The long and winding road... to endgame: MSB Premier, Riviera AIC10, HF Susvara.
Jan 25, 2022 at 7:13 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 195

tdx

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This has been indeed a long (and winding) road of owning, testing and comparing a number of high end items. I was going to add yet another post talking about what has happened since the last update, but then I figured it might be more useful to just rewrite this one, so that all the comparisons are consolidated in one main post. I'll repurpose some of the previous text but in an abbreviated form, since there is now much more gear to talk about. Also, I'll just now group gear by type, to make it easier for readers to find what they're interested in. For each group I'll talk about the gear I've tried before in the order that I had it, and which one I've decided to keep.

A. DACs:

Rockna Wavelight

My first TOTL DAC. I had many good DACs including a Naim Uniti Atom before this and I thought I was getting really good sonic results. But once I got the Wavelight all my music went up several notches and I finally got what I was missing. It has a very natural soundstage, pinpoint instrument precision and a refined but never boring dynamics, that just allows the listener to be immersed in the music. Construction is also stellar and it has a great preamp section. The one slight knock is that the input bitrate is capped at 384 PCM and 512 DSD so I couldn't experiment with it like I did with the other DACs on this list and HQplayer. But then again the internal upsampling filters are good enough that it kind of makes up for it.

Holo Spring 3/May
I know this has been written before, but whoever said that all DACs sound the same has not listened to the DACs like the Holo. I was immediately impressed by the natural texture that music acquires with these DACs. Everything sounds just... right. They're great for soundstage, timbre, and lower register impact. And the cherry on the top is pairing them with HQPlayer. Roon already sounds awesome on them, but when HQplayer is used to upsample music or convert to DSD, well let's just say interesting things happen. Combined with the beautiful case construction and the perfect USB implementation, both these DACs are special in more ways than one. As to which one is better, the May is definitely a step above the Spring, but the latter is an amazing DAC for its price point, and only loses out when compared directly with the May.

Esoteric N-05XD
Got this on the recommendation of a friend and I can say it didn't disappoint. I was looking for a DAC that can do it all and this one comes the closest to that list: DAC/Preamp/Roon streamer/HP output, it has so many features and they are so well executed that the sum is truly greater than its parts. This has to be one of the biggest sounding DACs I've heard, even though compared to other choices it loses out in tactility and note weight in order to achieve that grand soundstage. But paired with the right gear it can truly shine like few other DACs can.

MSB Premier
Which brings me to my current and all time favorite DAC, the Premier from MSB. I've always thought that most DACs are a game of balancing trade offs, and in a way they are. But this one is the exception to that rule. My version is the latest one, with the extra powerbase, Femto clock and all the input modules MSB has ever made for it. I can say without a doubt that after having owned multiple high end DACs, this is the first one that does it all: the best sound I've had out of my gear, at once mature and refined but also full of life and impact. A flawless construction, both in its physical aspect but also in the way it's thought out: the DAC is infinitely upgradable since pretty much every part of it can be swapped out for a better/more up to date module. Add to that what is probably the best and nicest customer service experiences I've had with any company, and you can see why I feel I've finally found my dream DAC. The only thing I'd love to try with it is MSB's new Digital Director, and of course their higher end DACs. One day....

B. Amps:

Ferrum Oor/Hypsos

This is a special amp, provided you use it with the Hypsos power supply which definitely adds a considerable amount of precision and body to its sound. It is one of the most neutral and effortless amps in its price range, and has this ability to make itself invisible in the sound chain while at the same time getting the most out of each component. The one sound quality that is always evident is a sense of refinement, especially in the upper registers, that allows music to really breathe and occupy the correct space in the soundstage. Without the Hyspos it's nice but not as good as other amps. With the Hypsos it really sings and makes a compelling case as a great amp that doesn't break the bank.

Bakoon 13R/Enleum 23R
These amps are really, really unique. They absolutely shine with hard to drive cans, but also give you all the control and power you could want for any other HP. They're built like a tank (and the bakoon is just plain beautiful) and while I was using them I always felt that I was getting a great rendition of my music, no matter the genre. The soundstage is superb, the resolution, timbre and layering are perfect. They basically make any can, DAC and piece of music shine.

Cayin HA-300
Once I got into tubes the Cayin was a great contender, since its combination of price, size and sound quality was very compelling. It really does a lot of things right, including what is probably the most tubey sound (in a good way) of all the amps I tried. It also looks great and has a lot of well thought out features. But compared to the big guns on this list, it can't really compare (not that it needs to).

Niimbus US5 Pro
Probably the best SS amp I tried so far. It can combine scary good neutrality with a musical, engaging sound and a rendition of music that always feel effortless. It packs a lot into its great looking frame, and is brimming with features. It's a very flexible amp. If I hadn't become partial to tubes by that stage of my journey, I might have even called it my endgame amp.

Pathos Inpol Ear
One of the most beautiful amps I've owned, its design is really close to perfect. And the sound is great too! While it might not have the wow factor of others on this list, its understated character could also be a plus for some. It makes most music shine in a way that doesn't call to itself, and always has power to spare. The only knock against it is that in its price range other amps have more personality and grab you in a more immediate way.

Woo WA33
The amp that made me fall in love with tubes. Don't get me wrong: the other SS amps I tried were wicked good, and if the WA33 was just a good tubey amp I would have probably stayed with those instead. But the WA33 has all the benefits of SS, plus all the things that tubes provide: more warmth (but not overdone), crystal clear but never fatiguing treble, lush mids, insane bass, and an amazing soundstage and dimensionality. The WA33 sounded brilliant with all the headphones I had and if it wasn't for me wanting to try other TOTL amps I could have easily stopped there. It's that good.

Viva Egoista 845
This is a tough one. I absolutely loved certain aspects of this amp. It is without a doubt the most beautiful amp I've ever had. It sounds, well, insane would be a good way to put it. Absolutely humongous sound, crazy bass, the sense of realness is out of this world. And yet. It's heavy, huge, gets extremely hot, the tubes are gigantic, and it's too complicated to operate. So I'm glad to have tried it, but it was almost too much of an amp for me. But a gem for sure.

Riviera AIC-10
And finally the one that, for me, does it all. The AIC10 is I think one of the most complete and compromise-free amps I've had the pleasure of having. I mean yeah the price is definitely a tough pill to swallow, but otherwise there is absolutely nothing that I could count as a fault with it. It's relatively small, doesn't get hot, marries the best qualities of tubes and SS, only has one small and not pricey tube to play with, works with HPs and speakers equally well, the list goes on and on. And the sound? After having tried all the above amps and more, the Riviera had what I found to be the best sound of all. It's big and authoritative but also intimate and refined when it needs to be. It has crazy amount of bass but never at the expense of other frequencies, and the velvety, sweet texture of its sound is intoxicating, but also somehow it manages to be super detailed and clear. So all in all an amp I feel lacks in nothing and brings everything in the best way possible.

C. Headphones:

Focal Utopia

I liked these but i didn't love them. i know they have their fan base, and I totally get it. They have a sound that when it first hits you can be very impressive. Full of attack, spark and bite but also a great sense of musicality and enjoyment. But at the same time I feel like they lack some of the soul and emotion that makes other choices in this list shine. But for an all arounder that will work great with many types of music and lots of different amps and DACs, it's a great choice.

Audeze LCD-5
It's a solid headphone, but has since been supplanted by other ones in my list. The comfort and looks are very good (even with the clamping force which is a tad too strong but manageable) and the sound is well rounded. It has presence, bite. resolution and a nicely shaped soundstage. It's also easy to drive, and it brings a lot of pure enjoyment, especially with harder hitting music like rock or EDM. One thing that didn't really do it for me though is that it works better with certain music genres than others. Music that calls for fast attack and slam will shine on this, but then music that needs a more laid back approach will still feel very strong so there's not as much modulation in the sound (to my ears at least).

Solitaire P
It's definitely one of the nicest built HPs I've tried, and while somewhat heavy it's not uncomfortable. As for sound, I would say that if I hadn't tried other TOTL HPs I would be more than satisfied; treble sounds great, mids have a lot of body, bass is strong and the soundstage is decently wide. In the end though, I felt that all frequencies, while great on their own, didn't sound as well balanced as they do on other HPs, especially in the lower registers which were somewhat too separated from the rest of the mix. An interesting listen but not my preferred sound signature.

DCA Expanse/Stealth
Funny I thought I'd like the Expanse more since I'm an open back kinda guy. Ended up thinking that while they are certainly nice headphones, they have absolutely nothing special going for them compared to others in their price range. However the Stealth, different story. They are somewhat controversial and i think i know why. If compared to other high end HPs, regardless of type, they do some things well and some things are just let's say different, especially when it comes to tonality and rendition of lower registries. However when compared to closed back HPs, there is nothing that comes close. So in the end I actually kept the Stealths as my secondary pair of HPs for when I need more isolation than my top pick.

Abyss 1266 TC
These were a pair of HPs I felt I had to try. And they certainly didn't disappoint. As everyone knows, the bass on these is simply the best there is, and unlike the Solitaires it is perfectly integrated in the mix and never overpowers it. Soundstage and layering was a tad better than the Susvara, the sheer impact and musicality were something else too. I honestly feel it takes everything about the Hifimans and turns it up a notch (or two), it's that good. Alas, there were two reasons I decided to part with it: first, while everything sounded so good and visceral, it made for a more fatiguing listening experience. I think I could have gotten used to it in time, but the second issue was comfort, and that's something that, no matter how much I tried, I couldn't get used to. I followed all the tips about how to wear them, adjust them etc but I could never really relax with them like I could with the Susvara. Maybe it's just my head size or shape, but in any case that was the dealbreaker for me. If you don't have that issue, and are ok with their price, I would not be able to choose between the Susvara and these, they are for me (and for many others I'm sure) the two best HPs out there.

Hifiman Susvara
What else can be said about these? Actually, there is never enough that can be said, since the Susvaras keep revealing new pleasures and qualities years after its release. This is the one headphone that for me does everything right: looks, comfort, durability, and of course sound quality across the whole spectrum. Other HPs might have specific strengths but this one balances all of them beautifully. Sure, the bass could be a smidge stronger, but with the right amp it can shine there too. It was also, among all HPs I've tried, the one that allowed me to appreciate the differences in my chain the most. Yes, it's not cheap and yes it needs very good amplification which is even more expensive. But it rewards you with the most complete sound experience an HP can provide. The only thing I ever heard that could surpass it was certain super high end estat chains but for many reasons I'm not willing to go that route. But all in all it's still the best for a reason.

D. Other current gear:

Spatial Audio X3

Once I decided to keep the Riviera AIC10 I knew that I had to pair it with speakers, since it is as good at driving them as it is at headphones. I needed something not too power hungry since the Riviera is not the most powerful speaker amp, and also something that would sound good in my admittedly not ideal and smallish room. I ended up with the Spatial Audio X3 open baffle speakers which are great: not hugely expensive, easy to drive with their powered subwoofer and, because of their design, they tend to sound awesome on a variety of weird rooms like mine. One day I'd love to get more space to let them breathe but even now I'm super happy with their performance.

PS Audio P12 Power Conditioner
I didn't really pay attention to my power until I started getting into higher end gear and started noticing that good power does indeed make a difference. I ended up getting the P12 and it really ticks a lot of boxes. It consolidates all my outlets, it allows me to regulate voltages etc, it can be controlled via remote and more importantly it cleans/regenerates power in a way that makes an audible and positive difference. Not hugely beneficial on lesser gear but, above a certain level, it ties everything together in a very compelling way.

Puritan Ultimate Power cables
Same as above, for a while power cords were not in my list of priorities, but once I started getting serious about the chain, it made sense to pair some nice PC with the rest of the gear I had. I also didn't want to spend a fortune on them though, and I found the Ultimates from Puritan to be the best in the still reasonable price bracket. They definitely helped with opening up the dynamics of the system and the fact they are crazy flexible helps too.

Wywires Diamond RCA
Lastly I wanted to get some nice RCA cables but felt this was one of the least important parts of the chain. As luck would have it I got these for a song and a dance, and they did bring a benefit in clarity and a more relaxed sound without losing any of the resolution and impact of my chain. So I'm happy with these even though I didn't get to try a lot of different brands before them.

Conclusion

Well, that's all folks! Hope all this info is as helpful to others as this forum has been to me. I think/hope I'm done with updates for a while, but of course feel free to reply here or pm me if you have any questions about all this. Ok, this has been fun and all, but now off to listen to some tunes!
 

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Jan 25, 2022 at 7:23 PM Post #3 of 195
Thanks for writing up your various impressions. Sounds like you're really enjoying music through the system you've put together, and that's the name of the game!
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 7:29 PM Post #4 of 195
You need to try out some tube amps to fill the gaps in. But nice journey.
Thanks for the kind words, coming from you it means a lot. I did strongly consider tubes but as I said I know myself and would have started tube rolling and my son's college fund would have greatly suffered.
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 7:31 PM Post #5 of 195
Thanks for writing up your various impressions. Sounds like you're really enjoying music through the system you've put together, and that's the name of the game!
Thanks I sure am!
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 8:14 PM Post #6 of 195
Jan 25, 2022 at 8:44 PM Post #8 of 195
@tdx You already had me but including a quote from Omar sealed it!

Seriously tho, as one who coincidently is running an almost exact copy of your chain and has auditioned many of the same gears, it was cool to see much of how I feel, and what drove me to making certain decisions etc. shared by another. I was totally riding right along as I read. I just added the Orr/Hypsos today so I am still getting to know it and will give it a fair bit of time before commenting.
 
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Jan 25, 2022 at 8:44 PM Post #9 of 195
You already had me but including a quote from Omar sealed it!

Seriously tho, as one who coincidently is running an almost exact copy of your chain it was cool to see much of how I feel, and what drove me to making certain decisions etc. shared by another. I was totally riding right along as I read. I just added the Orr/Hypsos today so I am still getting to know it and will give it a fair bit of time before commenting.
Love that Profile pic update Delta!
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 8:49 PM Post #10 of 195
@tdx thanks for taking the time to write this! nicely done and I like the conclusion.
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 9:05 PM Post #11 of 195
I have been talking about doing this to many on this forum for awhile now, but due to a couple of setbacks and delays I just only recently got my hands on all the gear I wanted to test and compare. So, now that I've had all this for some time, here are my thoughts on some of the most popular sound gear currently on the market.

Before I start with actual impressions, just a few notes for context:

- I have been in this hobby for close to 10 years and have become really active in the past two (pandemic will do that to you). Before owning the gear I am discussing, I've owned many others, including Meze Empyreans, ZMF Verite Closed, Kennerton Rognir, Hifiman HE100SE, Focal Stellia, along with mainly portable or semi-portable gear (Hiby R8, Ibasso DX300, Shanling M30) and more. Once I got stuck at home though I decided to get more stationary equipment and to try out the best for each. I also demoed a lot of other gear this year before settling on these contenders but it would take too long to get into everything.

- Like many here, I listen to all genres, but mainly rock, acoustic, classical, soundtracks and EDM. Most of my listening is done in Roon and recently HQPlayer. I have all my music stored on an i9 NUC currently connected to a Sonore Ultrarendu for streaming. I am not the most knowledgeable audiophile by far, but I've spent enough time listening to music on different gear that I know very well what I like and why. But please don't expect a very technical review, this will not be one.

- Finally, just wanted to say that this is my way of paying back a little of all the amazing knowledge, insight and advice I got on this wonderful forum, as well as my deep appreciation of all fellow headfiers who helped me along this fabulous journey. A special shout-out to the awesome headfier and dear friend OneEyedHito, who spent so much time giving me tips and also assisted me in getting close to half the gear on this list.

Okay, enough rambling, on with the show.

1A. Hifiman Susvara
This is the one I probably need to talk the least about, since it has been covered so much already. Suffice to say, all the hype is justified, as this is the one headphone that for me does everything right: looks, comfort, durability, and of course sound quality across the whole spectrum. Other HPs might have specific strengths but this one balances all of them beautifully. Sure, the bass could be a smidge stronger, but with the right amp (see below) it can shine there too. It was also, among all HPs I've tried, the one that allowed me to appreciate the differences in my chain the most. Yes, it's not cheap (don't pay retail though!) and yes it needs very good amplification. But it rewards you with the best sound for all music genre in my opinion, except maybe the 1266 which admittedly I have not tried.

1B. Audeze LCD-5
It's a great headphone, and if I didn't own the Susvara I would probably choose this to keep. The comfort and looks are slightly better (even with the clamping which is real but manageable) and the sound is very well rounded. It has presence, bite. resolution like crazy and a nicely shaped soundstage. It's also easier to drive than the Susvara, and it trades blows when it comes to pure enjoyment, especially with harder hitting music like rock or EDM. One thing that didn't really do it for me though is that it works better with certain music genres than others. Music that calls for fast attack and slam will shine on this, but then music that needs a more laid back approach will still feel very strong so there's not as much modulation in the sound (to my ears at least).

1C. Susvara vs LCD-5
I really wanted to prefer the LCD-5. It's a great HP and while not cheaper than the Susvara at street pricing, it would need less amplification so less $$. But try as I might I couldn't get it to sound as effortless and emotional especially for orchestral and acoustic. Music sometimes had a bit more presence and the bass was definitely stronger on the Audeze, but I felt as if the music was presented to me rather than the sensation of losing myself in it that I have with the Susvara. Also, while easier to drive, the LCD-5 still benefited from better amps and DACs so knowing myself I would have still spent as much as I would on the Susvara chain. But still, as much as I prefer the Susvara, I can say that on one will ever regret owning an LCD-5.

2A. Enleum 23r
This amp is really, really something special. It absolutely shines with hard to drive cans like the Susvara, but it also gives you all the control and power you could want for any other HP. Even though I didn't try it, I heard it's also amazing with speakers. It's built like a tank (the extra feet def are nice too) and while I was using it I always felt that I was getting the absolute best rendition of my music, no matter the genre. The soundstage is as wide as can be, the resolution, timbre and layering are perfect, and as I was saying before, it's the one amp that remedied any issues the Susvara could have with bass. It basically makes any can, DAC and piece of music shine, and I could not find a single fault with it.

2B. Ferrum Oor + Hypsos
This is another very special amp, provided you use it with the Hypsos power supply which definitely adds a considerable amount of precision and body to its sound. It is one of the most neutral and effortless amps I've heard, and has this ability to make itself invisible in the sound chain while at the same time getting the most out of each component. The one sound quality that is always evident is a sense of refinement, especially in the upper registers, that allows music to really breathe and occupy the correct space in the soundstage. Without the Hyspos it's nice but not as good as other amps. With the Hypsos it really sings and it gets everything important about music just right.

2C: Oor vs Enleum
This was the most difficult choice of this comparison. I went back and forth so many times between the two, and could really not choose a winner easily. After using them for many weeks though, I would have to give the tiniest edge to the Enleum as far as rendering bass and having a slightly wider soundstage. If the prices were the same I would probably have kept the Enleum for those reasons, but they were not.

3A. Holo Spring 3 KTE
I know this has been written before, but whoever said that all DACs sound the same has not listened to the DACs like the Holo. I almost went for the May but most users seem to agree the Spring is very close for half the price, so the Spring it was. I was immediately impressed by the natural dimension that music acquires with this DAC. Everything sounds just... right. It's also a great DAC for soundstage, timbre, and lower register impact. And the cherry on the top is pairing it with HQPlayer. Roon already sounds awesome on it, but when HQplayer is used to upsample music or convert to DSD, well let's just say interesting things happen. Combined with the beautiful case construction, the awesome preamp module and the perfect USB implementation, this is a special DAC in more ways than one.

3B. Rockna Wavelight
Another pearl of a DAC. I had a Naim Uniti Atom before this and I thought I was getting really good sonic results (it's still an amazing machine for what it offers). But once I got the Wavelight all my music went up several notches and I finally got what I was missing. Like the Spring it also has a massive but natural soundstage, pinpoint instrument precision and a refined but never boring quality, that just allows the listener to be immersed in the music. Construction is also stellar and it too has a great preamp section. The one slight knock is that the input bitrate is capped at 384 PCM and 512 DSD so I couldn't experiment with it like I did with the Spring and HQplayer. But then again the internal upsampling filters are so good on this that it kind of makes up for it.

3C. Wavelight vs Spring
Maybe I should rephrase what I said before about all DACs not sounding the same. Cheap DACs and pricier DACs definitely do not sound the same, however after a certain price point DACs don't sound bad, just different. This is the case of the Wavelight and the Spring. With either of them, I never for one moment felt as if something was lacking vs the other, just that they gave me an equally superb but slightly different presentation of audio. The Wavelight was slightly more ethereal and laid back, the Spring somewhat more assertive and present. But I'm talking minute differences here, just like the Enelum and the Oor.

Conclusion: There can be only one! (of each)
Ok so time to wrap this up, I could go into much more detail for each but then this post would become unmanageably long. I am happy to give more specific info to anyone who wants to know, just reply to this thread or send me a PM. So, with all that said in the end, I will be keeping the Susvara, the Ferrum Oor and the Holo Spring. Again there was absolutely nothing wrong with the other gear, but when it came time to choose the Susvara sounded better for my preferences, the Oor was very close to the Enleum for roughly half the price and the as for the Spring, it allows me to enjoy music now but also change it up in the future when better upsampling algorithms come along. Taken all together it's not an inexpensive chain by any means, but it's also not the craziest gear, and I feel like I've reached an extremely nice level of sound enjoyment and I'll be content for a long time to come. Now of course, more and potentially better gear will come along and might make me rethink this but that's the Head-Fi world right? Or, like Omar would say in the Wire, “All in the game yo, all in the game.”

IMG_6402.JPEGIMG_6597.JPEG
Thanks for that writeup, especially because I've got Susvara, LCD-5, Hypsos/Oor stack, and a Holo May KTE DAC, so I always enjoy others thoughts on this stuff! For me, the Ferrum stack + LCD-5's is great for crankin' out rock and reggae! I've got a relatively thin head (no need for much brain-space) so the clamping pressure on those is great for me, but I can see how it could really bother other people. And I'm also an Omar fan - what a shame that Michael Williams died last year...
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 9:11 PM Post #12 of 195
Thanks for that writeup, especially because I've got Susvara, LCD-5, Hypsos/Oor stack, and a Holo May KTE DAC, so I always enjoy others thoughts on this stuff! For me, the Ferrum stack + LCD-5's is great for crankin' out rock and reggae! I've got a relatively thin head (no need for much brain-space) so the clamping pressure on those is great for me, but I can see how it could really bother other people. And I'm also an Omar fan - what a shame that Michael Williams died last year...
Thanks. If i could have kept both I would have but I want intent on choosing one of each, so the Susvara it is.
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 9:30 PM Post #13 of 195
I have been talking about doing this to many on this forum for awhile now, but due to a couple of setbacks and delays I just only recently got my hands on all the gear I wanted to test and compare. So, now that I've had all this for some time, here are my thoughts on some of the most popular sound gear currently on the market.

Before I start with actual impressions, just a few notes for context:

- I have been in this hobby for close to 10 years and have become really active in the past two (pandemic will do that to you). Before owning the gear I am discussing, I've owned many others, including Meze Empyreans, ZMF Verite Closed, Kennerton Rognir, Hifiman HE100SE, Focal Stellia, along with mainly portable or semi-portable gear (Hiby R8, Ibasso DX300, Shanling M30) and more. Once I got stuck at home though I decided to get more stationary equipment and to try out the best for each. I also demoed a lot of other gear this year before settling on these contenders but it would take too long to get into everything.

- Like many here, I listen to all genres, but mainly rock, acoustic, classical, soundtracks and EDM. Most of my listening is done in Roon and recently HQPlayer. I have all my music stored on an i9 NUC currently connected to a Sonore Ultrarendu for streaming. I am not the most knowledgeable audiophile by far, but I've spent enough time listening to music on different gear that I know very well what I like and why. But please don't expect a very technical review, this will not be one.

- Finally, just wanted to say that this is my way of paying back a little of all the amazing knowledge, insight and advice I got on this wonderful forum, as well as my deep appreciation of all fellow headfiers who helped me along this fabulous journey. A special shout-out to the awesome headfier and dear friend OneEyedHito, who spent so much time giving me tips and also assisted me in getting close to half the gear on this list.

Okay, enough rambling, on with the show.

1A. Hifiman Susvara
This is the one I probably need to talk the least about, since it has been covered so much already. Suffice to say, all the hype is justified, as this is the one headphone that for me does everything right: looks, comfort, durability, and of course sound quality across the whole spectrum. Other HPs might have specific strengths but this one balances all of them beautifully. Sure, the bass could be a smidge stronger, but with the right amp (see below) it can shine there too. It was also, among all HPs I've tried, the one that allowed me to appreciate the differences in my chain the most. Yes, it's not cheap (don't pay retail though!) and yes it needs very good amplification. But it rewards you with the best sound for all music genre in my opinion, except maybe the 1266 which admittedly I have not tried.

1B. Audeze LCD-5
It's a great headphone, and if I didn't own the Susvara I would probably choose this to keep. The comfort and looks are slightly better (even with the clamping which is real but manageable) and the sound is very well rounded. It has presence, bite. resolution like crazy and a nicely shaped soundstage. It's also easier to drive than the Susvara, and it trades blows when it comes to pure enjoyment, especially with harder hitting music like rock or EDM. One thing that didn't really do it for me though is that it works better with certain music genres than others. Music that calls for fast attack and slam will shine on this, but then music that needs a more laid back approach will still feel very strong so there's not as much modulation in the sound (to my ears at least).

1C. Susvara vs LCD-5
I really wanted to prefer the LCD-5. It's a great HP and while not cheaper than the Susvara at street pricing, it would need less amplification so less $$. But try as I might I couldn't get it to sound as effortless and emotional especially for orchestral and acoustic. Music sometimes had a bit more presence and the bass was definitely stronger on the Audeze, but I felt as if the music was presented to me rather than the sensation of losing myself in it that I have with the Susvara. Also, while easier to drive, the LCD-5 still benefited from better amps and DACs so knowing myself I would have still spent as much as I would on the Susvara chain. But still, as much as I prefer the Susvara, I can say that on one will ever regret owning an LCD-5.

2A. Enleum 23r
This amp is really, really something special. It absolutely shines with hard to drive cans like the Susvara, but it also gives you all the control and power you could want for any other HP. Even though I didn't try it, I heard it's also amazing with speakers. It's built like a tank (the extra feet def are nice too) and while I was using it I always felt that I was getting the absolute best rendition of my music, no matter the genre. The soundstage is as wide as can be, the resolution, timbre and layering are perfect, and as I was saying before, it's the one amp that remedied any issues the Susvara could have with bass. It basically makes any can, DAC and piece of music shine, and I could not find a single fault with it.

2B. Ferrum Oor + Hypsos
This is another very special amp, provided you use it with the Hypsos power supply which definitely adds a considerable amount of precision and body to its sound. It is one of the most neutral and effortless amps I've heard, and has this ability to make itself invisible in the sound chain while at the same time getting the most out of each component. The one sound quality that is always evident is a sense of refinement, especially in the upper registers, that allows music to really breathe and occupy the correct space in the soundstage. Without the Hyspos it's nice but not as good as other amps. With the Hypsos it really sings and it gets everything important about music just right.

2C: Oor vs Enleum
This was the most difficult choice of this comparison. I went back and forth so many times between the two, and could really not choose a winner easily. After using them for many weeks though, I would have to give the tiniest edge to the Enleum as far as rendering bass and having a slightly wider soundstage. If the prices were the same I would probably have kept the Enleum for those reasons, but they were not.

3A. Holo Spring 3 KTE
I know this has been written before, but whoever said that all DACs sound the same has not listened to the DACs like the Holo. I almost went for the May but most users seem to agree the Spring is very close for half the price, so the Spring it was. I was immediately impressed by the natural dimension that music acquires with this DAC. Everything sounds just... right. It's also a great DAC for soundstage, timbre, and lower register impact. And the cherry on the top is pairing it with HQPlayer. Roon already sounds awesome on it, but when HQplayer is used to upsample music or convert to DSD, well let's just say interesting things happen. Combined with the beautiful case construction, the awesome preamp module and the perfect USB implementation, this is a special DAC in more ways than one.

3B. Rockna Wavelight
Another pearl of a DAC. I had a Naim Uniti Atom before this and I thought I was getting really good sonic results (it's still an amazing machine for what it offers). But once I got the Wavelight all my music went up several notches and I finally got what I was missing. Like the Spring it also has a massive but natural soundstage, pinpoint instrument precision and a refined but never boring quality, that just allows the listener to be immersed in the music. Construction is also stellar and it too has a great preamp section. The one slight knock is that the input bitrate is capped at 384 PCM and 512 DSD so I couldn't experiment with it like I did with the Spring and HQplayer. But then again the internal upsampling filters are so good on this that it kind of makes up for it.

3C. Wavelight vs Spring
Maybe I should rephrase what I said before about all DACs not sounding the same. Cheap DACs and pricier DACs definitely do not sound the same, however after a certain price point DACs don't sound bad, just different. This is the case of the Wavelight and the Spring. With either of them, I never for one moment felt as if something was lacking vs the other, just that they gave me an equally superb but slightly different presentation of audio. The Wavelight was slightly more ethereal and laid back, the Spring somewhat more assertive and present. But I'm talking minute differences here, just like the Enelum and the Oor.

Conclusion: There can be only one! (of each)
Ok so time to wrap this up, I could go into much more detail for each but then this post would become unmanageably long. I am happy to give more specific info to anyone who wants to know, just reply to this thread or send me a PM. So, with all that said in the end, I will be keeping the Susvara, the Ferrum Oor and the Holo Spring. Again there was absolutely nothing wrong with the other gear, but when it came time to choose the Susvara sounded better for my preferences, the Oor was very close to the Enleum for roughly half the price and the as for the Spring, it allows me to enjoy music now but also change it up in the future when better upsampling algorithms come along. Taken all together it's not an inexpensive chain by any means, but it's also not the craziest gear, and I feel like I've reached an extremely nice level of sound enjoyment and I'll be content for a long time to come. Now of course, more and potentially better gear will come along and might make me rethink this but that's the Head-Fi world right? Or, like Omar would say in the Wire, “All in the game yo, all in the game.”

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Nice write-up man. Very helpful!
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 9:32 PM Post #14 of 195
Really nice writeup 🍻
 
Jan 25, 2022 at 9:35 PM Post #15 of 195
I really appreciate this write up as I recently bought a Susvara and have been making a few upgrades, particularly to my amp. I've often wondered if I'd be better off with just an LCD-5 with less amp pickiness, but I am so happy with the "naturalness" of the Susvara. I was only ever able to try the Oor alone without the Hypsos, and didn't really like the standlone Oor (at least for its MRSP price). Now I'm running a giant Dynahi, and loving it. I wish I could try out the Spring 3 or May DAC, but I'm very satisfied with the Yggy LIM, which I did choose over my prior Spring 2 KTE. Looking forward to testing out the Dekoni fenestrated sheepskin pads with the Susvara!
 

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