Why do my headphones go flat?

This has been bothering me for a while, but never so much as yesterday, when I spent about 8 hours alternately listening to music and taking breaks.

When I take my headphones off, the music currently playing seems to go down by about a quarter tone. When I put them back on, it goes back up. Why?

My first thought was Doppler, but that can’t be it – motion has little to do with it. It all has to do with proximity to my ears.

BTW, these are standard Walkman-type headphones.

If you are talking about a slight change in pitch, then I suspect that it’s due to the slight change in harmonic response of the outer ear caused by removing the pressure of the headphones. I can simulate this by applying slight pressure to the tragus (that bump of cartilage that pokes up right at the entrance to the ear canal).

I am furthermore going to take my WAG out on a limb and suggest that this is why really good studio quality headphones surround and cover the ear, rather than pressing up against it like walkman headphones.

Maybe. But I think that I hear them correctly if I hold them away from my ears by about an inch. And if your theory is correct, then there should be a noticeable difference between my headphones and my speakers. There isn’t.

Maybe, but I think the overriding reason is to prevent bleedthrough to microphones. A singer using Walkman phones won’t record a very pristine signal.

Just a guess, but perhaps something to do with the shape of the lobes of equal sound pressure level from what is effectively a less well baffled source?

Also of relevance may be the fact that you will be hearing less pitch information full stop, leading to a possible pitch difference due to what your ears “interpolate” in one case compared to what they can hear in the other.

Correction: make that “extrapolate”.