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In search of end-game*

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by Audioscope, Aug 1, 2018.
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  1. Audioscope
    I have been in this hobby for 11 years now. I am an engineer but also a published photographer and artist.

    Over the years, I have bought, kept, and sold a lot of gear. I learned that expensive multi-thousand dollar gear are sometimes not worth their price tag. In fact, in a lot of cases, those $2,000 headphones or IEMs are created by small "boutique" brands that just do not have the R&D know-how that the more established brands have to make really great gear. There are exceptions, but I find this more often true than not. Don't even trust reviews unless you share similar points of view consistently with the reviewers' other reviews from the past. I found that the biggest improvements in sound have typically been from going from one type of driver technology to another (dynamic drivers or BA to electrostats, typically, for example).

    But, more than that, I am finding that IEMs and a portable system makes the most sense for my use case. When I am at home, I can reach for my headphones, yes- but why should I when my speakers system is perfectly decent and allows music or videos to be enjoyed and shared with others? Headphones get hot, uncomfortable, and with today's inflated prices, is sometimes nonsensical when you compare a TOTL headphone system to a genuinely great speaker system. (Remember when the HD650 was considered a flagship product and costs ~$500?)

    With that said, I don't hate headphones typically and plan to keep a pair or two of the best. I just have no interest in incremental upgrades every year to chase the gains hyped in reviews, but I'd love to buy the best gear for the money today and perhaps revisit again some years later. Bottom line, I love great sound, but I refuse to fall prey to consumerism and marketing.

    Some ideas I am pondering for end-game (*within reason).

    1) Buy a Focal Clear to replace my T1 and LCD3F + Deckard. The bonus is that the Focal Clear can be powered by most portable sources so it's not limited to at-home use only. The tonality of the LCD3F is completely inaccurate and the soundstage is pretty small and detail retrieval is mediocre. To be honest, they sound like a good pair of headphones with a dynamic, punchy sound and excellent bass, but not much more than that perhaps. I am even using Audeze's own Deckard DAC and amp to drive them.

    2) Buy a Sony WM1Z and be actually be able to enjoy music on the go. Is there a better choice than this, and how much better is the WM1Z compared to a ZX300 to justify the price? Is a refresh to the WM1Z coming soon?

    3) Sell all my gear and buy an electrostat + TOTL amp and be done. I love my ESP/950. It's definitely worth a lot more than its retail price in my opinion. Something like a Blue Hawaii? (but again, this ties me to my desk)

    Or- some combination of the above. My current gear is in my profile.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  2. koven Contributor
    Open headphones like the Clear for portable/outdoor use does not seem that practical. And.. refuse to fall prey but considering the shiny gold WM1Z? Hmm.. :) WM1Z is perhaps 10% better than the WM1A at 300% the price. WM1A is perhaps 10% better than the ZX300 at 200% the price. Ultimately if you want bang for buck portable end game, Andromeda (clarity) or Vega (bass) IEM + phone and you're done. Just my 2 cents.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  3. Whitigir
    What sound do you prefer though ? And opened back Headphones is horrible for transportations, good if u do listen in the office

    Desktop and Stax is the best way to go. Because you won’t be confused so much with Stax, and it technically has the least compromises in comparison to dynamic setup. Portable gears will always has compromises in comparison to desktop
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  4. Rhamnetin
    Sell it all and go Stax!
    wuwhere and Audioscope like this.
  5. Whazzzup
    End game, lol. There is so much more to buy and spend.
  6. cantsleep Contributor
    Like koven said, andro or vega for on the go would be sufficient.

    And perhaps, keep stax setup at home, say like omega.
    Rhamnetin likes this.
  7. Audioscope
    Honestly, I like the effortless sound out of my ESP/950. It's detailed and warm like an ocean breeze on a summer's day.

    I also enjoy the sound out of my AKG K3003 a lot after I found the right tips for them. Almost neutral sounding with a wide soundstage, lots of detail, perfect tonality, and not fatiguing.
  8. Audioscope
    That gold brick is pretty impractical at its current price point (even used), but I am ok with waiting until the price drops more. Knowing myself, I can't stand a neutral or shrill sound and the black brick that is the WM1A gives me that impression compared to the gold brick.

    You got PM
  9. QueueCumber
    My three setups are currently my end game (Unfortunately, end game is a moving goal post every few years as quality of headphones increases).

    For open headphones:

    (1) Hifiman Susvara <— McIntosh MHA150 <—Hugo2 or MCT80 (albeit the MHA150 has a DAC as well, so both of these aren’t always in the chain) <— PC or iPhone

    (2) Stax SR-009S <— BHSE <— Auralic Vega <— PC

    For closed headphones:

    (1) Sennheiser HD820 <— Hugo2 <— iPhone (A fairly portable setup that I use mainly when my GF is asleep)

    For IEMs:

    Noble Kaiser 10 Encore CIEMs <— iPhone (Primarily used while traveling)

    I’m also into speaker systems and have had a lot more of those setups over the years. A great speaker always trumps a great headphone IMO if you have the space to dedicate a room for optimal sound quality.

    My speaker/HT setups include:


    803 D3s & HTM2 D3 fronts
    805 D3s surround
    JL Audio F112
    Marantz 8802a
    Anthem MCA 525
    Oppo UDP-205
    Sony VPL-VW385ES
    SME 20/2 TT w/ Lyra Titan cartridge
    Sutherland PhD phonostage

    Living Room Setup:

    Martin Logan Montis
    PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP
    Oppo UDP-105
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
    wuwhere likes this.
  10. ahmedie
    Recently offering below 2000$ and above 1000$ mid-fi offering are really good to ignore right now, for closed offering check out mr-speaker and zmf stuff, campfire cascade and iem, they are less technical than really expensive stuff but they are really capable (specially for consumer type and not production) and offer diversity as they are more forgiving for paring equipment and work well with poor recording, also more fun/immersive sounding.
  11. Redcarmoose
    I have the Sony Z1R which really is end-game for me. I researched it and read pages here about the sound. I went and tried it and the written descriptions were right, so I purchased it.

    Of course there still ends up being a get to know phase, and a honeymoon phase with all new headphones. I actually read a bunch about the Focal Clear and thought it would be a nice companion headphone to the Z1R.

    But then I saw a used Focal Clear about two months old for sale in the classified adds here......amazingly the guy also owned the Z1R headphones. I PMed the guy and asked why he was selling his headphones. He said he owned the Z1R loved it purchased the Clears as a companion set, but failed to ever get into the signature and never used them. He simply said he is more about the Z1R sound.

    So it’s interesting that you really need to just try headphones. As a main second set of new headphones I found an open-box deal of $360 for the Sony Z7 2014-2015 Flagship. It ended up being the perfect mate for the Z1R. They are actually fairly close toned headphones.

    The Z1R is fairly enjoyable being used balanced with both the Sony 1Z and the 1A. Funny though the Z7 is maybe better from the 1Z where the Z1R is better from the cheaper 1A. Still both headphones go to a spectacular different level from the Sony TA-ZH1ES amp/DAC using the 4.4mm TRRRS balanced MUC-B20SB1. Though the cable actuallly adds some flexibility as you can also plug the Z7 or Z1R into either the 1Z or 1A DAP on the way to go traveling.

    The differences between the ZX300, 1A and 1Z. The ZX300 is warmer than the 1A. I have spent time with it but don’t own it. I own both the 1A and 1Z. The 1A is an insane deal. I figure they took the R and D costs and simply shelved them over to the 1Z?

    If I had to I could live with the 1A only. It’s that good. Though keep in mind it’s more mid centric than the 1Z and colder than the ZX300. Still don’t let any particle of the word colder keep you away. The “cold” word is only used here in contrast to the dynamic warmth of both the 1Z and ZX300.

    The thing is the 1Z is more bass heavy and more V tilted. Not only that the sound is more forward and intense. In that 10% realm there is a lot going on and if you focus on that 10% area it becomes big. The V shape makes the 1Z more dynamic and musical at times. Though it also has a treble tilt up slighly. So it’s both warmer than the 1A has more bass and has slightly more treble extension. The bass is actually a little slow in comparison to the faster 1A. In the end the 1Z just simply ends up more clear sounding!

    The above character traits of the two DAPs only matter when your using them to try and get synergy with headphones or IEMs. So it’s really all about the over all sound your after and synergy with headphones.

    I say all this but at times the synergy can change from day to day. I don’t know why that is, but audio is hard to pin down at times.

    The best advice is keep what ever you buy for a long time. If you love your equipment and it sounds the way you like it to sound then you have won. But the hardest thing is finding your sound. Everything sounds different and every manufacturer says they are the best. What are they supposed to say?

    The great thing about Sony is how everything goes together. You have a portable system that is also your file player at home. There are 400GB cards, but I only use 250GB as the 1Z already has 250GB so that gives me 1/2 TB on one player. Then the 1A has other songs so I always seem to have room for music. You can connect the 1Z or 1A with a cradle to the TA amp. Another way is to use a USB dongle which lets you hold your players like a phone in your hand while using the home amp. The amp has almost every headphone connection there is.........4.4mm balanced ....4 pin balanced ..... 3.5mmX3.5mm balanced, 1/4” single ended and 3.5mm single ended. None of the DAPs or amp ever get hot, the amp only just gets slighly warm to the touch. There is zero lag with the DAP interfaces and everything works as planned.

    You also have both line out or volume controlled out for amps. You have line out DAC to go to another amp. You also have DSD remastering and DSEE HX upscaling.

    The Sony DAPs have the longest battery life in the industry now. They list 33 hours though I get less. You can leave them on in a drawer and they can have a full battery days later.

    So you just end up with a lot of flexibility. And even though the DAPs are super powerful they don’t drive full size headphones quite like the TA amp. That said the system could be purchased in phases like I did.

    You can start with a full size set of headphones and simply get the 1A or 1Z and use that for awhile then later get the TA home amp, and use your DAPs as file storage.


    None of the above even matters unless you can relate with the Sony house sound, or fold in a different brand of headphones to alter the sound. I’m pretty much a 100% bass head and Sony now fulfills that. I listen to Classic Rock, EDM and Metal. A Classical Music fan or Opera Fan may be better off with Stax. Stax just was too flat for my taste. But you need to find your sound in the end or forever be purchasing.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
  12. m17xr2b
    Ask ten audiophiles and you'll get ten different answers. For me it HD650M/DNA Stellaris/Metrum Pavane
  13. Rhamnetin
    How do you feel about Aurelic Vega vs Hugo 2?
    QueueCumber likes this.
  14. Roscoeiii
    End game? And one that will give you an experience that a 2-channel speaker experience can't match? I'm gonna recomend the Shure KSE1200/1500.

    Sealed electrostats, my friend. An incredible level of detail, made all the more remarkable by the isolation that they provide. At home, on the go, wherever. They shut out the outside world and serve up that great electrostat sound. If you get a good seal, you also get better bass than you'd ever expect from an electrostat. Immersive and revelatory.

    And Music Direct, with their excellent 60 day return policy, sells them, so you can try them out for yourself.
  15. FastAndClean
    there is no end game
    llamaluv likes this.
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