May 20, 20162248 views

What was your Ah ha! moment in becoming an Audiophile?

Everyone started somewhere. What was the piece of equipment that initially sent you over the edge into caring about frequency response, specs, drivers, etc?

Mine had to be the Havi B3 Pro 1 when it was a complete unknown. Blew me away compared to the items I had previously. I made the jump to an audio-gd dac/amp and HE-500 real quick after that, and I don't have those anymore either.
westrom, rastus, and 7 others

Mine was when I had purchased the Shure SE215 a bit after they released. That was my gateway. I still have my 7-year old pair in working order though they are looking a bit beat up. For a long time, I was using such crappy headphones and earbuds (Skullcandy, cheap Sony's, random unknown brands, etc.). My most recent pair had broken for the umpteenth time and was looking for a new pair. I was fortunate enough to be in a local record store that had listening stations for all the new release CDs of the week. In one station, they had the 215s setup and I was just amazed. I had never realized what "better" sound was. Mind you, the 215 isn't audiophile by any means but coming from cheap earbuds that came with your Razr or Blackberry, these things sounded absolutely amazing. Fast Forward 7 years later and I still feel like I am always finding a new amp, or DAC, or heapdhone that gives me the same feeling when I sampled the 215 for the first time all those years ago.
When it came to audio in general I actually started with the home theater route. I was putting my wife through college at the time, so money was tight. One of our favorite things back then was going to movies, so I decided that the best thing to do was to save money by setting up a home theater (Awww...that might have been my first good self-delusion to rationalize buying electronic toys).
DVD was pretty new, so I ponied up for one to add to my VHS player and my huge 32" TV. Everything was just fine until I noticed there was something called Dolby Digital on the DVD menus. I made sure nobody needed to use the phone, and fired up my trusty AOL modem to do some research. That started me on my quest. I made friends with the stereo store in the city where I worked, bought the cheapest used receiver I could find, and they were kind enough to give me some of their speaker castoffs, since I didn't have money for speakers.
My first setup literally had five completely different types of speakers, since their castoffs were situations where one of a pair had been damaged or destroyed. It was a total monstrosity, and now that I know better, it must have sounded awful - but I loved it! I was hooked and have had a home theater ever since.
What's funny is that, even though I have loved music since my teens, I never really got into headphones until just a few years ago. I had tried several, including some Sony's, Klipsch's, and Senns, but I honestly was one of those people who was like, "Nah, there's no difference - why would you spend more than $20." But after a discussion with my team at work, I was curious enough to try again.
I picked up a pair of Senn HD558s on a Black Friday deal at Best Buy. Feeling nostalgic, I threw on my "Live at the Roxy" CD from Social Distortion - and my mind was blown! It had been 15+ years since I had been to a Social D show, but when it started playing I felt like I could see the stage, Mike Ness moving around behind an old-school mic, Dennis Dannel messing with his guitar, the distortion screech just before the wall of guitars hit. It lit up visual and auditory memories from decades past in a way I hadn't experienced before. And that was that.
After all these years, I'm just about done with my "dream" home theater, and managed to include a very comfy headphone listening station to boot. After I put on the finishing touches, I'm looking forward to sharing it on the "rigs" board to see what y'all think.
There are SO MANY.
But. My absolute epiphany would be when I learned that "there's something BETTER!"
I was in high school. All I could afford with my crap odd jobs and local veterinary after-hours doggy sitter/walker/feeder was a mix of a junked Radio Shack receiver, a cheap used car cassette player, a set of Idon'tevenknowbrand speakers and an Idon'tevenknowbrand turntable that had an elderly bent and skippy needle* on there. I had this Leo Kottke record album my Dad gave me, I played it over and over and over on that rig. For my birthday, we went to a live performance by Mr. Kottke. I'm like, "Wow. NOTHING like this is coming out of my record player!" Made it hard for me to listen to that record so much any more because it seemed so poor.
Then...I went to college. One of the guys in my dorm was into the electronic-geek schtick, he had this tube amp he'd built, a refurbed Denon TT, and a set of Beyerdynamic DT770's, (Yes. The very ones I wound up owning because he sold them to me), he let me listen to my beloved Leo Kottke album on that rig. It was so much closer to the magic I had heard coming from that stage at the concert that I sortofalmostmaybe cried. That was me understanding that "there's something BETTER!" I had to have it, and I understood, in that instant, that, if his rig was better, then there were likely even MORE BETTER equipments out there.
So, now I pursue that "there's something BETTER!" ethos. I try not to spend too much money, (but enough to achieve a very aurally satisfying experience), since, 1) I'm still paying off med school, and, 2) The one thing the concert vs. my crap rig taught me is that live performance will always be better and I save the extra cash for attending that. And maybe there's some little piece of my brain that wants it to stay that way..... ;)
I still have those DT770's. Still have that Kottke album and the ticket stub from that concert. I'll always keep them. Because they gave me so much...more than the concert, more than a scratchy old vinyl, more than a closed-back set of cans that got me through snoring room-mates in the dorm while I was up studying late at night.


* required 3 pennies taped on the cartridge to keep the needle in the grooves at all.
First ah ha moment was when i was auditioning the Infinity reference 60 and I just HAD to hear the Harbeth in the other room. At the time, it was about 3 times the price of the infinity so i passed and have regretted ever since.
Second was with my wilson audio watt puppy speakers. I had a Sonus Faber cremona at the time and i immediately traded it in to upgrade to an ugly, grey, boxy but truly mesmerising speaker.
Third was when I bought my UE triplefi IEMs with the Graham slee Voyager about 8~9 years ago.
Fourth was today, when i powered on my R2R-11 that i received this morning, paired with my hifiman 4xx. I finally found an amp that makes the 4xx not suck (so far).
People say the R2R-11 only gets better in time, so I'm optimistic!
My recent acquisition of a Stax SR-009 + Mjolnir Audio KGSSHV Carbon resulted in another "Ah ha!" moment. Having owned other flagships with excellent amplifiers, such as the Audeze LCD-4 and LFF Code-6 (modded HiFiMan HE-6) and having auditioned most other flagships, a well driven SR-009 just decapitates all of them and it's not even close. Similar to when I went from garbage gaming headsets to the Audio Technica ATH-A900X years ago.
My ‘ah ha’ moment was when I bought some HyperX Clouds a few years back that blew me away. I had, up to that point, been listening to some Best Buy brand (Insignia) computer speakers and occasionly using some Razer cans my brother bought me. From there I bought a Schiit Stack on a whim (Modi 2 Uber with a Vali), which was the best whim ever! Then I got serious and picked up some HD 650’s. It was truly amazing. Now I have a pair of LCD-2C’s and a Jotty and couldn’t be more pleased! =D
I was parked in the back of a warehouse shipping cell phones with a co-worker from hell. She NEVER shut her mouth, white foam formed on the corners of her mouth sometime. Before completely losing my shit, I bought a pair of Sony Mdr7506 running on my 4gb sony mp3 player. Been hooked ever since - current favorite setup is Mrspeakers aeon flow closed, hd650, and Fiio Q5 bluetooth to galaxy s8. Recently got into making my own cables and have been having fun trying different material.
I've had many moments. Listening to my father's record collection in the late 70s and early 80s and discovering Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, Santana, BB King. I don't remember the brand of receiver or speakers, but they sounded great.
Another was when my mom bought a Kenwood stack. It had a turntable, EQ, dual cassette , a CD Player and huge tower speakers. The first CD I bought was Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I needed more. Almost 35 years later, I still have that CD.
Next was in college. I bought a Sony receiver and blew out the speakers I had. The same ones I used to listen to my dad's record collection. A guy that lived in the same house as me had some gambling issues and offered to sell me some $400 Polk speakers for $150. I bought them and it was a revelation. I had them up until about 10 years ago when I upgraded to my current Polk Monitor 50 speakers that do a great job with my Sonos Amp.
Last Audiophile moment I'll mention is my recent decent into headphones and amps. I always appreciated a good set of headphones,but they weren't a focus of my listening habbit. I was looking for some new headphones in late 2017 and found Massdrop. I ordered a set of 6xx and didn't initially notice the long wait time for delivery. 3 months. I'll skip the story of all the headphones I tried and returned in that 3 month window (I kept the m100) and just say when the 6xx finally arrived I was not overly impressed. That is until I bought a DarkVoice 336SE tube amp (Massdrop strikes again). When I listened to the 6xx via the DV I had another wow audio moment and knew I had a winner.
Good thread. And wow, good on you jumping to the HE-500 so quickly. To this day I prefer it to over 95% of > $1,000 headphones.
For me, it was just the Audio Technica ATH-A900X in 2014. Even that slaughtered everything else I had heard at the time. Since then I've had all kinds of crap including top of the line gear.
I went to school for sonic physics and audio recording. They let us listen to high fidelity music through some mid-fi headphones in one of the labs and it was clear that most consumer products weren't good enough. The quest to finding that perfect audio reproduction started there. This was in 2006.
Don't remember the year, probably around the mid 90's. I was finally making expendable money at work and had spent about half a year piecing together the audio system in my truck. Finally finished off with a Cerwin Vega 12" sub and Rockford Fosgate mono block. None of the stuff I had bought was truly top of the line but what changed everything was when I dropped the $30 or so to pick up Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs remaster of Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side...' If you know about Mo-Fi's stuff, you know what I'm talking about.
Anyhow, I proceeded to pop it in and as the heartbeat in 'Speak to Me' rose and rose in volume, I knew something was up. Then, if you know the album (which you all should, IMHO), a scream comes in towards the end as it segues in to 'Breathe' with that build up...
Boom, hooked.
The noise floor was so low and I could crank the damn thing for ages without any distortion or physical pain in my ears. It was glorious. The chimes of the clocks going off in the lead in to 'Time'...oh man, they would make your ears tingle, not hurt. I immediately drove over to my uncle's house, who is a massive Floyd fan, and we just sat in my truck smiling like idiots and yelling to each other, even though we're only 2 feet apart, "GO TO THAT ONE PART OF <insert song here>!!" Then you'd skip to it and we'd just look at each other and laugh. "YES! YES!"
And thus, it began...

I became hooked just recently with a pair of decent head phones. It started accidentally with some Bose QuietComfort. I bought them to focus better at work. I thought: Wow - these sound really nice! Started googling them and someone on head-fi said they were crap compared to e.g. AKG K701 - so I bought a pair of those in an impulse. And than it startet: Amplifier, Beyerdynymic DT990, Hifiman HE-400i, AKG K340 - very interesting hobby 😊
Glad your enjoying the new hobby and sorry to hear about your wallet! This is a damn deep rabbit hole and I just keep pushing on down... for over a decade in fact.
The first real Ah Ha! was back in circa '85'. We had been making equipment to coat CD's, Aluminum alloy reflective layer, since the beginning with Philips, but none of us owned a CD player yet. Our company put together a trade show booth with some very nice, best in the day, audio equipment and paid for the use of Whitney's first music video (Promoting CD's but think it may have been a LaserDisc? - CD quality regardless). They set up the booth on our factory floor to try it out and demo it for us, the employees...
Yup,, Gobsmacked...
Started collecting CD's from our testing before I had a player, still have some of those at home.
Then the beginning of the next Ah ha.. I was at the AD home show some years ago in NYC, and was poking around a booth looking at some audio hardware on display that Innovative Audio had out and got a demo of early FLAC files in "studio quality", this was what I was waiting for,, I can gain access to the studio stuff, no more in-between corrupted media! Well as best possible,, today.
The last Ah ha, was at home, sitting down in a quiet room last year. I used HD700's, upgraded(nos tubes & $ caps) baby tube amp and a Korg 100 DAC using Audiogate on a laptop. I had been listening to the locked level at 44.1 kHz for a few days, and then unleashed the Korg;) Steely Dan Aja in native DSD 2.8 from a studio master... beautiful sonic lubricity...
I think my next Ah ha moment will be with MEMS in a Can:
The real life ones simply are , such as seeing Steve Winwood play "Can't Find My Way Home" & "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" at Bethel Woods a couple of years ago, and before that George Winston 15 feet away crawling inside the piano... tuning while playing. You can't be at these events everyday, some perhaps never, many will never truly repeat live in any fashion, so we try to reproduce them as best we can, and we are getting damn close.
The Road, and back again...:



About 2 years ago, I heard my friend's V-Moda M-100's for the second time and it just clicked. He put on some song from Santana with a nice acoustic guitar part and I realized that there was something to this nicer audio stuff which I initially thought was BS and overpriced. Fast forward now where as an 18 y/o I've spend over 2k on audio related stuff. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I'd say I've been an audiophile for as long as I can remember (I'm 52 now). I remember buying a catalog (Penny's or Sears?) stereo (turntable and stereo speakers) and I loved that it had 2 way speakers and a bass and treble control. I used to put the speakers on the floor and lay my head between them for the best sound. I eventually purchased a pair of Radio Shack headphones (a re-branded Koss HV/1A I think), but that little stereo didn't have a suitable headphone output. I ended up making a connector that went from the speaker's RCA outputs to a 1/4" headphone jack (with a volume pot between the two) which was awesome. Luckily, my dad always emphasized protecting my hearing because that setup could play LOUD. Over the years I got better systems and was always tweaking things or adding better components/speakers. I was an early adopter of CD's (I'm sure I own more than 1000), and I built some pretty awesome car stereos that were generally worth more than any of my cars in which they resided. I got into home theater in a big way and I now have a dedicated theater room with a nice Dolby Atmos receiver and speakers. I'd really moved away from headphones (save for my Porta Pros and a collection of buds) until about 5 years ago when I purchased a pair of Sennheiser HD598's and a NuForce Icon HDP DAC/Amp. That was my latest ah-ha moment, and now I have an extensive collection of DACs amps, and headphones (Mostly Schiit and Sennheiser). The most I ever spent on a pair of headphones happened just the other day when I picked up a pair of used Koss ESP-950's (in pristine condition) for $560, and that was another ah-ha moment, but I've also been enjoying my recently acquired Massdrop Koss KPH30i's. I just really love listening (like, really listening) to music and appreciating not only my expensive cans, but the budget models that punch way above their price. I just hope my hearing hangs in there so I can continue to enjoy this hobby.
Like I mentioned in my "Aha moment", I use nothing but studio monitors (enter your preference here). All consumer audio (that I know of) is flavored to sound best for a consumer. Also, I prefer the "flat" audio frequency response that monitors are supposed to provide. However, I don't have access to higher priced Audiophile grade products. And I cannot comment on the audio experience with that. And like any audio product, what you get out of it and how you experience your music is partially an individuals hearing and preference that you become accustomed to. But I can guarantee you, every producer that ever made an album, made it with studio monitors and that's what he intended it to send like. And yes maybe pre-1990s music was mixed to sound great through a stylus, but once digital audio equipment gained popularity, all the older music was remixed/remastered for the clarity of digital media. This in no way is intended to belittle any one persons preferences and preferred equipment. I am just stating my opinion, personal experiences and a small nugget of information.
Listening to electrostatic STAX for the first time... Dad's friend brought them in one day. The sound clarity blew me away.
When I went back from the HD-6xx to the m50x. It was night and day difference to me and I just could not take the muddy bass of the m50x. However, I did prefer the more emphasised highs on the m50x. D:
It was the moment when I had a listen to my friend's shiny new Aiwa cassette player.
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Looks damm close, but i can't remember correct model, must have been around 25-28 years ago. Being younger, young kids, other priorities, electronics havn't been the top of the most wanted list, but it felt good and didn't sound bad at that time given :)
Haha, I went into Best Buy and tried on the beats and monster headphones and loved how they sounded compared to like $10 ear buds and my father as well as the internet told me they were terrible, and he pointed me to good brands like AKG, Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and a few other brands. With so many options came research, which gave me enlightenment. I picked up the latest AKG K553 drop, but my first decent ear buds were $60 Sennheisers with in-line remotes for my Samsung Note 2 (which was a requirement), and I currently listen to my beloved ATH-M50Xs.
Good thread
Believe it or not, it was some $30 Sony earbuds from 20 years ago. I've since spent thousands of dollars on DAP then more $$$ on flagship headphones, DAC + AMPS. My current flagship setup is well over $10k.
However even going to these lengths, it still hasn't given me that same euphoric moment when i moved from cheap $3 earbuds to the $30 Sony earbuds.
I even put on the new mighty orpheus as well as some extended time with a loan of the stax 009s from a mate but I still feel these fall short from my virgin euphoric moment
Because we buy into the hype of the latest version of the latest gobbledy gook stuff believing you will get that 1st time feeling... that was a lot back then, but outrageous nowadays...
Sony Z1R - my new end game
My moment of epitome for my audiophile journey came about when I moved from a cheap pair of $3 to $30 Sony earbuds. It was a moment of enlightenment and nothing came close ever since, even when I moved onto my current flagship setup consisting of a reputable source + DAC/AMP and sub $3000 (LCD-3 / HE-1000v2 / Elear) headphones towards the diminishing point of return in terms of performance/value. I hold my respect for the HD800S and T1v2 though, these German cans can each hold their own in my opinion - being around $1000-$1500 they are also quite a bit cheaper than the aforementioned cans.
It wasn't until I put on the Z1R, it completely blew me away. A good headphone gives good bass slam, impactful presence and visceral effect. But the Z1R is something very special, not only it retains the former qualities but I could also literally feel the bass reverberating the air around me, none of my other high end cans could achieve this. The mids were sweet, lush, clear, addictive and not intrusive and the highs were exceptionally detailed, not rolled off and none fatiguing, it could do with a slightly tiny bit more sparkle in my humble opinion. I could not believe the presentation of the soundstage is from a pair of closed cans, analytics aside, speaking from my experience, it feels like it is up there on par with the HD800S. Imaging is also superb and more focused than the Sennheiser. Overall the Z1R has a very good presentation along with a nice tonal balance and to me they do not feel recessed in any spectrum of the audio – a complete package where everything is intimately present.
The Z1Rs walks all over the Focal Elear that I have been listening to as my daily driver. I would even rate it higher than my Audeze LCD 3 (unrefined highs) as well as the Hifiman HE-1000v2 (feels slightly dry and unexciting / a little cold and recessed in the lower mid region to my ears). Sound staging has always sucked on the planars from my personal experience but in terms of musicality, I prefer Sony's presentation over these two cans. The only other headphone I would put it alongside is the humble and improved Senn HD800S. But I still reckon the Z1R is the best headphone for under $3,000. I've spent some time with the Stax 009 recently and I would even go as far to say that I enjoy the Z1Rs more than the 009s - these also suffer from a narrowish sound stage and you will need to strap these next to a power sub station (or something that could drive the shinkansen) to run these to their max potential, otherwise they just sound dull and bland, and not able to flesh out the lustrous hyper details from tracks. The Z1R on the other hand scales well with my current DAC/AMP (Burson Audio) combo.
20 years ago it was Sony that did it for me from the $30 earbuds. 20 years later, it is again Sony that has taken me to the audio nirvana that I had been longing for.
The Z1R is the best purchase I made in pursuit of audio perfection.
The Shangri-la is a joke when standing against the Orpheus - USD$50k - somebody please shoot Fan Bian in the head as he would put it in his own words, [we can charge you this much] "because it sounds good" - if it goes for $5k then I would consider it, take it or leave it.
Hifiman HE-400i. Coming from ATH-m50s, those planar magnetic drivers surpassed my wildest expectations. I know there are more expensive cans out there, but it's hard to imagine anything sounding more quick, precise, and dynamic than these bad boys.
I grew up never really having anything pricey or hightech when it comes to audio, but somewhere around my teens i got a Creative 5.1 surround system for my PC, including sub and all, which was a huge step in audio for me. It was a shitty system to say the least by anyones standards, but I just loved it at the time. Played the Symphony & Metallica DVD and cranked it up, and that was when music and audio really entered my life. Been into sound and music ever since.
I grew up around the stage and national treasure grade professional audio equipment, so I started on the higher end of the spectrum without actually realizing it. As I grew older, I kept getting this "left wanting more" feeling with any and all portable music player/headphones I owned. The most crucial moment was when I first replaced my Etymotic hf5 earbuds with UE-900s with custom tips. The moment I started playing music thru the UE-900s connected to my iPhone 5 was when the ah-ha feeling hit me. It gave me a closer than ever peek at what I used to hear growing up near the stage. I've since then added a pair of UE Reference Remastered, Sennheiser HD650, and Audeze LCD2 to my repertoire. The Audeze paired with the O2 have so far brought me close as ever to the childhood audio experience I remember. I'll be attending CanJam in NYC in February in search of head gear that gets me even closer.
In the 1970's, the whole KEF speaker lineup.
it started with some triple fi10 for me I thought they were the dogs they were unfortunately stolen. I then bought the m50s my first ever headphone and was impressed then the obsession took over and I dare not say the time and money I have spent researching and buying headphones since then XD
Had money to buy a headphone.Decided to research on the best headphone I can find for 100$ and I found great companies like Grados and Sennheiser.Afterwards, I played with my mac amp and I fell in love with frequency responses.Some people saying that x headphone doesn't work with certain devices and then, I start caring about ohms and now, I am trying to understand what is harmonic redistribution and blah blah.I started to care about sound once I bought my first 300$ headphone.It was a pair of Urbanite XL.I need a good headset that can be powered by a mac and samsung s3.Before buying the phone, I have read lots of reviews on headphones and I have actually used the momentums before getting the urbanite xl so there was additional experience there.That was the time when I actually cared about the lows, mids and highs.I start to listen to other headphones.The M50X, QC35 and more.I see the different sound signatures and fell in love with headphones more but thanks to my urbanite xl burn in, I was able to listen to details I had never heard and listened to breaths by the singer that shocked me hard!I was very shocked when I saw saw the HD800.That headphones fascinates me and I would like to add the hd600 to my collection soon.I also started to fall in love with audio quality when I saw spotify premium's extreme quality option.I fell in love with amps and dacs when I wanted to know what it takes to power reference headphones like the HD600.
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not all of us audiophiles are snobs. I think the snobby ones are people who would use ANYTHING as a platform of perceived superiority from which to be snobs, even if audio gear wasn't a "thing". It's just that audio gear is really easy to use for one-upmanship. Like the guy in the Jag who sneers at my Subaru. But my Subaru handles better in the snow......
I think it's like anything else. there will be snobs and elitists no matter where you go.
There will also always be newbies. I was a newbie once... somebody helped me, now I try to help other folks with it. I try to use my audiophile-ness to the advantage of other folks, maybe help save them spending piles of cash that they might not have, or need to spend, were somebody willing to help and share experiences. The snobs are the ones who forget that they were newbie once, just like everybody else.

I like that term "Enthusiast". As much as " 'phile". ....but I really think they mean the same thing. It's just what somebody does with it.
You can be as enthusiastic at the 15 dollar level as you can at the $2000. No set entry fee, after all.

p.s. if I am coming across as a snob in any way, I'm not really trying to be that, just so's ya know. ;)
p.p.s. GUTB IS A SNOB.
Well said, the term audiophile has been somewhat reclaimed by the more reasonable masses in the last few years but when I first got into stereo gear it symbolized people who thought the type of tree used for their "isolation blocks" made a significant impact to the sound of their gear. This site is a good example of why I still can't adopt "Audiophile" as a moniker.
A music store (tapes, CDs, records) where I would occasionally buy tapes had Bose speakers playing music. From there I realized how clear and defined music can really sound.
I have to ask (sorry I know its not really the place) but what qualifies as being an audiophile? I started with apple earbuds and then jumped to inearpeace then finally jumped to hifi350's so while I'm not up there by any means I noticed as I increase the accuracy I get more of those tinglingly in the music moment kind of euphoria, does that classify? Maybe, maybe not.
I really think anyone who is on the path to finding the best sound -- anyone who cares that the music sounds as close to live as you can afford to have it -- is an audiophile. Not every audiophile needs to be able to tell the difference between a 320kbps AAC and a 24bit/96kHz FLAC file to "qualify." I know I'll never be able to afford an Audeze LCD2 and whatever $1000+ amp/DAC is required to match it, but I'll do everything I can to get as close as I can with what money I can scrimp and save.
Any headphone that is created under Sennheiser manufacture.