Burn-in time Vs. Getting used to a sound

I have had much in the way of high end audio over the years. ...and the idea of an electronic item needing several hundred hours of use before sounding their best..is an accepted idea now (for the most part). Recently I have heard a growing thought of this just being the user getting used to the sound of a product.. Truthfully in the early days of Large Advents, DQ-10 Dahlquists and other gear..there was never any talk of burn-in time... Any thoughts out there on this.... Truth or Hype?
I am not an expert on this, or any topic, however, anyone with an electronic beckground would speak about dialectrics, and how they supposedly "burn in" -that is, change over time while the insulation material surrounding wires gets used to the electricity flow. Being a social scientist, I have often noticed the highly unscientific review methods that magazines use, along with there being many, many variables mentioned regarding electronics that are not quantifiable- no way to measure the variable on a real scale other than opinion. I must admit, that I believe to have heard lots of things myself that are not currently measureable by any instrument but nevertheless, affected a noticeable change on my stereo system. I have often wondered if there is not a combination of events, where, on the one hand, there is some electrical change in a component, but for the most part, ther is a user effect that is merely your idea of the sound of a particular component developing toward some type of schema that is a preexisting idea you, the listener, have about the particular piece of electronics. My guess is, we're better off not knowing, and I doubt that it could be proven either way. Someone, please, prove me wrong.... I think I need a "Black Mamba"
I feel that it is a combination of both. I can beyond any doubt in my mind hear the effect of break in. But when I switched to silver interconnects for the first time there was more involved in my acceptance of the new sound other than cooking the cables. I had never heard anything like the sound before from my system and the additional detail though still musical took some getting used to. Now I love the sound and only use my copper Truthlink interconnects for poor recordings that I am inclined to listen to for music's sake. In the "good old days" I rarely purchased new equipment, but when I did it was usually being played at much higher sound levels right off the bat than I am comfortable with today. I will admit that I played most of my music to a level beyond what was sonically correct for the room that the system was in. Now when I listen at higher levels on occasion I am more aware of the distortions being created by the room and back off on the volume control. I am now more interested in what my system can do with a sense of finesse as opposed to shear power and volume. There were also other factors back then (other than the shag carpeting) that were a part of the equation that had a tendency to distort judgment.
I absolutely have experienced the change in sound as a cable "burns in". It was not a case of getting used to the "new" sound. Saying that, I am sure that intentions have an effect as well. Small particle physics has shown us that we effect that molecules in all things that we perceive. Also, we do adjust to and filter what we hear automatically. So, both factors effect what we hear. To what degree is another question. Dekay also shows that our ability to listen evolves with effort and time.
Well, when I put together a totally new system, I sure the hell heard it improve over time. Therefore, getting used to the sound wasn't the issue. That which takes the longest to burn in (form) are dielectrics. The two dielectrics of concern are the cables and capacitors. No doubt that 300 hours of continuous burn in formed those dielectrics. I actually listened to it transform over time and was amazed. Even with used equipment, the dielectrics need to form. My $0.02.
"Burn-in" is probably a myth devised by either manufacturers or, more likely, salesmen, to discourage customers from returning products. "The reason you don't like it now is that you haven't given it enough time to burn in. It usually takes X weeks." X, of course, being a few more weeks than the store's liberal return policy lasts. This line is not as bad as it appears, because in those X weeks you probably will get used to the sound, so you wind up a happy customer.
Again, I firmly believe that ther is electrical change that occurs in new electronics, but there are psychological principles that occur, whether or not you want them to, that can affect perception.
Sorry Jostler, What you describe has of course happened on occasion, but I assure you that burn in is not a myth. Some cables require more time than others, and that leads to many chances for dissatisfaction until things are really settled. My Harmonic Technology cables took a long time to break in, and had me worried for a while, but the change was so drastic that it could not possibly be "getting used to it". Many of the members at Audiogon are very experienced listeners and can give you the science behind both opinions, but I believe 99% will confirm burn in as a fact. Scepticism can be good, but cynicism doesn't get you very far.
Burn-in is no myth.
I would say that of the two, burn-in would have the least impact....the character of any component/device will not change "night and day" over time, although with your "golden ears" you may claim it so. To make a point, what if you were to exchange a pair of Martin Logans that you have lived with for some time for some Vandersteens....break-in would be IRRELEVANT!!!!! You would solely be getting "used to the sound" of a totally different speaker. Break-in is the cop-out often used as a way of justifying one's opinions on the sound/quality of a component/device when someone else disagrees with that opinion.....well Jagoff didn't allow proper break-in so obviously that's why Jagoff didn't like my brand of speaker cable!
IMO G13 is right and both occur simultaneously. Cheers. Craig.
I recently bought a Krell KPS-25sc to replace my 8 year old Theta equipment which served me well and I still highly respect. My point is the first 3 hours with the Krell unit were a nightmare. I had buyers remorse. No sound stage, brittle, compressed sounding. I called a neighbor who does some reviewing for Absolute Sound for help and he assured me that digital circuits need a very long warm up and break-in. I am happy to report that after about 4 hours the sound clicked and has gotton consistently better as I have left the power on. Now my nightmare has turned into the best digital I have ever heard..period. Break-in, burn-in, whatever you want to call it is for real.
Whatjd: I have entertained the same question you pose, being the perpetual skeptic. The ear-brain connnection can become used to many things, and over time adapt to what it thinks is "normal". Much the same thing happens with smell if you are exposed to an aroma long enough (and it's not lethal), you lose your awareness of it. This is due, in part, to what is called the reticular activating system (RAS), which is the threshold above and below which things become noticed. For example, you are not normally aware of the sounds or sensations of your own breathing, because they are below the "alert" level of the RAS. However, I recently have had an experience which makes me re-think the notion of "burn-in" versus getting used to a sound. About 4 months ago, I bought a new Bryston 4B-ST amp, and both my wife and I thought it sounded cold and rather etched. I nearly sold it, but decided to give it some time to "burn in". My wife rarely listens to the sound system other than to watch TV or the occasional DVD. After 6-8 weeks, I had the distinct impression that the amp sounded a lot better - more transparent, better balanced from top-to-bottom, and and less "white". I asked my wife to listen to the system on some music she knew well, and she was startled at how much the system sounded. She asked me if I had added a new component, or done something to improve the system. In this specific situation, there is no doubt in my mind that something actually happened to improve the quality of sound coming from my system - call it "burn in" or whatever, but it was NOT simply becoming used to the sound.
Easy way to prove is if you buy two ICs or AC cords, break one in for 100 hours then switch with new "virgin" cable, they sound different......break-in does change sound, ears are not being tricked. As some have stated above if you make the mistake of listening to "virgin" cable you will think you made a big mistake......patience grasshopper
Ditto, Megasam, I have done that very thing, and there was a major difference between two of the same power cords.
I kind of performed this test but with the same pair of cables. When I purchased my used HT IC's (already broken in) I knew about directionality but did not know which way the arrows were supposed to go. First time round I had then backwards. It only took about 20 seconds to figure out that something was wrong. I switched them immediatley and they sounded a lot better.
If a tree falls over in a forest and no one is there did it make a noise?
I am a music teacher-making my living by giving pipils reports on their changing sound-based on my aural memory. Changes caused by burn-in are slow but amazing. Raanan
Lak: QUESTION: Does a chicken have lips? ANSWER: No, but it has cheeks.
Both are present, but getting used to the sound is the lesser of the two. A significant part of the burn-in seems to relate to how dialectrics form, whether in cables or in capacitors. The reason why I think burn-in is the larger is this: I hear the sound of a CD differently the third (or so) time I hear it compared with the first. I could ascribe this to burn-in, but it is more likely to be getting used to the sound of the recording gear used, and perhaps also the acoustic clues become less confusing with familiarity. But in running in components there seems to be a repeated sequence of how the sound changes. First bright and thin and flat. Very slowly fleshing out, then all of a sudden going soft and soggy and lacking in dynamics. Then gradually sharpening and speeding up with resolution finally reaching its peak. I find it difficult to ascribe this sequence to just getting used to the sound.
Thanks to all for your thoughts. I feel that burn/break-in is real for the most part..and have heard it in audio gear. ...and, of course, felt it in baseball gloves..and sports cars. At the same time I know that I can want something to be some way...that I have to watch myself so that I don't think it into being that way....rather than it actually being so. Kind of like the tests where people are given sugar pills and, thinking they are taking a medication, re-act accordingly.
Good post, Whatjd.
If burn-in exists, how come the cables don't continue to burn-in continuously and perpetually and instead apparently reach a sort of "stable" state ? That just doesn't make sense to me, perhaps someone can explain.
Joe: Why does it take a few minutes, at least, to bring a pot of water to a boil? Does water ever really go away, even when the Hydrogen is released in extreme reactions, or does it just complete a cycle and come back as water again?
Joe_coherent that is a good question and I don't know the answer. But I know burn-in is for real. I have suffered thru it. It is very easy to find out for yourself. Compare a broke-in pair of ICs to a new pair.
I agree that most components and wires will change and should improve over time. I disagree with claims about the "transformation" that is supposed to take place after about 200 hours or 6 weeks or whatever, particularly when you have a 1 week trial. Who's kidding who? If something sounds bad right out of the box, my experience shows that it will continue to sound bad, maybe less bad over time, but still bad. If something sounds good out of the box, it usually gets better with time. I find it particularly interesting when after I have returned a product that I didn't like and was chastised by a dealer or mfg. for not letting it burn in; version II of the product seems to contain improvements which address the weaknesses I found. This has happened to me twice.
If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman to hear him is he still wrong?? (couldn't resist....)
I'm sorry too, actually quite..but the answer to Subaruguru's question is, of course, yes!
Joe b, that is your experience, but not the last word. I did have a cable that had problems until a long burn in was finished, and it sounds wonderful now. I agree that it is frustrating when "version" II or III always addresses the weaknesses of Version I. Buy the top of the line if you can. I auditioned three interconnects of the same brand, and bought "version" III, even though it cost two and a half times more than "Version I", and I am glad I did. It is a standard thing to have a basic, better, best, product line. Most of us know what we would buy if cost was no object. Keep on trying , and don't let the jerks get to you, they won't go away. Your ears and wallet are more powerful than their rhetoric. It sure is great when something sounds wonderful right out of the box though, is'nt it? My new Pioneer DV-37 sounds as good to me as many of the mid-priced highend CD players I have heard, and it knocked me out the minute I plugged it in. Here's hoping eveyone here hits the "bullseye" more often than not.
For those who do not believe that there is such a thing as break-in or burn-in, this is not about an opinion. There is a physical (as in "physics") explanation for it. It has to do with alignment of protons and electrons in an object conducting electric current. If you really want the details, study about how capacitors work. I'm sorry to disappoint you with such truth. As far as a placebo (aforementioned sugar pills) affect, well there's no doubt that there's room for that to occur too. I actually find some of the comments made in this thread somewhat amazing. I don't know of any experienced audiophile who doesn't know that break-in exists. It's something that you can, in fact, hear over time. If you're not hearing it, then perhaps something is awry. Here are some generally considered times (hours) for burn in: AMP about 150; preamp/dac about 150; transport about 75; Speakers about 200; and Cables about 300-400. YMMV, as always with these sorts of things. Sure, some things sound great out of the box, but they will get better when they reach steady state. As I said before, if the equipment's been off for a long time, then there needs to be some break in time. If cables are disturbed after reaching steady state, then some break in time is also needed. No, this is not imagination, just laws of physics/electronics. Now I have experienced things getting (sounding) worse before they get better, as some of the other experienced audiophiles noted. That's just the way it is. Good luck, and enjoy the music!!!!!!!!
Breakin effects are certainly valid. "Accustomization" is also a valid, although probably much less recognized phenomenon. Example: I extensively auditioned a pair of used speakers at my dealer's shop, then finally brought them home. Buyers remorse was immediately apparent at home: the differences (between what I'd been used to hearing from my old speakers) and the 'new-used' speakers were very apparent, and I wasn't sure that I could live with my new choice despite some of the obvious improvements over the old pair. Obviously the already-used speakers were well run-in by the time I finished auditioning at the store & took them home. After about a month I no longer noticed the 'new vs. old' colorations (both pair have their own sonic signatures) as I became "accustomed" to the "new" sound I liked it even better.
SF: What do you do to disturb cables, other than hooking them up the opposite way?
DK: Moving the cables from their original resting position is enough to disturb the formed dielectric. However, one may not be able to hear the difference. I do hear it whenever I listen after my housekeeper was here. I doesn't take very long for the dielectric to form after the disturbance
SF: Good to know. Dust bunnies rule then.
Bought some used Red Dawn rev II Nordosts which were multiple-spades (shotgunned?) at one end. Since I have non-biwirable speakers (Verity), but have amps (Alephs) with two sets of output jacks it made perfect sense to wire 'em that way. Sure enough they sounded ragged and bright. The seller confirmed that he had used them "the other way", and Nordost suggested I'd need EXTRA break-in time to "reverse" the "orientation". Well, they were right...the cables smoothed out, developed GREAT soundstage depth, and gained LF body, after use. How much of this was my aural accomodation? I don't know, but since the cables are threaded through the floorboards to amps hung under my joists, I'm not about to reverse 'em to satisfy a single-blind test!
DK, my friend, dust bunnies don't rule here as far as the cables are concerned, since she finds it so easy to move the cables to clean/vacuum! Fortunately, she cannot move the equipment rack, amp, monitor, and speakers! Accidentally pushing buttons or such is another totally different matter! ;)
If components really changed over time, we would expect them to get better about as often as they got worse. The fact that almost all reports of this phenomenon involve an improvement suggests that something else is going on. And the most likely suspect, in that case, is your brain.
burn in for the most part is complete bullshit with a few exceptions[tubes and speakers]. solid state electronics require no burn-in as caps form and bias adjusts in a few seconds after turn on. if it sounds bad when you first listen to it, its gonna sound bad in 300 or 3000 hrs.
Jostler and Brutus: If I only shared your hearing and mental prowess I could have saved a great deal in effort and money on hifi gear over the years. I may need to eliminate nutmeg in my diet which may account for the auditory hallucinations that I must be subject to.
Brutus-explain this then last week I was auditioning a Sugden21a amp at home-I had a mate visiting and we started listening to a CD(The Bends-Radiohead)as soon as we switched the amp on-it sounded terrible in the mid-band-as we continued to listen the amp over an hour the sound improved.1 hour approx after switching on we returned to the 1st CD-it sounded totally different-we both heard it-so your observation about a few secs and solid state do not hold true. Whilst this is not strictly burn-in it does show the effect in a simplistic manner.... Ben
Electronic components, just like us humans, suffer stress and strain. When electronic components are "powered up" all sorts of changes occur between their static (ie unpowered) and active (ie powered) states. These changes (particularly in high-end audio components) CAN and are "heard", as others have stated in this and other posts. Maybe there are some people around who cannot differentiate these (sometimes subtle) changes which affect the signal we hear, but although these people have a right to say "BS, there ain't no differences" it does show a somewhat narrow minded attitude which is contrary to the majority of those on this site who enjoy all aspects of reproduced audio and have a wiser, broader view of this hobby. Richard, www.vantageaudio.com
It is a FACT:Burn-in time is for real. Even after 3 years worth of break-in time, my solid state components need to time to burn-in for optimal performance. I turn on (CD,preamp/amp)an hr ahead of listening time(no music playing). 20 minutes in to it, sound approaches acceptable. An hour in to it, it gets better. Two hrs in to it and the system really sings. May be there is an objective reasons, how the electronics work.
Do headphones need time to burn in? I just bought a new pair of Sennheiser HD 580s and am wondering if anyone noticed changes in the sound of their 580s over time.
subaruguru.read the latest audio critic[10 biggest lies in audio] I believe this should support my view
listening supports my view not what someone else says. Burn in is for real, no BS.
could what you percieve as burn-in be purely psycological? Possibly buyers remorse for buying a piece of gear that probably doesnt integrate well with the rest of your system [hey, we've all been there] not to be a smartass,bit I still say,as many others have, with the exception of speakers and tubes,burn-in is a sales tool and thats all it is
Take it from a sales professional, Brutus: Burn-in isn't a sales tool. In 20 years of selling for a living it's never helped me close one deal, even those involving stereo equipment. On the other hand, both my girl friend and best friend unwittingly critique each system change. Without being prompted or having been told anything was changed they have noticed a difference between new cables and ones that have burned-in, a cold system from one that's been on for a couple of days, etc. When one of them asks "What's new? It sounds different." I know the change isn't my imagination. The friend is a respected electro-mechanical design engineer. We've discussed the concept of burn-in and he says the facts back up its existence. Sorry, can't recite the details as I'm a dummy and don't always capture much more than the essence of what he says. The Cliff Note version, though, says passing a current through a conductor does cause structural change over time, transformers are effected by both temperature and being on for prolonged periods of time and capacitors, in fact electronic equipment in general, do change with use. To be fair, this engineer does feel some claims about burn-in are over hyped. He's recognized subtle changes in my system; it's the grandiose claims of "my system was transformed" that he questions. At least so far... BTW, his *other* degree is in psychology and we've discussed the effects of psychoacoustics, too. End result: It's not all in my head. Components do burn-in.
Hi Brutus, A fair question. No. Years ago I took home some speakers to see how they would work with my gear and in my room. They sounded wonderful. I took them back to the dealer and told him to order me a pair. When I got them I was very disapointed, they did not sound nearly as good as the ones I borrowed. That is when I learned about break-in. I go thru this every time I get somthing new. From cartridges to CD players. For me burn-in is in no way psycological. It is too painfull. Excellent post Fpeel.
I do believe it take some time for components to burn-in and sound as designed. It is very true for speakers. The surrounds and spyders on speakers are stiff when new. After several hours these parts loosen up and move more freely which usually opens up the sound. Speakers usually sound lean and hard when new. I have the Sony SCD-1 player. It was harsh when new. It took about 3 months of normal use before it broke in. My friend had one before me. I could tell the difference when his was broken in compared to my new unit in the same system. I was told that capactors need to be reshaped after they have been shipped due to the pressure change in aircraft. It usually takes 50 hours or so. I think all components needs some break-in... some more than others. mike
Every time I have bought a new component there have been significant changes in the sound over a period of weeks, and the sequence of how the sound changes is usually the same. I find this to be completely unexplained by Brutus' view that there is some psychological thing going on. Of course it is possible that my ears are being burned in to the sound of the component - but this would not explain why, when I bought a second Theta Data III it did not sound like my old one for some weeks and then after a few weeks it sounded the same. For Brutus to be right I would have had to subliminally told myself the new (identical looking and identically spec'd) machine must sound different, and then changed my subliminal mind three weeks later. But Brutus - do any of these "nay-saying" opinions of yours have any basis in your actual experience, as opposed to what your understanding of electrical engineering theory tells you. I have yet to see a post from you that refers to actual experience. If your opinions are in fact based on experience, then perhaps you could outline your system and setup so that we may surmise why you do not hear what so many others with highly resolving systems hear.
Brutus, I just saw your post saying you tried a few specialist power cords and heard no difference - so I take back my earlier statement. I am still interested in your system contect, however.