What do I need to match my HiFi?

Danial

Active Member
So, I have a rather nice - in my opinion at least - stereo set up in the form of B&W Formation Duos, which retail at £3500 plus the rather overpriced speaker stands at £700. Short of streaming music via Spotify Connect from my iPhone, this is my entire set up. In essence a £4200 hifi.

My question is what would I have to spend on a set of high end headphones, an amp and DAC, plus cables, to achieve the same quality in listening? I’m not necessarily trying to replicate the B&W sound signature, rather the general overall experience of high end speakers.

There’s no budget at this stage, I’m just trying to get a sense of what I might need to spend to replicate my system, but in headphone form. Especially as people often say that you get for more for your money with a headphone set up versus the equivalent spent on speakers.
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
I’m not necessarily trying to replicate the B&W sound signature, rather the general overall experience of high end speakers

Certainly will not replicate stereo speaker soundstage and imaging with headphones, which ought to be thought of as 'head-stage'. Just physics. For detail retrieval headphones may be a better bet than speakers as the drivers are right by your ear

As you own an iPhone it could be worth demoing the Max headphones given Apple are invested in spatial audio, their take on digital surround sound. Bluetooth headphones have their own built in DAC so no need to buy other kit

For the wired headphones with DAC and amp route I would encourage booking an appointment with a local headphone dealer. And bear in mind how you would listen to headphones. Something immediately impressive with dynamic contrast within the first 30 minutes may be good in a shop demo but may be fatiguing over extended personal listening
 

Danial

Active Member
Thanks - that’s useful advice.

I already have the noise cancelling, wireless headphones covered with a pair of B&W PX7, which are fine. I am intrigued by but the AirPods Max, but at that price point there are few things that bother me so I’ll wait for the second generation.

That’s a good point with regards to how I listen to music. I’m not very good at sitting still and tend to listen to music whilst doing things - so maybe wired headphones aren’t the best option…
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
Easy to drive wired full size headphones can be connected to the iPhone with the Apple 3.5mm dongle adaptor

Or something like the ifi audio go blu to pair with a smartphone lacking a headphone jack (@iFi audio ought to sort out the case options to permit a neck lanyard and/or clothes clip!!)

If your ears can tolerate, wired in ear monitors are an option and perhaps more compatible with music listening while doing something else. In the past 10-15 years each new far east startup bringing out an IEM with off the shelf drivers has pushed the sound quality possible at lower and lower price points (fiio, moon drop, tin hifi etc, and there are UK retailers)

I personally think true wireless in ear needs to mature on the SQ front but that category is probably the future ☺️ I guess you are already aware of the Apple options there
 

Danial

Active Member
I’d like to think if I get some high end headphone, I can sit still long enough to listen properly. Especially in the evening when my wife has gone to bed. So as much as I like the idea of headphones driven directly by the iPhone, I feel like that might be wasting potential?

Not a fan of IEMs to be honest. I have a pair of AirPod Pros, but use those for podcast listening on the move or taking voice/video calls. I know not quite the same, but just don’t like the in ear feeling. I wear a hearing aid during the day for tinnitus therapy in one ear (not for aiding hearing) so very used to the in ear feel, but would rather minimise. Speaking of which, I do have some unilateral hearing loss, which has put me off investing in headphones as it fluctuates - not sure how big a deal this actually is compared to speakers.

I think the overhead wireless are still lacking sound quality compared to wired counterparts too, especially if closed back and noise cancelling aren’t a necessity in this case.

Speaking of high end, wired, open back headphones that are easy to drive - I’ve read the Audeze LCD X fit the bill. That may be diving in at the deep end, but I tend to be a buy once type of person.
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
I do have some unilateral hearing loss

Some headphone amplifiers come with a hardware left / right channel balance control. Or can use software balance control on the source / computer. This does not solve every type of hearing issue but may assist
 

Naqv

Well-known Member
Headphone wise, I would be looking at Sennheiser HS800S which sound like large room speakers and are quite detailed.

I have to add that they are open back and pretty much like speakers, they let most of the sound out into the room, defeating the purpose of headphones!
 
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dollag

Well-known Member
@Steven pretty much got it in one. headphones will never replicate speakers and vice versa. there are things like the raal sr1a's or myshperes that get pretty close. comes down to pros and cons imo but i love both equally.

both LCD X and 800's are very good cans but just like speakers, i'd really encourage you to audition befor you buy as they couldnt be more different in their presentation.

whilst lcd-X are easy to drive, they do sound better on a decent source and amp from experience.

It comes down to a fair few factors.

budget
use case
location of use
for example, i use headphones in my office with a dedicated dac and numerous amps; however i use roon and have it connected to a rasperry pi over my network so i do not need to be near a pc or source of some sort other than the tiny pi.
 

Danial

Active Member
Thanks for your input.

Budget - not really got a budget in mind as I was more curious what I might have to pay to get to an equivalent set up as my speakers.

Use case - sitting on the couch or at my desk listening to an album. Which, either a long enough cable could be achieved with the set up based on my desk.

Location of use - see above.

Any amps and DACs in particular I should be thinking about? No doubt suggestion will be to audition too, but always helpful to have a starting point.
 

dollag

Well-known Member
I have
Thanks for your input.

Budget - not really got a budget in mind as I was more curious what I might have to pay to get to an equivalent set up as my speakers.

Use case - sitting on the couch or at my desk listening to an album. Which, either a long enough cable could be achieved with the set up based on my desk.

Location of use - see above.

Any amps and DACs in particular I should be thinking about? No doubt suggestion will be to audition too, but always helpful to have a starting point.

I like to think i have a fairly good speaker system but my headphones generally put them to shame when it comes to detail retrieval and things like microdynamics; however my speaker system has the impact and realistic sounstage that a headphone just cannot reproduce, hence i dont really like comparing or saying they are equivalant.

imo the best value sound available (for me) would be

Amp - singxer sa1

Dac - denafrips ares 2

Headphones - hifiman arya (my choice)- audeze lcdX (very heavy) - hd800s (not for me but i think they are great for classical music) There are many more and imo are just down to preference and what your looking for rather than a being better than b. they generally all have their own strengths.
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
If we are back on the wired option will this be the same or different room as the speaker system? Personally in the same room I would use the same DAC to feed the respective speaker and headphone chains. That means only buying and adding in a headphone amplifier
 

dollag

Well-known Member
If we are back on the wired option will this be the same or different room as the speaker system? Personally in the same room I would use the same DAC to feed the respective speaker and headphone chains. That means only buying and adding in a headphone amplifier
If we are back on the wired option will this be the same or different room as the speaker system? Personally in the same room I would use the same DAC to feed the respective speaker and headphone chains. That means only buying and adding in a headphone amplifier

the duos are an active all in one speaker i believe
 

Danial

Active Member
If we are back on the wired option will this be the same or different room as the speaker system? Personally in the same room I would use the same DAC to feed the respective speaker and headphone chains. That means only buying and adding in a headphone amplifier
the duos are an active all in one speaker i believe
They are active all in ones indeed - I'm a simple man.
 

Danial

Active Member
I like to think i have a fairly good speaker system but my headphones generally put them to shame when it comes to detail retrieval and things like microdynamics; however my speaker system has the impact and realistic sounstage that a headphone just cannot reproduce, hence i dont really like comparing or saying they are equivalant.
I think is what I need to be cognisant over, I was very much approaching it as an either or decision, i.e. a potential replacement for my speakers should I get on well with headphones.
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
Oops ha. I would still demo at a dealer as then you have a comparator to understand online reviews. Listening to the Sennheiser HD600/HD650 or HD800 and something like the Focal Clears on a variety of systems is a good base to cut through online reviews. Audeze is an option but watch out for the weight (except weight saving on the new flagship LCD-5). Hifiman - I would only buy on discount. They seem to have fixed the atrocious build quality in the early years but the fit and finish is still below other brands. See the flagship Susvara for example
 

iFi audio

Member
AVForums Sponsor
Easy to drive wired full size headphones can be connected to the iPhone with the Apple 3.5mm dongle adaptor

Or something like the ifi audio go blu to pair with a smartphone lacking a headphone jack (@iFi audio ought to sort out the case options to permit a neck lanyard and/or clothes clip!!)

If your ears can tolerate, wired in ear monitors are an option and perhaps more compatible with music listening while doing something else. In the past 10-15 years each new far east startup bringing out an IEM with off the shelf drivers has pushed the sound quality possible at lower and lower price points (fiio, moon drop, tin hifi etc, and there are UK retailers)

I personally think true wireless in ear needs to mature on the SQ front but that category is probably the future ☺️ I guess you are already aware of the Apple options there
@Steven , I am always impressed with the depth of your insight. The Go Blu case is on its way. It should be available any day now.
 

Danial

Active Member
Oops ha. I would still demo at a dealer as then you have a comparator to understand online reviews. Listening to the Sennheiser HD600/HD650 or HD800 and something like the Focal Clears on a variety of systems is a good base to cut through online reviews. Audeze is an option but watch out for the weight (except weight saving on the new flagship LCD-5). Hifiman - I would only buy on discount. They seem to have fixed the atrocious build quality in the early years but the fit and finish is still below other brands. See the flagship Susvara for example
Thanks, that’s a useful list and. Its not dissimilar to what I’ve come up with. Although I had ruled out Hifiman, because of the quality control. If I’m buying something, especially if I’m spending decent money, then I want that reflected in the product regardless of how good it is otherwise. I also want things to look good, so design is important to me. Focal has certainly piqued my interest of recent and for some reason I had written off Sennheiser for no real reason I can think of (ie design).
 

dollag

Well-known Member
Thanks, that’s a useful list and. Its not dissimilar to what I’ve come up with. Although I had ruled out Hifiman, because of the quality control. If I’m buying something, especially if I’m spending decent money, then I want that reflected in the product regardless of how good it is otherwise. I also want things to look good, so design is important to me. Focal has certainly piqued my interest of recent and for some reason I had written off Sennheiser for no real reason I can think of (ie design).

I own hifiman and will be the first to say their build quality is not the best; however they do have very good CS which for me was enough.
 

Yorkshire AV

Active Member
AVForums Sponsor
Hi @Danial

When customers come in to look at headphones (we have FOCAL and Grado here plus some active headphones that aren't what you're after!) we always go through the process of:

  1. What's the use case? Are you on the go or are you always in a fixed position when listening?
  2. If on the go - are you happy with separates with wired or are you wanting wireless?
  3. If in a fixed position - is this for listening to different music over a HiFi system or is this to accommodate for later listening at reasonable volumes?
  4. Open back or closed?
  5. Tying into an existing hifi system (i.e. streamer, DAC. pre-amp) or independent?
  6. What sources are you going to be playing?

Once we know the answer(s) to the above, we can then start and navigate out way through systems such as the Benchmark DAC3 HGC with a range of headphones.


and then look at DAP's such as the Astell and Kern SE200:


We then look at different products and listen to the differences.... there's a large range of the iFi products such as the ZEN Signature DAC and headphone amp, or just the headphone amp if there's already a DAC etc which are really very good when it comes to portable audio.

Definitely worth going into a dealer / dealers to find the range of headphones you're into as well as amps etc. If you are a PC or laptop user, don't be afraid of taking it with you and using it as a source too!

When we started in headphones (which wasn't that long ago), FOCAL came to see me and I did a back to back of each and every product in the range. I could immediately sense where my preferences were and with that, found myself navigating quicker to other headphones which would give me something slightly different to experience vs jumping around randomly :)
You may find the same too!
 

Danial

Active Member
Thanks - that’s very helpful indeed. I always forget how quickly this hobby of ours gets expensive!
 

dollag

Well-known Member
Thanks - that’s very helpful indeed. I always forget how quickly this hobby of ours gets expensive!


TBF it doesn't have to be.

Yes you can throw thousands into it as most hobbies but something a a Zen dac/amp stack and a pair of sundara's gets you a great lil system.

The most important thing is finding what works for you.
 

Danial

Active Member
TBF it doesn't have to be.

Yes you can throw thousands into it as most hobbies but something a a Zen dac/amp stack and a pair of sundara's gets you a great lil system.

The most important thing is finding what works for you.

That's probably where I should start, plus more likely to appreciate the difference in quality should I end up going down the route of a high end system.
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
Agree cost and value are different things. It's why many enthusiasts still build a system around the Sennheiser HD600/HD650. Fine with a budget system or can scale with high end sources. Yes you can pay for better drivers but we go back to cost and value are different. And those models last the 15, 20 years that owners retain them for just swap in new pads

Not that I suggest anyone casually buys the Susvara, unless you are loaded, in fairness to Hifiman while the finish is lacking I have not heard about many driver issues. Focal receives more anecdotal reports of driver failures than should exist although seem to sort things under warranty
 

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