Recommendatios for head-fi system for semi-audiophilish mostly classical music listener & spoonie: headphones, amp/dac, portable cd player for Mac
Nov 2, 2016 at 9:11 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 17

psfrankel

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Hello. I'm hopeful some of you can make some suggestions/recommendations. Thanks in advance if you can. I have some unusual issues.
 
Needs: Comfortable upper but not summit headphones to replace my now-ancient & not adored Senn. HD570s. Also small amp/dac, and a durable portable cd player for use alone &/or something also to use with my MacBook Air. Further explanation follows:
 
1. The main, possibly only thing I truly loved about my Senn. hd570s was the comfort/shape. They are still a bit long/large for my head i.e. even at the smallest setting they hang a tad too low but the shape & padding was really comfortable. Comfort is vital. I wear glasses, I am a petite woman with a small head, I often listen while resting my head against a pillow or in a Ekornes chair, or lying on a couch, and I have a chronic neuro-based pain condition so any discomfort just adds fuel to the constantly burning fire.
 
2. In general, I prefer warm lush heart chest-cavity Rachmaninoff-3rd-piano-concerto sort of sound over bright/sharp poke-y needle tinny harpsichord-y breathy sound. Home audio is vintage McIntosh tube & solid state, and ADS &/or Bozak speakers that could double as mid-century furniture, & a Sony CD player, if that helps. I am not an audiophile geek/nerd but I've always listened to music on good equipment so iPhones don't really do it for me unless it's just really in the background, like when I'm walking. I don't do big movies so I don't need to plug into a TV.
 
3. I do not listen at loud volume levels because I have extremely sensitive, acute hearing anyway as well as general sensitivities that go along with my chronic illness/pain condition. But I like hearing everything. Soundstage is important. My ideal would be to pretend i was on stage with the symphony, in a good hall in the perfect seat, or sitting in the middle of a string quartet.
 
4 I am 57, and I still have & love cd's. Yes, I am something of a Luddite. When I could still read them without aid of a magnifying glass, I really enjoyed the liner notes.
 
5. I prefer open & circumaural - sound travel isn't a problem. My husband is a musician.
 
6. I will need to purchase from amazon or other place that allows for easy returns.
 
7. I use music a lot to help with pain control, in a mindful, self-directed neuroplasticity, therapeutic way. Thus I do want to be able to hear & follow details. Yet, I also want to enjoy the whole. (Yeah, yeah, i know....)
 
8. I move around from bed, to couch, to chair in different rooms so I need something reasonably portable.
 
9. I listen mostly to instrumental, from symphony to chamber, and some jazz, some folk, some great female vocalists (kd lang, eva cassidy). Oh, and the Crooners! I grew up on the Crooners!
 
10. Let me repeat: I'm not an audiophile geek. I don't enjoy switching out gear for the sake of it. Specs & stats once (possibly) meant something to me but they don't anymore, so if you start coming at me with ohms & uhms & mods & muds, you will lose me.
 
11. Total budget = about $1000 assuming I will have the set-up for 10 years. I don't care about status or names. I don't even know names anymore. If I can get something for less, great! I don't want or *need* to spend that much, but if that's what it takes to find just exactly the right thing, so be it.
 
Again, thanks in advance.
(Also, if you are really helpful and not snooty, snarky, sexist, superior, mean or unkind in any way, I will knit you a nice warm hat for your trouble. I listen a lot while knitting.)
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 12:20 AM Post #2 of 17

buke9

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When you say lush Audeze is the first thing I think of. There is a pair of LCD 2's on this site for $700 . They are very good headphones just a little on the heavy side.
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 12:27 AM Post #3 of 17

Me x3

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Trade offs can be found everywhere when choosing a headphone.
Most of the times, those headphones that will let you dig deep into the recording, with expansive and airy presentation tend to be on the (at least) slightly bright side, so with all the goodness, they can make some of your recordings sound not that good.
Same happens when going portable, smaller headphones tend to provide smaller headstage/soundstage, so there's a trade off as well.
 
A headphone that I consider a very good all rounder is the Beyerdynamic T1 (first generation).
It's very comfortable with low clamping force, fluffy earpads (big but not huge like HD800), comfy headband.
And it works relatively well against the pillow.
 
The sound is relatively warm and detailed with an organic and lively feel to it.
Only concern is that while not a bright headphone in a traditional fashion, it appears as relatively sharp.
This is great with acoustic guitars because it provides life-like sense of energy to the sound, but with some metal winds for instance the overall sound can appear as overly sharp making you turn down the volume a bit. Some metal winds are quite sharp in real life as well if you are too close so it's hard to say if it's the headphone's fault or not.
 
Overall it's a very detailed, textured and lively headphone without sounding like a tool for music analysis. It's open, boasting very good instrument separation, warm midrange and very extended treble.
 
You can read a very thoughtful review of the Beyerdynamic Tesla T1 here:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/634201/battle-of-the-flagships-58-headphones-compared#user_T1
 
Beyerdynamic Tesla T1 (1st generation) sells for 780usd on Amazon
As you won't be using them to rock the house at unhealthy levels, you can use them with a FiiO X5II ($299) which as very good sounding DAP, that can also be used as an USB DAC/AMP for the Macbook.
 
That's a bit north of 1000, I know...
 
I've tried tons of headphones, but for now that's the one that (in my mind) suits your preferences the best.
Check them out!
 
HD800 is expensive, cold, bright and huge
HD700 is similarly bright and not that great tonally speaking.
HD600/HD650 not great soundstage and both clamp quite hard
HE400i not great soundstage
AKG K702/K712 both big, with a headband that's not padded
Beyerdynamic T90, could be too bright for your preferences
Beyerdynamic DT880, is brighter than the T1 and less inviting (more tool-like sound)
Fidelio X1/X2 bass is too big for your preferred music, and it's not as refined in terms of SQ
Audezes are heavy and dark sounding, warm and lush but not airy and not stellar in terms of soundstage...
 
 

 
Nov 3, 2016 at 12:49 AM Post #4 of 17

buke9

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I'm sorry I must disagree there is no headphone that you can lay over and sleep on and be comfortable. Iems yes but not headphones. I don't have the T1's but the last thing I would call them is lush.
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 1:17 AM Post #5 of 17

Me x3

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I'm sorry I must disagree there is no headphone that you can lay over and sleep on and be comfortable. Iems yes but not headphones. I don't have the T1's but the last thing I would call them is lush.


I normally use my T1 laying on the bed, facing the roof of course.
I have to types of pillows, one of these:

And a regular one:

No problems with any of them. (HD800 for instance is more tricky, same would apply to K702 with the headband rings)
I don't sleep with my headphones on, I don't see a point for that. I agree that small IEMs should perform best for sleeping or laying in multiple positions.
 
Maybe you've tried an early pair?
Late T1.1 is warmer and lusher than HD700
 
PS. That's my experience having owned both at the same time and the result of comparing them for months. Unit to unit variation at this point in time is beyond me, but early T1s were brighter and flatter in the bass, and some of them had messy driver matching.
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 1:49 AM Post #6 of 17

akg fanboy

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So you essentially desire these characteristics:
-warm sound that isn't bright but still has details
-open back with a large soundstage
-comfortable and semi portable
-under 1k and will last 10 years
 
I can see these are a huge investment that you do not want to make any compromises on.
One headphone that can match all your criteria is the sony ma900 or sony mdr f1. The sony ma900 is a bit bassy and the mdr f1 is a bit hard to find but I believe these are the headphones you are looking for.
I would have recommended the koss esp950 but the pitfall would be the bulky electrostatic energizer it requires which prevents you from moving around
 
I would not recommend an audeze headphone as they are very heavy with a small soundstage. The beyerdynamic t1 are bright sounding which I can assume you do not desire
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 2:18 AM Post #7 of 17

Me x3

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  So you essentially desire these characteristics:
-warm sound that isn't bright but still has details
-open back with a large soundstage
-comfortable and semi portable
-under 1k and will last 10 years
 
I can see these are a huge investment that you do not want to make any compromises on.
One headphone that can match all your criteria is the sony ma900 or sony mdr f1. The sony ma900 is a bit bassy and the mdr f1 is a bit hard to find but I believe these are the headphones you are looking for.
I would have recommended the koss esp950 but the pitfall would be the bulky electrostatic energizer it requires which prevents you from moving around
 
I would not recommend an audeze headphone as they are very heavy with a small soundstage. The beyerdynamic t1 are bright sounding which I can assume you do not desire

 
MA900 tick good part of the boxes, the main trade offs are detail and clarity, not the one I would recommend as a headphone "to hear everything" (especially at low volume).
The build quality is on the flimsy side, but it's significantly cheaper. That's granted.
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 2:29 AM Post #8 of 17

akg fanboy

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MA900 tick good part of the boxes, the main trade offs are detail and clarity, not the one I would recommend as a headphone "to hear everything" (especially at low volume).
The build quality is on the flimsy side, but it's significantly cheaper. That's granted.

I never felt that the ma900 was missing details. It isn't extremely revealing and doesn't put details in your face, but it is more or less like an hd600 in terms of details, just more comfortable and with a much larger soundstage
 
The other closest options that come to mind is akg k240 but this is really a budget option. 
The grado gs1000e can be another possibility but I do not know how the comfort of their flagships are
The last and least likely is the hifiman edition x which can only be found under 1k when searching second hand
 
Nov 3, 2016 at 5:38 AM Post #9 of 17

james444

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  Comfort is vital. I wear glasses, I am a petite woman with a small head, I often listen while resting my head against a pillow or in a Ekornes chair, or lying on a couch, and I have a chronic neuro-based pain condition so any discomfort just adds fuel to the constantly burning fire.
 
I move around from bed, to couch, to chair in different rooms so I need something reasonably portable.

 
Have you considered switching to In-ear Monitors? Reason I'm asking, I know people in similar circumstances who ended up preferring IEMs over full-sized headphones.
 
Nov 4, 2016 at 7:56 PM Post #11 of 17

psfrankel

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Thank you so much for the detailed reply. I will check them out. I don't need to sleep with them, just be able to lie back in a resting position so my head is supported.
I really appreciate the time you took.
 
Nov 4, 2016 at 8:04 PM Post #12 of 17

psfrankel

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Thanks. I don't need to sleep on them, just lay back with my head somewhat upright but supported. The idea is actually not to fall asleep but engage my neural net/brain/mind so fully in music that i de-amplify pain signals.
 
Nov 4, 2016 at 8:05 PM Post #13 of 17

buke9

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Thank you so much for the detailed reply. I will check them out. I don't need to sleep with them, just be able to lie back in a resting position so my head is supported.
I really appreciate the time you took.
If the pillow is not too soft you can use headphones but if it is soft it will push the headphones off your ears . I would go with iems then.
 

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