* HiFiMan Re-ZERO (Wonderfully clear and detailed, but bass-light, modest soundstage, and vague/hazy imaging; in-ear nature and "microphonics" feel suffocating sometimes)
* Fostex T50RP (In the market for modding materials)
* Panasonic HTF600 (Low-resolution and veiled but fun, warm, bassy, and coherent, with a pretty good soundstage)
* Broken iPod earbuds (Broken, tinny, and broken)
* Truly awful RCA HPNC100 (I dare you to do worse)
I'm just starting out, but I've already gone overboard with so many orders. I also have the following on the way:
* Fischer FA-011 (Expecting fun all-rounders; excited to play Skyrim with them)
Headphone Amp Inventory:
Objective 2 (I bought mine prebuilt though, since I've never touched a soldering gun in my life.)
I struggled with this at first: I first looked into a FiiO E7/E9, then the FiiO E15 (until it was delayed), and then I looked into getting a pricier NFB11 or NFB12. I even thought about a ridiculously expensive Lyr once I read about its synergy with the FA-011 (...and I definitely can't afford one).
I was pretty annoyed over how expensive headphone amplifiers are, and it was irritating that I couldn't find anything remotely affordable that just "did its job correctly" without altering the frequency response of the signal (or introducing noise, distortion, etc.). I'm really happy that I found out about the Objective 2 before jumping on something else, since it's definitely more my style:
1.) It's relatively inexpensive, just like it should be. It's just an amplifier for an electrical signal, and the science has been perfected for decades. This stuff simply shouldn't require esoteric boutique products, unless you're specifically looking for hardware that colors the signal in a predetermined way.
2.) Getting a perfectly accurate signal with gain (as opposed to a colored amp) will remove a variable from the equation and let me compare the sound of different headphones on "even ground."
3.) I may decide in the end that I prefer a colored sound better: Not all distortion sounds ugly, and tube amps for instance can add really pleasant harmonic distortion that makes the music come to life more. Even if colored amps sound better though, they're incapable of true "high-fidelity" by definition. I'd like to start with a high fidelity signal (once I get a good DAC at least) and then determine what kind of distortion sounds the best to me. Besides, experimenting with a flexible DSP to find my precise "sweet spot" sounds more appealing than shelling out tons of cash for a colored amp which can only get in the ballpark of my sweet spot.
Onboard audio headphone out...what, is that not good enough? ;-) If the noise output of my headphone jack is any indication of overall performance/quality, my laptop's onboard audio seems to be a step above average. I can't hear any noise/hiss/fuzz from it (whereas it's plainly audible on other laptops), so I'll fool myself into thinking its jitter/etc. is also up to snuff until a clear improvement presents itself cheaply.
I'll look into a better DAC eventually, but I want something that's both good and cheap, and 16/44.1 doesn't cut it. Getting a 24/96 DAC is a priority, because I have music sampled at both 16/44.1 and 16/48 (as well as 24/96 anyway), and who knows when the OS will mix in its own sounds...and resampling audio is notoriously lossy. Resampling both at a much higher rate like 96k should ensure the artifacts are less perceptible, and 24 bits will help with both resampling and with software volume controls. It would also be nice if my future DAC had optical input for my Xbox 360.
The desktop sequel to the Objective 2 will include the ODAC (a DAC daughter board), and the preliminary details are mostly in line with my requirements...except there won't be any optical input, so I may just keep on waiting.
I have lots of metal coat hangers, but their insulation isn't the best, and they aren't the most flexible things around.
Seriously though, I get almost all of my cables from Monoprice. I've gotten a few of their heavy duty cables for extra durability, but their size and clumsiness makes me slightly regretful.
Other Audio Equipment:
I've had Logitech Z-5500 speakers for years. They've served me well, but I bought them back when all I wanted was speakers that could get loud without blowing out or becoming painfully screechy. Someday I'd really like to get a high-quality speaker setup in the $1000-2000 range.
Video game music, video game music remixes, movie scores, classical, and Yanni. The common thread is that I'm not big on lyrics. ;-) I can enjoy almost anything, and I like various types of rock, but my playlists have been almost all instrumental for years now. I might have some kind of disease.
I usually like genuine balance in my music, but I haven't determined exactly how that translates into headphone offerings yet. I also might be a basshead on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That might help explain the multiple simultaneous purchases above. In detail:
Clarity is my first priority, given the worst headphones I ever listened to had muddy mid-bass and low mids, and everything else was completely submerged. There was no detail to speak of, because the headphones couldn't even fully capture the basic melodies. Those were the RCA HPNC100 (maybe an amp would help ;-)). They scarred me for life and led me to get my HiFiMan Re-ZEROs.
At the same time, clear music that's missing its low end is missing both atmosphere (sub-bass) and impact/body (mid-bass). I imagine I'd like a neutral sound for its fidelity and versatility, but that would only apply to a true all-rounder that "does everything." In other words, "neutral" headphones that are actually bass-light are suboptimal for me. If I have to choose between a good bass-heavy model and a good bass-light model with equivalent clarity, I'll lean toward the full-bodied bass-heavy choice.
My Re-ZEROs are fantastic - better than anything I've ever heard on most levels - but their light (if high-quality) bass means they're still missing something. (Soundstage could be better too.) Bumping up the bass a few dB with equalization helps a lot, so I'll be satisfied "on the go" for a long time...but my incoming purchases should offer better immersion at home.
Once I mod the Fostex T50RP into neutral giant killers, I should have headphones to suit pretty much every mood. :p I'll wait on some kind of ultimate consensus with those though, since I have no experience, and I can't afford to screw things up or end up in a dead-end "local maximum."