The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 01-20-2009, 03:42 PM
mrgnyc mrgnyc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Why do headphones have R & L sides designated?

Why do headphones have right and left sides designated? Does it matter to the listener?

One theory from CK Dexter Haven of the Straight Dope Staff:
My guess: it depends. If you're just listening to music, it probably doesn't matter if the sound is left/right reversed. However, if you're watching a movie and the train is coming from the left, but the sound is coming from the right, it'd be a li'l disconcerting.

Does anyone else have any thoughts? Thank you!
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 01-20-2009, 03:45 PM
silenus silenus is offline
Hoc nomen meum verum non est.
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: SoCal
Posts: 41,450
My guess is that it is meant to reflect the relative positions of the musicians. If you are used to a certain passage coming from your left, the mix should reflect that.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 01-20-2009, 03:47 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Tysons Corner, VA, USA
Posts: 9,816
It only matters if you want to hear what the artist intended. If you can look a Picasso in a mirror and it doesn't matter, then I guess it doesn't matter if you have your headphones on backwards.

As mentioned, if it's a video soundtrack then it matters in a practical sense.

I have a pair of ear insert headphones (Skull Candy) and they are not marked for L/R. I use them with my iPod and can never tell if I have them in the right way. And it doesn't really matter.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 01-20-2009, 04:07 PM
Gary T Gary T is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 9,569
Stereo sound has always had left and right labels for the channels. While at some points in the system it may be considered arbitrary, there's a practical value in knowing that if you adjust the balance to the left that the speaker on the left side will be then be the louder one. And of course if there are left and right speakers in your living room and your car, there's no reason not to have left and right speakers in your headset.

Now, as to whether it matters which channel is left and which is right, usually not. But sometimes it does, one example being if there is video with the sound, as mentioned. Another might be when listening to an orchestra where the strings are traditionally on one side and the winds on another - some folks might find it odd to have that reversed.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 01-20-2009, 04:08 PM
Baal Houtham Baal Houtham is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Regarding CookingWithGas's response comparing music to painting:

In visual art , motion from left to right is considered normal, and when objects enter from the right side (of the canvas or movie screen) and move to the left, that's regarded as more visually disruptive.

So a calm painting would have a lot of horizontal lines that gently move the eye to the right (and then there is usually something that stops the eye from moving right off the canvas.)

It corresponds to the direction we read in Western society. I don't know if other cultures have a different idea of "natural" motion.
------------

And all that is just leading into saying I don't know if there's a similar directional phenomenon in Western music, but it's my perception that there is. When I listen to flowing music it seems to go from left to right. (Kind of like a written score.) If there is a call and response from one direction to another (either with voices or instruments) the direction the sound moves might create a different emotional sensation.

Maybe.
---------

(Some hard rock races along, and other just seems to jump up down--in head banging fashion.)

Last edited by Baal Houtham; 01-20-2009 at 04:13 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 01-20-2009, 04:41 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
Another might be when listening to an orchestra where the strings are traditionally on one side and the winds on another - some folks might find it odd to have that reversed.
Nitpick: strings at the front with violins stage left and lower strings stage right, with wind behind, horns stage left and other brass stage right, and percussion at the back. (Not a universally-followed layout, mind, but by far the most common.)
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 01-20-2009, 04:56 PM
flex727 flex727 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
It would definitely matter with binaural recordings.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 01-20-2009, 05:03 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
Voodoo Adult (Slight Return)
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Charlotte, NC, USA
Posts: 24,121
Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
I use them with my iPod and can never tell if I have them in the right way. And it doesn't really matter.
If you ever want to find out, download a podcast of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, especially one with another pianist as the guest. IIRC, she'll almost always say, "if you're listening to us in stereo, you'll hear me on the [left/right] and my guest on the [right/left]."
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 01-20-2009, 05:20 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 55,791
For many headphone designs, the phones will probably also be more comfortable on your head one way than the other.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 01-20-2009, 05:45 PM
mrgnyc mrgnyc is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Thanks

Thank you!
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 01-20-2009, 05:50 PM
Tastes of Chocolate Tastes of Chocolate is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: slightly north of center
Posts: 4,271
In addition to movies, sound orientation matters if you are using a headset with a computer game. Gotta know if the attack is coming from the right or the left.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
For many headphone designs, the phones will probably also be more comfortable on your head one way than the other.
And this. I've got headsets where the shape of the cups make it uncomfortable to wear them reversed. Kind of like wearing mittens on the wrong hands. Yes, you can get your thumbs into the thumb holes, but it just rubs wrong.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 01-20-2009, 05:53 PM
Strassia Strassia is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
For many headphone designs, the phones will probably also be more comfortable on your head one way than the other.
Besides comfort, some bud types have layouts that channel the sound forward toward the ear canal. If yo switch sides, the sound will be fainter.

Jonathan
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 01-20-2009, 08:12 PM
straight man straight man is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
It matters quite a lot playing some computer games, especially 1st-person shooters.
__________________
"...the serious competition is always for the role of straight man." -Richard Russo
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:44 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.