The headphones vs speakers debate is a very sensitive topic within the audio industry. Each one has there own pros and cons, but there is a range of features and aspects to consider and it will depend on the individuals’ needs.
In this article, we will be going over the differences of each to find out what is the best options for you, headphones or speakers?
Obviously, the key factor when deciding which one to buy is where you will be using them. Portability is the concern when it comes to speakers, while headphones can be brought on your daily commute or anywhere else you desire.
Headphones vs Speakers – Which is best?
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what your intended use is for. Speakers create a larger, more realistic soundstage, but you may not have space or investment to go that route in which case headphones make more sense.
For those unaware, the soundstage is the ability to provides a 3D sound image that allows you to perceive the width and spaciousness of sound.
In other words, you can imagine yourself sitting center stage of an orchestra. A speaker or pair of headphones with a good soundstage will feel like the sound is coming from all sides, allowing you to pinpoint where an instrument is playing from.
With headphones, especially higher quality ones, the drivers are positions furthered away from the ears and usually at an angle.
Using angled drivers helps the headphones create a soundstage, as it is a difficult task to accomplish with such small drivers and limited space.
However, the difference between angled drivers and the usual drivers is minimal and can’t provide the soundstage that speakers can.
With speakers, there is no need to create a ‘false soundstage’ as there are bigger drivers, transformers, and the design of the speakers’ cabinet is also a major factor in creating a ‘concert-like’ soundstage.
Arguably the most critical component is the speaker placement. And just like the headphones vs speakers debate, where to place your speakers is just as hostile among the community.
There are many components to consider when it comes to speaker placement and it is a matter of testing and tinkering with your setup to find its optimal positioning.
Dimensions such as the distance between the two speakers, if they are nearby walls, the angle of the speakers and many other factors contribute to the listening experience, and equally, the soundstage.
Although there is a bigger margin for error in terms of speakers, if you get it right you will reap the benefits of a better soundstage.
Do Headphones or Speakers have better soundstage?
Due to the larger drivers and other components that contribute to its setup, speakers do create a better, more realistic soundstage than headphones.
However, headphones are definitely the more budget-friendly option and you will need to spend a lot to beat the soundstage of a quality pair of headphones.
Audio accuracy is defined as a device’s ability to playback the sound as close as possible to the original recording when it was produced in the studio. How accurate this is done is influenced by a range of factors from the driver’s size, quality, and other components.
There aren’t many factors to account for when designing headphones as they will always go directly over the users’ ears.
Because of this, it is much easier for headphone manufacturers to engineer a driver as the only interaction the sound will have is off the insides of the earcup, and into the users’ ear.
It makes the sound waves relatively predictable as there is a limited amount of places they can travel to. For this reason, headphones are generally more accurate and give a more precise listening experience.
As we previously mentioned above, there are many factors when it comes to how sound travels from the speakers and into your ears.
Wherever your speakers are placed, there is always an object for it to bounce off, whether that be a piece of furniture or something else.
Due to this, it messes with the audio accuracy and makes it hard to reproduce the original sound created.
However, higher-quality speakers with a wide frequency-response are better over headphones when it comes to audio accuracy, but it does require a dedicated setup to get precise audio. This can cost tens of thousands, depending on how into audio you are.
What is Visceral Impact?
Visceral impact refers to a speaker or headphones’ ability to make you ‘feel’ the sound in your body rather than hear it with your ears. It is the feeling you get at a concert when you experience the sound ripple through your body and into your chest.
More often than not, this occurs when there is a heavy bassline that fills the room with these low-frequency vibrations.
When it comes to visceral impact, headphones simply can’t compete with a speaker’s ability to create this feeling. Speakers will typically have a dedicated woofer built-in or an external subwoofer in its audio setup.
Because of this, its ability to create bass and thus the physical feeling of the room and your body shaking with the sound is incomparable to any other source.
Although you can get a nice bass with headphones, it doesn’t compare and having it any louder would do damage to your eardrums.
Obviously, cost plays a major role when deciding if you are going to go with speakers or headphones.
With headphones, you can get away with just spending money on the headphones themselves and an amplifier if you want to get serious with it.
However, with speakers, there can be a lot more spending associate with them. Most people who are really into there audio setup won’t just spend money on the speakers and leave it at that.
Other costs like amplifiers, subwoofers, and crossovers come into play too. The most dedicated people even have their own ‘listening rooms’, which help optimize sound quality among other things.
For the money you pay, headphones’ audio quality is simply amazing for what you get, even more so when compared to speakers.
A reasonably priced speaker system can cost anything from $5-10,000 (Yes, that’s reasonable in the speaker world!).
For a similar audio experience, you can pay $500-$1000 and get a quality pair of headphones and a decent amplifier.
Ultimately, it comes down to the individual’s needs and wants. And of course, each one has its pros and cons regardless of price, but dollar per performance, headphones will always win.
Frequently Asked Questions
Headphones vs Speakers for Movies?
Like most things, it depends. A nice 5.1 surround sound system in your living room is my ideal setup. The sounds of explosions and actors’ voices filling the room really gives a wonderful sense of immersion. It certainly beats the soundstage of a pair of headphones.
However, there are factors to consider here. Not everyone has the ideal room or budget to complete this sound system. Not only that, there may be a baby in the house or roommates and next-door neighbors to be considerate of.
Headphones are easily the ideal choice if you are on a tight budget or if loud sound is an issue, but if you can, a speaker system will give you a realistic movie experience.
Headphones vs Speakers for Gaming?
A nice pair of headphones with a separate microphone if you like to talk to friends is an excellent choice when it comes to gaming. Especially if you play more competitive games where communication is a key element. Speakers are a great choice too if you prefer single-player games.
I personally use a set of Sennheiser HD 599 headphones with a blue snowball microphone on a boom stand. It suits me perfectly because I don’t always want a microphone attached and I can use it whenever I need to.
If I use my PlayStation in my living room where I have my surround sound system setup, I find it a more immersive experience when it comes to story-driven single-player games.
We could spend all day going over the headphones vs speakers debate, but this article gives a brief insight into both of their pros and cons.
It really comes down to the individual’s budget, current setup and what their primary use will be when deciding to go for headphones or speakers. Either way, both are a great choice and are wonderful entries into the audio world.