Alrighty folks, here it goes. Brace yourselves for a long post.
A Headphone Audiophile's Endgame Setup
I. The Portable (BMF Setup)
This has been a particularly challenging setup area for me. The portable arena had a lot of growing to do when I jumped in. I started with an iphone 4/cMoy combo, like many do. I ended up...here.
A. The Stack (The iBasso DX90, RSA Intruder)
This BMF is the DX90. An alarmingly clean (except for the language on my bands) portable player with dual ES9018K2M and an OS that DESTROYS the X5. I've owned many a portable in my lifetime (TTVJ Slim, Apex Glacier, all the portable FiiOs [including the recent X5], the AK120) and this one slays everything else I've owned in terms of sheer spaciousness, dynamics, and resolution. This player punches WAY WAY WAY above its price point.
Attached to it is my absolute favorite portable amp. Fully-balanced, but with SE outputs, the Ray Samuels Audio Intruder is the best at imbuing any setup with gravitas and driving authority. It infuses my portable setup with the juice to feed my favorite portables with aplomb. Anyway, here are some vanity pics.
B. The Grandpa (The V-Moda M-80)
Now what do I drive with this slab of audio excess? Ah, well, I'll introduce the grandpa of my headphone collection, my beloved VMODA M-80s. A headphone that's just plain natural, the M-80 of my collection started its life as a gift from my girlfriend of 2.5 years. Since then, it's taken on a life of its own. I balanced it (with Fraggler's help), to give the top and bottom end a bit more refinement. I damped the drivers and messed with the venting a bit, to tighten up the sound a bit. Eventually, I ended up with a can that embodies transformation (at least in the audio sense) and brings me back to where I started, modding (remember me, Grado-heads?). More vanity pics below.
C. The Mini-Audez'e (The InEar LivePro 2)
This isn't the end of the portable setup though. There's a secret I have hidden away. You see, I've struggled with IEM selection in my time as a headphone audiophile. I went through many old favorites (the HiFiMan RE Series, Westone 4, TF10s [Reshelled, too]) and I couldn't find the same sense of spacious, airy, authoritative sound that I have always loved in my larger headphone solutions. Until I heard about a little known German company known as InEar. After some skillful modding, selling, and trading, I could finally afford to carry out my evil plan. You see, there's only one in-ear that I've found that has the linearity of my favorite full-size cans, and that's the InEar Stagerdiver SD-2. I call it the mini-Audeze (look at the FR, Square Wave, and Impulse responses on InnerFidelity, you'll see what I mean!).
I wanted a perfect fit though. I'd heard of comfort issues with the SD-2. So...I used the last of the money I had left from my sales & trades and sent my SD-2s to Rob Reyna at INEARCUSTOM in Florida. At $105 with self-made impressions (or if you already have some, even cheaper), it was a steal. So I finally had it. In-Ear endgame. Oh yeah, and the Custom SD-2 is the same as the In-Ear LivePro 2, except way cheaper!
But I couldn't do it without running balanced! As many of you may know, I had my love affair with boutique cables come and go, so I decided to go utilitarian. On the cheap, I picked up a Black Dragon V1 with RSA Kobiconn termination. Practically indestructible, not microphonic, and not heavy, so it satisfies all my criteria for a great cable. Again, vanity pictures of everything below.
(Oh yeah, the IEMs came with this dandy auto-evacuating case that's near-indestructible and handsome as heck)
So that ends my shenanigans in the portable realm. Now onto the dangerous stuff.
II. The Home Setup (BadderMF)
I've had quite the journey with my home setup. I began trying to accommodate all my headphone audio needs with just a portable setup. I quickly made friends in the audio community and through the generosity and collaboration of a few, I was on my way. I've owned many a Schiit product (as that's where I made friends with Jason and Mike, doing headphone mods and pad work) and have been through many full-size cans, eventually covering every major flagship other than the HiFiMans (which I've heard many a time) and the Electrostats (because who can afford that at my age?).
A. The Hub (The Audio-gd NFB-10ES2)
Enough background though. Let's get to the current setup. First up is the hub of my setup. The Audio-gd NFB-10ES2 (man, if there was one thing I never got, it was Kingwa's naming schemes). I may get a lot of hate for this, but I think that hands-down, the ES9018 is the greatest audiophile DAC chip around. Man, oh man, though, it is alarmingly difficult to implement. I've heard ES9018 implementations that could make my ears bleed. The NFB-10ES2 is, more than anything, resolving and neutral. I use its coax outputs to feed my A2s and its balanced outputs to feed my home amp. With a ridiculously low THD and enough inputs and outputs to satisfy the most eccentric of us, the NFB-10ES2 is a true diamond in the rough. Vanity pics, ahoy!
(Have I ever mentioned how much I love the look of speaker spikes? WELL THEY'RE AWESOME)
B. The Contradictory Powerhouse (The Little Dot MKVI+ w/RCA Jan 6AS7Gs and Tung-Sol 6SL7GTs)
Now, onto my amp. I've owned many an amplifier in my life as well. I left behind the Schiit offerings (sadly), because I couldn't get that same sense of authority AND spaciousness out of non-tube balanced amplifiers. So I picked up the Little Dot MKVI+. OH MY GOODNESS, this amplifier is amazing. I made the comparison a week or so ago to the first time I ever heard the LCD-3, which was with a 24-conductor "Snakeskin" leash from ALO and the original prototype of the now infamous Studio Six. It SANG. With the MKVI+, the LCD-3 is most definitely sonorous. Drive, dynamics, authority, spaciousness, imaging and NEUTRALITY out of an OTL tube amp? I didn't think it was possible, but here it is on my audio rack.
I swapped out the old tubes for my favorite drive/pre tube combination to date, a matched quad of RCA Jan 6AS7Gs (Black Plate) and a pair of new Tung-Sol 6SL7GTs. My goodness. I really do hope people come to Chi-Uni-Fi this year, because this amp is a real treat. As always, vanity pics!
(oh yeah, the stock fans were swapped for silent-operation Coolink fans)
C. The Homecoming (The Audez'e LCD-3, Fazor Edition)
Alright, last section. If you're still with us, then good for you :). The Audeze LCD-3. Oh my. How to begin. I'm not just a headphone audio guy, you know. I'm a musician. I love music because it communicates with us in a way that no other medium can. My main headphone was always a struggle, because I wanted the precision and resolution to bring my music to life, but I also wanted the depth and draw of the music I loved to make. I went through so many headphones. I broke the Grado modding threads, I even owned AKG cans for awhile, along with the HD800. I finally came back home, though.
I remember the first time I met Alex Rosson. I told him just how much I admired his company and products and said that one day, if I could afford it, an Audez'e can would be at the center of my end-game setup. He thanked me for my kind words and handed me his business card, saying to keep in touch. After a couple months of saving and some help from Alex, I finally had an LCD-2. I loved that headphone. I let myself get distracted, though, with a search for transparency. I eventually came back to Audez'e, but the LCD-3 didn't have that same...magic. I sent my LCD-3 in to Audez'e and they sent me back...perfection. I'll let the pictures tell the last of my story. Ladies and gentlemen, the Audez'e LCD-3, Fazor edition. (Oh yeah, and the Brown Q-Audio French Silk Balanced 4-Pin XLR cable. Wow, what a work of art :))
So...that's it. I'll be cross-posting this content to Reddit, if you'd like to see and comment on it there. Also, I'll be starting up my own headphone audio, tech, and general nerd culture site in the next few days. Perhaps some of you remember when I used to write more avidly on here. I'll link to my articles and cross-post the content on Head-Fi for all of you to see. Reviews, educational videos, and even explorations of music. I hope it'll be lots of fun :). Anyway, let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see from me. Otherwise, I'll go back to terrorizing your other threads, hehe.
Edited by Kojaku - 5/5/14 at 7:18pm