Why Does Music Sound Better With Headphones?

Ever wondered why your favorite track sounds better with your headphones? Read on to find out more about why music sounds better on headphones!

Woman listening to music with red headphones

One of my favorite songs is ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd.’ 

But I didn’t know I could fall in love with a song again until I listened to it using headphones. Listening to all nine parts, I could hear the guitar and trumpet sound clearly. I could also hear the varying frequencies. The later parts of this song combine varying instruments to create a beautiful musical harmony. But was this an isolated case, or does music sound better with headphones on?

Music sounds better using headphones because the source is closer to your ears. Because only minimal sound is lost, you can hear most of it. Also, headphones reduce or eliminate background noise.

This lets you focus on every single detail of the music you hear, giving you a great experience.

Do Headphones Really Sound “Better”?

Music does sound different and better with headphones on, a theory that physics backs.

Headphones have been designed in a way that they cover your whole ear. As such, they lock other sounds out, directing sound waves into your ear canal. This gives listeners an immersive experience as they can hear even the tiniest of details in the audio.

Happy man with wireless headphones

Why Music Sounds Better With Headphones

Let’s dive into the specific reasons music sounds better with headphones.

Noise Cancellation

There are two categories of noise cancellation, namely active and passive noise cancellation

In the former, your earbuds or headphones reduce or eliminate sound by canceling sound waves.

In passive noise cancellation, the headphones block the sound physically. Usually, earbuds cancel noise passively, while headphones block external noise actively and passively. That’s why music sounds amazing with headphones because you’ve eliminated as much external noise as possible.


Music sounds better via headphones to a majority of people.

As physics dictates, the sound quality is better when sound waves are closer to an input device. This can be a microphone or eardrums. Secondly, the sound quality improves tremendously once you eliminate all other sound waves.

Brain Interpretation

How your brain receives sound from headphones differs from how it receives ambient sound. There is a science behind it. It’s also how audio experts create those amazing 8D sound effects. All this is in your brain’s timing.

If the sound is coming from a specific direction, the ear facing that side will be the first to receive the sound. Your brain will then register whether the sound comes from the right or left side. That same principle can be incorporated into audio files we hear through headphones.

You can only experience such effects with headphones. But why is that? They come with a right and left speaker. However, remember that this isn’t why one earbud or headphone is louder than the other.

Brain with headphones

Sound Staging

As we’ve mentioned, there is a way the brain interprets sounds. Audio engineers understand this. That’s how they have successfully recreated sound in a way that one can only achieve with headphones.

Sound staging, also called speaker image, lets you perceive a musical instrument’s location depending on the sound played. We can also refer to it as the spatial sound presented to a listener to enhance the listening experience. Sound staging mimics sounds from both the left and right side and distance.

What Goes On In Your Brain When Using Headphones To Listen To Music?

When you put on your headphones and listen to music, something happens in your brain. It’s like you’ve shut down the world, and it’s just you and the lyrics. Maybe that’s why music sounds better with headphones than on speakers.

Numerous studies have also found that music has some emotional and mental benefits. And when you’re getting that music in clear audio, you’ll likely enjoy it more.

Is Listening To Music With Headphones Better?

While some people prefer headphones, others would rather use speakers. Who’s right? Here are some things to consider.

Volume Control

You need to be careful because headphones are closer to your ears. Experts estimate that we use about 25 to 50% more volume on headphones than on speakers. That’s a lot and can damage your hearing, especially if you continuously use headphones.

Headphones can easily reach over 100 dB. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), continuous exposure to sounds of more than 85 dB can lead to hearing loss.

Let’s put this into perspective. Your lawnmower generates about 96 dB. Now picture yourself listening to 100dB continuously. You risk suffering from noise-induced hearing loss!

Headphones and a microphone

Your Goal

Do you want to listen to a podcast or a song with a clear sound? Headphones are your go-to devices. They’ll give you better audio quality because they deliver sound directly into your ears. The music won’t have to compete with other noises in the room.

Nevertheless, if you’re a sound engineer, you’ll need to use both headphones and speakers to reproduce sound or listen to a recording. Headphones alone won’t tell you how something will sound when played in the room.

As much as headphones are the best for listening to music and podcasts, speakers are better at recreating reality.

Related article – The 6 Best Headphones For Music Production

Overall Audio Experience

Headphones might be great, but there’s only so much they can do. And because they’re closer to the ears, use them safely.

Additionally, the bass in headphones is often lacking. There may be a few models with outstanding bass, but to actually feel the music, speakers will come in handy.

It’s Not A One Size Fits All Situation

Many audiophiles can agree that there’s a place and time for headphones and speakers. Listening to music while blocking every other sound is an amazing experience. But then again, there’s something sensational about listening to music as the bass thumps through the wall.

How Do Different Audio Devices Compare?

Are you trying to get the best audio experience? It’s only natural to wonder how headphones compare to other audio devices. Let’s take a look at a couple of comparisons.

Headphones Vs. Earbuds

Generally, headphones offer better sound quality than earbuds. They sit on the ear, covering it fully and offering some space for better acoustics. And because they’re larger, they have bigger drivers. Earbuds’ drivers are about 7mm-15mm, while headphones’ drivers are about 40mm to 50mm.

That allows more airflow, providing users with a smoother and richer sound experience.

We aren’t saying there’s anything wrong with earbuds. But any audiophile is likely to pick headphones because they have better audio quality.

Related article – Bose Sport Earbuds vs AirPods Pro – The Showdown

Headphones Vs. Speakers

Headphones provide a more accurate sound as the speaker is closer to the ear. The driver’s design doesn’t need to be special because the speaker isn’t carrying sound across the room. On the other hand, box speakers provide better acoustics because they are meant to carry sound over a space.

Even so, that doesn’t mean headphones don’t deliver sound quality. It’s just that speakers have been designed to share sound over a space. We have speakers on our computers, laptops, and phones, but we hardly use them because we want to hear our audio privately.

But there are times you’ll want to share that experience with others, and that’s why we have quality speakers for the job. Have you ever been to a party where someone is playing music on their phone? The sound just won’t cut it. We need those box speakers to turn up the party for everyone to have a good time.

Therefore, headphones may offer an accurate sound, but they are only great for personal use. Speakers, with their multiple drivers, are all about the experience.

Interesting read – Soundbar Vs Speakers For Music – Which Is Better?

Headphones and a wireless speaker

Wired Vs. Wireless Headphones

Could there be a difference in sound quality between wired and wireless headphones? Wired headphones may offer better sound quality. Of course, the audio file you’re listening to can determine the difference. But also, wired headphones capture audio signals easily without losing data.

This isn’t to say that quality wireless headphones might not outperform wired headphones. When deciding, you can check out Spotify’s list of songs to test headphones with. You’ll have a better idea of what to get.