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Next Step in the Headphone Journey?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Well, Hi Folks!

This could be quite a long post, so please bare with me here.

Anyways, back in 2010 when I was looking at something worthwhile to spend my tax return on I happened to stumble upon this site. I'm not really sure what made me want a pair of nice headphones, considering that I never really, hrmm what word am I looking for...appreciated music? I mean yeah, I had a few CD's (Beatles, and a Hendrix album), and a couple thousand MP3's, but nothing really that merited spending more than say $20 on a set of phones. Listening to music was something that gave atmosphere to any activity, which by all accounts it still is. Yet, now it seems to be an activity all in itself, if that makes sense?

SO of course, I decided based on my taste on music, I should probably give those SR60's that I've been reading about a shot. I did, and I was pleased. Around this time I started buying one or two albums a week, give or take (I'm fairly poor, lol). The Pixies, Pantera, Daft Punk, and Beethoven all became my new friends. My music taste expanded greatly, and maybe it was a sense of maturity that was causing this change in me, but most likely it was my SR60's. Getting a six pack of beer, and a new album or two from amazon, hey! what a great Friday night, ya dig?

So, like, I did what everyone else does, eventually. I got a few years older, new job, new place to live (got laid, I think [don't ask, really really tl;dr]), blah blah ect ect. ANYWAYS, I got an iphone, sweet I can listen to my music anywhere now. Yeah....except I had my trusty grado's, which while I love em, they aren't exactly out and about phones. At this point I'm pretty sure I wanted to spend a bit more for a set phones, not much more, but like maybe a few bucks more. Research begins and I read up on pair of Ety Hf5, I had heard of Ety before and isolation was a priority. Got a good deal on em, bought them, and wham, am happy. They sound even better than my SR60's, sweet!


Now, this is my downfall, I literally kicked my wallet in the balls with this purchase, I know it, he knows it, and he is screwed, royally.

my wallet.jpg


First, my mind made the connection that spending more money nets a better return on sound. Granted, I am still an avid supporter on the concepts of "bang for buck", and "minimal return". Yet, spending $1000 bucks on a headphone rig, it is not so strange sounding to me anymore. Notice I said rig, not headphones, haha. Secondly, I have two decent headphones with almost completely different sound signatures. Of course, certain music sounds better on one than the other. Now I know that my dream of finding the perfect headphone is rather dead. I know I will probably have at least 2 or 3 headphones at once that I deem excellent.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, or its always darkest before dawn? Eh, you know what I mean, USED EQUIPMENT! Wonderful, its like an audio outlet store and a swap meet combined. Only problem is that you have to wade through the **** to find good deals, but whatever, I got some free time, lol.

Here I am, I recently purchased an e10 by fiio, which I must say I like alot. Really bring out the best in my phones. This was not an expensive purchase, and really just a side grade in my mind to be quite honest.

So, I've got the fever...for more cowbell :) ha, no but really now I want to upgrade. So my question is...

Where did you go from here?

Budget wise I'm thinking of probably dropping $500USD to start, get me a new set of cans and a decent amp, maybe something from shciit. Or I might get impressive and all techy and put together my own tube amp. It just seems like a big upgrade, maybe to much.

I mean I went $75 (grados) -> $170 (hf5 and e10)

Would just a new set of cans for like $200 to $300 used be fine for my next upgrade? Or maybe another kind of side grade like the m50's might be good for like $120. Just to get a feel for different sound sig's.

Next, I don't really have a way to demo phones, but I'm thinking if I stick to used stuff I can pretty much just flip them from time to time on the forums here. Say buy product A from guy/gal B, step 2, then PROFIT. Or is that frowned upon? Just thinking that well maintained phones tend to keep their value.

I dunno, I'm just a bit confused.


What was your upgrade path for headphones?


post #2 of 6
My upgrade path started with the HD590. Not the best set of headphones, that, but then I read about this whole electrostatic headphone thing, and bought the little Stax SR-001 system. If only I knew the Pandora's box I was opening at the time... I loved that thing. Smooth, effortless, unbelievable transients, detail without harshness, natural and lifelike mids - I could go on and on. And so I will! The bass was deep and rich yet well controlled. The highs smooth and silky. And best of all it was so effortlessly detailed without overhyping up the highs in any way - a trait that I would later learn goes along with electrostats, at least the better ones.

Then things took a step back. I got a Stax SR-404 with the SRM-313 amp. I didn't like the combo much. I thought I did at the time, but it was irritating me in a bunch of ways and it took a while to realize that. Its mids were unnatural and the highs were a bit overbearing. After two years, I got rid of it, and messed around with various dynamics (balanced HD600 and HD650 were good but lacked that electrostatic quickness), hybrids (the K340 is a great idea in theory, but problematic in practice) and who knows what else (Taket H2... the less said of it, the better. Good idea, but needs years more in development). I wasn't really happy with any of my rigs at the time, though I got a Westone ES2 on the portable front, which at the time was terrific.

Then I decided to stop screwing around and got the Omega 2 (in fact, I got various versions of it). Then, all hell broke loose. I went through multiple amps, multiple sources, spending left and right like mad and not caring about any of it, partly because a) I finally could, and b) everything I did to the signal path had an immediate, obvious change. It was all so addictive (and unfortunately, still is). There's just something about high-end electrostatics like the O2 that you don't get with normal headphones - they're so believable in their sound that they totally transport you, musically speaking, to a different place. It's not that they're necessarily totally realistic - the O2 certainly has some colorations - but they make you believe that yes, music could sound like that, and when you close your eyes you can believe that yes, you could be at that performance right now. The word I'm looking for, I guess, is immersive.

I haven't upgraded headphones since - there's no where to go really, the SR-009 is not necessarily a step up and the Orpheus is just too insanely expensive.

There have been a few side-steps into wonderful headphones (the Stax SR-X Mk3 Pro is stellar), and some side-steps into less wonderful ones (Ultrasone Pro-2500... ugh) and lots of things come and go, but the O2 is here to stay and gets 90% of the listening time.

If someone told me 10 years ago that I'd plonk down that much on headphones, I'd call them crazy. But I couldn't have arrived where I'm at, and learned my listening preferences along the way, without having gone through all that.

Which brings me to my point - don't rush and try to find your ideal rig now. You don't know what you want. You think you do, but over time, your preferences will change - you'll have a sound you like, and then you'll stumble across a totally different sound and realize you like that more. This is normal. This is what you need to go through before you spend the thousands on your ultimate rig, because if you rush to something big, you'll end up spending more in the long run.

My advice is - start at something reasonably neutral, and work from there. Something like the Sennheiser HD600 with a good amp - not a Fiio mind you, but maybe a Bottlehead kit amp or a Millett Hybrid (DIY kits but Bottlehead at least sells completed amps on their site). This is going to give you a pretty good baseline reference. Then you can side-step, and in general over time you'll end up hearing more and more stuff, and ideas will come for your next rig.

Also, go to a meet. But be careful - stay away from the megabuck electrostatic rigs at least at first, and listen to potential upgrades. Unless, of course, you want to dive right into the fire.

TL;DR just get something. Anything. Then if you don't like it, sell it. Repeat until experienced enough to make up your own mind.

There is no other way. And it's fun, too.

Lastly, don't ignore speakers. Headphones exist in something of a bubble right now, and listening to a truly stellar speaker rig can be a good reality check - either a good affirmation that you're on the right path, or a good kick in the behind followed by frantic selling-off of underperforming gear.
post #3 of 6

Hmm I started looking for a good headphone in 2009. Back then I was in uni and only had a casual job so money was tight. I started with my Shure 840s and bought an Asus STX. That was to tie me over until I finished but it's HF so SORRY ABOUT YOUR WALLET always wins. I bought the K701s and like most people who buy that headphone early on in their audio adventure, I was blown away. I think I picked up a decent class AB amp after that and bought some Sennheisers. I believed in cables having a more real world effect on sound than I do now. I believed in everything I saw on Head-Fi. I started to form opinions and make recommendations for or against gear that I haven't heard!!! I posted too much too.


After graduating, I got a real job and had the money to buy most of what I wanted. I definitely got carried away and over did it. All of my purchases were cash purchases so unlike other members, I didn't go dig myself a credit card hole. I bought a lot of used goods so when I did sell things, I didn't take much of a hit. This allowed me to actually listen to gear and make my opinions on them. I was quite ashamed of the earlier MomijiTMO who would have little spats with other members over something silly like cables or whether the K701 was artificial or not. 


Next up was the audio break that I think everyone needs to have but this was purely because I had a 6 month secondment in a scalable job. I worked on the weekends! When I finally started up my rig last month, I realised how amazing my gear is and have finally reached the place where you don't really need anything else. It's a good feeling, especially on you wallet.


My biggest lessons so far:

  • Don't believe things you read on Head-Fi. Most of the time, people mean well but are talking out of their butt.
  • Audio is incredibly subjective. Try it. You might like it, others may hate it. 
  • FOTM - Flavour of the month. Most of the time they crash and burn. Sometimes they are a good thing so don't discredit them straight away.
  • Buy used. If you really want a new one, you can get one after you see how the used one is. I did this with my favourite headphones.
  • Confirmation bias. Happens a lot here.
  • Double blind test - get your friend or spouse to do all the switching for you. I'm sad to admit that some of my 'night and day' impressions turned out to be not so night and day after all ;).
  • Go to meets.

Edited by MomijiTMO - 7/4/12 at 4:09pm
post #4 of 6

My path started with Sony MDR-V6s.  ~60 different pairs of headphones later, I own the KRK KNS-8400s and the Philips Citiscape Uptowns.  Both are great, and both are around $150.  I'll probably never be done, though; I've got an amp in my sights and I'm maybe going to try the HD 600s again.  If you're looking to spend about $500, maybe a used pair of HD 600s and a decent amp are in order.

post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

Wow, thanks for the replies catscratch and MomijiTMO, alot of what you said is really really good advice.


Those Omega 2's are unreal, I didn't even know about electrostatic headphones, jeez haha.


Anyways, I think you both are right, I'm just going to have to take the plunge and get a new set of headphones.  I like the idea of picking up something neutral, and going from there seems pretty safe. The HD600's are quite a big leap though.  I can't really see myself not getting them either, haha.  Those were actually one of the pairs I was looking at too.  The bottlehead is interesting as well, I'm going to have to do some research into that.

post #6 of 6
Originally Posted by Weekend Warrior View Post

Wow, thanks for the replies catscratch and MomijiTMO, alot of what you said is really really good advice.


Those Omega 2's are unreal, I didn't even know about electrostatic headphones, jeez haha.


Anyways, I think you both are right, I'm just going to have to take the plunge and get a new set of headphones.  I like the idea of picking up something neutral, and going from there seems pretty safe. The HD600's are quite a big leap though.  I can't really see myself not getting them either, haha.  Those were actually one of the pairs I was looking at too.  The bottlehead is interesting as well, I'm going to have to do some research into that.

HD600, D5000, HE-400 that's where you should be now don't go lower level

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