There are as many different ways to listen to music as there are types of music to listen to. However, since nobody is made of money we often have to choose one way to invest in how we listen. Is it better to have high-performance loudspeakers or a high-quality set of headphones? The answer, as you can probably guess, really depends on what you like.
When you listen to stereo speakers, both ears are listening to both the left and right channel at all times. The sound bounces off the walls, the ceiling, and whatever other objects are in the room. While it might seem that this is not the optimum way to listen to music, the fact is that it’s the way our ears hear all sounds all the time. It’s the way our brains are wired to hear.
In addition, stereo speakers are simply able to produce a wider range of frequencies than headphones can. Headphones can give you solid bass, but not in the way that a tower speaker’s woofer can. At a certain point, deep bass simply requires a large driver, and headphones simply can’t do that.
When you put on a pair of headphones, the audio gets split in half. One ear only gets half of the stereo information, and this information all gets mixed by your brain. While this can have an effect of making the music seem less realistic, there are certainly benefits if you want to really listen to the music itself. Headphones inject the music exactly as it is output into your ears without any modification or reflection. This means there’s a good chance that you could hear aspects of the music that you might never notice while listening with loudspeakers. Those room reflecting and mixing of channels might hide something that only headphones reveal.
Of course, depending on the environment you’re listening in it might take a high volume to reveal those details and while hearing damage is possible regardless of how you listen to music it’s certainly easier to do, and harder to notice, when wearing headphones.
In the end, it is certainly worth having quality headphones and quality speakers so that you can enjoy the benefits of both at different times.