Hello (And looking for headphone recommendations)
Jun 8, 2019 at 10:18 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 12


New Head-Fier
Jun 8, 2019
Hi. I'm a beginner level audio and reasonably pro level computer enthusiast from Finland. (having worked for a local telecom company for 12 years, recently resigned).

Sorry for the wall of text. :)

So Im getting my last paycheck in a week, and its going to be a big one. I have also another means of getting funds for basic living for the foreseeable future so the little extra bit of money I'm going to get is mostly free to be used for luxury stuff.

Incidentally. This is something that happened a couple days ago:


It's my "better" headphones, Audio-Technica ATH ADG1X. They have this stupid winglet design and one of the finger nail thick plastic pieces broke.


Now I get a headache trying to hack these things on my head and I am frustrated and probably going to get something else instead.

As a backup, I have a pair of Sennheiser HD 518s. While those have served me well for years, the Audio Technicas clearly had better sound quality in every way I can think of. But the Sennheisers too have seen better days and I've had to use some creative hacks to keep them working at all as well, like holding ear cups on with blu tack!

To drive both of these headphones, I've been using Sound Blaster x G5 external sound card/DAC/amplifier combination thing. It has served me well and I am unsure if I would hear any difference if I replaced that... but I am open to suggestions. As you might have guessed, I'm using a computer as a sound source.

I play games and listen to many kinds of music. Björk, Michael Jackson. Ava Max, Sia, Avicii... I occasionally stumble on classical music too... And sometimes I just sound tracks of various classic and modern games.

Anyways, I think I now have a good excuse to tell my wife to justify getting better headphones. Something that I would really love. Something that are comfortable and a clear step up from what I'm using now.

My options that I'm considering right now:

Option 1) New set of Kingsound KS-H2 and KS transistor amplifier M-10 for 695 euros combined from a local clearance sale.
Option 2) A used set of Sennheiser HD800 for 530 euros from a local tech forum.
Option 3) A used set of Hifiman HE-500 for 400 euros from a local tech forum.
Extra) possibly another dac/amp?

I know this is subjective but if I am to get a better amp it would have to be de facto better than this:
The G5 is not just a 24-bit/192kHz, 120dB USB DAC. With a Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 headphone amplifier with a low output impedance of 2.2Ω, the G5 is capable of driving headphones of up to 600Ω impedance as well as sensitive in-ear monitors in the market today.

This pocket-sized external gaming sound card also supports high-resolution audio playback of up to 24-bit/192kHz, thanks to its Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, which has a Signal-to-Noise Ratio of 120dB.

I'm not looking to pay for placebo or brand recognition. I'm looking for a reasonably cost effective way to get a clearly better audio experience than what Im having right now. Even though I will have a budget of roughly 4000 euros to get electronics stuff this summer (and I have budget for more than that but I have to reserve something for car and furniture which I cant put into audio or entertainment), my audio needs are competing with possible 4k tv and computer upgrade needs...

So the absolute maximum I could reasonably spend is something like 2000 euros for headphones and amp, unless I just decide to not buy a tv and make do with current computer setup for a while. I have a good plasma full hd and the computer could probably suffice for a couple more years... but even if I was to spend all 4000 on headphones, I still could not afford something like stax 009 especially not with the amp it needs :frowning2:

So yea, I should probably just get one of those options above, and get used to that for a while, right?

questions: is the g5 good for actual high end hifi headphones? (obviously electrostatic ones will need a different amp but otherwise?)
if not, what amp has a better chip than TPA6120A2 and what is it? How is it better?
Is it better to have a separate dac and amp or all in one package?

edit: also, maybe the option that I really should get is not yet been shown to me. It could be something else entirely. Let me know!
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Jun 8, 2019 at 1:27 PM Post #3 of 12
What type of sound signature do you prefer? Neutral,warm,bright,heavy bass?
Do you need this system to drive speakers as well,or just headphones?
Do you prefer open or closed back?
Do you need the surround capability of the SoundBlaster?
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Jun 8, 2019 at 1:52 PM Post #4 of 12
This will be hard. I guess the headphones would need to be a bit of jack of all trades.

I definitely will not need it to drive speakers. Just headphones. I don't want to spread too much noise around.

Open back is probably better. They are noisy too of course but not as noisy as speakers obviously. Also open back lets me hear when people need me in the house for something. That is preferrable to them getting mad that I never hear them.

Mostly I think neutral would make sense but it has to hit kind of hard sometimes. Like say if I play a game and fire a weapon, it has to sound like it. When I listen to rock or even punk music the drums would need to hit hard. And I even occasionally am in the mood for bass boosted songs.

But then again there are times when I will like to listen to some more relaxed music, like I seem to always go back to Stonemilker by Björk. it would be best with large soundscape probably to help me relax. Like I want to feel like the music like that would take me to places if that makes sense.

I don't really need the surround capability of the soundblaster. Or I guess I am using a virtual surround of sorts with it but I´m not really appreciating it. That bit is definitely going to waste. Or maybe I will notice when its gone. Probably not.
Jun 8, 2019 at 2:11 PM Post #5 of 12
Bass + wide staging= Philips Fidelio X2. Its a fun sounding headphone,and you do not need a mega amp to drive it.
A more refined suggestion is the AKG K702. It doesnt have the bass of the X2,but is a better all around sound IMO.

Further up the price chain The Mr.Speakers AFO gets good reviews,though ive never heard them personally. Not sure on the staging.
The HD800s are good,but lack big bass,and are quite system dependant. Feed it poor quality files or a less than stellar source and it could sound brutal.

I have the HiFiMan Ananda here on loan and its a nice sounding headphone with a wide airy staging. Bass is good,but not big.

Higher up your price point the ZMF Auteur is very,very good,and will sound its best via a valve amp,though some owners like it thru a solid state amp. A pad swap gives you a big difference in sound,almost like two totally different headphones for the price of one.

The ZMF Verite is also spectacular with a valve amp.

At the peak of your budget the Meze Empyrean is a very nice sounding headphone with very nice 3D imaging.

Check my Youtube channel(link below),Ive reviewed several of these suggestions.
Jun 8, 2019 at 3:51 PM Post #6 of 12
You got me intrigued with the Philips Fidelio X2 suggestion. The more I read about it, the more I like...
I read this: https://www.techradar.com/reviews/a.../headphones/philips-fidelio-x2-1281316/review
and they say it only lacks "extras" which is something I dont care about at all.

But then I read this review.

They really like it... but they suggest at the same price you could get an even better pair of Grado SR325e headphones... and they have nothing against them... at least not if one is not going to want to spend more, in which case there is something even better to be had with Shure SRH1540s... and they have nothing against those...

But then, they mention Shure SRH1840 which is apparently even better still... but that requires a good amp apparently.

Yeah, I guess I'm going down a slippery slope and I needed to stop at some point or the other there, maybe :)

Looking at prices, surprised to see I jumped so many products up the chain but Shure SRH1840 is only 500 euros at the moment! which would still leave room for some kind of amp... hmm.

I especially like these bits in the review:
The Shures aren’t just efficient – they are also enormously fun to listen to. Their deft handling of any style of music in varying file sizes means you will be endlessly entertained by the 1840s.

To put the icing on an already extremely impressive cake – and despite being rather large open-backed headphones – the Shures leak the least sound of any similarly configured rival here.
Also they are saying they are comfortable as well. Am I on the right path here? Or did I lose touch of what I was supposed to get in the process of jumping from one review to the next? :)
They do say this though:
High-quality headphones like these deserve the best partnering equipment, so make sure you have a decent headphone amplifier.
I am assuming they don't have a creative labs external sound card in their mind when they say decent headphone amplifier. What would be a good companion for them? I am imagining something that doesn't cost a whole lot more than the headphones themselves so I would have something costing way less than I thought I would have to pay for a step up in audio entertainment :)

I might actually spend 500-1000 euros on an amp/dac combination, I am intrigued by tube amps. Not sure if there is something worthwhile and fitting for those headphones in that price category.

I'll check your youtube now.

edit: then I also look at the specs. And the Shures have smaller drivers than either the Fidelio X2s and the Audio Technicas that I've already had for a while. And the review is like 7 years old. So that makes me unsure if it would be an upgrade at all. So confusing. How much does driver size matter? :)
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Jun 8, 2019 at 4:30 PM Post #7 of 12
They really like it... but they suggest at the same price you could get an even better pair of Grado SR325e headphones... and they have nothing against them... at least not if one is not going to want to spend more, in which case there is something even better to be had with Shure SRH1540s... and they have nothing against those...

I like Grados for rock music,and rock music alone. They have a very aggressive guitar presentation that pulls the guitar parts very close to your skull. Other than that I dont like their sound for many other genres.
They also sit on your ears,as opposed to over the ears,which,for me,is quite uncomfortable.

I have no experience with Shure SRH 1540,so I cant tell you one way or the other.

I am assuming they don't have a creative labs external sound card in their mind when they say decent headphone amplifier. What would be a good companion for them? I am imagining something that doesn't cost a whole lot more than the headphones themselves so I would have something costing way less than I thought I would have to pay for a step up in audio entertainment

When I first started in this hobby,another member who has mega $ setup told me he's rather listen to a $500.00 headphone on a $5000.00 amp than a 5000 headphone on a 500.00 amp. I blew that advice off as silly. It took me getting my Glenn OTL to realize he was absolutely correct. It makes my K701s(100.00 usd used) sound like TOTL headphones. Every other amp Ive tried they sounded quite average.
Jun 8, 2019 at 4:43 PM Post #8 of 12
I am intrigued by tube amps

Something to note,if you choose an OTL amp,for the most part,OTL tube amps work best with high impedance(250+ ohms)headphones. There are some exceptions.
So I'd choose a headphone first,and then get the amp that suits it best.
Jun 8, 2019 at 5:27 PM Post #9 of 12
Okay. If I had to choose the headphones first, given what information I've gathered from various reviews and forums, I would go for something that is slightly towards the mid to in the upper range of my budget and go for something that seems to get universally praise. Let's say I go for Sennheiser hd800s. Why? Well, searching for reviews and forum comments people are saying its "like the shure 1840 on steroids". I like that it has a bigger driver, which I assume is going to give me more oomph. Even if the hd800s isnt probably the bass heaviest, I think it has a lot of potential for the relaxing kind of music with large sound stage, which might just be the most important thing after all.

Also, even though I have only experience of entry level Sennheisers (the hd518) it was a relatively pleasant experience, and 800s would no doubt be a leap up from that and I assume also a hefty upgrade from the Audio Technicas.

I would probably first try them with just the sound blaster and later upgrade to tube amplifier. Later being this fall.

philosophy that I'd follow here is to get one thing that is most likely going to be good and that I don't have to return and upgrade again very soon but that I can make even better by upgrading other equipment.

I could buy cheaper headphones now, and then pair it with better amp and dac... and be left wondering if the more expensive headphones would have been better after all.. and buy them and then realize I need a better amp again :) So getting one good thing and another later might be cheaper in the end... ? :) Did I mention I'm a perfectionist? sigh... being one is expensive. I mean I could get a fine used car with the Sennheiser money!

The cheaper options are still the Shure 1840 and maybe even Beyerdynamic DT1990, but both of those make me wonder if I would notice the downgrade in driver size and be disappointed.

This would be so much easier if there was a hifi store nearby where I could listen to a variety of headphone options, but sadly the closest one is like 3 hour drive away.

edit: but there is something good in not having a proper store nearby: As I will have to order by post, I will have a two week no questions asked right to return the headphones should I not like them. So even if I order something expensive, I will have the option to return them and get my money back or change to other pair assuming I didn't actually break anything.

This almost makes me want to order several headphones of different brands and technologies and only keep the one I like best, but I don't actually want to abuse the system.

edit2: and then... I still have to wonder if HD800S is actually so much better than HD800 that it would make sense to pay 3 times as much. I keep juggling my options, and I will keep doing so for a week still, probably :)

edit3: and then a used hd800s set appears in a local forum! This is getting interesting :)

edit4: Anyone with hd800s, do you reckon they have enough bass to run this soundtrack with glory? At least the soundstage ought to be sufficient for stuff like that, I hope. I need to feel like I am in this big concert hall if I close my eyes. That's more important than the bass for me, most of the time. Though I suppose I might need different pair when I am in the mood for something even more bassy.

I could easily see myself getting both a used pair of Sennheisers and a new pair of those Philips Fidelios
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Jun 10, 2019 at 5:41 PM Post #12 of 12
I think I've found a reasonable option for a dac/amp combination:

edit: scratch that. People are recommending me to go for a Schiit stack instead, which is what Im looking into now.
If the Schiit stack is Modi Magni the Cavalli is a much better pairing. I have an original Liquid Carbon so don’t know about the sdac but the Carbon is very good with the 800’s.
Haven’t heard the Klipsch so don’t know anything about it but I like their speakers.

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