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TOTL Headphones Comparison

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by matthewhypolite, Jul 22, 2017.
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  1. HoloSpice
    Raal sound so good that you don't need to add the 009.

    Put those Hifiman and Focals up for sale, invest into a good speaker amp for the RAAL-REQUISITE SR1A. :wink:
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2019
    omniweltall likes this.
  2. Gibson59
    There are loads up “summit-fi” headphones options out there now... this is such a great time for this hobby! I’ve tried so many of them (Utopia, Verite, Stax, LCD4, Diana, Ether 2, HD800s) and they each have something great to offer, but I’m certain I’ve found my end game (yes I can actually use that term confidently)... The HEKse has won me over by a landslide :) Feels good to finally have a sense of complete fulfillment from headphones that I feel are perfectly tuned to my sonic preferences. Now to address my DAC situation... this game never ends lol.
    JM1979 and Hifiearspeakers like this.
  3. Bill13
    Right now, I'm using Hypex Ncore 2x400wpc amp (based on Hypex Ncore NC400 modules). This amp is neutral & suits the Raal SR1a perfectly, IMO.

    BTW, I just received a 'new' Hypex Ncore 2x500wpc amplifier from an eBay seller. It's fully dual-mono (uses NC500_OEM amp modules).
    Before trying this amp with my Raal SR1a headphones, want to first run this amp on my speakers to see if there are any issues (seller claimed amp is new, but I have doubts).

    Although currently running SR1a headphones with a Hypex Ncore 400 watt per channel amp, I feel that a good 100+ wpc amp would be sufficient (IMO, YMMV).
    BreadMaster likes this.
  4. joseph69
    Have you heard the Susvara for a sufficient amount of time?
    matthewhypolite and HoloSpice like this.
  5. Gibson59
    Absolutely. I can totally appreciate Susvara but it’s not for me. I like that slightly more aggressive nature of the HEKse, it just has more character to me. The music flows from Susvara almost too easily so that it’s not as involving to me and wasn’t exciting when I listened to many of my favorite rock tracks like AC/DC, RATM, STP, Zeppelin etc. Also, because you need an amp with so much power to do it justice that’s greatly limiting. I’ve heard most of the well known powerful amps we all discuss around here and the only two that really do it for me are the Wells Audio Milo (which I own) and the Headamp Mk2. So I have enough power on hand for Susvara if I wanted to go with it. With the HEKse I can use numerous amps and even just my phone or a DAP. And the build quality is equal between the two IMO. But like I said, Susvara is obviously VERY good and obviously suits certain people’s tastes. But I believe that when we’re at the $2k+ range expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better, it means different.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2019
    Hifiearspeakers likes this.
  6. atahanuz
    Summary of the review:

  7. joseph69
    Very good points you bring out about the SE (which I haven't heard) as far as driving them, as well as you just preferring them to the Susvara, regardless of cost. I absolutely agree that just because something is more expensive doesn't mean it's better at all...again it's preference. Although I had placed my V2 on the F/S forum at one point after receiving the Susvara, I returned to them and found that they're just as enjoyable for me to listen to due to their differences, and removed my listing. Also, if I ever get bored with the V2 I can always upgrade them for the SE.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2019
  8. matthewhypolite
    Unboxed, and burning in......

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    joseph69, erik701 and Mikey99 like this.
  9. SHAMuuu
    HoloSpice likes this.
  10. matthewhypolite
    :: New Headphone Add ::

    Abyss Phi TC.png

    I've been a long time Abyss owner, from the very first model (OG), to the Phi, Phi+ CC Pads, and now Abyss AB-1266 TC (Total Consciousness). It's been a wild ride, and though abyss generously offered upgrade paths for all the prior models, this one required a fresh purchase, which wasn’t TOO bad as I sold my previous pair which is still in my possession until august.

    Enough of the jibber jabber, how do the sound? And how do they compare to the CC?.


    The TC has a slightly different sound signature than the CC. It's still very much Abyss house sound, but a departure from where the CC tuning was. The TC seems more tuned to clarity and detail retrieval, but not harsh by any means. The TC extracts more out of the music, across the entire frequency spectrum, there just seems to be …more.

    Going from the OG to the Phi, i felt like there were certain flaws the OG had that the Phi resolved. Going from the Phi to TC feels like an evolution of what the Phi is. TC Brings you closer to the music, without losing its sense of space or body.

    I find the CC to be more forgiving than the TC and that's saying a lot because Abyss headphones are not known for being forgiving. The TC trusts all the details at you, so if your gear can't keep up, you won't like what comes out. With clean quality music, they sound absolutely amazing. If you have lesser gear and music, the CC would probably suit your needs better.

    TC slams more than CC but the CC appears to have a bit more body, albeit with more distortion.

    The TC sounds like you're moved a few rows closer to the artist. Everything seems closer, but still retains the open sound of the abyss. I think this effect is akin to the TC's ability to extract more micro details out of the music. By comparison the CC sounds a bit more veiled. If I were to use a speaker analogy, the CC sounds like you're listening to speakers in a room that hasn’t been treated, so you get the added distortion and reflections off the walls, ceiling and floors. The TC sounds like you're listening to speakers in a well-treated and optimized room. The Phi CC is an exceptional headphone, and without hearing the TC I wouldn't think there was any more that could be improved. But after hearing the TC, clearly there was.

    The Phi, Phi CC and TC are all great cans. And I prefer any one of those iterations in a heartbeat over the OG.
    The improvements of the TC over the CC would read very similarly to the improvements of the CC over the Phi.

    Refinement and Polish is the name of the game here. And Joe has yet again managed to eek more refinement, more polish, more resolution, more detail retrieval, more "was that always there?" out of these cans.

    Though the progression from Phi to CC is similar to that of CC to TC, I think the TC is a bigger jump up than the prior upgrade. I'll try to represent it as follows:

    OG -> Significant Improvements -> Phi -> Incremental Refinements -> CC -> Significant Refinements -> TC

    I like the TC more in just about every genre I've tested save Rock and Acoustic. The slightly wider / holographic tuning of the CC lends itself well to these 2 genres. But this is more a matter of personal taste as they both do great, but for me personally I probably would take the CC for those 2.

    As you'll see below with my genre comparison, the TC takes the overall win for "best with" the most genres, but beside the 2 I listed above, Trance and Opera I'd give the win to either pair of headphones. I'd take the Phi without hesitation over the OG, and I'd take the Phi with CC pads without hesitation over the stock Phi in any genre. But the CC is so good already, it's still keeping up with the TC.

    The TC is very much a step up, it manages to shine a light on certain aspects of the recording and make them more apparent. It excels at letting you know everything that's going on in the track and it sometimes makes the CC feel like they have some distortion and veil. (Not a description I'd use prior to hearing the TC). So the TC has a more "hifi" sound for lack of a better word. It achieves this by still having bottomless powerful impactful bass, excellent mid-range, pristine precise treble, and an overall fun and enjoyable sound.

    Though to my ears the CC took 2 genres off of the TC, and tied in 3 others. The TC is the better headphone.


    The headband on the TC fits differently to the CC and I had to make different adjustments to achieve the same fit and comfort. See the difference below, same ear-pad stitching position though. Other than that, comfort is what you'd expect and what's typical of abyss. In my case, mod required :)

    TCvsCC Adjustment.jpg


    Because of the Phi CCs tuning, there are a specific combination of tubes I prefer with them in all genres. RCA Monoplate + WE Rectifier. When rolling the Takatuski with the CC, it sounds too bloated for my taste. But because of the highly resolving nature of the TC, rolling the taks in sound just as magical as the WE. You can have some fun tube rolling with the TC as they sound great with different tubes and you can dial in the sound you want, and each version of that sound is amazing. This tells me that the TC is definitely more transparent, and changes / improvement to your rig will be represented more accurately by the TC than the CC. The TC is going to deliver what's there to be delivered, and if you have a good tube amp and into rolling, the TC hands down over the CC is what I'd recommend.


    I look forward to hearing what the TC delivers once I upgrade my DAC. I feel like there is more these cans can reveal with further improvements and refinement to my setup. I didn’t necessarily feel that way about the CC. The TC abilities has piqued my interest in what's possible with further improvements to my rig. How does it fair against the Susvara? Well the susvara still does its thing like only the susvara can. Susvara still remains unchallenged in the genres I awarded it, despite the improvements to the TC. The Susvara is a very different monster, and after some time with the TC, I see no reason to let go of the Susvara. I need them BOTH!
    So I'll be finalizing the sale of the CC, and setting off to new adventures with the TC :D

    A masterclass in high end headphone technology.

    Next up, SC cable upgrade review. Here's a sneak peak of a quick listen

    SC cable lifts a veil off of the music. The Spore 4 in comparison sounds recessed, held back, veiled. SC Cable introduces speed, precision, authority and impact. The music just sounds so much clearer, but not harsh. It just gives you more of what's there. It almost makes the abyss sound like it's plugged into a different amp. I was not expecting to hear such an immediate and obvious difference with the SC, but I could hear it straight away.

    More detailed thoughts when I get some more time with the SC.

    Build Quality
    The ceramic quoting on the TC is very elegant, soft to the touch, and adds a bit of warmth to the otherwise industrial design of the Abyss.

    Rating Breakdown / Tone Wheel


    Best At Genre (NEW)

    Best At.png

    Ratings Breakdown (All Headphones) (NEW)


    Testing Notes / Tracks (NEW)
    Version 4.0


    Click here to download Testing Notes PDF


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    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
    Relaxasaurus, erik701 and donato like this.
  11. Dan Lee
    Hey guys Ive been following this thread for a while now but haven't posted yet. I like the focus of this thread on TOTL setups. I owned the Gungnir Multibit with Mjolnir 2 for a while as an amp and dac, but eventually let them go in favor of the ifi iCAN and iDSD Pro stack along with an iESL which I have since sold. The ifi setup may not be the pinnacle for an Amp and Dac by themselves. However when paired together I find them to be simply incredible and it would take a lot for me to move up the line from them. The shear volume of options that this pairing offers is quite fantastic. Especially for someone like myself who always wants to upgrade when I get bored of something. But getting bored of this pairing will take a long time as I have created some fantastic sound differences with different changes and haven't even scratched the surface of options yet.

    As far as TOTL headphones go I can offer input on the Audeze LCD-X, MX4, LCD-4, MrSpeakers Ether Flow C, Ether 2, Focal Utopia, Stax SR-009, and soon the Shangri-La Jr. I am going to start from the last one on to the Audeze last.

    Stax SR-009: I currently own the Jr, but have yet to hear them. I had the iESL for a while and was running both a Stax SR-L700 and the SR-009 through it. I find that the iESL was simply troublesome for the stats. It gave me a good taste of the sound of the L700 which in all honesty was simply an incredible headphone. If they would build a quality looking version that didnt feel like it was going to break everytime you picked it up I would still own them. The SR-009 out of the iESL showed that it has a great deal of potential, but thanks to @Whitigir and a few others I decided to purchase a KGSSHV Carbon which I should have in a week or two. But for right now the 009 is not the best headphone in my inventory. Through the iESL the brightness was a little on the ridiculous side. I mean even the bloody mids where bright leaving little room for a dynamic sound. I will provide a better review of the 009 and Jr when the Carbon comes in.

    Focal Utopia: For a headphone that sells or at least sold for $4k when I purchased it the stock cable that comes with this thing is just plain stupid. Fortunately when I bought it I purchased a balanced cable before I received the headphones. When I got the headphones and plugged them in I was so bloody overwhelmed by how underwhelmed I was by the sound of these. I mean I thought they sounded so bad I boxed them back up and was going to sell them. When the cable came in I decided to try it again just to justify the cable purchase. As most of you know when you own a balanced amp the single ended functionality leaves a lot to be desired, but I didn't realize just how much. When I ran the Utopias through the balanced section it was as though I experienced magic. They went from being so bad I had already posted them for sell to sounding so good they altered the way I looked at headphones. However though I did love them when I got the 009 even through the iESL it was so close that I knew the Carbon would make the 009 take that spot so I sold them.

    MrSpeakers Ether Flow C & Ether 2: You guys said you wanted some mrspeakers in the thread so here it is. So even though the Flow C isn't really considered TOTL at this point it could well still be considered that in the closed back realm. I found the C to be a very good sounding headphone as far as closed backs go, but overall if you don't have need of a closed back I would never recommend it. It just isn't that exciting. The Ether 2 however is one of my favorite headphones period. It is rather dark sounding, but in the best way possible. It is musical, airy, open, and has great imaging. I also find that it just has some sort of ethereal tonality to it that I can't really explain, but also haven't heard on any other headphone. Even though it is only a $2k headphone I believe that is a bloody steal for this guy. It works well with all genres including metal and the bass is beautiful and accurate along with the mids. The treble is rather on the warm side but thats okay. There is a great deal of detail as well, but you have to look for it. I highly recommend it.

    Audeze Line Up: This is where I find myself perplexed. I've read a lot of people suggest there to be a great deal of fault in the treble of the LCD-4 and I simply don't understand this. I can see that in the X as it did have a bit higher treble. The X for its price was a wonderful headphone but easily improved upon. Upgrading to the MX4 was a drastic difference. It was instantly cleaner and clearer sounding I would likely buy it again but will wait till the price drops a little more as I don't need it at this point. The MX4 cemented my decision to get the LCD-4. This is by far my favorite headphone to date. I like it more than I liked the Utopia which some may find to be blasphemous. Here is where I don't understand people's issues with its treble. The LCD-4 in my mind has one of the most accurate representations of the frequency spectrum that I have heard. Please don't start pulling out frequency charts and showing me where it fails or some such nonsense. When you listen to this headphone there is not one person that will suggest its bass is anything less than near perfect. It then has some of the most musical and beautiful midranges available without being as forward as other cans. The treble in my mind is almost perfectly represented in that it is in no way used anywhere that it shouldn't be but instead is place everywhere that it should be. Therefore when treble notes strike it provides what can only be described as sparkle. The mids don't ever intrude upon the treble nor the treble on the mids providing astounding instrument separation. Maybe its just my ears or perhaps it just pairs really well with the iCAN. Either way as of right now this is my favorite can.

    When I finally get to hear the 009 and Jr. through the Carbon my ranking may change. Either way I will provide insight when I finally get to hear them. If you've managed to read this far I thank you for your time.

    Dan Lee
  12. matthewhypolite
    One of these days ima have to get me an lcd4. Also looking forward to reading your thoughts on the sr009 vs Shangri LA Jr.
    BreadMaster and Dan Lee like this.
  13. manzano804
    Hi Matthew, any plan to add Mysphere and SR1a to the comparison ?
    Rayzilla likes this.
  14. Dan Lee
    @matthewhypolite I just got final confirmation that the Carbon is on its way. So hopefully soon I can offer some reviews in regard to the stats.
    BreadMaster and matthewhypolite like this.
  15. matthewhypolite
    I've actually started researching both over the weekend as well. I am interested, but so far folks are saying they both lack bass. seems the ra1 is a resolution monster (lacking bass, but still better bass than sr009), the myspehre is a midrange monster.
    I'll be reading up on both over the next few weeks.
    BreadMaster likes this.
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