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IFI, SENNHEISER AND AUDEZE
Headphone and DAC/AMP IMPRESSIONS

Today I spent part of my afternoon at StereoConcepts Plaza Singapore formulating sets of great listening kit, eliminating unfavourable options and selecting preferences.

Thanks to Joe and his ever-willing staff, here's the kit I sampled:

Sennheiser
HD600 & 650 SGD $539 / 699
Mometums / Momentum On-Ears $ 369 / 149
Audeze LCD XC SGD $2699
IFI IDSD MICRO / NANO SGD $649 / 249

Impressions:
First up...I'd already fallen in love with the ifi idsd micro as a clean, clear and powerful amp at my last visit. Not quite portable, still you can find it strapped to an iPhone 6. At Dimensions (W x D x H): 158 x 68 x 28mm, Weight: 193g (0.43lbs) it won't comfortably fit into anyone's (standard) pocket. Valise, post-modern crumpler shoulder bag, strapped leather man-bag, whatever suits you might work though. Your choice. Inside, you have the makings of one serious portable hifi system. Your hallmark statement though, visible to all are your cans. Wear the Audeze and you are making one serious, not subtle show of power or... quality over real portability. Or perhaps you have a really big head, can manage the weight, torque and balance whilst window shopping at Harrods. Still you won't have to endure their muzac.

I used the Micro to first listen to the 600's. Like you perhaps, I'd read about these as defining the openness if range, staging and dynamics. I was really keen to know more first hand. Joe (the Store Manager) explained whilst fitting them for me that the cups are shaped, so the right and left orientation is fundamental to the fit of these cans. Check one. I'd asked to listen to DSD tracks through Audirvana, not iTunes again through my previous experience at the store. Check two. Joe put on of his favourite DSD track and left me to search their tracks. They have a narrow range of DSD tracks, comprised of vocal, jazz and blues, piano and classical. Notably missing are rock and pop, or R&B. The sound was balanced across the frequency range, bright yet not sibilant, deep yet never booming, relaxed yet dynamic. Deep base was perhaps a little softer than I prefer. I was looking for the equaliser settings already. After running across samples of all available tracks, dff and WAV, I felt I had a sense of their signature sound.

A good contrast came with the 650's coming next. These hit me immediately, I winked with pleasure at the salesman. This was more like it or so my first impressions told me. Here was the warmth, engagement and immersion I was looking for...hang on. No no no, what was that booming sensation I was feeling, let's try another track. What, the highs were showing signs of extreme towards discomfort? And the base, yes it was deep, but also booming now. If you ever taken a loud presentation and pressed the Loudness button, that's what was evident here. Ouch. I took off the 650's and put the 600's back on. Same track... right. Not as enveloping in the same way at all, yes, but really good, and easier to listen to by far. Quality headphones these 600's. Recommended.

Next...well, if these were typical of the Sennheiser signature sound, as I understand it, how was I going to benchmark them?

So I asked to listen to the top Audeze cans in the shop. At $2699, these headphones cost more than...well you fill in your choice of product / price comparison. I can buy a good Marantz amp for these dollars or ten ifi idsd nano's. Ten. Well, I was surprised. Here straight up was power across the range, full immersion in a wide soundscape, along with really big ear cups, weighty feel, strong but not at all painful rather soft, almost endearing clamp force. Wow. This was like a combination of the previous two Senny sounds, x100 plus a real lift in separation of instruments and dynamic range. They were almost too immersive, if that's possible. This listening experience calls for much more attention from the listener. Its so analytical it takes effort to reassemble the track in your head.

New benchmark established here. Worth the money, of course that is both a 64 million dollar question (for the industry) and a personal judgment for you.

Listening to these displayed the limits and benefits of the HD600's and the 650's too. These Audeze define a new experience for me in headphone audio hifi.

Bottom line in this line up? New top line set up? Ifi iDSD Micro->Audeze LCD XC.

New value set? Ifi iDSD Micro->HD600. Almost portable and the open design 600's hardly leak sound in either direction inwards or outwards.

Moving on, from this high end test I called for the two Momentum models for comparison. I started this set with the on ear model and was immediately impressed by the sound and engagement. Yet loads of leakage out and incursion in from the outside. So I fairly quickly set the on ears aside. I put on the over ears and immediately had the full headphone experience again uncontaminated by sound interference. The profile of sound produced by these phones was great. Of course it was narrower than the 600's but was full, deep base, great dynamics, and easy to listen too. The cups were comfortable to wear, I like these headphones and given their price point seem great value for the money. But wait, there's more...

Now we can consider the Ifi Nano. I especially wanted to try this unit again since my first experience had not been a good one when compared with the Micro. Now I felt we were using the right music player software and the same tracks this round. So we wired in the Nano and engaged play. Well what a surprise again. This sounded punchy, clean and well weighted. Hard to tell the difference with the Micro really. It was more difficult to A/B these two as it required reconfiguring the player each time, and my play time was running out too. So in sum, a new value set benchmark was discovered: Ifi iDSD Nano->Momentum.

Some further thoughts on the Nano follow.

The Nano, on the other hand, is halfway portable. It is not perfect, especially when strapped to your iPhone/Android/Windows. On its own its bigger than a box of cigarettes and heavier too. Nano Dimensions (L x W x H): 87 x 68 x 28mm, and Weight: 162g(0.36lbs). This is the same issue for all 'portable' dac/amps. They are neither as slim or svelte as your favourite phone is. This alone narrows their target market, don't you think? How many women will be really attracted to this style enough to evoke their interest and stimulate purchase? And practically speaking no DAC/Amps are really portable in the pocket. Nonetheless I would purchase the value set of Nano and Momentums and make do with the great sound delivery in this package as a first step into this field.

Well the 'CEO' beckoned, and off I went to dream of budget building towards a great hifi collection.
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Edited by TheNoose - 11/27/14 at 2:12pm