What Is Your Listening Setup? (Audiophile / Hi-Fi)

There are threads for listening and for musicians / audio production, but I feel like we need a separate thread for audiophiles and discussion of gear, specs, and setups. Given how many music threads there are (listening and walrus), I’m also genuinely curious to know how other people are listening to music in general whether you’re using Apple earbuds or driving HD 820s off a portable tube on your subway commute.

I’m currently looking for a set of affordable closed backs that would be in the same ballpark as HD6xx series that can be driven (at least decently) by portable devices and actually have some soundstage–a tall order. Paging @eeAWW.

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I hate headphones and only use them in very limited circumstances. I don’t want to retreat into the music I listen to, I want it to fill my world.

My first serious set of speakers (by low grade audiophile standards) were Polk towers. After that I went to mid-sized PSB’s. Then I moved several times and minimized everything in my life and suffered for years with crappy computer speakers.

I recently picked up a pair of Audioengine powered speakers and I’ve been incredibly happy with them. They’re dirt cheap (by low grade audiophile standards), but they sound absolutely amazing.

I have some mid-low end Sennheiser’s that I rarely use.

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I like speakers too but can’t use them without getting evicted. Retreating is probably my favorite way to hear music though, almost like doing a sensory deprivation except for sound. It’s the closest I come to meditating, but I think you need a decent set of cans to get there.

My wife and I bought, restored(replaced the record player and other minor parts), added an amp and painted a 60s era record cabinet in 2019. It still puts out pretty good sound. Does that count?

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I have Sennheiser HD something or others (580?) that I bought in 1999 and still work great to this day. The cord is detachable so I’ve replaced the cord a few times and eventually the foam in the part on top of my head compressed too much into hardness so I added new foam, but otherwise best $200 or whatever I ever spent.

Otherwise Apple AirPods if listening on my phone or Beats Studio3 if at work computer (won them in goodie bag raffle at a work conference; they have the Qualtrics logo on them). The Sennheisers are 10x more comfortable; the Beats are small on-ears that get annoying after awhile.

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580 Precision with the deco plastic grills?

Alexa Echo for casual listening

I have Bose NC headphones for long-haul travel and bluetooth earbuds for going outside

Occasionally I’ll hook my laptop to my TV if I want to listen to music outside of my bedroom

RME 802 to drive K-701’s (for vox and acoustic) and DT770’s for everything else cos flatter frequency response. Same as Lawnmower_Man tho cos neighbors, sigh.

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I agree with zikzak, never been a headphones for music person. Also never much cared about audiophilia. Up until this year we still had the stereo I bought as a student hooked up to a £20 20 year old turntable that needed a coin blutacked to the needle to keep it in the groove.

However the stereo died and I figured why not do it semi-correctly and it was a good choice. Now have an Onkyo connected amp (so does spotify, amazon, internet radio etc.) and can also have TV, streaming sticks etc, put through it with a pre-amp for a turntable built in. Those were pretty much the criteria and it seemed like Onkyo had a good reputation in the price range (~300 euros).

Then some Dali bookcase speakers that cost about ~250 each, and a pro-ject turntable for ~200. I was mostly aiming for low end ‘audiophile’ that had decent reviews and to my ears it all sounds lovely. The biggest improvement, though, is just having one device to do sound that does everything without messing with cables.

You don’t find the 770 to be a treble machine?

Equator D5 monitors and a JBL sub. I recommended the monitors to HamonRye(?) at 2p2 and he loved them. The company isn’t around any longer though. Also have Sony MD7506 cans but haven’t used them really since school. I have in-ear beatz by Dre I wear when outdoors.

You get an automatic eeAWW heart for starting this thread.

I’ve actively avoided headphone news since covid hit the US, so if there’s a new pair that makes all my recommendations obsolete then my apologies.

The Ollo s4r is possibly an upgrade over the 6xx, has a similar sound signature, and is roughly the same price. Best of all, there’s a free trial! It’s very easy to drive. I only tried the open-back, but at least one person who tried both said the closed-back has the better soundstage. Someone said that that comes at a cost of poor isolation for a closed-back, even saying that it might be slightly semi-open rather than truly closed. I liked the open pair but returned it because of the pairs I already had. My year-old memory of it is that it excelled at timbre, which I noticed with acoustic instruments.

Assuming we’re not to spend more than that, there are several other great closed-backs within this budget, all very easy to drive:

  • AKG k371
  • PSB m4u1
  • Status Audio cb-1
  • Focal Spirit Pro
  • NAD Viso hp50
  • Bang & Olufsen Beoplay h6 gen1

I’ve tried all but the k371 and cb1, with the m4u1 being my slight favorite in A/B tests using an audio switch. They’re all meant to have a neutral sound, in fact all were designed to approximate the Harman curve except for the h6.¹

The h6 wins aesthetically by far, is very comfy and plenty of people would prefer its sound out of that lineup. I’ve seen it go for very cheap on ebay (used). I haven’t tried the gen2 but it’s supposed to have a bass boost, so I think the gen1 (green inside the cup) is the safer bet.

The others are fairly interchangeable, so a decision between them might simply come to price. The new and used prices can fluctuate a lot, for instance a new m4u1 is $200 right now despite being $100 a year ago (if I’m not crazy). $200 would be a reasonable price if not for the availability of similar/used pairs for much cheaper. A new cb1 is only $60 last I checked, making it the cheapest Harman-targeted pair that I know of. It lacks in the sub-50hz range though (graph found here). If you want rumble, go with the k371, whose subbass is a little louder than Harman (graph here from the list here). If you get the k371, I suggest buying new, because the first batch of units had some kind of defect (though I forget what).

The m4u2 in passive mode is probably very similar to the m4u1, so I’d check the used prices on both. If prices are similar, I’d pick the m4u1 in case the lack of components in its cups allows for a better acoustic design (like perhaps more damping material). The same guy engineered the NAD, and indeed it’s hard to tell the sound apart, but for me the PSB’s win in comfort. I wasn’t a fan of how the NAD felt on my head with its uneven distribution of the cup pressure. It didn’t hurt, but triggered OCD. Not a big issue but just warning you. I think the PSB sounded a tad better than the NAD and the Focal, but the difference was small enough (and the test long ago enough) that I may have imagined it. The Focal are said to have a problem with the headband developing hairline cracks that grow, but there’s a youtube video showing an easy mod to mitigate or prevent that.

When it comes to the beoplay and the focal, I haven’t checked whether replacement pads are available. That’s something to consider because the aging of pads (like a year of normal wear) can significantly change the sound, for instance here’s the dt770 graph with fresh pads vs that with old pads.

Re: soundstage, I’m not a great person to ask because I rarely pay attention to it at the conscious level, not even during an A/B comparison. I suspect that none of the pairs I mentioned have a soundstage to write home about, with the closed Ollo being a possible exception. I don’t think the open Ollo had a larger space than the 6xx, but I think it had better imaging. The hd6xx image is concentrated into three regions: forward, left and right. I don’t recall the Ollo’s image being as directionally condensed.


¹ For readers curious about the Harman curve, take your pick between this comment, this article (part1 and part2), this 1hr presentation, or this 15-min explanation.

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Aaaaand with that post it’s officially an audiophile thread. You dropped a few there that I’m not even familiar with so had to do some extra digging. Those Status cb-1s are on sale for $46 (!). A lot of stuff is sold out or hard to get now (Soundmagic HP151 for example). One I’ve been drooling over is the Aeon Flow (v1) closed which is consistently reviewed to sound open while the open is said to sound closed. They are planars. Not sure how power hungry but I’ve read several reviews that they work, just not stellar, on portable devices. Fine by me if they are as neutral, isolating, and open-sounding as most of the reviewers claim. Oppo PM-3 is another I see recommended a lot.

Only comparatively to the AKG’s I don’t lol. They were originally for tracking acoustic tbh. Wider sound stage on the 701’s albeit somewhat artificial/detatched and super comfy but the bleed is terrible for nocturnal smokers. Also, lolpoors.

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Found a deal on the Aeons today and snapped them. Will review eventually.

Edit - oh you posted while I was writing this post a few pieces at a time. Now this is all moot lol but I might as well leave it up. Congrats on the deal though, looking forward to your impressions!


Oh your budget opens a different can o worms!

I looked up the Aeon Flow specs: 13ohm but only 95 dB/mW, so my guess is a phone would struggle. A laptop may be borderline. I happen to have a similarly spec’d planar so when I get a chance, I’ll try it unamped on my laptop & my hubby’s phone for curiosity. What state are you in? There might be a hifi shop within semi-reasonable distance where you can demo the AF and others. It’s always nice when you can try a pair before handing someone your whole wallet.

I haven’t followed closed-backs in that price tier as much, but from memory here are a few others to consider.

The Drop/THX Panda is a 100 dB/mW planar for $400 and I heard lots of good things about it (but I don’t remember what ppl said about its soundstage). IIRC it’s a tweaked remake of the beloved Oppo PM3. You can listen wired or wireless and the FR is very similar either way, meaning the SQ doesn’t suffer from being wireless! It has a built-in amp you can turn on if your volume on the phone is lacking.¹

The Ora GrapheneQ is another drivable wired/wireless pair, featuring a state-of-the-art (as of late 2019) dynamic graphene driver advertised to have certain advantages, not that I care about such marketing. Headphone nuts were super excited about this one, but when the preorders were finally shipped, huge disappointment followed in the early reviews. However, this may have been the initial shock of the unique sound signature, plus people of certain head sizes complained of fit issues that could have greatly affected the sound for them. Eventually some favorable reviews trickled in, and though I haven’t followed the threads in a while, I get the sense that the OGQ ended up being a success. There’s no guarantee that you’ll like its FR (see graph), whereas the Panda has a more universally appealing sound sig. Searching the big head-fi thread for “soundstage”, I just found this post:

  1. How does the sound quality compare to Focal Clear or HD-600?

I don’t have the clear but I have the elear with original and the Utopia pads and Ora has much better sound. With the stock ora pads I say it was close with ORAs being better overall but now that I changed the pads on the ORAs to senitek pads I havnt been even tempted to put on my elears. For me the seal is good with the stock pads but better with the fabric ones with or without glasses. I’m not good with describing sound but the bass is deeper, tighter and overall much better on the ORAs. Mids are about even and highs are much more natural with the oras. The main difference is the soundstage is better in every way. Accuracy as well as width height and depth. The ORAs since I’ve changed the pads just feel alive and not like I’m listening to real music and not headphones. This however wasn’t until I changed pads.

The Elear they’re comparing it to is a good open-back headphone with, afaik, a good open-back soundstage (even if not for its retail price of $1k, since the hd800s is the king of soundstage). It’s the predecessor to the Clear, which is a damn good pair that I’ve had a chance to demo. (A much cheaper pair that I already owned actually tied/beat it in an A/B test, but that’s because said cheaper pair was way underpriced, not the other way around.² This is how one can strike gold with obscure pairs.)

At the moment I can’t seem to find where one buys the GrapheneQ besides ebay. Since the preorders shipped a year ago, I would have thought they had retail units by now, but maybe not. I think it will cost something like $700. Looks like you can get it new on ebay for $650 since you might be the only bidder. But this is of course a gamble without getting to hear it first, nor return it, and probably not resell it for a while either.

Thirdly, I’ll mention another dynamic, obscure garage-fi pair (that looks the part) called the Aurorus Australis. Here are two reviews and there may be some more in the same thread.
review 1
review 2

From the first:

Australis – This is a closed back headphone?

Sound stage is quite good for a closed headphone, I would say about the size of HD650. What Australis gets right is the placement of the sound stage. It’s not 3 blob or a line through your head. Sound emanates a little in front of my head similar to Auteur or Verite and the sound stage does seem to change with recordings, which is ideal, contrary to HD800 that always sounds slightly too diffuse and wide.

The other review slightly contradicts that, but is still a solid endorsement of the soundstage:

The Australis is the closed model and I’m not going to spew bullshit like, “Wow these sound like open headphones,” because while they are airier and are markedly less congested than most closed headphones I’ve heard, they still are closed. But I am surprised at how…normal these sound.

I happen to have demoed the open model (Borealis) while in the DC area. I must say, I loved the seatbelt headband lol. I found it very comfy with its large surface area distributing the weight. The Borealis graph is pretty standard, and is about what I would have guessed after hearing it. I don’t have a graph for the Australis but it’s probably similar, ie something a 6xx fan can get down with. I AB’d the Borealis against the same pair that tied the mighty Clear, and it was a close contest, which means the Borealis gets high marks from me. I wouldn’t recommend spending $900 on it, but that’s because it’s an open-back and the open-back arena is filled with tough competition. By contrast, $900 might be reasonable for a closed-back with that sound and a soundstage those reviewers describe. (Of course this doesn’t fit my definition of “affordable”, but neither does the Aeon Flow. At least you can try before buying, unlike the OGQ.)

Those Aurorus pairs reveal the amount of markup in this industry. The driver in them is also used in a pair that costs 2k or something. The part itself only costs $10. So the Australis must cost what, $50 to make? $100 tops? But you’re obviously not paying for the parts, but the R&D - the tuning of the driver, the choice and quantity of damping, the pads with the right synergy, etc.

Man, TIL all someone has to do is cough the word “headphones” and I vomit out an essay!


¹ I only use an amp when volume is otherwise lacking. After objective testing, I found that if you have enough volume without turning your volume dial too close to max, then there is no difference in sound between unamped, amped, and expensively amped if it’s not an amp that colors the sound (ie a tube amp). When someone on a hifi forum talks about how amping their 32 ohm, 120 dB/mW pair with a $500 solid-state transforms it from night to day, frankly they’re delusional. (However, their impressions of the headphone may still be informative if you can figure out whether their unamped or amped impression is the one to believe. IME their amped impression is the truer one.)

² That pair is the Onkyo A800, a discontinued and hard-to-find open back. I’ll talk about my gear some time in another, shorter post.

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Nah way less and from an auth dealer w/ warranty. Could resell for at least what I paid if it doesn’t work out. I was also looking at the Focal Elegia which would be easier to drive. It’s kind of huge, weighs more (430 g !!!), and costs more. For phone, I really just need enough volume for podcasts and such since I don’t really listen to music on the go. It would be nice if the laptop could power it to merely acceptable levels, but I’ll mostly be able to amp it.

Thanks for all the recs, a lot of those weren’t even popping on my radar. I needed to make a quick decision because IEMs are giving me impacted wax issues. I’ve been curetted by my doctor before and that was way scarier than I thought it should be.

I’m going to interrupt this super serious audiophile headphone talk with some levity.

Presented for your amusement, my contender for most Rube Goldberg, piece-of-crap setup.

From the top:

  1. Ten-year-old Dell laptop. For internet audio sources, like YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc. Also for KEXP’s stream archive.
  2. Denon turntable. Fully functional, used for playing my approx. 16 shelf-inches of LPs and 45s. Mostly bargin bin junk but some collectible Metallica rarities which I don’t really actually play.
  3. 80’s era Realistic (aka Radio Shack, aka Shit Shack, aka Radio Joke) digital EQ: Used as a poor-man’s crossover for the subs (see #12). Input comes from the headphone out on #4. Only one channel of the EQ works, so, since it’s bass, I “Y” the working channel and feed the amp (#9) with it.
  4. 80’s era Pioneer pre-amp/amp. This is also partially broken so I can only use one of the non-phono inputs and the volume slider (not knob!) is really scratchy sounding.
  5. Denon CD changer, purchased in 1990 or so: I’m not sure if this is connected or not actually. I purged a lot of CDs when I moved here but still have around 36 shelf-inches worth of them.
  6. Nakamichi tape deck, also purchased around 1990: Not connected, but if it was, I could play my drawer full of cassettes, including mix tapes made for me by my middle-school girlfriend.
  7. Years-broken “A/V” computer. Sweet-ass aluminum case but obsolete because of changing case standards.
  8. Generic/mystery (i.e., I can’t find any information about it or the brand on Google) car stereo amp: Fed by “crossover” in #3. Powers #12, subs. Juice from…
  9. 12-volt inverter to power amp #8.
  10. 80’s era Pioneer speakers, came as package with #4 and the rack/cabinet enclosing all this. They’re gigantic but actually have really weak bass. I popped out the woofer on one and took a look one time, the magnet is laughably small, especially by modern standards. Treble/mid sounds okay to me though.
  11. Old-ass Dell monitor. Displays YouTube vids and similar if I want them on a larger screen than the laptop.
  12. Two 10" MTX TERMINATOR subwoofers, purchased approx. 1991. Had these in their box in my 1968 Buick Lesabre in high school, then in my 1980 SAAB turbo after the Buick went away. Got a wild hair up my butt a few years ago when I realized I could cobble this joke of a setup together, dragged them inside, and hooked them up as you see here.
  13. Sonos “Port”, only months old. Feeds Pioneer component in #4. Used mainly to stream internet radio. Also has a line-in input, which is what the laptop audio out feeds. Big win when I got this because now I have remote control of the volume, which was previously not possible, through the Sonos phone app.

Overall, this setup takes up way more space than it should, is egregiously complicated, and aesthetically unattractive, but it meets my needs and surprisingly sounds okay for my kind of listening. (Sounds unbelievable for drum-and-bass if you get high AF and crank it.)

Now that I’ve shared my point-and-laugh setup, anyone else stringing crap together like this?

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baller

Oops I forgot about the Elegia, and come to think of it, the Fostex TR-x00. Wouldn’t have bothered mentioning the Australis, because its price is unjustified with all these others that are cheaper and at least as good.

Everything you said makes sense. It sounds like you made a risk-free buy because yeah, worst case it should be easy to sell the Aeon Flow.

Hopefully that 5.5k peak isn’t a problem, but it’s nothing some EQ couldn’t fix.

Nothing some dedicated neck training can’t prepare you for! If poker is called a sport then let’s make audiophilia a sport!

That sounds awful…but now is your hearing suddenly what it was 10 years ago?