sound replication/reproduction and quality the way that 5.1 cans do.

If we look further at the stereo cans, there's the question of closed back vs open back headphones, each with pros and cons. Closed cans thrive in sound isolation and are usually for those who don't want sound leaking out or in. The downside is that the sound stage in most closed cans is only about 75% - 85% the quality of the sound stage found in opened cans (still a better focused sound stage than surround cans).

Opened cans on the other hand have the best sound stage (I still dream of getting my hands on a pair of HD 800's). As a result of the open design, the sound stage is wider and with the best recreates sound as it was created and could even match 5.1 cans with their surround imaging (higher end headphone of course). Their issue is with their strength, the open design. This design is a double edged sword because of sound leakage (in and out). Your sound will be heard by those around and you will hear those around you.

Another question is whether you use your cans for music (your answer is probably yes). Mid to high end 5.1 cans will easily play 2nd fiddle to mid to high end Stereo cans when it comes to music simply because 5.1 cans don't cater for different elements present in music (Lows, mid tones, mid highs, high tones, and the subtle ambient tones), this is once again because focus of sound is lost through the multiple drivers. This is also key to why most audiophiles will advise you to get quality stereo cans over quality 5.1 cans.

Another key factor is the sound card**, you need a quality sound card to reach the true potential of your cans (stereo or surround). USB only uses the default drivers (sound drivers) to drive the sound which in general means it won't be the best quality you're getting, analog (3.5mm jack) is the better choice, but avoid your front audio ports, these degrade the quality of your cans.

*I'm also referring to 7.1 cans
**If you're a PC gamer

tl;dr: Surround cans are better (relatively) for surround effect, Stereo cans are much better for sound replication/reproduction and music. It's more complex than 5.1 is better than stereo or vice versa.

I personally prefer stereo cans

Updated 06-12-2012 at 12:53 PM by Saint_Dee



  1. Juvenile's Avatar
    Interestingly detailed information on headphones.

    Also interesting at the amount of times "cans" were used.
  2. Saint_Dee's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Saint
    Interestingly detailed information on headphones.

    Also interesting at the amount of times "cans" were used.
    Thanks for the feedback. Imagine having to type out headphones as much as I used "cans"