A Tribute to Head Gear Past
Oct 3, 2018 at 2:46 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 6


100+ Head-Fier
Jul 1, 2015
I’m starting this thread to give tribute to the things that give us joy in this hobby, our beloved head gear. Your experience and opinions on these gear may differ from mine. That is okay. Let us share and be respectful and just enjoy the thread. These are not reviews, and as such, you will not see anything glaringly negative about these stuff. There will be very little to no comparison to other gear as well, as I want to credit these by their own merits. Let’s start, shall we?

The JVC HA-RX700

This brand, and this headphone, really got me started on this hobby.

Growing up as a kid, we had a JVC component back home. I can’t even remember the model number anymore but it sounds great, one of the best speakers I heard up to this time. It’s so lifelike, impactful, detailed, spacious, and melodic at the same time. I think that’s the JVC house sound. They manage to deliver grunt without ever losing melody.

These headphones are legendary here at Head-fi and I believe there’s an entire giant thread dedicated to modding them and how they really perform. As for me, these headphones are like a chameleon, or an octopus for that matter. They just sound so darn good from any source, any music format, any genre. They seem to scale nicely from equipment to equipment. The defining sound signature is “melodic” and nothing else. Melodic in this case is not equal to boring. No, it’s not mellow or soft. On the contrary, these headphones can really kick and really kick hard with that fast and big bass. "Fast and big" is hard to come by, unless you’re into planars but this cheap dynamic can go toe-to-toe. These headphones, they “sing” to you. I can’t explain that unless you own one and I bet owners who really loved them will attest to this. It’s like having a friend who just loves to sing you songs, heartfelt and melodic.

I’ve owned quite a few headphones and auditioned a few south of $500 and these remain to be my favorite. It’s magic, I guess. Keep on singing, 700.

The Fiio A3 / E11k

This is the best bang for your buck “portable” headphone amplifier in the world.
  • Build quality and design is great – I dig the “reversed” approach because you can easily control volume from the back of the device you’re stacking it with. The bass and gain switch may be harder to reach with this design but you’re not going to be switching those often once you find the setting that you prefer.
  • Impressive output power – At high gain, I imagine this could drive headphones up to 600ohms.
  • Clean and smooth amplification – Yes, these are clean and “smooth”. Even the product page says “smooth drive”, which I joyfully agree with. They sound really smooth all throughout. Bass boost is just as clean and smooth as well.
  • New iteration has better shielding – I updated my review on the A3 and what I noticed is the newer iteration (with the short interconnect and the hi-res stickers, since the original has a longer interconnect (L8)) have better shielding from EMI. I seem to notice less EMI even with bass boost on. If this is a conscious effort from Fiio, I applaud their attention to quality.
Dollar to dollar, this is the absolute best.

The Fiio X1 (1st gen)

For the longest time, this has been the best bang for your buck DAP in the world.

I say “has been” because currently, we have touchscreen and Android DAPs that do not cost an arm and a leg. It’s hard to pit the X1 with those in today’s market. During its time though, the price-to-performance ratio of this DAP is unparalleled. Stack it with the then named E11k (A3) and you have quite a stack that can play with the big boys sonically.

Also for the longest time, this has been the no. 1 DAP in the Head Gear DAP section (old site), a testament to how much this is loved by both budding and seasoned audiophiles alike. Needless to say, it is a legend. And I daresay that the X1 is what made Fiio the legend that they are today. Akin to the X-Men, this is Fiio’s Wolverine back in the day, Weapon X.

No other DAP until today presented a much better value in my opinion, not even the 2nd gen. This is THE X1.

The Superlux HD-330

This is the most underrated gear I have ever owned.

There is very little noise about it in Head-fi. Yes, there’s a thread about it, I believe. I think I read it once. But unlike it’s sibling, the HD668B, which is regarded by some as a giant killer, this is not regarded as such. And I really don’t know why.

The bass slam is like a decent planar. Yes, you read it right. It’s very very good. The mids sound rich and full. The highs are very natural. It’s a sound that doesn’t offend, it doesn’t bore you either. It’s more of a planar sound than a dynamic, which is incredible for the price.

My theory is that these came out at a time where the market is starting to be saturated by high value gear, pricewise. It’s been overshadowed by the 668B and many other gear that came out at about the same time. It’s been compared to the likes of the Beyerdynamic DT880, a studio legend, and many others and still it’s not very popular. I don’t think even reviews about them gained traction.

Make no mistake though, this is the best headphone you’ll hear at their price point, and several times more. A hidden gem that may sadly remain hidden until a digger brings it to an auction and the worthy ones start to notice.

The Fiio E12 Mont Blanc

The powers that be.

This, for me, is the best portable headphone amplifier at any price point.

  • Build quality and design is superb – It’s like holding a good, solid brick. I do not use the crossfeed but it’s a unique feature that may be useful to some. Bass boost is powerful. The swing in gain is significant, which is useful from light, to very heavy loads.
  • Incredible output power – At high gain, these could drive anything on the market, except electrostatics of course.
  • Clean and neutral amplification – If the A3 has a smooth character, the E12 sounds more neutral to my ears. Not that it’s easy to tell them apart in a blind test simply because they’re amplifying the same signal. But as you listen to them more, you would notice sharper edges on instruments with the E12, which I like. It’s weird but it gives you a better sense of separation and clarity. It could very well be the added power which drives everything effortlessly, in the literal sense of the word.
  • New iteration has better accessories – Same as the A3, the latest version that came out has a black and red box (as opposed to the original white, but it may vary from different countries and regions). It has a short interconnect which is much cleaner for stacking, and the rubber pads (as opposed to the black rubber feet), which provides better protection and a more secure traction to stacked equipment.
I haven’t heard the A5, but I don’t think the added price (at least in some countries where the A5 is decidedly more expensive) warrants the upgrade.

Need a powerful amplifier that’s future proof if you ever decide to go planar or other power-hungry headphones? You’re good with the Mont Blanc for the foreseeable future.

The Grado SR80e

Some of you may have read my review on the SR80e. It’s supposed to be my farewell review but I decided to stick with the hobby a little bit longer.

There’s no going back after hearing a good Grado. And the SR80e is still the best value headphone in their line-up. It is my reference. And it will be the sound from which I will judge and I have judged any other gear that I will audition or have auditioned since I had it. It is that good, believe you me.

You may not like the Grado sound due to its sheer aggression. But my contention would always be that live performances are inherently forward, aggressive, and impactful. They’re alive! And the Grado sound is just that, it’s very much alive. It’s as close as it gets to a live performance as I have been.

I remember the first time hearing the SR80e at a local audio store. I put them on and played “Satellite” by P.O.D (Payable On Death) and I literally had goosebumps. Man, these are very very good!

After getting these, it’s become much harder to justify a purchase at twice, thrice, or even five times the price. They still appear at numerous “best headphones” list up to this day, together with more expensive options, some with even more features but they hold their ground as one of the absolute best.

These are my Samurai. Truly cutting edge sound.

The Shure SRH440

To hear a pin drop.

Man, these are detail monsters! I believe this is the Shure house sound. I read an article from way back titled “I can hear the smoke in the bar.” It’s for the big brother, The Shure SRH940 but this seems to be a testament of how good this brand can resolve the tinniest details in a recording. It is more detailed than my Grado and that is saying something. This could be attributed to its character as a studio monitor. It’s a surgical tool first and foremost but I’d rather call it a Sniper. It’s an American Sniper, with sniper-scope accuracy.

Shurely (pun intended), the bigger brothers in the Shure line will have better balance (could be referring to better bass) but this represents the best value in the line-up sonically, akin to the SR80e in Grado’s line.


I owned quite a few more gear but this being a tribute post, I would only include the ones that I really revere.

Now we get to the point of the tribute where I get to mention the ones that I hope to own in the distant future. These are the best of the best, the true pillars of Head Gear Audiophilia. Again, your experiences and opinions may vary but that is okay. I based my opinions on reviews read, watched, or heard from friends and the consensus being that you cannot go wrong with any of these. They will always be good at something you do not expect.


If you’re a fan of anime like I am and heard of the Hunter X Hunter series, you would know The Phantom Troupe. They are the most powerful criminal organization in the series. A few hunters are more powerful but they represent the higher end of the spectrum. Going past them then you hit the most powerful hunters in the world (to be discussed later). Let’s meet the troupe, shall we?

The Sennheiser HD650

Need I say more? The myth. The legend. The greatest of all time.

Not to all of us, but to most of us for sure. Legions and legions of Head-fiers can’t be wrong with this. It’s one of those headphones that are kept way up high on a display wall or hidden inside a glass cage in an audio store. I never auditioned it. Never. Something tells me to move to the next one, to find something else, to look at other stuff. I can’t explain it. Is it the audio gods telling me that it’s not yet time? For sure, it’s out of my budget and out of the price that I’m willing to pay for at this time. But still it’s so near, yet so far. Maybe the term “Sennheiser veil” is getting into me. I auditioned the 598s and honestly, I am not impressed at all. It sounds…well…soft. Maybe it’s my sound preferences. Coming from a Grado, what would you expect? But still, I keep looking at them…always looking…telling myself, “Someday...”.

The Sennheiser HD600

The decorated general.

Those that do not like the HD650 have liked these for some reason. The consensus is it’s more neutral, sounds more spacious, sounds a bit faster (albeit leaner) than the 650. Still a venerable option that is worthy to be auditioned alongside the 650. Someday.

The Beyerdynamic DT880

Black is the color of silence.

I heard this once. And I heard it from my phone so maybe it’s the 32ohm or even the 250ohm version. I can’t imagine my phone being able to drive the 600ohm. If Grado gave me goosebumps, these kept me mystified the entire time. And that is a whole new level of goosebumps. The background is so black, so silent, that I felt music is coming from a very very deep place. It might very well be the deepest soundstage I ever heard. Or is it soundstage? Is it the black background? Man, it’s hard to explain. It’s like you get captured for a moment in a deep deep slumber where sound is cradling you like a baby. I will listen to it again one day, and maybe, just maybe, this could be an end game.

The Fostex T50RP MKIII

This is the modder’s delight.

Many other companies banked on Fostex to create their own masterpieces – The Mad Dogs, The Blue, to name a few. But I want this one untouched. I want the ugly duckling that to so many of us, sounds like a swan. I want the neglected stock whom people are constantly trying to change. I want you as you are, MKIII. I’m not gonna change you. I’ll accept you as you are with open arms IF you are indeed the one. I’ll listen to your swan song one day.

The Hifiman HE-400s

Some say this is better sonically than the HD-600 series, including Tyll.

And though that is up to discussion and argument, that in itself made this headphone worthy of this list. As for me, “We’ll see.” Honestly, I auditioned this for a few minutes and I don’t find it any better than my Grado. That could very well be an unfair assessment though as I do not know if the test pair is pretty worn out, or pretty new and haven’t been burnt in yet (can’t tell, really). So I’ll give it another chance and have a side-by-side audition with the 600 series.

The AKG K701

I owe this pair an audition. AKG for me is a mixed bag. I loved the sound of the K550 but it’s still a closed headphone. Sounds very good but the design is ridiculously bulky. Even the K240, which is average-sized for their usual line-up, still looks, well not really bulky, but a bit unkempt. Even my Grados looked better in my opinion. And I wasn’t really enamored with the sound of that one but again, I might consider it as an upgrade in the future. I want to be fair and audition the AKGs I mentioned here properly, especially the legendary K701, and see what they really have to offer. Up to this point, it’s really hard to describe the AKG house sound. It’s very very analytical I think. Or “technical”. Maybe that’s the better term. They are technically excellent but is it worth their weight in musical enjoyment? That’s what I will need to find out.

The OPPO PM1 / PM2

The crowd pleaser.

This could very well be the HD650 of planars. A sound that's so pleasing, rarely would you find an owner who's offended by it. It's a sound intended for the long haul, marathon listening sessions. A warm embrace of musical bliss.

This is a new addition to this list and it deserves to be here based on reviews I read. This is now on my list of must-audition headphones in the future. Most likely the PM2 for a cheaper price with similar performance, albeit a slightly lower build quality.

The Grado Reference Series (and above)

You seriously did not think that I’d pass up on higher end Grados, did you? Haha. Of course not! As it stands today, Grados for me are the best sounding headphones in the world. If at the bottom two of their line-up you have the SR80e which sounds incredible for $100, what more do they have up top? I can only imagine. I went as far as auditioning the SR325e and it sounds superb, with bigger sense of space and detail than the SR80e but that’s not the jump I want to take. I want something mind blowing. I want an end game material headphone. And past the Prestige series might be the answer…the master Samurai. The legendary Kenshin Himura. Samurai X.


Going back to the Hunter X Hunter analogy, past the level of the Phantom Troupe are The Zodiacs. They are the most powerful hunters in the world. Other than a select few, like the chairman of the Hunter Association, Netero, none even came close to their strength, skills, and special abilities. I do not intend to own these headphones. They are too expensive for what I’m willing to pay for. And I am not going to comment on sound as I am not qualified. But I still intend to pay tribute to the gods.

The Sennheiser HD800 / HD800s

The undisputed king of all dynamic headphones, with a price tag and design to match.

Looking at these, they are a marvel of design and engineering. It’s hard to think of just “headphone” when you look at them. They’re carved straight out of a sci-fi movie. Man, they look awesome! But I lean towards the 800s, having the black theme and all.

The Hifiman HE1000

Zeos asked, “Can you hear God with these?”

Well, owners, can you? I cannot comment further. This headphone is what defined, and still defines, the name Hifiman in my opinion.

The Audeze LCD Series

This is the Grado of planars.

Another headphone “Made in the USA” that lives up to its hype and sound quality. One word, Powerful. That’s how Steve Guttenberg described them. Who am I to say otherwise? These could very well be the best option to upgrade a Grado but they’re too expensive. Well, let's see. Among the other Zodiacs in this list, this is the only brand that I’m interested enough to audition, and probably, by good fortune, buy someday.

The Abyss AB-1266

At $5000, enough said. This is arguably the best sounding headphone in the world, albeit looking like a medieval torture tool.

I believe even Steve G. has a similar assessment. You need a very powerful amplifier to really get the best out of it. But they say it’s all worth it. I believe them. I have no reason not to. We all discern sound differently. And if they say it’s that good to them, then it’s that good to them. It’s literally taking a dive into the abyss with this headphone.

The Focal Utopia

Welcome to Utopia!

This is it, according to many seasoned enthusiasts. The end of all things head gear, as of this writing. Not even the dark Abyss can suck the light out of this superstar. And being a lot less expensive at that. Let that sink in for a minute. If you reached Utopia, I wonder what’s next. Maybe they’d call the last headphone they’ll ever make…Nirvana.


Well, this is it. I am not sure if anyone is going to like, reply to, or even notice this thread. I’ll leave it here. And I won’t be here to reply to it so I’m talking to you, first Commenter. Please keep it alive. And may it help keep the fire burning within us all.

Love your gear. You worked hard for it. You’re physically, psychologically, and emotionally invested to it. Love it and it will love you back with great music.

Happy listening everyone!

I’ll see you next time.

The Audiophilefan
Last edited:
Jan 6, 2019 at 2:37 AM Post #2 of 6
My first pair of headphones & amp :

Jul 12, 2019 at 9:14 PM Post #6 of 6
I remember back in the old days, headphone amps were not too common and the popular headphone amp was the Cmoy and other DIY projects. It felt cutting edge to have one of those if you had an early version of an MP3 player.

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