CROSSFEED: One of the touted advantages of headphones is their lack of crossfeed. Unlike loudspeakers, the left and right channels are always separate.

And so it surprised me to learn of headphone folks interested in adding crossfeed to their rigs—kind of like adding unwanted distortion.

First a bit of explanation. When listening to loudspeakers we are immersed in what is called crossfeed: the left channel is first heard in the left ear, followed a millisecond later by that same signal getting into the right ear (and vice versa). Thanks to that small delay between ears our brains can sort out the difference so that we hear two separate channels. Headphones eliminate this crossfeed and thus have an entirely different sonic signature: the left hears only the left channel while the right only what is fed to it.

In real life audio (as opposed to our reproduced version of it), crossfeed is natural. Extend your arm as far to the right as it will go then snap your finger. The right ear first receives the snap and a millisecond or so later your left ear gets a slightly modified version. It sounds natural.

One argument in favor of zero crossfeed is that we’re doubling down. First, the microphones pick up all this spatial information, and then through loudspeakers, we’re doing it all over again. Essentially double crossfeed. True enough but it’s worth considering that most recordings are made with a single microphone and then artificially panned without that delay.

The advocates of adding crossfeed to headphones suggest it sounds more natural and I suppose there’s a reasonable argument in favor of that. But, I wonder. Does it sound more natural or does it sound more like the loudspeaker version of natural we’ve all gotten accustomed to?

What’s your opinion?

Paul McGowan / PS AUDIO

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