Seeking Guidance for First High-End Setup
Jun 21, 2010 at 11:52 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 13


New Head-Fier
Jun 18, 2009
Hello everyone,
First, I must say these forums have been a source of information overload and the cause of me staying up till the wee hours of the morning sifting through posts. It's been very enlightening!  Now, for my question which will hopefully not touch off a religious war...
I’m new to headphone gear and, having a decent full-sized setup at home, I find myself in need of something good for all day listening at the office since there is a no desktop speaker policy.  The only thing I know when it comes to head-fi gear is the music I listen to so I’ve reached a bit of an impasse – a pair of Sennheiser HD800 or Grado PS1000 headphones.  Please, everyone put down the pitchforks and torches.  I’m sure we can all get along! :wink:
I’ve heard the PS1000 has better low volume level performance which I think would be important for listening 8 hours/day however, the HD800 has a better soundstage.
Was thinking about powering them with either a Burson Audio HA-160 or a Woo Audio 3?  I’m a bit of a specification junkie and the only other Woo Audio option would be a WA5 LE.  At US$2500 I am not sure if I’m willing to spend that for one component of my first system.  Also, I’m a child of the transistor age and have never really heard tube driven hi-fi equipment and am not sure if I could fully appreciate it – but they do look stunning.
As for the audio source, it will most likely be an iPod playing Apple Lossless files connected to a Wadia 170i Transport to either a PS Audio Digital Link III Audio DAC or Lavry DA10.
Checking stats on my iTunes library, my top artists are: R.E.M., Guster, Ben Harper, Rocco DeLuca, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Coldplay, Soul Coughing, Aerosmith, U2, The Wallflowers, Counting Crows, Weezer and The Black Keys...  Pop with rock tendencies, I guess.
Help!  And please, if my ideas for components are totally misguided feel free to let me know what pieces you would change out and why.
Thanks very much for your assistance!
Jun 24, 2010 at 1:49 PM Post #3 of 13
There are a lot of different routes you could go, but have you actually heard any of this gear?? Or just read about it online? Once I found myself in a similar situation to you, and I just wanted to get in the game, get one great setup, and get out forever. That's not what happens though ... you will never stick wtih the first gear you buy. You really gotta hear it first to know if you like it or not. My advice would be skip the super high end stuff for now and buy some mid-fi components. You can buy and sell here in teh for sale forums and only lose the cost of shipping. Most likely you will be massively dissapointed if you try to put together a system without hearing any component. That's why I plan to spend this summer auditioning as many high end headphones as I can, before I buy any truly high end equipment. Of course it's almost impossible to audition the more esoteric brands of amplifier or DAC, but at least try out a lot of headphones and get a feel for what you like. Like I said, its practically free if you buy used...
Jun 24, 2010 at 2:00 PM Post #4 of 13
hhmm... some of your listening material isn't the best recorded and mixed either, great music but for example Coldplay and Weezer are a bit compressed. I don't know about your speaker setup but with headphones and how 'intimate' they sound, it could be a real problem, I also suggest caution and maybe some mid-fi or used gear before going up the chain. 
Jun 24, 2010 at 9:26 PM Post #5 of 13
Thanks everyone for the input and you have made several good points... No, I have not looked at the LCD-2 until you mentioned it and will add it to the list.  I was doing a little math and $5-6k is a lot to spend without hearing anything in person.  Since there are no CanJams nearby I will try tracking down a dealer that has something to audition.  Any recommendations as to good mid-fi gear then?
Jun 24, 2010 at 11:47 PM Post #6 of 13

Thanks everyone for the input and you have made several good points... No, I have not looked at the LCD-2 until you mentioned it and will add it to the list.  I was doing a little math and $5-6k is a lot to spend without hearing anything in person.  Since there are no CanJams nearby I will try tracking down a dealer that has something to audition.  Any recommendations as to good mid-fi gear then?


First, I would recommend not going with high-end gear if you're just starting out and haven't listened to much of it. You really, really need to get to a meet (or throw one yourself, if you have a meeting room available at an apartment complex or school) to hear what's out there.

The risk is that you can get a few thousand into a system that you might enjoy until you attend a meet and then discover what you really want. If that happens, you'll have to sell a lot of your gear and possibly take a big loss.

If you want a modest entry, one of the best performers out there is the Sennheiser HD-600. Just about everyone loves this headphone and it's been used as a reference in many studios and professionally. Don't let the relatively low price fool you - it is one of the best out there. I only sold mine to pay for the HD-800, which I prefer.

Pair a HD-600 with one of the quality solid state amps. Something like a Gilmore Lite, Dynalo, M^3, CK2III, or EC/SS. You should be able to find one for sale used if you look around. Even then, buying one of them new isn't that expensive and all of them will sell pretty easily in the For Sale Forum when the time comes. So will the HD-600.

One of the nice things about a system like this is that you'll be able to get lots of quality comparisons. Most who own the high-end headphones own a HD-600 or had one in the past. If you want to know what a HD-600 sounds like compared to a HD-800, PS-1000, O2, K-1000, LCD-2, etc., you can easily get a variety of recommendations. Or maybe you'll just end up happy with the HD-600 - it'd be my budget choice if I had to cut back.

As for an amp... be sure to spend some time looking around. $2,500 will get you a lot of different ones. You could get a custom Beta22 or a Zana Deux, if you wanted. Or maybe something else. But don't spend the money until you've heard some of them and know what you want.

Finally, I don't think the PS-1000 is anything special. I've listened to it a few times and it has never come anywhere near pushing my "buy" button. I think the RS-1 is a better headphone. The HD-800, on the other hand, pushed all of my buttons. I had to have one and over a year later, I listen to it 95% of the time. I'm well out of the "new toy" phase and still love the thing. YMMV, of course.
Jun 25, 2010 at 7:36 AM Post #7 of 13

Thanks everyone for the input and you have made several good points... No, I have not looked at the LCD-2 until you mentioned it and will add it to the list.  I was doing a little math and $5-6k is a lot to spend without hearing anything in person.  Since there are no CanJams nearby I will try tracking down a dealer that has something to audition.  Any recommendations as to good mid-fi gear then?

I'll give you a list of the most popular mid-fi headphones. Most of us have owned one or more of these and there is a huge amount of information on Head-Fi about them.
Sennheiser HD600, HD650
AKG K701, K702 (same except for color change and detachable cable)
Beyerdynamic DT-770. DT-880, DT-990
Grado RS-1, HF-2
Denon D2000, D5000
Audio-Technica AD2000, W5000
Sony MDR-SA5000
You can use the search function to find lots more information.
Jun 25, 2010 at 8:25 AM Post #8 of 13
Posts above are great. I think W1000X is more popular than W5000 these days, but the W5000 does have a longer track record. The HiFiMan Orthos manage to sneak into upper mid-fi prices, US$600-700. The HD650, DT880 and K701 have been the golden trio in the last few years, but I'm glad Senn has kept the HD600 around. 
As for amps, the Woo3 is an OTL tube, geared more towards high impedence headphones, always choose an amp based on the headphones. The Burson is fine amp but I am convinced that it is slightly warm. 
Jun 25, 2010 at 11:17 AM Post #9 of 13
I'd be curious to know what your "decent full-sized set-up" comprises. In my case, I got to cans late, being a big speaker guy, and was pretty thrilled with the headphone output on my mid-fi NAD integrated amp. I had and have lots of room to move up, but this was a perfectly reasonable "mid-fi" path to explore different headphones.
I'm tentative with my input, being a noob to these forums, but I do think for someone in an exploratory phase, adequate amplification is way less complicated for most cans than reading here might lead one to believe. Of course if you're well into some optimization phase, or quest-for-optimization-for-my-ears-today, even, things are as complicated as you wanna be! I haven't been to a meet, but I've heard at least some variety of high-end equipment, and am convinced headphones-first exploration makes sense. I think in this regard, as a mid-fi purchase, the NAD integrated was fortuitous for me. I wasn't thinking headphones at all when I bought the amp.
At the moment I'm using a DAC1PRE, which gets very little respect around here as a headphone amp, but again this purchase was made with only very secondary thoughts for it as a headphone amp. And it turns out to drive my HD560ii and my RS1 cans and my Ety-4s IEMs quite adequately to hear the differences. Finances keep me lusting after other things I read about here, but my whole point is, if going through the mid-fi exploration route, I think "cans-first" thinking has served me very well. You might have amplification that's adequate to get started.
Jun 25, 2010 at 4:46 PM Post #10 of 13
My setup at home is comprised of B&W 703s for main channels, HTM7 center and 705s for the rear and ASW 700 sub, powered by Rotel 15-series processor and amplifier.  Just couldn't justify the cost of the 802Ds... Well, I could but behaved myself. :) 
Jun 25, 2010 at 4:54 PM Post #11 of 13
Yup, nice stuff... is there a phone out on the Rotel? Really that's where I was going -- and I don't know the Rotel-15 at all. I'm coming from that place (if you read around the forums a lot) where people point out that inexpensive integrateds from NAD or Marantz of certain vintages have surprisingly good headphone out.  I'm not suggesting that there won't be huge thrills down the line with amplification upgrades, but if you have something adequate, the huger differences are going to be headphone choice, and the more efficient dollar spent on higher-end cans for the most part.  Maybe there's some bias in having my usual phones land in the "easy to drive" category, but I think with few exceptions "adequate" amplification is not too hard to come by relatively cheap for a full range of headphones. (I don't know about electrostats, and there are exceptions with finicky headphones I'm sure). As with all things high-end, you can optimize yourself into the poorhouse later!
Full-disclosure on my bias with the "easy to drive" headphones -- RS-1's are my main heaphones.  I haven't heard the HD-650 or HD-800, but I have heard the previous Senns, still have a HD560mkII (least favorite of the heaphones I've kept, but certainly very comfortable and adequate to fall asleep on my back with! And they're retro-chic). So this may influence where I think the marginal dollar should go while you're deciding what you like.
Jun 29, 2010 at 3:09 AM Post #12 of 13
I would like to reinforce Uncle Erik's message.  Take your time.  Go to a meet and listen to this stuff.  In the long run, it will save you money.
One thing to add.  Make sure your source is adequate to the task.  So, listen to various sources when you do go to a meet.  Why?  Well, a $2500 amp + a pair of $1,000 cans generally buys you detail and transparency you are not used to on a speaker system.  Does this mean you have to drop another $10,000 on a source?  No, (if you use digital sources) as many people get great results from their computer hard drives, but pay attention to the hardware they are using.
Jul 6, 2010 at 2:31 PM Post #13 of 13 say you have a "decent" full-sized setup at home and that your office has a "no speaker" policy.  Okay...You are essentially looking at top-of-the-line equipment, and I question if your office will be keen to have you stick rather big boxes on your desk just to plug in an ipod. 
Relax and slowly stick your toes in the water...

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