Recommendations for upgrades from ATH-M50/microStreamer pairing
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RaNT132

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I’m looking to upgrade both my headphones and DAC/amp pairing, and I’m looking for feedback on if what equipment I’m looking at makes sense with my audio goals, and suggestions on other equipment I might consider.
 
For the past three years I’ve been using a pair of ATH-M50s and later introduced into my setup the HRT HeadStreamer which I upgraded to the HRT microStreamer. I like, what I understand to be, a transparent/flat/crisp sound and smooth tight bass. My goal then is to find an amp/headphone pairing that excels at those qualities and increases the soundstage beyond what the ATH-M50s offer. Most of my listening is in a fairly quite office setting where I play music off of my laptop, and because of this environment I’m pretty set on a closed back around the ear pair of headphones and having a DAC in the mix (I’m not too interested in IEMs currently). My music library has a little of everything but I favor artists like: Tycho, M83, James Blake, Boards of Canada, Justice, etc.
 
For headphones (in order top to bottom of current consideration of purchase):
 Fostex TH600 
 MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
 NAD VISO HP50
 
For Amp/DAC (in order top to bottom of current consideration of purchase):
 O2+ODAC Limited Edition (JDS Labs)
 ALO The International  
 WooAudio WA7 Fireflies
 
I’m also looking for audio stores in the Phoenix metro area that would have some of these to try. My budget is around +$1k'ish. Let me know what you guys think, what makes sense, what's good value, etc. Thanks again for your input and support.
 
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Me x3

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Hi,
 
Those are very good headphones, you could also read about:
-ZMF x Vibro Labs
-Focal Spirit Professional and Spirit Classic
-Shure SRH-1540
 
Best Luck!
 
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PurpleAngel

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  I’m looking to upgrade both my headphones and DAC/amp pairing, and I’m looking for feedback on if what equipment I’m looking at makes sense with my audio goals, and suggestions on other equipment I might consider.
For the past three years I’ve been using a pair of ATH-M50s and later introduced into my setup the HRT HeadStreamer which I upgraded to the HRT microStreamer. I like, what I understand to be, a transparent/flat/crisp sound and smooth tight bass.
For headphones (in order top to bottom of current consideration of purchase):
 Fostex TH-600 
 MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
 NAD VISO HP50
For Amp/DAC (in order top to bottom of current consideration of purchase):
 
I'm think to just keep using the MicroStreamer for now and just get new headphones.
 
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RaNT132

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Me x3 - I'll sit down this week and read/watch reviews on those headphones. I haven't heard of any of them, so thanks for pointing them out. I'll let you know what I think.
 
PurpleAngel - Your comment hits upon some feelings I've had, my microStreamer is fairly new so I'm not in a big of hurry to replace it. My concern is about its ability to power higher end headphones. Though, I've noticed the majority headphones I've looked at have resonable impedance and are not known for being hard to drive. With this option what are people's thoughts on audio quality if I do (A) $600/$400 Headphone/Amp, vs. (B) $1000 headphones and microStreamer?
 
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PurpleAngel

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  Me x3 - I'll sit down this week and read/watch reviews on those headphones. I haven't heard of any of them, so thanks for pointing them out. I'll let you know what I think.
 
PurpleAngel - Your comment hits upon some feelings I've had, my microStreamer is fairly new so I'm not in a big of hurry to replace it. My concern is about its ability to power higher end headphones. Though, I've noticed the majority headphones I've looked at have reasonable impedance and are not known for being hard to drive. With this option what are people's thoughts on audio quality if I do (A) $600/$400 Headphone/Amp, vs. (B) $1000 headphones and microStreamer?
 
A lot of Audio Technica's high end headphones are in the 35-Ohm to 42-Ohm range, should be easy for the HRT MicroStreamer to drive.
I really do not know a lot about the headphones you listed, so it's hard for me to say how well they would do with the Microstreamer.
I do not know what chips are used inside the MicroStreamer, so not sure what would be a noticeable improvement over the MicroStreamer.
 
I like using my Audio-GD NFB-15.32 external DAC/amp, $255+shipping.
http://audio-gd.com/Pro/Headphoneamp/NFB1532/NFB15.32EN.htm
 
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RaNT132

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-ZMF x Vibro Labs

From what I’m reading this is also a TH50 mod’ed headphone, and not as quality as the Alpha Dog mod.

 

-Focal Spirit Professional and Spirit Classic
I like what reviews are saying about them being natural, but there are some cons on the clamping force, and I have trouble enough with how the ATH-M50s clamps on my head.

 

-Shure SRH-1540
I’m hearing really good things about the comfort and sound quality of these. I’m interested in the warmer bass they offer, I’ll have to find a pair to test first. I sometimes felt like the ATH-M50s were too light on the bass. I think the Shure SRH1540 will move up to my top three considerations! Thanks for pointing them out to me. 

 
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RaNT132

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I went in search of some physical headphones to test out. I found “Arizona Hi-Fi” (https://www.facebook.com/ArizonaHiFi) and met Bill Goodman, who was kind enough to let me hang out at the store a little past closing time. They sell Audeze’s and Grado’s. I listened to both the LCD-3 and XC’s for about 45min each. I learned that the HRT microStreamer does not drive the LCD-3’s very well (not sure if running from a battery powered laptop played a factor), but the mini DAC/amp did a fine job with the XC’s. I used the store’s Grommes PHI-26 to properly test the LCD-3. Daft Punk and Massive Attack were the tracks of choice for the day.
 
Both headphones have more detail than my ATH-M50’s (I would hope, given the price). The ear cups were super crazy comfortable, but I found the headband on the XC’s to be distractingly uncomfortable the whole time. The Audeze’s both were quite heavier than what I’m use to with the ATH-M50.
 
Both headphones are out of my current budget, so they will have to wait. My plan for the TH-600, Alpha Dogs, and Sure 1540 is to buy all three. Try them out over the long weekend, and return the ones I am not going to keep. I am still debating ordering the O2+ODAC if I’m testing out all this gear.
 

 
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cel4145

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I am still debating ordering the O2+ODAC if I’m testing out all this gear.

Is the Microstreamer designed to provide line out power for powered speakers or an amp? If so, you could go with a better amp and use the Microstreamer as the DAC. That's what many people do with the Audioquest Dragonfly, so I was wondering it it was similar.

If so, get the Schiit Asgard 2. I does a great job driving most headphones :)
 
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RaNT132

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cel4145 you are right, the HRT microStreamer does offer a line out in additional to its headphone out. I added a Schiit Asgard 2 to my orders, it should come in about three days. Starting next week the Fostex TH-600, MrSpeakers Alpha Dog, and Shure SRH1540 will be showing up. I plan on using the long Independence Day weekend (and the 15-30 day return period windows) to give myself plenty of time with each pair of headphones.
 
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cel4145

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Awesome! That Asgard 2 will drive the heck out of those headphones :D
 
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The TH600 and SRH1540 have arrived and the Alpha Dogs and amp are due for delivery tomorrow. Early listening to the headphones have the TH-600 as my favorites, though the SRH1540 has had a good showing also--I am just not use to having as much bass strength as they offer. Both are way more comfortable than my ATH-M50's and offer more sound detail. 
 
Update: The Alpha dogs and Asgard 2 are here, all the gear is here in Phoenix! I will be testing out different setups this weekend. When I decide what I am keeping all the other gear will be returned. 
 

 
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RaNT132

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Here are my thoughts on the three headphones. Remember, these are all based on my preferences and biases. They are ordered in my choice of purchase, which in this case I will be keeping the Fostex TH600. At the end of the day it was the comfort and the crispy clean sound of the Fostex TH600 that won me over. I am a little bummed that they do not have detachable cords for customization, but not a huge deal. The other two headphones were great too, I would have been happy with any of them, it was the subtle preferences in real-time side-by-side testing that swayed me.
 
Fostex TH600
Pros: Detailed and clear everywhere, balanced bass, super light on the head
Cons: Non-detachable cords, no carrying case, poor isolation
 
MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
Pros: Details at all ranges, comfy despite heavy weight, detachable balanced 4-pin min XLR cables, great isolation
Cons: Soundstage sounded congested
 
Shure SRH-1540
Pros: Detailed and clear in highs and mids, detachable cords, light on the head with cushy ear pads, carrying case, descent isolation
Cons: Too much bass, headband became uncomfortable
 
I had been testing my ATH-M50’s in the mix at first but I quickly stopped when they felt uncomfortable and dull compared to the other three headphones. Does that mean I hate ATH-M50’s? No way! For the price I still think the ATH-M50’s are great value, and I plan on keeping mine on my gaming PC and for travel while the Fostex will live at my main listening station.
 
As for the Schiit Asgard 2 and the HRT microStreamer I could not tell a difference. I sat down and hooked up different sources (Smartphone, PC, laptop) and different file source (Amazon Music Prime to .wav files on storage), and I honest-to-goodness could not tell a material difference. The Asgard 2 is beautiful to look at and handle, at the same time it runs wicked hot. Is there a similar amp out there that’s not Type A and runs a bit cooler that I might give a spin? Any thoughts on Asgard 2 vs. JDS Objective2? Schiit Magni?
 
I am tracking the cost of buying, tax, shipping, return shipping, and restocking fees for Amazon and other company return policies for headphones. I will post the results in a few weeks once I see how much money is credited back to me.
 
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cel4145

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The O2 will definitely run a LOT cooler.
 
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RaNT132

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Headphone/Amp
Price*
Shipping
Return Shipping
Refund
Restock Fee
Asgard 2 Amp
$ 259.00
$ -
$ 8.93
$ 259.00
$ -
Shure SRH1540
$ 536.92
$ -
$ 7.24
$ 536.92
$ -
MrSpeakers
Alpha Dog
$ 599.99
$ 30.98
$ 13.51
$ 539.99
$ 60.00
Fostex TH600
$ 649.00
$ -
Purchased
Purchased
Purchased
Total
$ 2,045
$ 31
$ 30
$1,336
$ 60
      
Experience Price
$ 120.66
    
Purchased
$ 649.00
    
Grand Total
$ 769.66
 
*Tax included, and the only item that had taxes applied were the Shure SRH1540.
 
The moral of the story is to make sure you have Amazon Prime if you order then return a bunch of audio equipment. I am not sure when they do and do not enforce their restock policies. Everything I bought was from Amazon except for the Alpha Dog set which came directly through MrSpeakers. I was extremely careful unpacking the equipment and I took pictures to make sure I could replace everything into their packaging the way it came. I did break a few stamp seals when opening boxes, and I wore all the headphones for several hours, but it looks like Amazon was cool with it, as they usually are. I purchased most everything on July 1st, and my last refund from MrSpeakers came today July 14th.
 
 
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