When it comes to sound, in many circumstances it all come down to how it translates to your own ears and external influence. The debate of headphones vs speakers is talked about often and it spans across a domestic and professional necessity, the definitive answer is dependent on what you are after personally. Some prefer to hear the stereo and ambience sound pronounced from speakers whilst some listen for the intimate detailing in closed headphones. It all comes down to what you are after as either a reference or experience when you are listening.
First of all, a good set of speakers are generally more expensive than a good pair of headphones. This is just the way it is. So if you want the best possible sound for less money, you should aim for a good pair of studio headphones. There is a great variety to choose from both when it comes to headphones and speakers (studio monitors are a whole different agenda), but we won’t get into that at this time.
When you listen to speakers, it incorporates more of the room sound as the frequencies bounce off the walls and reflective surfaces. This is a matter of taste. If you like the natural ambience, you should definitely head for a good set of speakers. Headphones will never give away the same reflected sound as speakers do. If you are after an optimum experience, you should arrange your room appropriately not lose the quality of sound. Rooms that hold great acoustics naturally are very rare, but it’s definitely worth some attention. There is an abundance of resources on the internet that will guide you on your search for good acoustics so don’t be shy about trying, it will make a marked difference.
Headphones, on the other hand, deliver sound directly into your ears and you don’t have to account for the external room acoustics or sound barriers. On the other hand, it may accentuate sounds around you; listening to music using headphones in busy areas will make you turn up the volume and can also be damaging your hearing. So be aware of that. When listening in quiet areas though, it can really show a listening experience in greater detail. for example the breath of the singer and truistic nuances of string sections.
The main benefit of speakers as an advantage, is that it gives away a more realistic stereo sound than what headphones provide. A good saying is “headphones are more accurate, speakers are more realistic”. Another resounding difference that speakers provide is the pronunciation and sound of the bass, you can feel it. You will never achieve the same with headphones as the direction and feed is focussed. It just doesn’t work. Headphones can never compete with a subwoofer for bass punch or impact, look at a free flowing club against a silent disco scenario.
This viewpoint is aimed at opening a further discussion and as a basic introduction to the casual fan. The debate will go on as per the vinyl versus digital agenda. In the end it relates to what exactly you require from the experience and the sonic clarity and involvement. Do you like to listen or feel the vibe?