Burn In = Voodoo?

I have been an obsessive and enthusiastic audiophile for 20 years, I am not averse to tweaking and The Audio Critic infuriates me. However, I must admit I get a little uncomfortable reading so many posts about "burn in". While I understand that amps may need to warm up, speaker components may need to loosen up, the idea of burning in a cable or say, an SACD player just seems ludicrous to me. Unless of course, the party suggesting the burn in is a snake oil equipment peddlar and needs to make sure someone owns and uses your product for a couple of months before they decide it's really no good. At that point, of course, no one could actually remember what it sounded like in the first place and even if you wanted to return it, it would be too late. Am I being too cynical here?
I have often pondered along the same lines as you have. Possibly we both have a cynical bent of mind. So what....however, I have found that phono-cartriges for example after hours of playing, slowly begin to change, generally for the better, in the sense of better tonal cohesion and balance, better soundstage, less harsh highs, better defined bass. The same goes for all sorts of cables, some break in faster, some take a hell of a long time. If you are regular listener, its hard to really notice, especially if you have REALLY made a sonic upgrade from your old stuff, because the process does not go in leaps and bounds, but seems sort of continuous except at the end, when the stuff really begins to bloom. If you have a listening partner however, who only will lend you his ears occasionally, he ( with me mostly she ) will ask you, what you have done to your system, which seems so much more "musical". So I don't think its snake oil really, but something which can be objectified by experience. The change in interconnects, but also with speaker cables can generally be percieved from dry and laid back and dynamically understating to open and blooming and approach more closely what we describe as musically alive and natural and dynamically fluid. I realise , these are poor descriptive terms, language fails me here, but if you are regular concert goer, i.e. an audiophile masochist, you will find after a while, at least if you were lucky in your choice, that with the "new" stuff, the gap between the real thing and the sound your gear produces has been reduced more than you had been led to perceive at the beginning , when it was still brand new. About SACD players, I cannot say.
Great question. I hope someone has "the" answer, although I would bet most will be the same fuzzy science that seems to belong in the Audio field. I can see how anything moving, like speaker cones and phono cartrages might change over time, but the rest I don't have the "scientific" answer for. I have heard a number of explanations in books and magazines and tend to believe the principals, but for fear of being assulted by the "scientists" on this site, I will let others bring there theroies. I was told by two different dealers that it's the laser that requires "burn-in", I hope by sharing such radicail views I'm chastized.

Voodoo? Well in some parts of the world that is indeed a very strong "science". Maybe there is a doctor who over sees all audio voodoo. If that's not it, then the true explaination will arise, because to these ears, something does indeed happen to cables, wires, speakers and yes SACD. J.D.
I do not claim to have the "answer", but I have noticed a HUGE difference with cables in particular with speaker cables. When I recieved the cables I am using now(custom made Tek line Bi wire cables) I was told they have a long burn in time, I did not believe at that time in burn in. Well I "hooked up" the cables and they sounded very rough and unrefined, yes worse then lamp cord. So I promptly called the manufacture and he said to give them some time to break in. And now I am so glad I listened they smoothed out and sound great, why I do not know but for some reason with in around 50 hours of listening I noticed a HUGE increase in there performance.
Undo your burnt in speaker cables,curl them up,let them lie wherever for 24 hrs.Reinsert them; you should hear a difference in about 15/20 minutes.Same for power cords & ics.And no....don't stick them with a needle.
I beleive in pshcoacoustics, better power at night, and I think that livng with a piece is different from hearing it for the first time. I also beleive that over time you dont try as hard to hear a differece and relax allowing you to concentrate on the music. That alone allows it to sound better.

That said I had the oppertunity to compare two of the same model preamps. One was new and one was the display model. It was amazing how much better the broken in one sounded. I also think that my amps sound best after being on for a good thirty days. I absolutley hate turning them off.

I use to work with metal. Casting, rolling, and grinding. The characteristics of metal changes through certain processes like anneling or running current through it. I cant explain why but I know that it happens

I think that there a few who could explain it scientifaclly but the problem with the explanation is its hard to measure what ever changes the sound. I have a relative thats own a small computer company and we get in constant arguments on how one transport can sound different from another. He feels that digital is digital and there is no difference. We all know that isnt true and I think this situation fits into that catagory.

Most people with an electronics background dont learn about the effects of converting a signal to an analog soundwave. Not that there arent scientific reasons only that it is a highly unique and specialized feild. If you were to try to measure a difference you would need a meter that measuers and plots a sound wave. If it sounds different it must be shaped differently.
I can emphatically say that burn - in of a CD player is real. I just got a new player last month. The company includes a warning sticker on the player to let the player burn - in for 36 hours, before the player will sound its best. When I first hooked it up, I was disappointed. It was ever so SLIGHTLY better than my previous, long time player. And only in the area of detail. After over a month, I played both players next to each other(to try to hunt down a problem I was experiencing). The differences were now night AND day. It was startling, and brought a smile to my face. The new player was better in every area. Improving markedly in the areas of slam, dynamics, liquidity, and pace. Again, it was night and day. I have also experienced this with my current amplifier. Being disappointed and in panic initially, and feeling sublime about one month later(I also A/B'd that with my former amp). I am sure that people will feel that burn - in is just plain voodoo. But, I am one of the converted
We have had many posts on this subject, there no doubt is improvement in cables and components after several days of break-in, in my experience. Another factor which is hard to measure is your hearing adjusting to the different sound of the new item, as you become more used to it, sounds better etc.

Trelja, please reveal this new CDP you bought......
Magasam, I agree with you about the psychological effect of being infatuated with a component as time goes by, but only if it is a true improvement to the one we had before in its place. If its not "better", we tend to hate it, don't we, ever more deeply as time goes on until we get rid of it. Its sort of like adolescent love affairs. No wonder the other gender keeps telling us, that we never grow up. Thank the Audiogods, we don't!!
Being one of the "scientists" of the group, here is my opinion: Electronics and wires do go through a phenomenon usually referred to as burn-in and break-in. The majority of the changes I see from my industrial knowledge is changes in the electronic charges accumilated through use, connection, and being energized. A brand new unit will not be the same as one that has been turned on and used (even if there is no moving parts). The other thing that occurs is mechanical and environmental stabilization. The change can be very subjective and in my audiophile experiences for the better. There ia also the perception issue -- if the sound presentation is different, human nature causes one to be aware of the changes, note them, and become more comfortable with them over time. As for freezing cables, I have access to Liquid Nitrogen, which provides me with the capability to freeze something to absolute 0 degrees (-273 degrees). I have heard of freezing cables, so one day at work I froze a cable to see what happens -- it was better sounding in my opinion. I froze all of my cables after that. The factor I couldn't separate was if the cable freezing made the difference, or the act of removing and reinserting the cable (mechanical wipe of the electrical contact surface)was the change. On a molecular level, the freezing forces the atoms tighter together, possibly causing a tighter atomic bond in the different components in the cable. Voodoo?? Perception??? If it feels good / works better, do it again.. If not, move on to the next experiment.
Cwlondon: So far as I know, nothing happens to a wire over time that affects how an electrical signal passes through it. But humans do grow accustomed to sounds, and that's the most likely explanation for most of the testimonials in favor of burn-in. (Expect spirited denials, however!) When salesmen and manufacturers recommend burn-in, they're taking advantage of our tendency to acclimate to the sound. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the customer ends up happy. Just don't let a salesman tell you the burn-in time extends past the free-return period.
Sam, my new CD player is a Cambridge D500 SE. I have talked a lot about it in the Digital forum. Basically, I bought it because I have been waiting for three years for this format war to be over, and in my opinion it is no more resolved today. It has a 24 bit/192 kHz DAC. I auditioned it against a Jolida 603, Linn Genki, Musical Fidelity A3 CD, NAD 540, and Rega Planet(not Planet 2000). It sounded as good, or better than the whole lot of them. I did find two superior players, but am not willing to spend that kind of money on a CD player if I will be buying again in the next year or two. Considering the opinions that some have on upsampling, a player will become a transport anyway. So, I think this is a great player for someone who needs to make a move today. Regarding break - in, it is not simply a matter of speaker cones and the metal contained in a wire(would also cover resistors). The points on annealing, stress relieving, fatiguing, etc. all changing many metal characteristics are well documented. Dielectric is ALSO changed for the better. This would be explained by the capacitors in components(amps, preamps, CD players, etc.), wire(the insulation), and speakers. The simplest test for this is to upgrade a capacitor in the signal path of your long owned speakers(on your midrange or tweeter). Simply replace a cheap cap with a much better one. You will be hugely disappointed(which caused a LOT of grief back to people making capacitor upgrades in the 80s - when the REAL good ones started coming out). Play the heck out of it for a month, and the sound WILL be much improved from the baseline. As I said, playing both of my CD players next to each other this past weekend proved to me how real break - in is. It was most definitely not a case of "getting used to the sound". The two players were both switched back and forth, via my input selector. And, having used liquid nitrogen extensively, it is not at absolute zero(I forget exactly what temperature is it at, -215F???). It is the cheapest, coldest method that is out there. That is why it is so popular. But, if you think about this theoretically, absolute zero means that there is no atomic motion. Liquid nitrogen(or ANY liquid) could therefore NEVER be at absolute zero. Nitrogen(or ANY element) would first need to become a solid, and then be further cooled to the point where atomic motion has ceased. THIS is absolute zero. And in reality, absolute zero has yet to be attained.
Jostler, would you mind doing an experiment:
Step one: Listen to your system with music, you know well.
Step two: Without detaching your wires from you gear, i.e. ic's, speaker- and power cables, lift them up, shake them vigorously, place them differently to where they were before. The greater the difference the better.
Step three: Immediatedly after that, listen to the same piece of music as before.
Step four: Tell us about what you perceived.

I agree, it has nothing to do with burning in new gear, rather with your contention, as I perceive it, that nothing happens to the wire, once it is hooked on. I don't mean to be imposing in any way, I'm just suggesting you do, what I once was told myself, because I was of the same opinion as you are now. Man, was I flabberghasted by the result.
J k thank-you for your insite and understanding of wire. The explanation you gave is the same one I've heard too, and it does indeed make sense to me.
Trelja, thank-you for your comments on absolute zero. I tend to not need alot of the physics and calc. I got in school, and absolute zero never seems to come up in design meetings. I thought I remembered it as you stated. I also thought that absolute zero is physically impossible. I thought I remembered that once atomic motion has ceased, the matter it self would fall apart. Am I wrong? J.D.
Detlof: Shaking a wire affects the sound? Come on, now. If that were true the phone company couldn't hang telephone wires in the wind. Your little experiment would prove only that I'm suggestible, which I'll admit I am. And you, my friend, sound very suggestible.

By the way, there's one case where your experiment could have a positive result. If the current placement of your wires causes some form of interference, repositioning them could alleviate that. But that has nothing to do with a physical change inside the wires.
There are molecular changes when current runs though a component or cable. There molecules do not immediately change back as soon as you turn something off. If you took a burned-in component or cable, removed it from the system and put it the closet for a couple months, you may find you need to burn it in again.
J_K : Stan Warren did a test with audiophile friends at a university, where identicle cables were frozen in Nitrogen (-273 degrees), Dry Ice (-100 degrees), and no freezing. An unintereted party knew which cable were which. The panel was able to identify the never frozen cables quickly each time (did not sound as good). They could not identify which cables were frozen in Nitrogen or Dry Ice. Therefore, they concluded Dry Ice is good enough and anyone could do it at home. They did further tests and came up with -83 degrees as the magic number you need to pass to get the full benefits of freezing. I got this information first person talking with Stan (Stan Warren for those who do not know him, is Supermods, Superphon and the "S" in PS Audio.
Cwlondon - if you have been an enthusiastic audiophile for 20 years and never noticed the sound of a new component change over its first two weeks, then obviously the effect of burn-in is irrelevant to you. I find it hard to imagine that you have not heard it, because I have heard it happen so many times - and before anyone mentioned "burn-in" to me. For example, every time I have bought a new pre amp or power amp there have been a couple of weeks where the sound goes from "about right" out of the box, then increasingly thin and weedy, then suddenly fat and cloyingly warm, and then a slow sharpening up to becoming "about right" again. Then the sound just gets more and more natural for a further couple of weeks. These changes have never been subtle for me. Even if you just put a speaker cable that has lain in the cupboard for a few weeks into your system, the sound changes are very significant (for me) over about a week.
One thing I keep wondering about is this freezing of cables in liquid nitrogen. It is common to do an experiment for school kids with a rubber ball. First, it is dropped on the ground, and bounces higher than your head. The ball would next be immersed in liquid nitrogen. Then thrown against a wall. It then shatters as if it was hollow crystal. I am not sure of the compound used in the ball. Cables are made of teflon(PTFE), polypropylene(PP), polyethylene(LDPE or HDPE), polyester(PET/PETE or PBT), etc. I have no idea which would be adversely affected in the liquid nitrogen, and which would not(I no longer work in a lab, or else I could test this). But, I do know that I would be kind of devastated if my $1000 interconnect was destroyed. Don't think the cable companies cover that in their warranties...
Jostler, good point, had to grin when I wrote my thread, thinking, that finally it would prove nothing, because it might only prove my own suggestibility. About phonewires though, aren't phone signals very narrow band? Well whatever, your point is good, will have to think up another experiment. (:
If the phenomenon of "burn-in" just means that one is "getting used to the sound", then the opposite should be true also, ie "burn-out". For example, I have a tube pre-amp and after a year or so music gradually became brighter, harder, and more fatiguing. Over a couple of months it got worse and worse, and finally to the point where I just didn't want to listen anymore. But being persistent, I kept looking for a reason for the increasingly terrible music. It finally dawned on me that that I had NEVER changed the tubes in my pre-amp. Duh!! So, I put in a new set of stock Sovtek 6922s and Viola' the music was back, and over the next couple of weeks, it even got better as the tubes burned in. It seems to me that if a person just "gets used to" whatever sound his system is making, then my perception of the music should have just changed to accomodate the gradually changing (worsening) music quality caused by the tubes reaching the end of their useful life. And if this is true, an audiophile should be just as happy with a $799. complete Circuit City system-- after all, he would just get used to whatever the music quality was. No? Cheers. Craig.
J_k, I had to answer my own question. Absolute Zero is the temperature at wich all molecular translational movement in a gas ceases. Now Helium has the lowest critical temparature -268 Degrees celsius, a point where a substance cannot exist in a liquid state, so a tempurature of abolute zero -273 degrees celsius has no physical meaning, just a point of reference on the absolute scale. What all this translates to in degrees fehrenheit is that these temps are much colder than the temp. your freezing cable to. So I'll buy the idea, but the "scientist" in you needs a bit more schooling. (oh yea, this is all subject to change in that my reference material is a bit dated. there were only 103 elements at that time, and from my kids books I believe that has changed, a bunch.)
Anyway, this was bugging me, sorry for taking the space in that I see from this and an earlier post a couple months ago that none of you care! J.D.
There are quite a few things in audio that make a difference despite the fact that thay may not jibe scientific theory or cannot be quantified. Upsampling seems to be the hot new debate along these lines.

Burn in definitely falls into this category for me. As does spontaneous human combustion and the *higher power* of your choice.

Easier to try it and go with whatever seems to make a difference to my ears (and lots of stuff over the years -- Micromat Blue CD platter mat, CD Greenbacks, green ink, CD "rubber bands", glossing, etc.) -- have not made palpable changes. Burn in has been an easy one with several ss components.
Jim's post is FAR too sensible to be listed in this forum : ) Most of the stuff that he listed ( CD "stabilizing rings", markering the edges, etc...) all DETRACT from disc readability. The only thing that i've found to make a noticeable improvement to CD's is the Audio Desk Systeme "Disc Cutter". If i didn't hear the difference, i surely wouldn't have spent several hundred dollars on it. As to comments about "burn in" of electronics, that is measurable and called "settling" of the components. Capacitors need to "form" and this is a gradual process. If they are not used for a long time, the process starts all over. This "might" be true of wires and their dielectric materials also, but i don't know for sure. Most of what i've read about "wires" is that there is a crystal structure that is damaged or "stressed" when it is disturbed via movement or bending. Since i just picked up a "Mobie" cable burner ( already had a Duo-Tech ), i will be checking into this in the very near future. Several folks that i know and trust INSIST that using one of these does make a beneficial difference to the performance of cables. Either way, i'll soon find out if "I" notice the difference that it makes. Sean
Jeeez guys, let's take it easy. A cable conducts suitably or does not. Period. According to the French power corp, differences in sound are due to losses along the length of the conductor. Losses ARE affected by micro-movement (=vibration), i.e., in audio, the losses appear on variable points across the spectrum. This includes components (that are also conductors, right?). Hence, spikes, et alia. But don't set yr house on fire trying to burn-in cables... just hook them up and wait a bit while the system gets rolling...
Sean, I like your post, simply because I can underwrite every point you make. Incidentally, I also have this nifty German machine, which indeed DOES nake a difference.(Careful though, because Jostler rightly pointed out my autosuggestibility (; Would not miss it anymore, inspite of all the messy plastic threads having to be gotten rid of. If anybody is interested in the US outlet for this thing, mail me.
Hi Sean & Detlof... would you please give us more info regarding "disc cutters". Thanks, Jim.
Jim, call Cable Co about Audio Desk CD edge bevel machine.
They sell a special package of Audio Desk and Furutech RD-1 demagnitizer at reduced package price. If you buy duplicate
CDs you can send one to them and they will bevel & demag one
for you to compare. This is a fairly expensive tweak.

A word of caution, I will not use this even if it "seems" to
work now because it violates my golden rule about CD Tweaks:
Cable Co special for Audio Desk: www.fatwyre.com/newspecials.html
Jim, Megasm gave you the infos I also would have, had he not come first. Its definitely worth a try. The Cable Company is very serious business. Robert Stein is very helpful. I've been dealing with them for over ten years now and never got bad advice. I would do as Sean suggests and send in a duplicate cd to be processed. Pianos, Sopranos I find especially good for testing, also smallish Jazz combos with good soundstaging on the disk.
In the late 70s, before I had ever heard a thing about burn in, I had the following experinece. I got a new solid state amp to try out, a DB Systems DB-6 it was. It sounded okay to me out of the box,but not remarkable in any respect. We had some family over for dinner and were sitting around in the living room afterwards with the stereo playing quietly in the backround. And I remember noticing that I was suddenly hearing an extraordinary amount of detail and resolution from my Quad ESL 57's. What is more, my brother, who was living with us at the time, noticed the same thing. It was a jaw-dropping kind of thing. These kinds of experiences tend to be pretty convincing on a personal level. Although I think we imagine a lot of what we think we hear, I have little doubt that burn in is both real and non-trivial in at least some instances. By the way, it was a few years prior to this that I had a similar personal, "non-suggested" experience with differences between the sound of two stereo receivers. That's what got me on the high-end bus to begin with. I kinda wish it had not happened. :-)
Just my two cents on freezing cables: First, absolute zero is a theoretical temperature at which all atomic activity ceases and is -273 deg C or 0 deg Kelvin. Liquid Nitrogen is -196 deg C, not absolute zero. Liquid Helium comes closest at -272. Second, the better sound is probably for real (though i havent tried it) Reason: the cooler a conductor, the better it conducts. This phenomenon is measured as the temperature gradient of resistance and there are definite values for different materials. Interestingly, superconductor technology follows the same logic - cool it down! The holy grail being, of course, superconductivity at higher temps since cooling to such levels is very expensive. Cheers, Raghu
Thanks for beating me into submission on the absolute zero point. Ths scientist in me does not need more schooling, I forgot the detail for the audience.... hence I did not spell out all of the detail. Agreed with you three that explained absolute zero, the temp of liquid nitrogen and helium, the temp that matters for wire and your points about what absolute really is in relative terms. I am glad there are others that know this kind of stuff... does it really matter to most?????
Of course it has no bearing on anything J_k. You know we're just sitting here waiting for one tinny screw up and BAMM! Got-cha. The only reason it even registered was that your idea was shared on a different post of mine. Same story and I wrote back asking him to please take my post seriously and how could he.... He got me back when a bunch of people jumped on me for my attack. Point was that that post and this one the term Absolute Zero was used. I thought it was a joke in that it's just a unachievable point on a scale. His whole suggestion lost credibility as did yours when the process is not possible. Sorry for jumping, if not me someone else. I hope you understand, I'll just go back into my hole now and hide untill the next victom comes along :-) J.D.
Not my intention at all; apologies. I thought I conveyed that I felt your point was entirely valid - lower resistance, better conduction, better sound.
No offense taken.... Some good points came out -- that is all that matters.