When you buy a new pair of in-ear monitors (IEMs), the last thing you want to do is wait days or weeks for them to “break in” before you can start using them. However, is this necessary, and do IEMs need burn-in?
IEMs don’t need burn-in. You can use them immediately after unboxing without going through the burn-in process. After all, they still produce good quality sound with or without the burn-in technique. Besides, there’s no scientific proof that burning-in improves sound quality.
So, let’s discuss how burn-in works and whether it does what it’s supposed to do or not. I’ll break down the details and tell you everything you need to know about burn-in so that you can always have the best sound quality possible.
How Does IEM Burn-In Work?
To understand how burn-in works, we need to know what lies behind the plastic casing of your IEMs or any other sound equipment, like headphones and subwoofers.
An IEM consists of a voice coil and a diaphragm like ordinary speakers. When you connect your IEMs to a device, the electrical audio signal moves through the cable to the voice coil.
This signal cuts through the magnetic field around the diaphragm. As a result, the drivers move back and forth to match the analog waveform closely.
This movement pressurizes the air in front of the diaphragm. As it moves, the pressure creates a soundwave, which your ear perceives as sound. That is how the mechanical movement converts the electrical audio signal to the sound produced by your IEMs.
IEM burn-in works by loosening the drivers and stretching the rigid diaphragm in your audio devices. This break-in process makes the diaphragm move back and forth smoothly, allowing it to produce smoother sound waves, which improves overall sound quality.
Fresh, out-of-the-box IEMs have a rigid diaphragm, making it harder to pressurize the air. As a result, this makes it harder to produce sound waves and affects sound quality. That is why burnt-in IEMs have smoother sound compared to newly unboxed IEMs.
Is IEM Burn-In a Myth?
Many audiophiles say that burn-in works, and they can tell the improvement in sound quality once they burn in their sound equipment. Some say it is just a waste of time, as it does nothing to the IEMs. Still, that brings in the big question, is burn-in a myth, or does it work?
IEM burn-in is not a myth. However, there is no proof that the technique works or doesn’t. Many people and researchers have conducted several tests, but no one has solid facts. Some people say it works, and others say it doesn’t.
You can hear what the IEM-expert Crinicle has to say about it in this video (at 1:21):
That said, what other reasons make people believe that burn-in works?
It turns out there are a few reasons why people might believe that IEMs need burn-in. One is that new IEMs often sound bright and harsh, and people may assume that this is because the drivers need time to “break-in.” However, this bright sound results from the new drivers being unused – they will eventually mellow out over time.
As mentioned earlier, IEMs do not need burn-in. Contrary to popular belief, no scientific evidence supports the idea that IEMs need to be “broken in” before providing optimal sound quality.
Many people believe that burn-in is nothing more than a placebo effect – people think that IEMs need burn-in because they’ve been told that they do and hear a difference in sound quality once they IEMs age a bit.
In this video from oluv’s gadets, he performs a simple test to see if burn-in improves the sound of a pair of in-ear headphones:
So if IEMs don’t need burn-in, what can you do to make them sound their best? The best way to break in IEMs is to use them. Listen to music, watch movies, and play games with them.
Over time, the drivers will loosen up, and the sound quality will improve.
This is an extremely controversial topic in the audio world and there will always be people that are absolutely certain that burn-in does or don’t affect the sound.
In a simple study to test the audibility of break-in effects on headphones, the researchers found some sound quality differences between burned-in headphones and new headphones. The burned-in headphones had a smoother performance compared to the new headphones. There was also some difference in the bass:
How Long Does It Take To Burn in IEMs?
The whole burn-in concept is dependent on several variables. For instance, it depends on the person, the type of IEMs, and the materials inside the IEMs. Some people say that it takes around 100 hours for IEMs to burn-in, while others say it can take up to 400 hours.
Others believe that different types of ear tips can also affect how long it takes for IEMs to burn in since comfy foam tips break in more quickly than silicone tips.
It takes 10-40 hours to burn in IEMs. It is not advisable to warm them up for 40 hours back to back. Instead, you can warm them up in intervals, for example, 5 hours a day for eight days. Using them little by little gradually helps, as it prevents continuous stress on your newly unboxed IEMs.
The time it takes to burn-in headphones should be different from that taken to burn-in IEMs. That is because headphones have larger drivers and diaphragms than IEMs. Headphones can take as little as 50 hours. However, sometimes it can take as much as 300 or more hours.
Be cautious about the volume you use to burn in your IEMs. High volumes can easily damage your drivers and diaphragm because they are new and delicate. A medium volume will work best to warm up your IEMs.
It is advisable not to listen to your IEMs when the burn-in file is playing because the different noises can be irritating, possibly leading to ear damage.
What Is the Best Music To Burn In IEMs?
Music is the best to burn in your IEMs. That’s because it contains mixtures of different frequencies, which make up much better exercise for your IEMs. It’s good to start with low-pitched music to avoid stress on your new drivers and diaphragm.
The best music to burn in IEMs is all types of music. Playing various styles with different bass levels, mids, and highs will give your IEMS the best break-in process. In addition, various music genres warm up the drivers better than movies and shows.
Besides playing different music genres, you can also burn in using pure tones. Some of them include radio noise, pink, and white noise, which work great, thanks to their blends of different frequencies.
The pink noise has lower pitches, while the white noise has a higher pitch. Radio noise has AM FM static. Balancing these sounds while you break in your IEMs will ensure that the diaphragm and drivers even out as they loosen, giving you the best sound quality.
You can easily get these types of noise online and on YouTube for free. Some are individual tones, while others are all-in-one soundtracks. Both are a good fit for an adequate warm-up on your IEMs.
The bottom line is that playing different music or noises is much more effective than playing just one song. It brings more action to the drivers and prepares them for a load of frequencies in the future.
All in all, the overall effect of a burn-in boils down to what your ears perceive. Suppose you feel that your IEMs improve sound quality after burn-in, then good for you. If you detect no change, use your IEMs immediately after unboxing them. Either way, the new, harsh drivers will soften over time.