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Has the bar for "audiophile" sound been lowered or is it now higher than it's ever been?

  1. AndroidVageta
    Long story short...I've owned a LOT of headphones and IEM's, like a lot. The most expensive being the JH16 Pro FP and the Senn HD800.

    I was really into the headphone game a few years ago (like pre-2017) before ultimately settling on the MusicMaker Shockwave 3's as just my personal undisputed champion. Sure, others here and there did this or that better but over all, for some Chinese Hifi costing all of $250 these 5-driver hybrids were the cream of the crop for me and I've kept them for the past 2 years and haven't really tried THAT many other headphones/IEM's as I use too. I've tried others, don't get me wrong, but nothing I decided to keep and most importantly nothing really NEW and high-end. All my high-end stuff was pretty much, again, 2017 and before.

    So recently I discovered the CCA C16's, a 8 armature per side Chi-fi special for $86 on Aliexpress. Reviews seemed pretty glowing and 8 drivers...for less than $100? Eh, why not?

    So I got them today and, Jesus Christ, they blow the Shockwave 3's away in, like, every category. Bass is better, larger, faster...mids are way more natural and forward...highs are less artificial and more coherent.

    So it got me thinking...if for me a $250 IEM was beating out much more expensive ones I had owned but now a ****ing sub-$100 IEM beat that out I have to ask...has audiophile level headphones become a cheaper hobby? Is high-end stuff just now overpriced because "Made in Germany/Switzerland or Name-Brand"?

    I mean, I remember just a few years ago $100 would get you a decent pair of cans or IEM's...nothing to write home about and CERTAINLY not audiophile level but alright for some consumer grade **** and the more expensive stuff DEFINITELY was noticeable.

    So now that you can get a $100 pair of IEM's that hands down beat a $250 pair of IEM's that those beat IEM's costing 2-4x as much where does that leave us now in this game?

    I'm not tripping either, these C16's are honestly ridiculous and I'm having a hard time understanding how this works for this price.

    So is audiophile just simply no longer a rich mans game OR has the high-end that I haven't experienced for a few years seriously gotten THAT much better that the low end is now at high-end levels of years past?
  2. Raketen
    Hasn't "high end" (aside from the luxury goods factor) always been about paying exponential prices for fractional gains? Not to mention the price markups that belie how similar their actual BOM probably are.

    Personally suspect w/ IEMs in particular, 90% of "audio quality" is really just a signature that the listener likes that works with their ear canals, available sources and doesn't screw up their music.

    Chinese BA manufacturing has definitely dropped the entry point on Multi BA & hybrid designs that were once very exclusionary, but I'm not sure how much, if any, intrinsic merit these designs have- my favorite IEM is still a single DD that was released almost 10 years ago. Perhaps those manufacturers have just figured out how to tune things...
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
    harry501501 likes this.
  3. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    I'll put it this way.

    In 2004 a $50,000 BMW does 0-60 in 5.2 seconds.

    In 2012 a $35,000 Toyota does 0 to 60mph in 5.6 seconds.

    By 2019 a $46,000 Hyundai sedan and Kia estate is doing 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds with AWD and year round practicality.

    Adjust the BMW's price for inflation on 2012 and 2019 and the old M3 looks even worse.
    harry501501 and PaganDL like this.
  4. AndroidVageta
    Very good comment and I think you're right. 5 years ago only the name brand and established brands were actually putting the money and design into high-end headphones.

    Now that China and similar have caught on it's moved the whole industry and view of what's possible forward.

    Just because BMW has a fast car doesn't mean that Hyundai AUTOMATICALLY can't make something comparable for a LOT cheaper. It's all perspective and what the goal is of said company making said product.

    Yeah, great comment, really puts things into perspective. These Chinese CCA C16 sound high end because they ARE high-end...they just don't cost high-end because THEY DON'T HAVE TO and don't carry an artificially high price for "reasons".
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
    CoryGillmore likes this.
  5. castleofargh Contributor
    first: http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2017/02/twirt-337-predicting-headphone-sound_17.html

    also an important point that brings up Sean Olive and his merry crew again, is the work they did in the last years about headphone(and IEMs) frequency response's preferences. those papers undeniably inspired/convinced several manufacturers.

    about actual idea of fidelity, I have the general feeling from measurements that things still move in the right direction, but rather slowly. which is expected for transducers in general. even more so in IEMs where the physical restrictions are more or less set in stone by expectations of size and isolation.
  6. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Well not really for cars.

    What I didn't put down there is:

    2014 BMW M4 does 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds

    And I didn't put it there for one reason: the $3,000 Focal Utopia didn't convince me well enough to finally upgrade my HD600. Not for that kind of money anyway.

    What you deride as "reasons" is "competitive wages due to lower cost of living." In short, you're not paying a guy living in Bavaria that has to pay taxes and pay for a house in Bavaria. You're paying a bunch of guys who if they form a union the Commie Party will kick their arss, because of course Communism is the Proletariat's Paradise or something like that. That's why China is about to go through their own high rise version of the 2008 housing crisis, since too many flats in towers are being built and few can actually afford them.

    "Reasons" quotation marks included doesn't even apply as much to cars, not in the ones used. Kia has an existing dealer network, so no problem. But it can sell that car at that price because they're reusing the platform for another Hyundai corp product - the Genesis G70. Genesis doesn't have a dealer network, but they can afford to sell a car with a better interior for not much more money than the Kia version on account of not having a fifth door on the hatch that has to be more robust than a boot lid as well as having customers buy and configure online (and only see a few actual cars in some locations, like in malls, something Hyundai is doing for the entire line up in Asia now so they get more foot traffic), send it through the Hyundai-Kia supply chain, then have two guys deliver it to the buyer's address. Even Lexus is at BMW level pricing now. In other words, BMW and Toyota aren't selling on account of just "reasons" aka "prestige," Hyundai just got creative (and it's too early to tell whether sending out a lot of review units would be enough to sell the car to people that can't test drive them).
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
    PaganDL likes this.
  7. boomhaur
    Things improve over time but there are always unsong deals out there that aren't well known, or are known.

    JVC ha40 I believe they were called, both me and my dad bought them and we both settled on them. He still tried others such as the 1more triple but it couldn't dethrone the $20 iem and back than these were $100 iems.

    He tried to see if I like the sound of the Bose quiet comfort noise canceling headphones as he would've gave it to me if I did. But I preferred my cheap Superlux HD668b. And he preferred something that was as expensive as my Superlux as well back than too.

    This all took took place 4-7years ago. Except now I replaced my JVCs because I lost them this last year and it's discontinued. And I have a pair of Sennheiser hd58x arriving Thursday and we see if it can topple the Superlux 668b'a long reign, many have tried but they all have failed in the end.

    So I would argue audiophile sound has been cheap for quite awhile. Oh and for comparisons sake I also prefer my Superlux 668b/Xonar DG/true-fi combo over a Meeze Classics 99/fiio e10k, and they trade blows for clarity and detail but the Superlux has a more pleasing sound signature to me. So I have tasted some of the more high end sound outside of the cheap stuff as well.
  8. harry501501
    I m
    100% agree. I've been in this game for only 2-3 years and i started off with sets around the £150-200 mark thinking that's where the quality lay. Then I all of a sudden see some hype on HF for a more budget friendly set and my whole outlook changed over night. Like you say, look at the amount of cheap hybrids. Any yes, once you've found a pair that suits your ideal sound and ears you'll find it's the set you always go back to while others sit in a big box gathering dust. There doesn't seem to be as much snobbery anymore.

    You can pay peanuts for the Senfer DT6. A hybrid made up with BA+DD+Ceramic Piezoelectric. It's $20. Built like a tank. Detachable cable. Sounds as good as the early Dunu triple drivers i bought when i started out.

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