Have you ever wonder why there are such many jokes in this Hi-Fi community? The 'giant killer' nwavguy''s combo? The 'funny' audio science review (ASR) ranking? Science lost its power in the audio world? Scientists seem to be the most evil group in the audio world?Some of us even claim the best headphones were made in 30 years ago? Do you ever get a feeling that you live in the matrix world for audio? Your thinking is not controlled by yourself (but controlled by what other guys' writings : P) .
Yes, you come to the right place and we are now pretty much talking. You can also send me PM, I am willing to give you pills.
"You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."
⦿ I have/had uber expensive headphone rigs, but not by any means am I a rich people. I drive a $2000 Toyota. I still use a crappy camera on my old iPhone 6. You can probably see from here how much I am into this hobby.
⦿ Spoiler: truth sometimes can be very offensive.
⦿ I am a science researcher, not an engineer (i.e. I am an interested in Why instead of How type of person). I spent my Ph.D. life in signal processing.
⦿ If you don't believe in blind tests, probably here it is the end of our story.
⦿ Over 90% of my music collections are classical music. If you focus on different music genres, we might end up with drastically different conclusions for the same system.
⦿ Recordings from un-amped instruments and vocals (i.e. classical music) benefit much more from better transducers. Personally I will stop at $500 (used) range headphones if I only listen to pop music (e.g. soundtrack, hard rock, EDM, metals etc). Buying hi-end playback devices for pop music is philosophically wrong because you are mostly listening to synthesized/fake notes generated from computers. However, it might be the reason that people listening to pop music like to spend much more money on upstream electronics. They don’t have a true reference so they’d like to spend money as long as there is a change (no matter it is good or bad on the sound quality).
⦿ I don't comment on the sound quality of any upstream electronics (DACs, AMPs, CD players, Cables, etc) unless I perform scientificblind tests on them.
⦿ The only conclusions make sense are those based on blind tests with matched loudness levels. Casual listening without strictly level matched AB comparisons will only end up with a **** load of BS.
⦿ I am not a cable believer. Don't get me wrong. Cables can make a difference. But most of those hi-end cables won't make your signal cleaner. In fact, I am not even a believer of those fancy swag super high-end DACs/AMPS/Players/Turntables. IMHO, good upstream electronics would only contribute to less than 1% (can be as small as inaudible) of the sound quality. In bloody fact, an integrated chip-set as small as your fingernail from any of those big tech companies, like TI and ADI, can produce literally identical sound as some $30000 DACs (please refer to my equipment inventory and you know what I am talking about). Not saying you can’t buy them, paying a premium sometimes makes us more like men, after all.
⦿ If you find two upstream electronic devices (like DACs/amps/players)sound very different in blind test sessions even if you matched their levels, it means at least one of them is poorly designed, no matter if it is R2R, Multibit or Delta Sigma whatsoever.
⦿ Amplifiers for electrostatic headphones sound slightly different from one and another. Probably it is because of the ES headphone is not popular enough to draw attention from those really serious people (like TI, ADI, NI, etc). Small market, after all.
⦿ What determines 99% of the sound quality are the two transducers. The first one is the microphone which does the recording job, another is your headphone/speaker. You have no access to the former transducer in most cases. So spend your money on the latter one.
⦿ Headphone transducer technologies stopped advancing around 30 years ago. Speaker technology matured even earlier. Every industry insider knows this (check what speakers Nelson Pass has as the reference speaker on YouTube). Just like cars, they are old technologies. Yeah, there is a glorious time for the audio industry. There were some super-smart people working on audio while dinosaurs still walk around on earth (probably in 1920-1940s, audio at that time is the AI as in 2019). For a more concrete example, headphones like HD580 beat some $3000-$5000 headphones nowadays. Don't be fooled by the market!
⦿ So why do they sound different? Why is my K1000 sound like **** with my Justing Biber (I am sorry I don't know how to spell his name correctly). Because the tuning of the major headphone market is based on the music preference of the major headphone users (of course the primary goal for a company is to make money, not become a saint). Today’s music like EDM, hard rock, electronics or others they have excessive bass and don’t care about timbre that much. The majority in the 80s likes un-amped acoustic/classical music. They are more about timbre/transient/air. That's why the best headphones (as in 2019) in classical music are still those made in 30 years ago.
My favorite headphones, bar none:
1. Sony MDR-R10 (bass light version). The best all-rounder, sweet sweet fresh harmonious sound (not as sweet as live concert though). Fast. Best bass department among all headphones. Playing stringed music is sublime!
2. Sennheiser HE90. The most dynamic headphone. Lightning-fast. 'Everything comes back to life' sound. Silky smooth and glorious treble at the same time, bravo!
3. Stax-Omega. Godlike soundstage. Simply out-of-head floating imaging. The best of all headphones (include K1000, Myshpere, SR1A) in the soundstage department. Super fast response like your supercharged Shelby GT500. Pure and unsweetened sound, lovely!
Best in production headphones (I owned), If I have to enumerate:
1. Hifiman Susvara
2. Kennerton Thror
3. Stax SR-009
My headphone colormap, some examples (based on my years of experience dealing with un-amped instruments):