Fellow Head-Fiers - I just thought I would share my experiences with my progression through the headphone ranks for anyone looking to get into quality headphones, or anyone thinking about possibly upgrading and wondering if it is worth the cost.
My foray into the headphone world is new, but my passion for quality audio goes back quite a ways. After I got married, my audio hobby suffered as my normal listening time was in the evening when my wife was sleeping. Obviously, loud music playing wasn't conducive to her sleep, so I was forced to give up my passion for several years.
Recently, I was looking for a pair of "good" headphones, and was looking at the "Beats" line of headphones as I figured they would be good quality given the price tag. As you might imagine, I was DISGUSTED with the quality. For $200 - $400 I expected much, much more out of them. I began to think that the only way to get decent audio was with monitors - until I came across a review on the Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones in a head to head comparison with the Beats line. The reviewer blasted the Beats headphones, and praised the ATH-M50's. I soon corroborated that opinion with many other reviews and ordered a pair.
I got the headphones and was immediately impressed. For $100, they sounded excellent - much better than the more expensive but cheap feeling Beats examples. Still, I could tell they were nowhere near audiophile quality, but they were certainly enjoyable to listen to, and I began revisiting some of my old loves.
Still, I thought more might be out there. After awhile, I stumbled onto this forum - INFORMATION OVERLOAD! Not only did I discover that there was an entire world of high end headphones that I was previously unaware of - but other equipment such as DAC's (Digital to Analog Converters) to make the best of your digital music experience. Back when I left the hobby, I still listened to CD's - and was completely unfamiliar with higher quality digital copies in file formats other than the ubiquitous mP3 - such as the venerable .flac files I now enjoy.
After copious amounts of review reading (bordering on the obsessive), I ended up ordering the Hifiman HE-400 headphones. I knew they weren't top of the line, but I didn't want to drop $1000 or more on a pair of headphones without dipping my toes in the water first. I also ordered an Emotiva XDA-2 DAC and headphone amplifier combo.
After receiving both units, I was completely blown away by what my ears were hearing. FINALLY! I was starting to hear some of the nuances I remembered from days gone by. I had entered audiophile nirvana - the problem was that I was hooked. The search for that last little bit had begun (I don't know if it will ever end....)
Two weeks ago I went to Hifi Heaven in Green Bay, WI to test some audio equipment. I was unable to find a DAC that I liked - but I DID uncover an absolute love affair with the Sennheiser HD800 headphones. I promptly ordered some. After a few problems with Emotiva products, I acquired a Burson Audio HA-160DS DAC/Amp. Both the Burson and the Sennheiser's arrived this past week.
Well, I can tell you that I am in absolute audio bliss. I have now achieved highs on par with some of the best audio equipment I have ever heard (still the best I have EVER heard was from a pair of Wilson Audio Alexandria speakers hooked up to a phenomenal McIntosh Tube Amp). The mids are excellent, and the bass is very tight and punchy (still not as good as monitors - but excellent nonetheless). Now I can enjoy my hobby while my wife sleeps, with this setup satisfaction is guaranteed.
So where does that leave the headphone enthusiast getting into the hobby? I am still new to this hobby myself, but there are several things I can tell you. First, you CAN get a decent pair of headphones for $100. If you only have a budget of $200, I would suggest some $100 headphones, and spend the other $100 on a good DAC such as the Audioquest Dragonfly. However, much more quality can be had if you are willing to move into the $600 to $700 price range. A good pair of $300-$400 headphones and a decent DAC/Amp will work wonders. You truly can have quite an amazing experience for that price.
So, IS it worth it to spend the additional money (if you can afford it) on a pair of $1000+ headphones, and a $1000+ DAC? Well, let me answer that by saying it this way: You will be absolutely satisfied with a $600-700 setup, but just don't ever hear anything better, or you will HAVE to have it. It may cost thousands more to get that last 10%, or maybe even 5% - but my god it is epic when it all comes together (I am not implying that my current setup is anywhere near the best that can be had - but right now it is pretty damn good).
Edited by subsonic1050 - 1/17/14 at 3:29pm