Some writers seem to idealize live performances, but IMO, more often than not, what I hear on the home system is clearly better - cleaner, more defined, often much more enjoyable assuming the recording was a good one. The best performance and best seat of the house every night! Of course a studio record could never (and is not supposed to) capture the live ambiance or variation that a live performance can provide. That too is often a good thing as I reminisce on some concerts I've been to sitting beside rather annoying concert-goers. :-)
I realized something the other night after measuring the Belkin PureAV PF60. I have been measuring my TEAC UD-501 DAC numerous times throughout its lifetime with me. I bought it back in early May 2013 and it has been in use for measurements, headphone listening in the evenings, and as part of my media room since then. I've run all manners of signals through it from standard PCM to high-resolution PCM to DSD64/128. It has been on for days playing "background" tunes as well as much more attentive "serious" listening through numerous albums of genres from jazz, to pop, to blues, to hard rock, to classical...
As of this writing in early March, I've had this DAC for 10+ months. I'll very conservatively estimate that I've put on >300 hours of actual audio through it (not just time turned on). I made sure when I first bought it that I would measure it within the first couple hours of use so that one day (now), I can go back and do a comparison to see if any kind of significant "break-in" can be demonstrated.
Note that the test set-up isn't exactly the same... Components are different like the playback computer, the RCA cable, and I'm in a different house as well. But the setup is comparable:
Win 8 PC --> shielded USB --> TEAC UD-501 --> shielded RCA --> E-MU 0404USB --> Shielded USB --> Win7/8 measurement PC
Results:So, without further ado, here it is at 3 time points - within 2 hours of use, around 200 hours last year when I moved home, and just about 2 weeks ago with about 300 hours of use...
Conclusion:These measurements suggest that there really is no such thing as audible "break-in" for purely electronic devices like DACs within a reasonable period of time. People hearing the "effect" on a regular basis are more likely to be changing their psychological expectations over time than the device actually changing sonic character. I guess change could be happening within the first 2 hours but one almost never hear people claim this; for the most part, people recommend something like 100+ hours. Logically, if anything, electronic devices deteriorate in time as components (like capacitors) get old and connectors oxidize.
Sonic change for mechanical devices like speakers would make much more sense... InnerFidelity had an article about change in the sound of the AKG Q701 headphones over time (65 hours). The measured differences in those graphs are much more than what I'm demonstrating here.
In summary... I wouldn't be worried about "burn-in" with purely electronic devices. If you like the sound at the start, great. If not, maybe give it some time for your ears/brain to adjust and see if you like it then. Sure, keep the device on, blast some hard rock or play a burn-in CD if you feel this helps.
If there's no difference with complex electronic devices like the DAC, it'd be quite unreasonable to expect to hear a difference with totally passive "components" (eg. wire/cable burn-in). I find it suspicious that some companies like this one would claim cables needing 400-500 hours (17+ days straight!) to break-in! The more cynical side of me wonders if there is a benefit for companies to do this because it gives them a "grace period" to tell customers to wait. Furthermore the message itself promotes expectation bias towards improvement in time... "No worries! Give it some time to really sound it's best, Mr. Audiophile!"
Subjectively, I cannot say I've ever thought I could hear burn-in. The TEAC sounded good to me from the start and I'd be foolish to claim with certainty any difference at this point almost a year down the road unless of course there were some kind of night-and-day change (which there obviously hasn't been).
An observation - why is it that "burn-in" essentially always results in a reportedly better / smoother / less harsh sound? How does the component "know" that it should go in the right direction? It's not like the electronic component is functioning like the cells of the body where there's a homeostatic mechanism directing the 'healing' towards optimal functioning... Unless of course, we are dealing with a biological mechanism - the ears & brain. ;-)
Perhaps the standard measurements I present here are unable to capture whatever change there's supposed to be. As usual, I propose to those who are certain that burn-in happens to present any links to information or data to support this belief.
Sonny Rollins Way Out West - just got reacquainted with this old 1957 jazz recording. A fantastic vintage recording from the golden age of analogue done with the tube Ampex 350 tape recorder. This was chosen as the first CD release by Mobile Fidelity back in the mid-1980's (I think 1984). There have been many reissues of this over the years and I think the highest resolution one would be the Analogue Productions SACD from 2002.