What is Burn In?
Burning in audio equipment is a practice in which audio equipment is turned on for extended periods of time to get the components involved to achieve optimal performance. The practice is often talked about when audiophiles discuss headphones, speakers and even digital audio players. Some DAPs, such as iBasso products, come with a “burn in cable” to aid the burn in process, and possibly help encourage the practice. However, not everybody in the audiophile community is in full agreement about the merits of burning in new equipment. Some believe the true character of the equipment is not revealed until after the burn in period (which can take several hours, days, even weeks), whereas others find it to be superstitious and an unnecessary strain on the equipment.
The Case For
Indian Audio Brand Tekfusion believes burning in audio equipment to be a key part of the process of buying new equipment. They argue that a fresh pair of earphones are tested for performance and output at the factory, but the speaker diaphragm is still tight and requires loosening over time. Tekfusion state that speaker drivers should be stressed over a period of at least 40 hours.
JLAB Audio also sing the praises of burning in audio equipment, claiming most audiophiles agree that the sound quality of the equipment will be noticeable improved after the burn in period. They even provide a burn in audio file to be used, which features numerous sounds that encapsulate the audible frequency range so no pocket of harmonics is left behind. They use sounds such as white and pink noise, as well as frequency sweeps. You can find it on their website, but it isn’t exactly the most enjoyable (or quiet) listen.
Tyll Herstens over at Inner Fidelity attempted to find evidence of headphone break in by testing a pair of headphones at different times over a 90 hour period of use. The results showed there was in fact a difference in frequency response at each of the times tested. However, he did conclude that there was too many variables to suggest that the burn in period is a sure thing.
The concept of burning in system components is not restricted to audio equipment. It could therefore be argued that burning in time is advantageous because it will force certain failures to occur under supervised conditions so a better understanding of the system can be established, as well as finding out any faults with your new product.
The Case Against
The lack of evidence and industry standards in headphone testing means that conclusively showing the value of burning in periods is not currently possible.
The smaller size of parts such as balanced armature drivers in earphones means that there is not much room for deviation in the first place. Shure, one of the biggest names in the audio equipment market, tested a pair of their E1 earphones that had been used since their first launch in 1997. They measured the performance against a set fresh off the manufacturing line and found performance to be exactly the same. They believe that unless something is wrong with the equipment, there shouldn’t be an audible difference.
Others believe that though this difference of opinion may seem harmless, it adds an additional layer of confusion to new time buyers and may cause them to waste valuable time they could have spent actually enjoying their new gear.
Additionally, psychology may also play into the perception of a change in sound quality over time. It could be a placebo effect, where you believe you are hearing something else because you have been told you should. Alternatively, it could just be your ears adjusting to the signature sound of the equipment you are using.
So does burning in work?
Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the value burning in audio equipment has, which can be frustrating for consumers looking to do the best by their investments. The best someone with some new equipment could do would be to look at the arguments on both sides of the debate and decide based on what seems right to them. As mentioned on Tested, the win-win situation would simply be to burn your new gear in by listening to the music you love.