Equipment Break-in: Fact or Fiction

Is it just me, or does anyone else believe that all of the manufacturers' and users' claims of break-in times is just an excuse to buy time for a new users' ears to "adjust" to the sound of the new piece. Not the sound of the piece actually changing. These claims of 300+ hours of break-in for something like a CD player or cable seem outrageous.

This also leaves grey area when demo-ing a new piece as to what it will eventually sound like. By the time the break-in period is over, your stuck with it.

I could see allowing electronics to warm up a few minutes when they have been off but I find these seemingly longer and longer required break-in claims ridiculous.
FACT: If equipment sounds like $HIT out from the box it will never sound like HONEY even after recommended 300 or N00 hours. Usually if you upgrade a component or a few it should sound better to YOUR ears no-matter if you get it NIB or used.

FICTION: Ear-drums in the mix with naive stereotypical human mind is driven by the talented advertisement in the audio magazines and making everybody believe that every equipment has to undergo N00...N000 break-in time.

Whatever undergoes "break-in" is the speaker voice coil that needs to be massaged especially for the speakers with large woofers, turntable parts, CD pickup but not for N00 hours. I would estimate it from 30min to 5hours.
I agree with Marakanetz' observation that gullible 'philes often won't realize that apparent improvements in sound are really in their own heads, but I think it's both: my listening gets used to the sound of the component and the sound actually changes. I think break in exists, as the heat and current affect brand new circuit elements. This is distinct and separate from warm up, which also exists. It isn't a great step from believing in break in to accepting that it can take longer for some circuits and circuit elements.

I bought a Magnum Dynalab MD 208 last year, a piece that has a reputation for a long break in period. Magnum Dynalab pointed out in a post-review letter that its heavier duty circuit elements required a longer break in. I did notice the sound change. I tried to be as objective as possible when listening, half doubting that I would actually hear any change. I left it on all the time, playing softly when no one was present and turning the volume to zero when the room was in use. I did critical listening only on weekends. After the third week (500 hours), I could hear real differences (improvements) versus on day one. I don't think I imagined it.
I just bought a set of silver speaker wires. They did sound like $---.for 2/3/4 days. I would say anybody whom couldn't hear the dif. between what they sounded like @ 2/3/4 days and 7 days;is either not that particular;or deaf. (Run 24/7) There was just about no bass;the treble was nearly terrible,in the begining. I figure one needn't have anything but ordinary ears to discern the differences.--You grandmother with her hearing aid probably would have picked up on the differences. ---"This is just my opinion, and I could be wrong"--as Dennis Miller might say.
In my experience, the sonic characteristics of a burn-in verses a non-burned-in product can be best described as listening to a system immediately after powering the system on, verses listening to a system after warming up for 2, 4, 6, or even 8 hours. I had one amplifier that literally sounded better after 3 days of being powered up. Just like the manufacturer stated.

90 to 95 percent of the sonic signature is already there as soon as you power everything up, but then over the course of the warm-up time period the sound begins to warm up, blossoom, smooth out, and then immerse you into the music just a bit more.

With speakers, I think it's fairly logical to assume the speaker will improve after some break-in. The drivers do require some air, to provide some deeper bass. As a Triangle Celius owner, I can attest that the speakers are far better after 200hrs of play than they were out-of-the box.
Question about CD player burn-in: Do you have to play music at decent volume levels, or can you just run your CD unit alone to burn it in? What normally happens after CD burn in? Do you get smoother highs and extended bass?

Need some help,
As I noted in a parallel thread a few days ago, the rationale for burn-in of speakers is perfectly obvious from a material sciences perspective. It is not too farfetched to hypothesize that something similar might happen at a micro level in the circuitry. Alas, this is the point at which the objectivists suggest ABX comparisons and the subjectivists scream in rage and leave the room so we mostly don't really know.

Now, when people start telling me that the CDs, themselves, sound different after a few plays I find my eyes rolling involuntarily.

YMMV, of course.

The cd player needs to be on repeat and the dac or pre should be powered up.--That's all. What improvements there are is up to you to decide. I have always found lower bass/detail--and clean no sibliant treble to be the last to occur.
I am constantly amused with the perception out in audioland that the Audiophile community is more about delusion and illusion than the pursuit of the absolute sound.

Why it is difficult for people to accept that components, cables, and speakers do need burn in time actually shocks me.

Granted I have a much greater opportunity to listen to different pieces of audio gear than most being a dealer but I have never heard a piece of audio gear that has not changed some over time.

One of the reasons that sometimes systems do not sound that good at shows is because very often what you are listening to is all brand new stuff fresh out of the box. All manufactures and dealers do not always get a chance to burn things in because they are being loaned product and can do nothing till they receive it - - very often at the last moment. Granted the rooms are also a factor but if it was all just the room certain rooms would not always sound good versus others. Those that sound good are manufactures that have all that they are showing months in advance and have had it playing before coming to the show.

Caps, resistors, diodes, all the wiring, drivers, tweeters, crossovers, tubes all take time to burn in and settle. If this was not the case some manufactures would not spend the time and money to burn in the product for a while before shipping.

I believe that one of the reasons so much product is sold and resold is because the consumer has never heard what it can actually sound like. Hell when you sell a totally burned in piece of audio gear and ship it to someone it is still going to take a few days to settle back and sound as it did.

I am sure many of you have been able to smell a change in the room as certain components burn in. If things are cooking in and you can smell it why would you not believe that you can hear it?

Think back over the years. 20 years ago the myth was that cables made no difference. Well accepted now. Then that cones, or carbon fiber, aurios whatever could affect the sound of your system. Now accepted. Recently that powercords could not matter because you were running such cheap wire in the walls. Now accepted. Then that better wall outlets could not have any effect. Now accepted. At one time their were critics of cryogenically treating products although it has been used in other industries for years. Be grateful that there are people out there willing to go beyong the skeptics that never want to believe anything and take the risks to try new things.

I do not know of a single manufacture who does not consider break in as important to their product. Could they all be wrong? I guess it is possible. There are numerous that after years of not believing are now advocates of powercords.

So it is obvious that no one has all the answers. So you are only left with your senses, and maybe most important with Faith in the belief that we live in a magical world and that all things do not have to fit in with our conceptual constructs of the universe.

As I tell my customers, "if they cannot tell the difference between cables accept it as a blessing you just saved a lot of money."
When I bought my last amp I kept my other amp for a while so I would have something to compare with. The new amp sounded so different after about a month anyone could hear the change. Sloppy bass had tightened up and closed in highs opened up. This was with my other amp that was very good in both respects a four cable swap away. Im sure its not my imagination, my wife heard the change and she dosnt mind telling me when something does not sound good. In my system this -was- a silk purse from a sows ear. I could also hear a big change when I broke in my Totem Ones.
I dont know about cable break in. If it happens its too subtle for me, but these changes were obvious to me and my wife.
I tend to agree with Stehno but I also agree that my speakers did indeed change during the first 300 hours or so. I am somewhat confused about what is really happening, even as an electrical engineer doing circuit design. I don't know much about voice coils but about transistors and wires, I feel rather confidant and I cannot think of exactly what parameters are changing. The Si doping has most of the influence over a devices character and it does not change with time (but does with device temp - hence why I agree with Stehno). On the other hand, dealers are always telling me that burn-in is critical but everything they have me audition has barely 2 hours on it. If burn-in for circuits is true then I cannot believe what I hear at the dealer. Catch 22 - oh well.
From my experience, after about 20 to 30 hours what you hear is what you are (stuck?) left with. I agree with Marakanetz - the sound does not magically improve after a "break-in". What I noticed, whether source, amp or speaker, is only the imaging and soundstage pulling together; the song remains the same.
We're dealing with humans here, and I believe the actual truth of this debate is lost among the BS. Perhaps there is a small sound difference between components before and after they've "burned in". But it is no doubt overshadowed by the human listener's ear changing over time. If you walk into a loud disco, 15 minutes later the disco doesn't sound loud anymore. The disco's amp did not "burn in" to this lower volume, your ears adjusted. I'd also like to point out people will describe their artwork and mattresses very differently after owning them a year, and it's not because either of these "burned in". Give me a break.

I'm told all the pieces need time to "burn in". Perhaps someone can explain what the heck this means. Burn in? How come my computer doesn't need time to "burn in". I don't notice my hard drive speeding up after 100 hours of use. I'm not ruling out the possibility that the components actually do sound better over time, but I'd at least like to know some physics-based explanation why it's so.

Those of you who believe everyone's claims that their components "open up", "burn in", or otherwise improve over time could use a brushing up on the well documented social psychological phenomenon called positive test bias. I guarantee it's orders of magnitude stronger than the changes in electrical properties.
SOS, I share your sense of shock, only, in my case, it's based on the fact that guys like you can't accept the power of suggestion on the human mind and the simple fact that whatever we get used to becomes our personal benchmark. Since you sell the stuff, I think you should be believed without reservation. I have a question for you, and all others knowledgeable in this audio thing: when does the process of burn-in stop? Does it go on and on and on ad infinitum until the piece of gear is so good we call it "vintage" and never sell it or is there a plateau that is reached, and if so, how long is that plateau? Does the plateau (geez let's call it "stasis" ) last forever or does the component fall off at some point? Or maybe, just maybe, since "everything changes and that's fact, but everything that changes some day comes back" (sorry Bruce) do we have to start over again if the product is left on a shelf unused for a while? I heard from reliable sources that this is the case with cables, slinky little devils! Or maybe the component just becomes better and better until such time as degenerative cap and diode syndrome sets in, at which point the component should be tossed in favour of something newer. Kind of like adopting a cat or dog, you grow with the component, but, ultimately, the end comes... This last possibility has the greatest on the up-side though for the "industry": just imagine a "best before date" to keep your customers coming back! No hard feelings, but as the good Bishop indicated, we will never know will we? Good day.

Truer words were never spoken. Equipment break-in is real. Apparenly your ears and mind haven't fully broken-in yet. ;-) Otherwise you would have never posted the question.
I am running a Sony SACD player at the moment,the common response on this and similar Sony models is approx 400 hours burn in.
I'm keeping notes so I'll update you with my dillusions or solid facts when I get there-at 180 hours so far.
I know this is an emotional subject but why get upset,trust yourself either way.
Break in is VERY real, I recently had a chance to compare two identical pieces and there were HUGE differences between the two. I had 2 audio aero capitoles mkII, mine had about 350 hours on it and the other one was opened and plugged in for the first time, we used the same exact system just with two of the same components, and the burned in unit, had depth, warmth, musicality, dynamics, higher resolution- over all an ease of presentation on the whole system compared to the NIB unit. I was skeptic till I had the chance to actually compare side by side and boy o' boy burn in is a very real thing, and that's a fact Jack!(as Timo so eloquently stated).
when you don't believe, then have heard it happening, do you still not believe? I was once skeptical until my own experience taught me that a few hundred hours on a component made a considerable difference - for THAT component. Any other box will not behave exactly the same way; may or may not happen (some do & some don't).
Tireguy - that is really cool. I have wanted to hear a comparison of burned in and new but never could. I liked hearing you thoughts.

There may be another issue here too: one person's huge difference is another's "same song."
Remember the the Audi drivers swore that they were not stepping on the gas but on the brakes and still the car accelerated away! It was later found, through observation, that people will indeed think that they have done one thing but really did another, especially if they will look like fools if they admitted otherwise.
This affect is repeatedly observed in the realm of audiophilia.

BTW, companies `burn-in` components to simply assure that there will not be any failures in the first hours of operation (when most failures occur, before long term failure), not to break-in equipment so that they sound better.
Maybe Im hallucinating. Maybe all amps sound the same anyway. After all, how could two electrical devices with similar specs sound different? Its absurd! This revelation is going to save me a lot of money! Thanks you guys!
Is there any other proof that burn-in break-in improves the components and/or cables other than voodoo or act-of-God kinda-stuff??
What is the physical internal proccess there that even dealers believe but don't understand realy what's going on?
I'm with Marakanetz on this one. I believe that your brain is doing the majority of the burn-in, except with speakers.
It's widely accepted that equipment that is "warmed up" sounds better than when it is first turned on. Why can't you accept that some level of break-in makes a difference?
I admit to having heard the effects of break-in on various pieces of audio equipment. I'll grant that some components seem to require little break-in while others need quite a bit more.

One of the better descriptions of what constitutes break-in of audio equipment (at least for speakers) can be found on the Avalon Acoustics website.

To paraphrase the manufacturer, break-in is required because there is "a residual polarization of the dielectric materials used in the crossover capacitors and internal wiring. The electrical signal will gradually anneal these materials. Driver suspensions similarly need break-in to "reach their optimal mechanical properties as the speakers are played." They go on to state that an initial six hour warm up with quiet music is recommended, with an additional 200-300 hours of loud, dynamic music for extended break-in.

Whether you choose to believe that break-in is important or not, it's hard to argue with the recommendations of an audio manufacturer of some repute.
Never thought much about it until I experienced it for the first time. Uncanny. A bit like cooking. You suddenly know when the soup is exactly the right temperature and all the seasoning blends into something surprisingly tasty.
This is a fact. Have you ever looked at an older circuit board? The flow of electricity changes the board. I have installed many cameras that had perfect focus and have returned two weeks later to find them out of focus. Gremlins perhaps! The question is: How much does the sound actually change? Does the tone change from harsh to smooth? Does the bass change from thin to deep? Does the soundstage come into focus? If I had to guess, from my own experience, it is 5 to 10 percent at the most.
I feel so badly that so many remain so naive. I guess some people will simply never know the truth, or simply refuse to except it. I does surprise me that people so ill informed would chose to take such passionate positions on things they obviously know little about.

If your wondering my thoughts on this topic, than you have no idea who I am, and maybe it's time to investigate.

Sos, excellant post
Just out of the curiosity.. how would you apply the "Social psychological phenomenon called positive test bias" to explain the difference between hearing "no (or less) detail" before burning in and "much more detail" after burning in?

I bet that psychological phenomenon cannot make you hear more things unless you drink too much!!!

Just my 2 cents.

Ok, since many of the "believers" seem to want to lambast us skeptics here is my reason for being skeptical, or at least attributing the bulk of the effect to the brain of the listener.
I have two systems, one in England (now in my parents' living room) one in the US where I have been "temporarily" living for 5 years. When I visit the UK, roughly every 18 months, for the first day or two my old system sounds bass heavy and lacking in detail. After a few days it sounds thoroughly enjoyable. When I return to the US my US system sounds detailed, but lacking in rhythm. After a few days my US system sounds very enjoyable.
Both systems cost about $3k, and a mix of new and used. I believe both are at comparable performance levels, and both represent pretty much the pinnacle of a $3k system. However both have different strengths and weaknesses. The US system excels at chamber music and light jazz. The UK system excels at rock, particularly live rock, but handles classical very well.
I believe that over a period of time, measuring days, my brain becomes attuned to a particular tonal balance. Since both systems don't contain a single component less than 5 years old (some are >10 yrs) burn in is not possible. Both are left permanently switched on.
Since I'm an open-minded EE I'm prepared to accept that there might be minor changes in sound over time due to many different second-order effects. However I also believe that these changes are swamped by the adjustment of ones brain to a new tonal balance, based on the experience I have just outlined above.
I also believe that to strive for the "perfect system" is something of a wild-goose chase, since I have found that I can live very happily with many different systems, provided that I have time to attune to their particular sound, and provided that they are reasonably good systems to begin with.
Hey, don't flame me ... I offer a sincere opinion, with evidence upon which it is based !
It should be failry easy to test this hypothesis. All we need is just a blind test of the same equiptments with diffrence burn-in time (may be 5 of them: brand new, 10, 50, 100 and 500 hours burn-in time?). Actually, I wonder why those audio magazines do not try this kind of test? If the majority of the well respected testers can't ID the equiptment correctly (or at least be able to group them), that should indicate something.

My 2 cents again.

PS I think we should call it truce. If you don't believe in burning in then don't do it and go enjoy the musics!!

There are somethings that happen in audio that science or theory can't explain. Power cords is one of the biggest mysteries to me with no explaination of why they do what they do. In "theory", they should make no difference. Go figure.
One explanation of why power cords make a diference is because all of your components are giving off RF & EMI and this gets into unshielded power cord while the shielding on better cables helps prevent this hash from entering via the AC. Could be a bunch of voodoo though. All I know is I'm not going back to stock cords any time soon after hearing the difference a good power cable can make.
Ake - read Tireguy's post above. Blackie is right, you would be surprised how much EMI an amp makes - I have tested it in the lab. The allowable level is high for home equipment.
Aball, the reason I suggested the blind test is that there are no bias during the test and the result should be nutral. Personally, I do not oppose burning in stuffs as I believe in it too. Just try to give some solutions that should be universally accepted.

here we go: we ain't talkin' here 'bout differences in cables or power cords. we're talking about burn-in or break-in which in reality more issue of mentality and adoptation rather than any physical proccess involved.
i read a commets about "residual polarization" and i do have an idea how to calculate the time of a residual polarization:
1. define a signal path lengh
2. divide a signal path lengh(meters) by speed of light(meters/second) and you get time in seconds of a "residual polarization" of a dielectric.
3. compare the result with the manufacturer suggested burn-in or break-in time he...he...
4. if you don't trust me just write a note to the vtl manufacturers to receive a tru-scientific answer from knowledgable personnel or even luke manley himself who realy deserves a respect and trust.
Since I'm now about the 350 hour mark on my Sony SACD machine I thought I'd get back with MY findings.
I have had previously felt that I had experienced components breaking in without really analysing it.
This time I took notes and more importantly in my opinion did not listen to SACD outwith about 4 sessions over the break in period.
This meant I hadn't the chance to get used to the SACD sound.
I have to say I didn't find what others have,the gradual change wasn't there,at 250 hours I could hear no real difference from my intial listening.
Nearer the 300 hour mark I felt perhaps there was a bit more weight and maybe focus but I would need to say it was marginal,if so it hasn't changed since.
I don't think this proves or disproves anything but I was surprised because obviously more knowledgeable and experienced audiophilles here and elsewhere have commented on Sony break in.
I have to say now I have doubts about break in but continue to keep an open mind.
I'll continue to monitor my unit and report back if anything changes...............
I know this topic has been done to death, but I can at least make mention of my thoughts/ experiences.

I have not noticed much in terms of break-in for electronic devices such as cd players, amps, preamps etc. They do, however, have changes in sound characteristics once they are warmed up, which is a comment on which I'm sure most would agree. (without a doubt, tube equipment is THE most noticeable in terms of change of sound quality with warmup).

Speakers, on the other hand, are a different issue. I made a purchase of a pair of speakers, but the store did not have any NIB models in stock. They gave me the store's floor models to use temporarily until my new ones arrived. The floor models had been used in the store for quite some time. When I brought them home they sounded full, coherent, deep and dynamic.

The store called to inform me that the NIB models had arrived. When I set the new ones up at home, I noticed a big, no not big - HUGE difference in sound quality. The depth was gone. The sound collapsed. The treble was harsh and the bass was non-existent (monitor speakers). I'm talking about a day and night difference here, so much so that I called the store to ask them what the story was. They (semi-laughingly) told me to relax and assured me that the speakers would break in. And sure enough they did. It was gradual at first, but the more they were used, the better they sounded (they still sound good).

Now, I am not an engineer so I cannot quantify exactly why this is so, but I suspect that it has to do with the fact that speakers mechanical devices much like a piston. While at first they are 'rigid', one they 'wear in' to their motion, so to speak, they move more readily.

Maybe I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, but I can tell you, with ears the size of mine, I notice EVERYTHING when it comes to sound. :P
I've noticed that on pieces of aircraft electronics there is a sticker saying:'burn-in completed'. Would the likes of Boeing bother if it didn't matter? I think that electronic components may work and sound better after break-in because the prototypes were evaluated by the manufacturer after break-in. So, in order to hear what they heard, you need to break it in. Another thing I have noticed is that an amp I once built needed recalibrating after having been used for a while. So apparently something had changed.
Being a true scientist, I do not need a scientific explanation in order to observe something happening. Here's a little experience I had with a cable, from which you can draw any darn conclusion you like.

I was putting a new system together and using Alpha Core MI2 Python Speaker Cable. I perceived the system too sound a little too warm and lacking immediacy. I then bought a pair of used Coincident TRS speaker cable, in the expectation that it would eliminate the problem. The TRS was put in the system on a Thursday, and immediately I perceived the sound to be thick and lumpy in the bass, with some thickness in the mids too. This was directly after listening with the Alpha Core in place. So the sound seemed to go noticeably in the wrong direction when the TRS was hooked up.

By Saturday I was perceiving the sound to be opening up and beginning to provide much more detail and more articulation. Round about Saturday evening the I perceived the sound had gone too far and that the upper mids were etched and dry. I persisted with the cable through to the following Thursday but was getting frustrated at how I was enjoying none of the music. The TRS was now consistently irritating me with an apparent harshness in the upper mids, almost unlistenable. I was not surprised at the change in apparent sound since I have experienced it before with second-hand cables that had travelled thousands of miles but I was hating it so much, and had hated it every day for 5 days, that I took the TRS out and put the Alpha Core back in. The Alpha Core sounded to me exactly as I remembered it - nice but a little too warm and lacking immediacy - but mercifully musical and very welcome after the horrid experience with the TRS.

About a week or so later I put the TRS back in the system. It sounded pretty good to me immediately - more detail than the Alpha Core and just as musical - and it seemed to get better over the next three days. After a week I was very satisfied with it and felt the system was sounding just right - which it has continued to do over the months since then. So I had to try the Alpha Core again - sure enough the Alpha Core sounded to me exactly as before. But going back to the TRS, the perceived improvements in detail, immediacy, etc were noticeable, and really made the system boogie. No perception of harsh upper mids at all - totally gone.

So how come the perceived sound of the TRS moved about so much? It appeared to go in one direction, then another, then wound up on the button! Yet the Alpha Core, despite being stored did not seem to change at all.

Funny thing though, my wife observed the exact same phenomena that I did - noticing each change that I described above. She wanted me to ditch the TRS but now agrees it is better. Yet she listened only about 25% of the time that I listened for. So if the effect is psychological, then either; my wife needs 75% less time to get used to the sound of a new component than I do; or elapsed time is the factor not listening time; or my wife senses how I feel about a component and, unprompted, manages to state what I think (could be true, these females are perplexing indeed "life Jim, but... " thinks... maybe she fakes in bed too..); or, perhaps something about the sound really did change. Each of these explanations is quite fantastic given what we know. Hence, perhaps, the answer lies in something that what we do not know.
Just like anything in life, everything have a settling time
before it stabilizes. This include our phychological mind
as well as the components itself.
The psyche needs more settling time than components from an electrical engineering standpoint. Arthur
some people do understand it and some people don't and still believe that there is a break-in of electrical components and wires.
truly, nothing has to be scientific to prove that break-in crap.
rbnl ... are you sure that Boeing's burn in doesn't relate to safety ... that is, electrical equipment is most likely to fail during the first few hundred hours. All manufacturers of safety-critical electronics perform such burn-in to prevent failures in the field.
Or perhaps there is self-calibrating software in their equipment ? This is also quite likely.
Either way I think that aircraft electronics and a simple transistor amplifier (or CD player) are rather incomparable.
Not to say it doesn't exist in audio, but I don't find your argument persuasive.
I don't understand the naysayers' demand for proof. Surely, it's not that hard to do listening comparisons of same model components, one "broken in" and the other not. In any case, how could science possibly confirm or disconfirm whether there is an audible difference to a listener? Wouldn't a listener's ability consistently to distinguish the components constitute sufficient "proof"? I have heard a pronounced difference in a number of components--cables, amplifiers, etc. Can I prove this? No. Do I understand any scientific principles or phenomena that would explain this? No. I also can't "prove" that my Acoustic Zen Satori cables sound better than my old AQ Midnight III, or that my Linn Karik cd player sounds much better than my old Adcom GFP-750--but they do. I suspect that the same crowd who used to argue that digital can't make a difference, then cables can't make a difference has moved on to break in can't make a difference. It's a tired move--which isn't to say that some things can't and don't make a difference. Listen for yourselves.
Seems to me the best way to find out whether or not what is going on is brain acclimatization or equipment break-in is to buy a new unit and play extensively for the first day taking notes in the process. Play continuously at low volume for 2 weeks without listening.After 2 weeks, now listen and compare notes. I know, aural memory is notorious fickle but at least this is a relatively easy way to try to examine this phenomenon.
Jayarr-I did that.
It doesn't prove anything except to me!
Which doesn't make other findings wrong.
Why can't people have confidence in their own findings and live and let live?
It's a simple solution.