Headphones for Home Theater – The Pros and Cons
Ok, so let’s face it. Not everyone can feasibly put a home theater (HT) in their space. It could be an issue of space, budget, close neighbors, or a baby/children. Does that mean you should give up on wanting decent sound for your movies or games? Is headphones for a home theater a viable option? Let’s discuss.
Reasons For Headphones For Home Theater
So headphones for home theater make sense for a lot of reasons. While there are many reasons headphones can be utilized, here are a few, in my mind, that stand out.
If you are trying to replace a home theater with a pair of headphones, the pair you picked up at the airport aren’t going to do. You want something of high quality (just like a set of great speakers). That isn’t going to put you in the $100 or even $200 price point. You need to be ready to spend some real money on these headphones. Of course, at that price point, you’d expect these headphones to last a long time. Probably far past when you can actually buy and set up a home theater.
Ok, so I know that a high-end set of headphones can rival the cost of a modest home theater system. But most of us won’t go that far down the rabbit hole, nor do we need to. A good set of headphones for home theater doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. Just regular expensive!
We like the Monoprice M1070 planar headphones at $400. First, they are an over-the-ear design, which means they will be more comfortable for a long listening session. They have great sound and “decent” bass response (we will talk more about bass later). Can you spend more and get better sound and other features? Sure. But the M1070’s are a great starting point.
So if you are like me, you don’t want your gear to be a one-trick pony. Instead, a good set of headphones will work with more than just home theater. You can use them for music (duh), Podcasts like AV Rant, and gaming. And a good set of headphones will do it all well.
I will be upfront and let you know that I do not own a good set of headphones…yet. But my daughter got me a cheapie set of gamer headphones for my Xbox, and I have to say that I enjoy the experience of gaming with a headset. The ability to play my games without cranking up my system and bothering those around me is awesome.
On top of that, I have been getting more into listening to music on my mobile devices. My ZVOX AV30s are great for podcasts but are not as dynamic as I would like for music. That’s not saying that they aren’t great in-ear monitors, but they can’t compete with a larger driver and better enclosure.
Ok, so let’s get this out there right now, spatial audio is far from perfect. It uses software to steer sound around stereo speakers to create the illusion of surround sound. Some will argue that simulated surround sound is just as good as actual surround. I disagree. A physical speaker will always be better than a virtual one, but it’s getting better.
And that improvement is why I am saying that headphones for HT are a viable option. As more and more people buy headphones, the demand for spatial audio will increase, and we will get better implementations of it.
Home theaters can be loud. And while we may enjoy cranking the volume up to 11, those around us may not enjoy that. Having been an apartment dweller for a number of years, I have been both victim and perpetrator of excessive volume. And when my kids were young? Well, let’s just say that I took a decade-long hiatus from a dedicated movie room.
This scenario is where headphones are perfect. You can watch your movies at whatever volume you wish, and you probably won’t bother those around you. Yes, some open-backed over-the-ear headphones can leak a lot of sound, but they won’t be as loud as a home theater!
Reasons Against Headphones for Home Theater
While there are some pros to wearing headphones, there are definitely some cons.
Lack of Tactile Bass
Ok, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room. While headphones can provide clear sound, you can’t get the kick-you-in-the-chest bass that a sub can produce. Yes, you can get a butt kicker, but they are difficult to dial in. And while you do get some tactile bass from a butt kicker, it’s not the same.
Ok, I said spatial audio was a pro, and now I am flip-flopping on myself. Well, I am a writer, so that’s what I do!
But in all seriousness, as good as spatial audio is getting, it still doesn’t have the type of impact of a proper surround sound setup. I have played many games in headphones that had simulated surround sound and I never found myself looking over my shoulder for someone. But with my surround system, I, and my wife, have ducked to dodge bullets! This brings me to my last point against headphones for home theater.
Headphones Are A Solo Affair
I don’t know about you, but I don’t envision a scenario where my wife and I are watching the same movie with headphones on. Sure, I have headphones in while we were both watching YouTube. Or she was doing something and I was getting caught up on the latest episode of AV Rant.
But if we sit down to watch a movie, headphones would not be ideal. After all, how could she continually ask me what someone said and ask “who was that person?”
But seriously, could you imagine a room full of folks watching a movie with headphones on? Movie night is supposed to be a mix of social and movie watching, so headphones just wouldn’t work for that.
So I do think that there are some situations where headphones for home theater make sense. For the person who shares walls with neighbors or has small children who go to bed early, headphones are ideal. They offer you added clarity, while not disturbing those around you.
But there are some downsides. While headphones will give YOU a great experience, they might not be ideal for everyone. So look at your use case, weigh the pros and cons, and let us know in the comments if you use headphones for home theater.