A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Before getting into head-fi, I was still a very avid music buff. I had (and still have) the largest iTunes library out of my friends. I did and continue to listen to music for an average of two hours a day - not to mention being a music teacher and player, I hear music almost 24/7.
Before head-fi most of my listening was done on a ZuneHD or through iTunes with 256kbps source files. I had pairs of Monster Turbines and Sony MDR EX210s as IEM and pairs of Bose AE2s and Sony XB400s for my full sized cans. The majority of my library was rock-based music with a lot of low quality hip hop recordings and a smattering of jazz and classical albums.
In early April of 2013, I was looking to upgrade my headphone experience and did what most people do when they need help: googled it. First, I searched for “best budget headphones.” That search returned some of the lamest looking headphones I’d ever seen: Koss PortaPros. Other options I read up on included Panasonic HTF600s, Koss KSC75s, and the then new Superlux HD681 Evos. At that time, the first criteria that headphones had to pass for me was their appearance. Needless to say none of these appealed to me so I changed my search criteria to “new imported headphones” because it seemed like a lot of the cans only available on the Asian continent were much sexier in appearance not to mention the fact that I’d be the only one of my friends to own a pair. Not long thereafter I found a pair of ATH ES700s on eBay for a decent price and impulsively pulled the trigger.
After they arrived, I gave ‘em a go and really enjoyed their sound, but the fact that they sat on-ear instead of over-ear really annoyed me. I have slightly larger-than-average ears, and unfortunately for me, the look of on-ear headphones was a big turn off. (I ended up buying the Evos because they were so cheap, but their bulky design had em moving out the door in less than 24 hours). So I ended up trading the ES700s + some cash for some almost brand new Momentums. I think it was during that time that I actually joined head-fi instead of reading through threads through Googled links. It was also during that time that I decided that the rave reviews that the Koss PortaPros were getting was enough to justify buying a used pair on Amazon. Even though they were weird looking, they weren’t very expensive and they seemed to have a reputable history.
I think if there’s one point where I turned the corner, it’d be the day I tried the PortaPros. The fact that something so quirky and inexpensive was on par with my headphones that cost substantially more really opened my eyes to what I was missing. Like most twenty-somethings, I dove headfirst into head-fi, starting “suggest a headphone” threads left and right (without regards for forum policy…) reading up on headphone reviews, and researching how to further improve my music listening experience.
To make a long story short, I’ve since owned and auditioned:
40 pairs of IEMs, ranging in cost form $7 to $320 (only bought 3-4 pairs new)
17 pairs of on-ears ranging from $5 to $450 (mostly used)
19 pairs of over-ears from $18 to $300 (almost all used)
8 portable DAPs ($22-$250)
7 portable amps ($30-$200)
6 dedicated DACs ($50-200)
4 dedicated desktop amps ($85-$125)
At first I was buying or trading for budget-priced headphones twice a week. Slowly those spending habits caught up with me, not to mention I realized that many of the headphones in similar price brackets shared the same level of sound quality. After a dozen different headphones, I eventually decided to improve my portable setup, first, with a Sansa Fuze, and then almost in the same week a used iBasso DX50 and Colorfly C3. Between those three, I realized how poor the SQ of an iPod Classic was. Soon thereafter all three of those DAPs were gone, replaced by an iPod 5.5 (because of its larger HD) and a Headstage Arrow 4G.
By now several months had passed, and instead of buying headphones, most of my acquisition occurred through trades. I slowly had made my way from a $50-75 budget to a $100-150 range. The only headphones that remained from my first foray into this community were the PortaPros - now a used 25th Anniv. pair I found on Amazon. My IEMs were primarily the TDK BA200s and TF10s. After selling off the aforementioned DAPs, I saved a little to get the TF10s reshelled - more out of a want to be like the cool guys on the Portable Rig thread than a need for extra comfort and isolation. To make a longer story short, the customs never really got to fit perfectly and I ended up selling em along with a custom cable.
As I ascended the proverbial ranks of head-fi-dom, I began to more accurately know my signature preference. I appreciated a slight V-shaped signature for the most part. Since a lot of my music was hip hop, the vocals were less important, while the bass and treble were where it was at! Interestingly enough, shortly after selling the TF10s, I purchased a used pair of Alessandro MS1s out of boredom more than anything. I’ll admit that at first, I thought Grado/Alessandro headphones were some of the ugliest things I’d ever seen. The only reason I bought the MS1s was because I’d read that they were quite easy to modify (MS1000) and I figured that if I didn’t like em, I wouldn’t feel bad about messing around with the mods.
While I did complete the mod, I didn’t appreciate the SQ I was getting at the time. They were sold within the month. Soon after this, a big breakthrough happened for me. I got my first taste of some upper-level headphones thanks to a mini-meet between jaywillin and I. He’s one of the only active members from Alabama and I couldn’t resist getting to hear the RS1s and PS500s that he had. Hearing his RS1s really changed the way I thought about headphones. Instead of having to decide on a particular signature that somehow altered what IMO, the music actually sounds like, the RS1s made me feel like I was listening to live music instead of music through headphones. Game changer.
To further abbreviate the story, soon after the mini-meet I caught wind of some of the gorgeous mods going on in the Grado thread. And would you believe, you didn’t have to have a background in electrical engineering to recable or woodify a pair of Grados! I think between the mini-meet in November and my birthday in January, I had liberated a half dozen Grados (multiple pairs of 60is, 225is, and MS1is), and either recabled or woodied them all. Most eventually were sold or given away as gifts. I also started to appreciate the midrange quality in my music more and more as the Grados really did something magical to the guitars and vocals on my rock albums.
In the months since, several pairs of headphones have come and gone, but I’ve always had at least one pair of Grados on the stand. To me, they do what every headphone manufacturer should strive for - they make me forget that I have cans on my head! Not to mention they’re easy to modify, easy to drive, American-made, and they have a great history. What more could I ask for!?
As of March, I was able to land a fantastic deal on a pair of RS1is that won’t be leaving anytime soon. They’re being driven by a Little Dot 1+ with some Novosibirsk 6AK5s. Since most of my listening is still done through my laptop, I have a simple Hifimediy U2 Async DAC running to the LD and as of this month, I finally evolved from iTunes to Fidelia for improving my audio engine’s performance (somewhere along the line, I re-ripped all of my CDs in lossless… twice). My IEMs are a pair of Earsonics SM64s that were once again, only afforded by way of a great deal from another head-fier. Between these two, I don’t feel like I need to (or want) to improve the way I hear my music. My music tastes have only changed in that more of my library features music with real acoustic instruments instead of electronics. Since I can hear more, I want to hear more, and that means a little more attention to jazz and classic rock/blues.
Hear are the First Year in Head-fi Awards according to the JoeDoe Academy of price-to-performance ratio:
Best Budget Anything: Koss KSC75 - http://www.head-fi.org/products/koss-ksc75-portable-stereophone-headphones/reviews/9254
Best Budget DAP: Sansa Clip+ - http://www.head-fi.org/products/sandisk-sansa-clip-8-gb-mp3-player-black/reviews/8963
Best Budget Amp: JDS Labs cMoyBB - http://www.head-fi.org/products/jds-labs-cmoybb/reviews/8910
Best Budget IEM: Brainwavz Delta - http://www.head-fi.org/products/brainwavz-delta/reviews/9897
Best Midrange Headphone: Grado SR325i or Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium
Best Midrange DAP: iBasso DX50 - http://www.head-fi.org/products/ibasso-dx50-dap/reviews/9989
Best Midrange Amp: Headstage Arrow 4G
Best Midrange IEM: TDK BA200 or Dunu DN1000
Best I’ve Heard: Grado RS1i - http://www.head-fi.org/products/grado-rs1i-reference-series-headphones/reviews/10499
Best DAP: Fiio X5
Best Amp: Audio GD NFB 11.32
Best IEM: Earsonics SM64
Best Playback Software: Fidelia
Anyway, in my first year, I’ve reviewed 24 of the pieces of gear I’ve owned, broke the 2,500 post mark, made some great acquaintances, and learned plenty through this community. Needless to say I’m very grateful to have been a part of head-fi and I’m certainly looking forward to enjoying the depths of my music library more and more each day.
Edited by JoeDoe - 7/30/14 at 7:08pm