After this extended thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/574123/suggestions-looking-for-new-open-back-headphones I decided to finally pull the trigger and move into planar magnetic headphones. Looking for a good long-term investment I searched around for some HiFiMan and Stax orthos that I could buy at a relatively reasonable price. The Stax Lambda systems unfortunately did not appeal to me in price or aesthetics, but the HiFiMan seemed like a good alternative. After digging around 6Moon and Head-Fi I decided to try and track down a pair of HE-500's. This isn't all that easy to do in the UK- while you can find two or three sources that will sell you them the prices were unreasonable relative to prices in USD. I managed to track down a pair of very lightly used HE-500's within the EU and saved around $400 in the process.
Finding a Schiit Lyr proved to be even more interesting- but after talking to Jason at Schiit he got me in touch with the new Schitt dealer for the UK and I purchased the only Lyr they stocked... albeit at a premium due to VAT/excise/duties.
The combo arrived last week and I haven't had a chance to post about it, but I now have a few moments to touch on them.
Sorry for the mess- still waiting on some furniture to arrive so the amp lives temporarily in the living room- along with my PC.
- The HE-500's are stock.
- The Lyr is stock with new JJ E88CC tubes.
I was coming from a six year old Sennheiser HD-555 which was powered directly by my Asus Xonar Essence STX. It was a good combination for a very long time and served its purpose extremely well. However, they are really showing their age and had a few major bumps that caused some damage to the external plastic housing so I thought it was time to replace it.
My audio chain is very simple: Asus Xonar Essence STX -> Chord RCA Interconnect -> Schiit Lyr -> HE-500 via stock cable.
After firing up the amp and letting it sit for a few minutes on its own I loaded in a playlist that had a mix of Trance/Vocal Trance/Pop and Rock. There was an immediate audible difference between the HE-500 and the HD-555's- the best way to describe how an ortho performs would be "tight"- the highs, mids, and especially bass were very composed and in comparison the HD-555 sounded muddy/sloppy with regards to bass. My audio files are all FLAC and there was definitely more detail available immediately from the HE-500's. Was a blown away by them? Well... yes, and no. I might have been setting myself up for huge "Wow" factor but instead the HE-500's provided a nice, consistent, and palpable increase in performance. Maybe this was better than a short lived wow factor because it gave me a greater appreciation for the sound that these headphones were producing.
I have put around 25 hours of music through the amp and at around 5-6 hour mark I began to hear an improvement in the mids and bass. I guess I should notch this up to the tubes in the amp breaking in and beginning to show their true form. Overall, the sound quality seems to be gradually improving- something nobody can really complain about.
As with most audio gear you don't really appreciate the difference until you go back to your old setup and that is probably where I gained the greatest appreciation for the responsiveness of the HE-500 as the deficiencies of the HD-555's became far more apparent and I quickly began to miss the orthos.
Overall? I am definitely impressed with the improvement and hope these headphones and amp will last me many years.
The Lyr tube rolling thread makes me want to experiment down the road with one or two varieties of tubes when I manage to set some extra money (and time) aside to undertake such an experiment. It seems to be a reasonably cost-effective solution to change/improve sound quality.
I find the HE-500's to be comfortable, and will consider changing the cables down the road to something probably more flexible but this is secondary to the tube rolling.
I am contemplating an external DAC down the road. I can't really fault the performance of my Xonar Essence STX so it isn't easy to justify an external DAC. This is made even more difficult with no real dealers existing in Scotland, and only one or two in the entire UK that carry a reasonable selection of DAC's. But everyone is located far away (think hundreds of miles) and nobody really wants to offer testers/demos which makes contemplating a DAC difficult without being able to compare side by side (at least one versus my sound card). I have been told by the Schiit dealer that he will try and get a BiFrost demo out to me when they eventually show up in the UK. But I wouldn't mind looking at alternatives. Unlike the amp, which was required for the headphones- the external DAC is far more difficult to justify.
I am getting some pretty strange noises from the amp at times. The most prevalent is a loud buzzing sound that can be heard after a few minutes and goes away if you "fiddle" with the AC power cord that goes into the Lyr. I am going to pickup another power cord and see if this is an ongoing problem.
Another odd noise I will get *sometimes* is more difficult to describe, but some of you may be able to relate to it. Have you ever heard an odd "buzz" in your cars stereo system before a cellphone call comes in? I am getting this sound from time to time. I am not sure if this is actually due to the tubes being microphonic and picking up GSM transmissions to some degree? (I do live in an apartment block).
Anybody out there?
It seems that there isn't much of a Head-Fi or "Hi Fi" community around Edinburgh, Scotland. So selection of products isn't that great. I was sort of surprised to hear that I bought the only Lyr the Schiit dealer stocked - which would suggest very lower sales of these sorts of products. While I didn't want to ask the dealer directly- I wouldn't be surprised if these types of amps/headphones were a very marginal market out here at best.
Not sure if I have anything else to say. Describing audio is quite difficult and everyone has a different interpretation of the same sound, but in my case I am very happy with the upgrade. Would I be happier with a STAX, or Beyer system? Who knows? There isn't really any way to test any of this equipment out here. But I do know that I made a big step forward in my equipment and playback quality. I think the differences from here on out will be more marginal (vs. Stax/Beyer) but it never hurts to try them all.