Audiophiles pursue ever higher fidelity through every avenue available. But inevitably, there is one binary decision to be made when seeking a deep listening experience: Should I use speakers or headphones to listen to this music?
There’s pleasure to be found in the expansive soundfields and tactile dynamics of a properly set up speaker system, whether it’s stereo or surround sound. But, of course, such systems are stationary, requiring listeners to sit in one sweet spot to get the full effect. Forget about bringing your stereo with you on a hike in the woods! One good thing is that cost is no longer a major factor; you can get incredible sound for a few hundred bucks with self-powered speakers such as JBL’s LSR308 ($360/pair).
Of course, the sky’s the limit if you have the budget for high-end electronics and speakers. There are 2-channel solutions that cost as much as a new house and require a forklift to move around. But, you can also achieve mind-blowing performance with a few thousand bucks, especially if you build a speaker system around an AVR and multiple subwoofers. And the value proposition of a DIY approach can be tremendous, especially if you already possess woodworking tools and skills.
Another nice thing about speakers is they provide a much more social way to enjoy music than headphones. When you want to share your favorite tunes, there’s nothing like queuing them up on a good system and putting on a “wow” demo for your friends.
When it comes to headphones, the pleasures are found in the portability, privacy, and low cost of entry. Buying a pair of great-sounding cans is the fastest shortcut to experiencing audiophile-quality sound. And even what many people consider to be extremely expensive headphones, such as Focal’s Clear open-back model ($1499) or Sennheiser’s HD 800 S ($1700), are typically quite affordable relative to speakers of similar capability and refinement.
Of course, as with speakers, the world of headphones accommodates those who will pay practically anything for the very best, such as the Sennheiser Orpheus electrostatic-headphone system. And there’s a DIY element as well—headphone modding is a popular pastime among the more addicted.
With smart devices serving as sources, all most people need to do is find headphones that fit well and sound good. There’s no setup to worry about, no room acoustics to deal with, no need to rearrange furniture, and for apartment or condo dwellers, there are no angry neighbors. And for the tweakers, there’s exchanging earpads and trying out different amps, including tube models. Best of all, you can own a large collection of headphones (a dozen or more) and pick the pair that suits your mood on a whim; it’s much harder to do the same thing with speakers unless you own a very large house.
The portability of headphones can lead to profound listening experiences. Whether you are at a museum, or in a park, or perhaps just lounging in your backyard, headphones let you have great sound on your terms. And even in less-than-profound situations, such as sitting on a train or plane, noise-canceling headphones let you appreciate music in relative peace.
So here’s the question: Do you prefer headphones or speakers for music? Given that this is AVS Forum and not Head-Fi, I expect a lot of votes for speakers. And I understand that for many people, it will be a gray area; you might not feel that you explicitly prefer one over the other.
The available answers are:
C. I like them equally
Click here to go to the forum and take the poll.