Aug 14, 201961 views

What's your end-game headphone system on a budget?

Do you own a near-reference quality headphone system including DAC, headphone amp, headphone and cables for under around $5k? Bonus points for closer to $3k. How does the system sound? You can also tell us how you'd create the system in theory, if you have personal experience with the components and you know they work well together.

If you had asked me that question 10 years ago I would have said my HD650 and FiiO E9 were my "endgame". Now I regularly listen headphone chains that cost 4-6X that combo and don't feel I've hit my new "endgame". Most frequently used chains: TEAC UD-501>XLR Out>Cayin iHA-6>HE500/Elex/K10u Kann Cube>SE out (for now)>Cayin iHA-6>HE500/Elex/K10u Original list price on the first was $3197 and I paid $1957 Original list price on the second was $3847 and I paid $3097 My next addition will be a DAC replacement, Benchmark DAC3 HGC, Mytek Brooklyn+, PS Audio Stellar GC DAC and will be good for a while. If I were putting together a system that I currently see as "endgame" it would be the following: Mytek Brooklyin Bridge ($2995) Roon Lifetime Sub ($500) iFi Pro iCan ($1799) Hifiman Susvara ($5999) But for me at that cost I would sink more money into my HT. The return on headphones gets smaller at the Summit-Fi level as compared to my enjoyment from speaker listening. For the 11293 that the above system would cost I could add a pair of Revel F208's and two SVS SB-4000's, with change to spare.
My top system rig is as follows: * RME ADI-2 DAC ($1k, bought when they first came out) * NAD C275BEE Stereo amp (bought factory refurbished for under $900 for my HT and repurposed for my estat rig - brand new runs ~$1.3k) * Mjolnir Audio SRD-7 electrostatic transformer (~$740) * STAX SR-L300 Limited, modded (~$1.1k, L700 pads and headband and blu-tak mod) * Furman M-8x AR Line Voltage regulator (~$560) * Benchmark audio and Blue Jeans Cable (less than ~$150 total for everything used) * SANUS 15 PU rack with swivel castors (~$240) So the 'base' system rig cost me around $4.7k Also added in the system is stuff I already had and added for more functionality: OPPO BDP-95 multi-media player, TASCAM MH-8 headphone amp, an auxillary 22" ASUS IPS display mounted on a swing arm. Also vented rack block off panels were added for aesthetics and create 'solid' front face to the rack unit. The L300 Limiteds with L700 headband and pads [with pads blu-tak sealed] on the rig are something that brings both great subbass and neutral, full tone with a somewhat bright but non-fatiguing sound signature. Extremely detailed and transient speed beyond most anything else besides other higher end e-stats, with most excellent separation and a nice sense of 3D space to its sound - great for gaming and movies. Has some of my favorite bass found in any headphone yet also punchy, extremely clean and clear sound. Treble is very detailed and energetic but non-fatiguing. Fairly neutral overall with just a tad more than neutral bass. Nearest thing to them which I've heard is the Focal Clear, but the Clear has less low end, a more intimate presentation that is also relaxed a bit more, and doesn't have that e-stat speed/layering presentation. Here's the system with STAX SR-404 Limiteds I briefly owned:
And my modded SR-L300 Limiteds: