Blake has high-quality studio headphones and is familiar with this process.
Do Headphones Need to Be Broken In?
If you use high-quality headphones, you definitely need to know about the burn-in process. High-quality headphones require a break-in time called "burn in." Many times expensive headphones will sound mediocre right out of the package until they have been burned in. The burn-in process can take several—if not over a hundred—hours until your headphone speakers have settled into the way they will sound for the rest of their lives.
During that burn-in time you may notice some changes in the way your headphones sound, usually for the better. This is the how-to guide with step-by-step instructions for burning in new headphones to their best-sounding potential, getting the most wide frequency response you can possibly get.
How to Burn in or Break in Headphones
All you need is your computer, headphones, the program, and a few days of patience.
- You will need a few different types of audio files with various frequencies and sounds. You can use pre-recorded .wav files or the Burninwave Generator software to "burn-in" your new headphones. Most headphones require over 100 hours, so you should download the software available on the page if possible.
- Make a mix of burn in sounds. Make a playlist of burn in tracks. Use your computer to make your playlist whether it's Windows Media Player, iTunes, Winamp, etc. Make sure you do a variety. The goal is to loosen the drivers in the headphones to the point where they respond optimally to music.
- Listen periodically to monitor the progress, but really you don't have to. Whether your head is in between the cans doesn't matter. The higher the quality of headphones the longer it may take. Klipsch Custom 2 in ear headphones made a dramatic change somewhere between 80 and 100 hours, and I noticed the pronounced difference. Out of the package they had no bottom end. They got pronounced mids sooner than lows, but now they have clearly defined balanced lows.
- Play low frequencies progressively. In other words, you may not be able to hear anything under 40 Hz at first. Burn them at 40 Hz for a while before going to 30 Hz. Rotate out to low frequency sweeps also. You may need to turn volume up to hear 30 Hz and lower. Those frequencies sound more like vibrations (think of a diesel semi truck). Eventually you get low enough that the frequency sounds like a slow helicopter blade. Most music does not have this frequency in it. If the headphones can produce those low frequencies, then they will probably have better balance and a flatter response. Stop the burn in whenever you want. There are no rules. All you are doing is speeding up a process that would happen anyway with normal use. Once burned in your headphones should be close to the way they will sound the rest of their life.
Tips for Headphone Burn In
- Schedule some break time of silence in your burn in playlist. This will give your headphones some rest after being driven for long periods of time.
- You may want to push your headphones by playing complicated music and frequency sweeps at the same time. Then your headphones will be challenged to handle the complicated sounds. Use music playing software simultaneously with your the burninwave generator.
- Some say that you should use music that you would normally listen to, so that the headphones will be tailored to that particular style. Others prefer pink noise, frequency sweeps, low frequencies, or some combination.
- Don't turn the volume up much louder than you would listen. You are going for burn-in time not volume, and you might damage your headphones if you play sounds too loudly.
- There may be an awkward period where they don't sound great. They will probably sound better than out of the box at this point, but a little worse than before and not near as good as they will be when fully burned in.
Niconoctem on March 31, 2020:
Re: comment from "Think About It!"
I'm an Audio Engineer with 26 years experience in the industry. Burn in is not a myth, but one thing you did say is PARTLY true about people's ears. Many people can't hear the whole frequency range of 20hz - 20khz which is the human range, and this degrades typically with age. I was tested in the Navy to have a hearing range of 12hz-26khz which is abnormal but obviously I became an electrical engineer and branched into Audio Engineering.
Burn in has a mechanical effect on the materials of the drivers of monitors for example, or speakers. These are moving parts; rather vibrating and expanding parts which are tight as any elastic or flexible material comes off the assembly line.
Studio Monitor Headphones or Speakers are not designed the same way audiophile, entertainment, and other speaker systems which color sound. High end products often share traits with monitor construction even if they are not flat in the eq tuning.
A break in is like breaking in a pair of new shoes. They are stiff.
I speak mostly of monitors because I don't use colored products such as Beats. I only use monitors which are tools. A break in on monitors prepares them for work in my field.
Breaking in consumer boutique cans such as beats, Bose, etc may actually degrade the sound. They color the sound to sell in demo and work out of the box. Beats are garbage by the way.
If you can't hear a difference in new monitors, cans, speakers, or anything else, then you aren't missing anything, but it is a fact that a break in is beneficial to monitor headphones and loudspeakers and certain high quality audio devices as well... Even if YOU can't hear it.
I mentioned my odd hearing gift/curse... Audiophiles are often audiophiles because they are sensitive to the details spoken of here. Most people don't notice and hence don't care what they listen to. If they want to train their brain for it they can....
1. Sit somewhere in public.
2. Close your eyes for 5 mins or more.
3. Remember all the sounds you heard: birds, cars, talking, wind, anything. Write it down.
4. Repeat these steps tomorrow in your home or anywhere. You will notice more.
This trained out your brain's psychoacoustics and changes it to what an engineer or audiophile hears. You can't turn back so choose wisely. You will be stuck being an audio snob.
B.S. Electrical Engineering
B.S. Audio Engineering
B.A. Video Production
Every wonder how surround sound can be achieved through a single sound bar?
Tim on February 09, 2020:
The sound change will usually be improvement in the bass and lower midrange, although with certain speakers you might say the sound isn't as "tight" anymore which certain listeners and styles of music might class as a negative. In terms of a loudspeaker, compare the difference in sound with your finger lightly pushing on the woofer cone to compare the difference a looser suspension (from bending it backwards and forwards) makes. I'm not sure how this translates to mylar headphone drivers.
Tim on February 09, 2020:
"Do not turn up the volume much louder than you would listen"
I'm not sure I agree with this unless you listen near the handling capacity of the headphones, which is usually very loud unless putting a lot of bass through cheaper on ear headphones.
For people who listen to music at a similar volume to quiet conversation across the room, (and particularly music without a lot of bass) the drivers barely move, and no noticeable change will happen from a brand new pair sitting in silence.
To really loosen them up I'd use a volume that is uncomfortable to wear them on your head but one that does not (in the case of a powerful headphone amp) cause the drivers to reach their limits and start spooping sounds when the thin mylar diaphragm is being crinkled by excessive voice coil motion. For the bigger cans you could probably play at conversational levels (used as speakers) and for earbuds a level that can be clearly heard across the room, and if you were wearing the earbuds you should sound like you're in a really noisy club/rock concert (for hearing safety only wear briefly to test the volume)
Sarika on December 04, 2019:
I've purchased a demo headphone that I fell in love with (Blue microphones Sadie). Love it so much that I then purchased a brand new one and there is a huge difference! My older one sounds more wider and able to handle bass (punchy and lows with extreme ease). Can push up the volume by 50% more. The brand new one is tighter, the sound is rigid and volume comfort zone is at 50% less. I don't feel like I can push it as I can my older Sadie.
Dags on October 20, 2018:
Its a fact burn in will improve your headphones whether they be cheap or expensive. Burn in is even more noticeable on speakers especially monitors and guitar amps which sound much better once they have been played in for a month or more. Burn in loosens up the spider and surround of the speaker/headphone drive units which make them more responsive to all audio sounds.
Philaholic77 on September 30, 2018:
I'm not an Audiophile however I do strive to be a critical listener. I own the best headphones money can buy. And I also own some of the most inexpensive monitors headphones that sounds so great that I choose them over the expensive ones. Nonetheless it has been my experience that burning time is necessary for the driver to get loosened up. if you think about it when they come out of the factory they've been tightly screwed together. So all you're really doing is giving them a chance to vibrate and leave a audio imprint on the speaker. I also think that you should only use the pink brown and white noise for about 50 hours and the rest should be on your head listening to the music You Love. That way you can finally tune the headphones to your liking. It's interesting because sound is subjective and everyone has their opinion. So there is really no wrong answer here. Thanks and easy listening. Phillip.
Blake Flannery (author) from United States on January 19, 2015:
Thanks Pete. There's also the idea that headphones sometimes improve because of other mechanical break in. For example, the ear pad may start to fit your ear better over time as it ages.
Also, even then perceived improvements related to break in may be more related to the listener getting used to the headphone. Our brain gets to decode sounds we hear, and it may start paying less attention to various frequencies the longer you use them. If you wear sunglasses with an orange tint long enough, you'll start to not even notice the tint until you take them off. Then everything will look blue. Much of the attraction we have to certain sounds is a matter of taste.
Pete O. on January 19, 2015:
It's not that burning in is a myth. The headphones need to be broken in before they deliver their best sound. All speakers have this "settling in" period.
However, the myth here is that you have to do any sort of special regimen or ritual such as what is described here. Just listen to your headphones normally. As you listen, they are breaking in, and you will start to hear improved audio quality over time. I've spoken with audio engineers and other audio specialists about this, and experienced it myself with my last set of Sennheisers.
The need for special break in playlists and the like is quite debatable.
Musu Bangura from Nation's Capital on March 01, 2014:
Wow, I never realized that I wasn't getting the best out of my headphones. I added this article to stumbleupon and voted up! Thanks for the info.
Dean Walsh from Birmingham, England on October 31, 2013:
Very interesting, I never knew headphones changed their sound over time like this.
Tomas on February 10, 2013:
source? This gets brought up all the time but not anyone, anywhere has ever posted something to back this up other than their "experience". It's very easy to perceive the sound differently once you get to know by heart the response of you headphones.
Blake Flannery (author) from United States on November 01, 2012:
Thanks for the info. I have also found Android apps that work too. One called Burn-In looks good, but I'll have to try it with my new Klipsch S4's and let you know how it works out.
Drone on November 01, 2012:
Found an iOS app called "Burner LR".... Very straight forward (and free)...
Bob Dole on September 08, 2012:
It doesn't cost anything to burn in....
There have been measurable differences in frequency change before and after.
Think About It! on July 28, 2012:
If you believe this article, then I have another fact for you.There's a very nice old man that is capable of flying around the earth (low orbit of course) in a single night on a sleigh with magical reindeers and hands out toys to everybody. Mathematically, it's impossible no matter how you calculate it. The same applies to this article. No matter how you measure the initial sound frequency and the final sound frequency after any specified burn in period, the changes is extremely minute that 99% of human population does not have the ear sensitive enough to detect the improvement in the sound. Unless you are not from earth (i.e. superman), then yes - you'lll absolutely notice the improvement in the sound. So people, wake the hell up and stop spending your hard earn money on ridiculous garbage. Especially teenagers that cannot afford to move out of their parent home, but are asking their mommy and daddy for these high price headphones for their iPhone or iPod.
Bob on July 10, 2012:
Somebody did that, and there was a difference in the sound.
SANTOS FC on April 07, 2012:
It's simple. Buy a pair of the same headphone (same manufacturer, same model, same spec). Use one of them for one month, let it playing one burn-in track and then, after that period, compare booth.
Mattheu on January 26, 2012:
I have a pair of AKGs and deffinitely sound much better with time. Deffinitely give your headphones a chance to burn in
Yosh on January 24, 2012:
@Scott It's not myth.
I had my HD 201 burned for like, 200 hours.
The sibilance is gone(the painful "tsh" sound)
and the low-mid bass'r much better :D
Scott's Mom on January 19, 2012:
It's not a MYTH.
Scott on January 06, 2012:
It's a MYTH! Any perceived improvement in sound is very subtle, mostly psychological and will happen with normal use. Don't waste your time with this nonsense.
Justin on December 18, 2011:
Get some JBuds from JLab. Get sport hooks for them.
Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on October 27, 2011:
Honestly Blake I read this just for the fantasy of owning some "high quality headphones" currently I use some crappy quarter sized outer ear buds that fall off when I run and have a poor range of sound. Burn in man!
Bobri Dobri from Oklahoma on June 16, 2011:
Amazing! Have never thought about it! Thanks!