Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Headphones, Headsets, Earbuds, Canalphones - stuff that goes on, around or in your ears.
unanimous
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Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by unanimous » Mon Nov 14, 2011 8:33 am

TL;DR version: Like metal, want headphones and amp, home listening, multiple sources, probably want to spend $5-600 or a little more.

Hi all, new poster here - noob friendly advice appreciated, and please excuse the wording! (apologies for those who've already answered some of my Qs on whirlpool, I thought I'd do myself a favour and post here for the "straight from the horses mouth" advice)

I'm looking to spend somewhere around $500-600 on a home listening headphone set up (can stretch this a bit depending on amp/no-amp). This will be used with sources such as laptops (line out), portables (Cowon D2+), and probably my PC via line out/optical (if I get a DAC). I use high quality mp3, or preferably FLAC. Some people have already (rightly!) pointed out that my source(s) will be the weak in my audio chain. I accept this, but would like to buy some phones/amp that will go the distance in terms of upgrading other components.

I like listening to metal predominately - prog metal, tech, death, black, folk, symphonic etc. (ie: Opeth, Septic Flesh, Meshuggah, Nevermore, Agalloch Gorguts, Deathspell Omega) I do listen to other music (rock, electronic, classical, big band), but really metal is my focus. I do like good instrument separation, big soundstage, and being able to "hear where the instruments are" (positioning?). I like balanced sound, I don't like phones that are too bright/harsh, I'm not a bass head but do like to hear the bass. I want a pair of phones I can lay back and lose myself in, and head as much of the music as I can.

I'm looking for a well made headphone, open (isolation is not required), circumarual, comfortable (I have a big head with proportional ears!), preferably replaceable leads. Obviously I want it to sound awesome. Also, I'm told I need an amp to power the better/mid-range-and-up open headphones, so if necessary I'll be factoring this into my costs.

So... I've been doing a lot of reading about phones and amps. Headphonics has a great range and so I'm looking at getting my components here (duh). Some options I've been looking at are:

Amp:
HiFiMan EF2A
Matrix Cube
Martix M-Stage

Phones:
DT 880
DT 990
Q701
AD900
MS-2 (might be too small for my ears)

Anyone care to give some advice on a good combination, or flame me for having NFI? :D
Sources: Foobar+WASAPI+DACMagic, Macbook, Cowon D2+, Sony A818, HTC One X
Amp: Matrix M-Stage
'phones: AT AD-900, Ety HF5, Yuin PK3, Sony Ex85

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by grevillea » Mon Nov 14, 2011 9:17 am

Get em all - its the only way to really be sure !
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by Drubbing » Mon Nov 14, 2011 9:40 am

You'll be doing your money a huge disservice my not building a source into your budget. FLAC from onboard isn't going to cut it. Onboard is the letdown.

I'd bin the Q710, to lean and analytical for metal. 990 may add too much thud n mud.

The 880 is a contender, as is the MS2, but some find it to be an ear shedder with such aggressive music.
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by unanimous » Mon Nov 14, 2011 9:57 am

grevillea wrote:Get em all - its the only way to really be sure !
Evil bugger! Sadly not an option... neither is doing a massive listening session, as we have shit-all options in Hobart.
Drubbing wrote:You'll be doing your money a huge disservice my not building a source into your budget. FLAC from onboard isn't going to cut it. Onboard is the letdown.
Can you tell me what you mean by source? Does this mean I should be using something like a USB DAC into an amp to bypass the onboard? Or do you mean a totally separate source device altogether - ie: CD player? Not keen on CDs, I've pretty much encoded all mine as FLAC and they're sitting in the cupboard. ;)
Drubbing wrote:I'd bin the Q710, to lean and analytical for metal. 990 may add too much thud n mud. The 880 is a contender, as is the MS2, but some find it to be an ear shedder with such aggressive music.
Okey doke on the Q710. Yeah, I had that impression of the MS2, sounds like it would not suit my prefs and may lead to bleeding ears. I was leaning toward the 880 + amp - the 880s get good reviews, and look comfy. I wasn't aware they were ear shredding though? Seeing we're talking DACs (I think) is the Matrix Cube powerful enough to drive the 880s?

I note the HiFiMan EF2A has DAC, but won't work on x64 systems (boo!!) so would only work on my Macbook, and not my Win7 x64 Desktop. Is this simply a driver availability issue with the DAC chips? I assume it's pretty basic, but does it sound ok?

Also, the Matrix M-Stage gets rave reviews, would I be better off getting the 880s the M-Stage and saving for a DAC?
Sources: Foobar+WASAPI+DACMagic, Macbook, Cowon D2+, Sony A818, HTC One X
Amp: Matrix M-Stage
'phones: AT AD-900, Ety HF5, Yuin PK3, Sony Ex85

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by Marcus » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:06 am

DACMatrix combo and an MSPro :unibrow:
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by Drubbing » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:20 am

unanimous wrote: Can you tell me what you mean by source? Does this mean I should be using something like a USB DAC into an amp to bypass the onboard? Or do you mean a totally separate source device altogether - ie: CD player? Not keen on CDs, I've pretty much encoded all mine as FLAC and they're sitting in the cupboard. ;)
Your music is one source obviously, what decodes it for amps and headphones is another. IMO with decent phones, a DAC is an absolute must. I play mp3 in iTunes via a DACmagic and the matrix, so computer based music is completely fine with good ancillaries.
unanimous wrote:Also, the Matrix M-Stage gets rave reviews, would I be better off getting the 880s the M-Stage and saving for a DAC?
If you can put up with how ordinary the 880s will probably sound from amped onboard. But you can't run a headphone amp directly from your computer - it's an analogue device. Unless you've a soundcard with RCA outputs.
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by unanimous » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:23 am

Marcus wrote:DACMatrix combo and an MSPro :unibrow:
LOL. Sadly... have to exercise some restraint. I've got a Redgum Audio i35 amp... got any headphones that terminate in banana plugs? :lol:

That DACMatrix looks like a fantastic bit of gear though...
Sources: Foobar+WASAPI+DACMagic, Macbook, Cowon D2+, Sony A818, HTC One X
Amp: Matrix M-Stage
'phones: AT AD-900, Ety HF5, Yuin PK3, Sony Ex85

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by unanimous » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:47 am

Would something like the Matrix Cube and the AD900 be a sane pairing for my purposes?

Given that it seems the $$$ jump up from that would be fairly major for DAC + AMP + phones.
Sources: Foobar+WASAPI+DACMagic, Macbook, Cowon D2+, Sony A818, HTC One X
Amp: Matrix M-Stage
'phones: AT AD-900, Ety HF5, Yuin PK3, Sony Ex85

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by Drubbing » Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:54 am

unanimous wrote:Would something like the Matrix Cube and the AD900 be a sane pairing for my purposes?
Very sane, savvy, safe and super.

The 880 is nice phone too, but requires a lot more amping, don't think Marcus believes the cube is ideal for it.
Last edited by Drubbing on Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by Marcus » Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:01 am

The Cube/AD900 combo would be quite a good choice :)
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by unanimous » Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:26 am

Marcus wrote:The Cube/AD900 combo would be quite a good choice :)
Awesome, you should offer them as a combo discount. :unibrow:

Any other suggestions? Or is that just about the best combo I'll get for ~$600?
Sources: Foobar+WASAPI+DACMagic, Macbook, Cowon D2+, Sony A818, HTC One X
Amp: Matrix M-Stage
'phones: AT AD-900, Ety HF5, Yuin PK3, Sony Ex85

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by grevillea » Mon Nov 14, 2011 1:48 pm

I'm listening to Insomnium right now. Later, I will listen to Omnium Gatherum - this keeps up, and I may have to move to Finland.
ATH-ESW9 | ATH-AD900 | RE262 and assorted other crap
Coming soon : http://www.dnaudio.com/DNA-Sonett-headp ... ifier.html

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by Riverback » Mon Nov 14, 2011 1:51 pm

Yep, its either Cube/AD900 or Cube/DT250 :)
Cowon J3 -> Vsonic R02ProII | B2 | T50P
DACMagic -> Matrix M-stage -> DT250 | AD900 | MS-1 | A2

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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by dc » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:37 pm

unanimous wrote:LOL. Sadly... have to exercise some restraint. I've got a Redgum Audio i35 amp... got any headphones that terminate in banana plugs? :lol:
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Re: Headphones? Amps? What should I get?

Post by unanimous » Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:01 pm

grevillea wrote:I'm listening to Insomnium right now. Later, I will listen to Omnium Gatherum - this keeps up, and I may have to move to Finland.
Mmm, Insomnium's new album is pretty good. Dunno what they put in the water/beer up there, but they have some bloody talented bands.
Sources: Foobar+WASAPI+DACMagic, Macbook, Cowon D2+, Sony A818, HTC One X
Amp: Matrix M-Stage
'phones: AT AD-900, Ety HF5, Yuin PK3, Sony Ex85

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