Some people call it “break in” or “run in”. From the technical view, burn-in is the process to loosen the diaphragm of the newly crafted headphone and to stress the headphone driver. Although there is no scientific proof of burn-in, the effect of burn-in is solid and noticeable. The audiophile community generally agree that the sound qualify will be changed after burn-in. In fact, the term “burn-in” is not specifically used only in acoustic, it is the preparation step for the mechanical equipment and the process of making something more comfortable to use.
Some people burn-in their equipment quickly and play it 50 hours continuously after bringing home. I think that the diaphragm is too weak in this state and we should not push it to the limit, especially using high (Or you may think that it is normal) volume. It may damage the headphone or even kill it. Many people reported that they broke their headphone because of improper burn-in, they are impatient and did not give it some time to grow up.
There are different ways to burn-in a headphone (and earphone), including white noise, pink noise, radio noise, sine sweep, bass, etc. There is no statistic for the efficiency of each method. Personally, I like to use different method to burn-in my headphones. I think each method have some strength and weakness for improving headphone.
White noise is the randomly generated noise signal. The signal has equal power in all frequency. Some people suggested that it is good to use white noise for burn-in, because of its fair distribution of each sound frequency, from treble to bass. Aside from headphone burn-in, some people use it to help baby sleep easier.
White noise (collected from radio)
This is the white noise collected from the radio signal. It is the signal data between two radio channels. Some people prefer it and think that it is more natural.
Pink noise is similar to white noise, it also contains the wide range frequency signal in the spectrum. It is commonly found in nature environment. Unlike white noise, listening pink noise is more comfortable. The sound is quite similar to ocean. Some people play it in the office for relaxation and concentration.
Frequency sweep (20-20000 Hz)
This frequency sweep is the sine waveform start from 20 to 20000 Hz, it covers the lowest frequency to highest frequency that most human can hear. Burn-in using frequency sweep can excise the headphone driver functionality for producing different frequency. Also, someone said that frequency sweep could be used for demagnetizing equipment.
Ultra frequency sweep (10-30000 Hz)
This frequency sweep includes larger frequency range from 10 to 30000 Hz. Some high-class headphone has the frequency response from 10 Hz to 35000 Hz (or higher). Generally, it is hard to produce sound at frequency lower than 20 Hz.
Low frequency sweep (20-200 Hz)
This frequency sweep start from 20 to 200 Hz, it is used for specifically burn-in the lower frequency range. In fact, many consumer level (cheaper) headphones cannot produce any noticeable sound at 20 to 30 Hz.
Sound channels mix
This is the mixed sound file from many songs and musical instruments. It includes the heavy bass, guitar, electronic, violin, vocal, male singer, female singer, etc. We put soundtracks with different frequency characteristic into it and make it “complex and rich”.
Someone said that this file is loudly and scary, the sound content is too complex for the headphone driver and it will “stress” the driver to the limit. Also, someone said that after playing this, the headphone sound quality will be temporary downgraded. Use this file only if you want to stress your headphone.
This is a repeating heavy drum wave file, it contains a sequence of drum bass. It hits the headphone diaphragm heavily and try to produce low frequency (going down to about 20 Hz).
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