Audiophile headphones can give make your music sound better for a lower price than a loudspeaker setup. The best are reviewed here...
Most people tend to think of a great home audio system in terms of big, expensive amplifiers and even bigger loudspeakers. You can't deny that top-end loudspeakers can deliver a real visceral impact and a sense of space.
BUT: the trick is getting a great listening room to achieve these benefits.
Here's something to think about.
If you listen to your music alone, and do not have a room that is acoustically friendly, then a headphone-based home audio system could give you a far better listening experience for a much lower price than a loudspeaker-based one.
Headphones aren't affected by your listening room. It doesn't matter if your room is big or small, square or oblong, or reflective and boomy. Headphones by-pass the room and feed the sound straight into your ear.
Also, because music headphones are physically smaller than loudspeakers, they're much cheaper for a given performance level. Neither do they need as big an amplifier to drive them.
While a top-end headphone and amplifier combo will set you back several thousand dollars, the sound will equal that of a loudspeaker-based system costing multiples of tens of thousands.
Let's take a look at how a headphone-based system could be set up.
First (as always!) you need a great source, such as a studio quality FLAC audio file on your computer or NAS (network attached storage, eg. From LINN).
This should then be fed into a dedicated digital audio converter, (such as a DAC Magic) rather than go through your computer's sound card. The output from the DAC will then go into the headphone amplifier, and from there to your headphones.
Some headphone amps have an integrated DAC, but many audiophiles prefer to have them in separate boxes.
So which audiophile headphones are worth listening to for a top-end experience? Here are a few headphone reviews...
Sennheiser's HD800 is hand-made in Germany. Sennheiser was aiming at a game-changer, a paradigm-shift.
Did they succeed? It seems so.
The HD800 is an "open back" design, which means that they are not good at blocking out external sounds, and the music they play can be heard by somebody else in the room. Not good if you live in a noisy environment, or share a room.
The earpieces are pretty big, enough to contain the largest dynamic driver currently in use in any headphones.
Although the HD800 is expensive at $1399.95, its finish and construction are first-rate and justify the price. They are especially suited to classical music.
Grado is a high-end headphone company based in Brooklyn. The PS1000 is their flagship product, at between $1500-1700.
These extremely high quality 'phones contain all Grado's years upon years of experience and jam them together into an extremely comfortable, pure-sounding product.
The PS1000s have an unusual construction: they contain an inner layer of wood and a metal casing. Grado claims that this combination eliminates any distortions in the sound, culminating in the clearest audio experience of their lineup.
Although these are fairly expensive, if you pair them with a decent DAC then you have a setup that's way cheaper than getting speakers, and puts you right in the middle of the sound.
The "Tesla" in the name refers to the unit of measurement for magnetic flux density. Beyerdynamic says that the transducers in these headphones have a completely new design (achieving over 1 "Tesla" of efficiency) which translates to much more volume and clarity for the same amount of input.
The T1s feature an semi-open back design is a nice compromise between sound privacy and the improved sound quality of open-backed headphones.
These headphones have a very high level of audio detail, but keep the not-so-obvious sounds subtle (as they should be). Most listeners comment on the excellent quality of the midrange, and the cavern-like stereo imaging (great for that orchestral experience!).
These are the cheapest audiophile headphones we look at here, coming in at around $1200.
STAX have a reputation as making some of the very best headphones in the world, noticeably their SR-007 MK2.
STAX puts electrostatic drivers in their headphones and calls their products earspeakers... interesting!
Electrostatic headphones need a headphone amplifier capable of driving them, and Stax make their own amplifiers to match.
However, for the Stax SR 007, the ultimate amp is the Woo WES tube amplifier. This combination is widely regarded as offering the best sound available from a headphone set-up, and is truly astounding.
At around $8000 for the full set-up, you may want to audition these headphones first! Rest assured, it can sound as good as a loudspeaker-based system costing $50,000!
Not sure if headphones are the right choice for you? How about high-end speakers?
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