Headphones vs full range speakers

I've never had any really high end headphones. I had like a $500 pair of Seinhauser earbuds for a while. I thought they sounded really good even pushing off a phone. Question is who has gone from listening to speakers for your main listening pleasure to headphones or vice versa. Can get something like the top of the line Focal Utopia headphones while pricey they are in line with "mid grade" speakers. 

I don't entertain often at all and the wife does not listen anymore. Just started thinking why not simplify and get some kick butt headphones. 


A top of the line headphone system and speaker systems are two very different things. I have both. Click on my UserID to see them. I would say both of my systems are capable of similar sound quality and detail. I listen to my speaker system 99+% of the time. When I want a fire in the fireplace and look out the windows I listen to my headphone system.


In general, headphone systems are for a contingency...when I can’t make noise, don’t have the space, traveling, can’t afford a high quality speaker system, or the environment is to noisy. There are probably a couple people out there that like them better, but there is probably some hidden reason.


Headphone systems don’t project the images and sound in front of you like a real concert, the sound stage is in between your ears. No mater how good they are there is something physically touching you.. it gets fatiguing.

On the other hand you can put together a top notch system for a tenth the cost... that is about the ratio of cost of mine. The sound with my Focal Utopia or Sennheiser 800 is simply amazing. 


It's all good but different. 

ghdprentis has it 100%.

When i succeed to install my relatively good but low cost audio system in his rightful three dimensional embeddings controls space, i throw all my SEVEN ,dynamics, electro-acoustic,magneplanar,or hybrid headphones in a drawer for ever...

When i begun my journey with the same audio system now for years, any of my headphone was better than my speakers..

Now i prefer the same speakers on all acoustical counts...

Take yourself your conclusion...

M y own conclusion is : mechanical,electrical and especially acoustical embeddings controls are much more impactful in S.Q. than almost any upgrade of a piece of gear...

The only usefulness of headphones is listening without bothering others...

By the way the total cost of my audio system well chosen gear for sure is under 500 bucks... I had been lucky... it will cost me over one thousand now...( i dont count here the price of my main 7 or even 9 headphones if i add them all)



By the way i modified all my headphones with success, increasing their S.Q. with modifications in the shell room cups from damping technique and decreasing also the vibrations of the cups through the headband etc ...

it is there in this "tweaking" process i discovered the destructive power of vibrations, cross talk, and benefit of  ACOUSTIC science....

If you want to know why speakers are POTENTIALLY  better than most headphones if someone learn how to install them  it is simple... It is small room acoustic control the key....


wow you have a couple really nice systems there! 
Do you prefer the Focals or the Sennheisers? 

Never owned floorstanding Focals until recently and they are lowly 836w but I love the hell out of them. 

I know now that @mahgister is not a young chicken , but his ears must be quite

good. I have Focal Clear with Pro-Ject Headbox DS2 and I enjoy theme a lot.

When getting old and your ears go down , I think that highend headphone makes a lot on sense.If  I am robbed in a couple of years, I will use the insurance money ,

buying less highend speakers and even more highend headphones and headphone ´ s amplifier

I have used Focal Chorus 836VW for a long time as front speakers. Now , they are used as rears in my HT system.  They are much too good for that specific use , but 

I would not have had much if I had sold theme to buy averadge speakers for rears.

I never said that headphones were bad....

I only say that speakers WELL ACOUSTICALLY implemented in a room can beat them...

From my experience....

by the way i begin my audio journey preparing my retirement and pledging to create a headphone system more useful for many reason than my Speakers...I sold my 2 pair of dual concentric Speakers and bought headphones...

During the last 6 months i put all my headphones in the closet... COMPLETE REVERSAL of my knowledge and situation...

I only use headphones on rare occasion.   I've got a nice Quicksilver headphone amp, grado rs2e, Klipsch HP3 and while they are good for private listening , they don't come close to a quality set of speakers and amplification.  

Good headphone rigs sound great within the context of what they are I guess, but they don't have the scale and impact of speakers and when they do too much of it isn't good for your hearing .

I think the most important thing concerning headphones is comfort. No matter how great they sound if they're too heavy or don't fit well, you won't get the maximum enjoyment. My headphones fit me comfortably, I can listen to them for hours (I listen maybe 30% compared with speakers). I'd also suggest a quality headphone amp for the best performance.

@ghdprentice pretty much nailed it. With headphones you lose some soundstaging  and the visceral feel of the sound on your skin but you'll likely hear more low level detail, channel gimmickry (good or bad) and they take out the room affect factor.

What is with the either/or premise?

It is true generally that we can hear more details with headphones...

The problem with this "truth" is that this truth is an "half-truth"...

And half-truth are more deceiving than lies...


If the speakers are not well chosen and if they are not imnplemented correctly in the room acoustically electrically and mechanically, yes they will give way less details...

But it is not true for my speakers now in my actual controlled room...I have the same level of details in my listening position than with my headphones...And probably an improved way to present these details than with an headphone...


Headphones with their vastly superior transient response are more lifelike, but I prefer speakers.

At least until I can find a pair of headphones that will let me forget I'm wearing them.

Headphones with their vastly superior transient response are more lifelike, but I prefer speakers.


This was my experience BEFORE acoustical control of my room which did for my speakers transient response an improvement so great i cease to use headphone...By modifying the pressures zone distribution in my room, the transient response of my speakers increased to almost the level of my headphone...Then with the other improvement related to speakers use like a better bass response, and a better listener envelopment factor, because the sound is AROUND THE head not in the head, speakers reign over my headphones now...

My speakers sound EXACTLY like headphone sound but around my head NOT IN MY HEAD....

I had a fairly high end Stax rig before building my speaker system. The speakers image and soundstage in a way that is physically impossible for headphones to accomplish. You go from sound in between your ears to performers seemingly in the room with you. Given the resolving prowess of electrostatic headphones, this was an area I assumed the headphones would hold advantage. Suprised to say there wasn’t much in it, with the headphones perhaps displaying a bit more detail in the lowest levels. I achieve higher engagement from the speakers, as well. Presence, weight, and tactility can not be matched by headphones.

In my opinion the remaining advantages of headphones are isolation and nulling the room effect. The price argument is indeterminate. Flagship headphones are over $4000, with some headphone and amp pairings costing over $30,000. Achieving high end sound from a headphone system requires the same care and attention to detail as a speaker system, sans room treatment.

Great post! thanks...

I concur with your experience...

My best to you...

russ69 has it 100%        :-)     I totally concur.

Question is who has gone from listening to speakers for your main listening pleasure to headphones or vice versa.

Having both a good home and HeadFi rig, I agree with others that they’re really two different animals each with their own strengths and limitations.  However, if I was to go headphones only, the only headphones I’d consider would be the Raal SR1a that are actually more like ear speakers than headphones.  They require a special amp/interface and will run a minimum of about $3500 with everything, but that’s still cheap relative to a decent home system.  Hope this helps.


Good advice! thanks...

This is probably the one headphone i will try... If i had spare money and if i was unsatisfied by my speakers system...Or if my wife order no sound at all after midnight...



I agree with the comfort factor. I really like the audeze LCD3, but sold them largely because they were not comfortable. I ended up preferring near field bookshelves.



"Do you prefer the Focals or the Sennheisers? "


To me, one of the most interesting experiences I have had. I got serious about headphones about 18 years ago. I slowly upgraded from basic, with basic electronics. I have LCD2, Beyerdynamic T2, Ultrasond Edition8... etc. I have had many good amps searching for the magic. The differences were typically what you read... Sennheiser trebly not quit of good a bass but airy, the Focals... I forgot, whatever the reviews say. My last set of upgrades from a Woo WA6 se amp, the Aurender streamer... suddenly the differences virtually disappeared. They both have perfect sonic balance, no treblyness, great articulated bass. The only difference is the Sennheiser have open backs so they have a bigger sense of space... no closed in feeling.

My belief is that, both these (and other top headphones) are designed using absolutely outstanding neutral signal sources. But when purchase and reviewes are done on systems with some shortcoming that brings out a weakness or propensity if not fed a really good signal. Hence they get a reputation for a particular sound. I think the Sennheiser need massive current to drive them, and the Focal require real midrange bloom. Anyway, my sources eliminated any weaknesses in both and sound almost identical. The LCDs also sound nearly identical. Maybe, I just stumbled on a particularly synergistic set of electronics for the headphones and my rational isn't correct. But lucky me anyway.

So, the short answer is now the Sennheisers get almost exclusive use because they are more comfortable and more "space" because of their open design.

I have a pair of Sennheiser 599SE. I really never use them. I am simply too attracted to the music filling my room.

Yes, I’ve thought about getting a better set (probably Grado), but, as I would never really use them, money better spent elsewhere, a(nother) cart, LP’s, etc.


Headphones are for the gym IMO

«I make love with speakers but i always masturbate with headphones»-Groucho Marx 🤓

You're  comparing apples to oranges in a sense, because headphones are a different kind of experience.  I've owned reasonably high end 2 channel and surround systems in the past, but where I'm living now I can't really play a system like that the way I would want to, so I sold the gear and went all-in for headphones. Bought Focal Utophias, am driving them at the moment with an RME ADI-2 FS DAC/amp combo.  I'm shopping like crazy for a dedicated headphone amp, but like most of us, have to rely or forums and reviews, so it's confusing.  I would advise that you think about the sound signature you prefer in your speaker system and read reviews etc. in that light.  Headphones are a much more intimate listening experience, so keep that in mind.  



you are a mystery to me.

mahgister mean teacher in latin : you may have latin langage  roots.

there is a french book about Umberto Eco on your desk ( virtual system )

Bell and Alcatel-lucent equipment .

There is snow around your house. You live in northern emisphere

On your external brick wall , there is some white efflorescence.Often seen

in temperate region
Province of Quebec ( first choice ) France mountain area . Switzerland Northern Italy. ?

You should add some pictures with clues . Interesting



After the wife goes to bed I will frequently use my wireless Sabra Elite Bluetooth earbuds or my wireless Bluetooth Bowers and Wilkins headphones, both Aptex HD from my integrated amp that sends the same quality of signals to them. I think the headphones sound slightly better, but can't be used laying on a pillow like earbuds can. I think the SQ is better from my Monitor Audio Gold 100 speakers with the sound not in my head but around me in my acoustically correct room.  But keep in mind I'm 65 with decades of shooting and sirens degrading my hearing a bit. YMMV.



Should we also take into consideration , the source.

I have LuminX1 and wonder what headphone amplifires should I choose.

I even opened a thread about that. 

I am also a complete paranoiac freak under heavy drugs who freak more right now being exposed !



you are a mystery to me.

mahgister mean teacher in latin : you may have latin langage roots.

there is a french book about Umberto Eco on your desk ( virtual system )

Bell and Alcatel-lucent equipment .

There is snow around your house. You live in northern emisphere

On your external brick wall , there is some white efflorescence.Often seen

in temperate region
Province of Quebec ( first choice ) France mountain area . Switzerland Northern Italy. ?

You should add some pictures with clues . Interesting




What is the last name of your pusher ?   :-))

Quebec Inc.

We live in a legalized drugs country....

But so called " drug" or hallucinogens are overrated over attention self controlled skills...

They are only useful to awake us, the rest is work over our attention...



SQDC     :  Merci simonac ....

The best pusher is my library online...

By the way....

If you want a book to hallucinate try Wolfgang Schad...His books about mammals..

LSD is less potent than the conscious integration of a method of seeing..

You could remember LSD visions but you cannot integrate them easily..

This book can change life and the way we see ... Schad is a disciple in zoology and morphology of Goethe training....

One of the greatest book i ever read...

I have always felt , some connection with you .
Bonne soirée

Watching Gregory Charles on TV 

Thanks for your kindess to me ...

My deepest respect to you...

Post removed 

Headphones IMO are nothing approaching lifelike, even the most expensive.  There is simply the wrong soundstage and imaging. Like most I use my 3 pairs on the train, in bed or when the rest of the house is asleep. 


It is like comparing Sushi to good Italian.    

Both are excellent when you are experiencing them.

I did experience many moments of "rocking out" with the headphones. They were fun to listen to when cranking them up. The speakers are more emotionally involving with their sense of real performers in the room.

Headphone are useful and can be extraordinary interesting...No doubt here...

My point is only that well implemented speakers will beat them most of the times, if not always. (i dont have OMEGA stax nor the RAAL headphones to compared and to claim my point on an absolute comparison basis for sure).

If then many speakers could beat most headphones, there is a big BUT, by experience now i know that most speakers are not well implemented, electrically, mechanically and acoustically...

Then....They are limited by their bad implementation in the room and in the system...

It is the reason i think , and it is only my opinion here, why some people put them on par with speakers but different...



Why then my 7 pairs are in a drawer?

Because i own a dedicated audio room and my speakers run optimally...It is not all people who could have the luxury of a dedicated audio room...

If not for this fact, i would have prefer to use ONLY headphones...It was my goal 8 years ago to own only headphones... It take less space, dont need a dedicated room with headphones, and i like the sonic relative isolation from the world and the feeling of being elsewhere they give, i miss that sensation a lot...I dont miss the uncomfort though after some hours...😁😊

But for sure listening music is more extraordinary in S.Q. points in near listening or in regular listening in my small room...

After years of many listening experiments i end up with speakers only....

And learning enough acoustic to set my room was very hard and asked for many months of daily experiments with my near hundred homemade acoustic devices....Cost is peanuts but the hours it takes was innumerable almost...Fine tuning a room like i did ask for an incremental listening process it is nowhere like buying acoustic panels and claiming job done... 😊

i take the same pain to improve each one of my headphones before and it is there i begin to think about " embeddings controls in the three working dimensions of any audio system"...

i hope my post clarified my opinion...

i will go headphones perhaps tomorrow if i could afford any headphone superior to my speakers...it is not the case at all with my 7 pairs...

the RAAL perhaps?

I dont know and will never know...My money is restricted anyway....

I have owned both. I used to own what some would call the best headphone available.the abyss AB-1266 PHI TC with a formula s, powerman and dCS Bartok. I upgraded my speakers from Magico S1mkII to a pair of Rockport Atria II with pair of JL F110v2 subs. After that I sold my Abyss and headphone amp. They got no use after I upgraded the speakers. There is just something about a great speaker system that headphones can't match. I still have focal clears and noble kahns with an sp1000 for late night listening. 


It does cost a lot more to get the same level of performance from speakers though. 

For a while I was really into headphones and built up a nice collection including LCD4, Sennheiser HD800, Sony MDR-Z1R, AKG K812, and a number of others.  

I used the headphones a lot in my small two channel system in my computer room because the wall is kind of close to a neighbor's house and I didn't want to bother them.  I found a pair of Harbeth P3ESR speakers and set them up nearfield.  It's similar to headphones, but you get more soundstage and they don't carry too far.  Since then, the headphones rarely get used.

Once my two channel stereo system reached a certain point, the headphones just weren't attractive anymore, and I rarely use them.  When I do, it's usually at bedtime, and it's the $200 Sennheiser HD6XX due to their comfort.

You don't have to wear speakers, and as many others have mentioned, they are much more "lifelike".  Headphones present music in a way that is much different than how we hear live music.

Headphones on the other hand are more affordable and if you like to change up the sound, it's a lot easier to grab a different set of headphones than to store a bunch of speakers and move those in and out of your system (trust me, I know).  Every set of headphones I own has a distinctly different sound and I may enjoy one pair with a certain type of music, or want to wear another pair because of their comfort, or use closed back ones if I want to keep most of the sound from getting out... it's a lot easier to have options with headphones.

If you want to try some out, I suggest picking up a pair of the Sennheiser HD6XX.  You can tweak them relatively inexpensively.  I'd look into earcups and a balanced cable.  Good amplification is important, the headphone out on most devices is crap and won't show the true potential of what your headphones can do.  If you'd like to get a taste of the Focal sound without dropping a ton of money, try the Elex.  

It's nice to have some good headphones when you need them.  Some people prefer that in your head sound and the detail that you can get with headphones.  I really enjoy a big soundstage and the imaging that you get with speakers, so it's hard for me to give that up.

I suggest going to the headfi forum. I've been a member there for years and you will learn everything you need to know and will be exposed to many brands of products you never heard of before.

@mofojo I hate headphones. However, the RAAL SR1a ’earphones’ are some of the best 2 channel sound I have ever heard. Just to go crazy and make them sound good I bought the following gear to make them sound good:

- CODA 07x preamp (office)

- Parasound A21+ amp (office)

- KRELL K-300i integrated (bedroom)

I even had Audience FrontRow speaker cable on them when I used a Benchmark AHB2 amp and a CODA #8 amp with them. However, that was too crazy and I moved those 2 amps and speaker wire to my regular 2 channel system.

You can get these RAAL SR1a sounding great with many other cheaper amps (and special headphone amps). However, I decided to do it this way.

BTW - after getting the RAAL I sold my Meze Empy headphones and my Benchmark HPA4 because I had no interest in regular headphones again. There is a November sale at RAAL-Requiste now.

True Ribbon Headphones & Amplifiers | RAAL-requisite (raalrequisite.com)

BTW2 - this reviewer has a killer 2 channel system. Here is is opinion on the RAAL SR1a. I concur and I have a nice 2 channel rig too.

Review | RAAL-requisite SR1a Earfield Headphone Monitor - Reviews - Audiophile Style


The RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones are unequivocally the most sensational audio product I've ever heard. Honestly, no product has ever captured my attention, caused me to listen to more music, or garnered my enthusiasm like the SR1a Earfield headphone monitors.  I've listened to them nearly every day since I took delivery on Thursday February 13, 2020. I frequently sit across the room from a $100,000+ audio system, looking at it, while listening through these headphones. The SR1a is that good. Stunning, amazing, and the only headphone capable of pulling me away from my main audio system. 

+1 ghd.  Thread could have stopped after the first post


yyzsantabarbara for the RAAL information and review ...

@b_limo  I must disagree on post #1. I used to think the same way. Even when I had my Meze Empy headphones I thought it was good but not 2 channel good. The RAAL is really 2 channel for me.

I also listen to the RAAL every day. The great thing is that I do not feel like I am doing a downgrade when I shutdown the 2 channel and put on the RAAL.

I’ve gone pretty far down the headphone rabbit hole in the past 6 years. Currently I have 7 headphone amps, 3 of which can serve as system preamp for my desktop audio system (2 x 2-way nearfield monitors + sub); and 5 or 6 headphones at any given time.

My favorite headphones are the heirloom-quality wooden earcup designs of ZMF headphones. I have 3 of those models currently; had and sold 2 others. I can firmly recommend the Verite Open, the best dynamic driver headphone I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard many).

Headphones with planar/orthostatic drivers are a whole other bag. I really love certain sonic qualities that planars excel at. I currently have 2 planars: 1 is the legacy ZMF design, the Ori (lovely sounding closed back design); and tied w/the Verite Open for best headphone here is the Final D8000. Both of these headphones manage to combine a lot of resolution & speed with an organic, musical sound that is the opposite of the forensic/accurate thing found in some pricey headphones (and speaker, of course).

Speakers systems & headphones are both audio reproduction, but they are relatively dissimilar. I’ve come to love the intimacy and drama of really good headphones. Of course, no headphone can light up a room like a speaker system (horses for courses).

I use the Sennheiser 800 phones and the superb Luxman P-750u headphone amp exclusively now and have no notion of going back to standard stereo now. The levels of detail are extraordinary and far superior in my opinion than speakers. The Senns. are a very difficult set of phones to drive and not any old headamp will do to let them shine but the Luxman does that in spades. My music speciality is classical piano and it is trully amazing just how different pianists sound and my setup lets me get right to the heart of the music without outside distractions. No I won't be going back to speakers.

I never knew how good headphones could sound until I tried Stax earspeakers. They are truly in a differnt class than anything else I have ever heard. The spatial experience is different, of course, but very involving in it's own way to me. The speed, resolution, and immediacy are 'better' than any speakers I have yet heard. In fact, if there is a track where I can't make out some of the lyrics during normal listening, I usually can with the Stax. I started out witha humble SRD4/SR40 system and gradually moved up to SRX Mk3 earspeakers and a SRM-T1S tube driver as my budget increased.

To me it's not either/or; it's horses for courses. @tony1954 put it very well.