Please pardon if the question seems too common or basic but I don't know much about music....

I was listening to an instrumental theme with headphones in which I could understand (although barely) the sound of the guitar playing loud and the sound of the piano was soft.......

But when I listened to the same theme on speakers the piano was louder and the guitar was still heard but in the background but both sounded different. I mean to say it sounded like the sound of the piano was the one dominating ( which was not in headphones)

EDIT:I wanted to ask whether the guitar and piano voices range could be differently amplified for different headphones and speakers.. Is there any reason for this?

(Please keep in mind that I am just a listener and don't know the details but had a question which could not be answered after lots of googling)

  • What type of speakers are they? For example, if they were laptop speakers or phone speakers from the last 5ish years there would be many many more dimensions to this answer than have so far been discussed.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 4:29

3 Answers 3


From speakers you hear the L and R channels with directional information but in a common space. On headphones you hear them almost completely separated. With some techniques of stereo mixing, this can give very different effects.

There's also the possibility that either headphones or speakers (more likely speakers) are connected with the wrong polarity - commonly but rather erronously referred to as being 'out of phase'. This doesn't mean having the R earpiece on your left ear and vice versa, but a confusion over which is the 'hot' connection on the amp output and speaker input.

It could even be about resonances and reflections in the room containing your speakers.


If your headphones are the full-sized (circumaural) ones, and they are of a closed-back design (most are), then the primary issue is that the headphone drivers do not have any way for the sound waves coming from the back of the driver to escape the listening enclosure, so they are reflected and mixed in with the original audio. This gives the effect of thinking that the music is playing 'in your head' rather than more spatially (as you would hear with loudspeakers).

The best way to solve this is to either buy some loudspeakers, or invest in some open-back headphones. One big disadvantage of open back headphones though, is the fact that they are not noise isolating, so everyone can hear what your playing, and you can hear everyone chatting in the room.


The general reasons why headphones and speakers sound different (stereo separation, construction, openness etc) are already covered in the other answers, but for completeness I'll expand upon something Laurence touched upon. He said it could be about "resonances and reflections in the room" and that deserves a closer look.

With speakers you need to realize that you are hearing the room too. You're hearing not just the direct sound from the speakers but all the reflections bouncing around the room. These reflections can sometimes cause problems like standing waves where the dimensions of your room can cause an increase in volume at a certain frequency and the cancellation of a frequency at another. Bass problems are particularly common in small rooms (ex. a bedroom).

So it may be that in your particular room with your particular speakers and positioning, the guitar sounds unnaturally loud or the piano sounds unnaturally soft due to these "room modes" as they are called. Try some different songs where the guitar and piano sit at different frequencies and see if you hear a difference. Also, try listening at a very soft volume and then at a much louder volume. You may notice that at softer volumes such problems with bass frequencies are less apparent (but so is the bass in general).

This is a very common problem when mixing and it's why you see studios using acoustic treatment on the walls. If the person mixing isn't hearing the correct volume for a particular frequency range they may compensate by boosting or cutting something. This creates a mix that may sound as intended in the engineer's room but has problems on other systems (headphones or not), a.k.a. a mix that doesn't "translate".

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