Looking for new gear recommendations - getting a little more serious
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clegger

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I've never really considered spending much more that $100 on headphones until joining Head-Fi.  I started out with Grado SR 60s about 10 years ago when I listened to more rock.  Over the last few years I've gotten into a wider variety of genres.  I'd been using aweful earbuds at work for a long time since the Grados leaked way too much sound.  I finally shelled out a few bucks and got ATH M50s just to leave at work and I think they were well worth the money.  I just ordered a pair of NuForce HP-800s since they seemed like a good deal at $50 and I wanted to try something out that offered a bit more bass.
 
Now I'm thinking that I'm willing to spend about $500 and get some more serious equipment.  Maybe some good cans and a decent DAC / AMP combo.  Portability is not really a concern for me.  I'm looking for something to use at home where it's pretty quiet and I can close the door of my office, kick back, and relax.  After doing some reading here it seems like the Sennheiser HD600 / HD650 are well-rounded and popular choices.  Also the HiFiMan HE-400 look like another option that are held in high regard in a similar price range.  When it comes to DACs and AMPs (or combo devices) I've really got zero experience.  I've been doing a bunch of reading here on Head-Fi of reviews and figured it was time to stop lurking and just ask for some opinions.
 
If you had $500 for a good all-rounder set of of headphones and DAC / AMP what would you get?  Do you ever find yourselves going back and listening to your old (cheaper) headphones after upgrading or do they just collect dust?
 
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AutioBSN

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Unfortunately you're speaking about "serious" equipment, but to be honest at $500 I'm not sure how serious all of that equipment is going to be. I suppose your definition of serious is what I'm misunderstanding. I'm guessing you mean spending over $100 on audio equipment, in which case spending five times that is serious. lol. That being said, you've got to spread that $500 over a decent number of pieces. Fiio has some fairly reputable pieces of equipment for a reasonable price, and the company I've had the most experience with.  You may want to start there in your amplification hunt. As for headphones, it really depends on the sound signature you prefer.  Also, you have to consider the impedance and efficiency of the headphone you want to buy before you throw down on a DAC/AMP.  If I were you, I'd make a decision on some headphones before I started on the rest of the equation. Some popular phones might be the AKG Q701's, SoundMagic HP-200's, Philips Fidelio X1, HD-650's, Grado sr225i's...All similar price points, however might not leave you much room in the way of DAC/AMP's if you also need to purchase a DAP. If not, those might be the perfect price options for you. Just my two cents, but I'd see about making your headphone decision before moving on.  Good luck on your search!
 
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clegger

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  Unfortunately you're speaking about "serious" equipment, but to be honest at $500 I'm not sure how serious all of that equipment is going to be. I suppose your definition of serious is what I'm misunderstanding. I'm guessing you mean spending over $100 on audio equipment, in which case spending five times that is serious. lol. That being said, you've got to spread that $500 over a decent number of pieces. Fiio has some fairly reputable pieces of equipment for a reasonable price, and the company I've had the most experience with.  You may want to start there in your amplification hunt. As for headphones, it really depends on the sound signature you prefer.  Also, you have to consider the impedance and efficiency of the headphone you want to buy before you throw down on a DAC/AMP.  If I were you, I'd make a decision on some headphones before I started on the rest of the equation. Some popular phones might be the AKG Q701's, SoundMagic HP-200's, Philips Fidelio X1, HD-650's, Grado sr225i's...All similar price points, however might not leave you much room in the way of DAC/AMP's if you also need to purchase a DAP. If not, those might be the perfect price options for you. Just my two cents, but I'd see about making your headphone decision before moving on.  Good luck on your search!
 
Serious is a relative term.  As much as I might want to spend more I think I'll keep it at a price I can afford - around $500 for now.
 
I don't plan on purchasing a dedicated DAP since I'm going to go the PC / laptop route (since I have more than enough of them kicking around).
 
Most of the phones you listed were right about the $200 mark (just checked amazon.com) - except the HD-650s.  Most, again with the significant exception of the HD-650, have a quite low impedance.  Am I right in concluding that these would be less in need of additional amplification as a result?  Might I conceivably get away with just a USB DAC like the Hifimediy Sabre driving these low impedance phones?
 
I've been looking primarily at integrated DAC / Amp solutions if I go the route of getting something that requires amplification.  The FiiO series look good, but would an E17 (portable DAC / Amp combo) really be enough for driving something like the HD-650 alone or should it really be paired with the E09K?  If that's the case the price would be around $300 and I'd consider something like the Yulong U100 which I could get for about $150.
 
So if I spend about $150 on the Yulong U100 DAC / Amp and $350 on phones that seems to put me right into the area of the Sennheiser HD-600 ($390) or HiFiMan HE-400 ($300).
 
I'm also willing to consider going the route of buying some gear used if it is much more cost-efficient.
 
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AutioBSN

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The only real limiting factor to keep your budget was a DAP, which you won't be needing. I'm not as concerned about you keeping under $500 now.  I still feel as though you should think about what you'll be listening to mostly and use that to determine the headphones you'll likely enjoy more. If you'd prefer something very balanced, there are plenty of options for that as well. Much of the debate on headphones seems to center around how much bass you want. Some questions to think about:

What kind of music do you listen to mostly? (you mentioned rock, but now more diverse)
What frequencies do you find you prefer in music? (sort of a variant of the above)

With those answers you can come up with a more narrow list of headphones.  

The DAC you mentioned (u100) is good for the price, I think you'll be happy with it. No gain control, but I've heard you don't really need it. It appears it would be able to power whatever you throw at it. You might also want to consider the 02 and ODAC combo.  I've heard good things about those as well. A Fiio wouldn't be a bad option if you want to splurge on the headphones a bit as well, they have great options at damn near unbeatable prices (some)

I will say that the dedicated DAC may not be the best option because you may not have the power you need. Some headphones might seem bottlenecked, however I know the very efficient phones sound great just from the source. Just to leave your options open for future equipment (when you feel the itch lol), I'd get some form of amplification. 
 
 
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clegger

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Pulled the trigger and came in under-budget at about $450 CAD.  Got the HE-400 since they seem like a steal at $299 USD with free velour pads and free shipping to Canada.  Also ordered the Topping VX1 DAC / Amp for $128.50 CAD also with free shipping.  This looked particularly appealing because it can also be used as an amp for speakers.  Hopefully don't get soaked for duty / taxes on the phones since they are coming from the US.
 
I'm sure these won't be my last purchases, but hopefully they can entertain me for a while until I've got more of a budget.
 
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adydula

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A set of used AKG Q701's about $150, new for $199
A O2 amp with integrated ODAC from JDS Labs...for $279
 
$500 and you will have a very nice setup....transparent and neutral....
 
Enjoy
 
Alex
 
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AutioBSN

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Cool man let me know how you end up liking the he400. I've honestly considered trying them just to hear the signature.
 
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cel4145

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The HE-400s are a very nice set of headphones. Enjoy!
 
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