High-end Speakers V Headphone - you kidding me....

#1
Can the advances in headphone design we have seen in the last few years, can they really give us a sound that can compete with the best speaker systems?

I make no bones about it, I have been a headphone fan for many years, and use both every day. I enjoyed both equally. And I would be hard pressed to have to choose which I had to stuff in a boat to take to my desert island. In my opinion, the top headphones have got really close to the best speaker systems in terms of both emotional connection and enjoyment, and technical performance.

I went through the Stax electrostatics from the early Lambda mcdels, Lambda Signature, 007 MK1, 007 MK2, 009, 009s. Plus many electrostatic amplifiers both bought and made as DIY.

IMG_3859.JPG
Electrostatics have a marvellous sense if timing and delicacy, micro detail is all right there, nothing seems to be lost. The challenge with most electrostatics for me, is the bass. It is there, it has extension down to below 20hz, but it DOES NOT have the drive to support it. It just doesn't sound like real bass, more a flat and weaker impression it is there.

Then after various visits to Can-Jam and hifi meets, I moved over to Planars with the LCD and conventional headphone amplifers. The thing that got me to do that was quite odd I guess, it was on hearing the Sennheiser HE1 headphone 50K system. That is an eletrostatic headphone and tube amplifier, but it has all the transparency you would expect from a top electrostatic, but really realistic bass and bass drive. Having heard that sound, I then used it as my 'target' and found the planars got the closest to it.

Genus-LCD4-night-web.jpg

Now it has all gone a bit crazy. I am using the Aries Cerat Genus SET integrated, to drive the Audeze LCD4 directly off the OPT. The Genus has a 1/4 socket on the back for this purpose.
I can tell you, 100% that the sound out of this combination is beyond the level of the Sennheiser HE-1 system. It has the detail and speed, but more realistic mids and really solid placement of the soundstage. I can listen for hours with this combination.

slides-moon.jpg

Enter the Abyss TC planar magnetic headphone. This has the bass and creamy mids of the LCD4, but crucially the faster treble of the very best electrostatics, and the biggest soundstage I have ever heard on any headphone, even beyond the soundstage king - the Sennheiser HD800/820.

Here it is being powered off the back of the Moon 600i 125W integrated, which equates to about 12W at 33ohms for the Abyss impedance load. It sound marvellous.
The Abyss out of the Genus is up another notch, with typical tube goodness and accuracy of tone, yet the same bass control of the Moon 600i amplifier.

Piching this against my Zingali horns, it is close, different and yet similar. There is a lot more in common than not, which tells me the Abyss has nailed it, broke out of the 'in your head' type of presentation, and matched sonically to a decent speaker. There are some things the Abyss actually does better in my opinion. There is more detail and a closer connection to the music, if you are ok about headphone use in general. It is a nice way to enjoy music, one that is in recent years advanced so much.

Thoughts welcome....

The Abyss TC is without doubt the ultimate headphone.
 

LL21

Well-Known Member
Dec 26, 2010
11,267
310
283
#3
Good to know...will definitely keep that in mind. Perfectly happy with Sennheiser 650D for now since i very very rarely need to listen on headphones. The system is on all evening while i work and weekends (while i work).

But if ever venture down that scary Upgrade Road, i will go check these out.
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,152
238
280
Metro DC
#4
IMO as good as todays speakers are they bear no comparison to a binaural recording played over a quality pair of electrostatic headphones.
 

Kal Rubinson

Well-Known Member
May 5, 2010
1,778
207
225
NYC/CT
www.stereophile.com
#5
IMO as good as todays speakers are they bear no comparison to a binaural recording played over a quality pair of electrostatic headphones.
Perhaps but binaural recordings are quite rare............................even compared to multichannel. :)
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,152
238
280
Metro DC
#6
Perhaps but binaural recordings are quite rare............................even compared to multichannel. :)
You are correct. Chesky has committed to binaural. Although they are pseudo for the most part. There are some start- ups that are are pursuing binaural.
I am sorry I did not take note of the amp or source at CAF 2019. But the Stax headphones sounded as good as any speaker I ever heard. That is with conventional stereo recordings.
 

Kal Rubinson

Well-Known Member
May 5, 2010
1,778
207
225
NYC/CT
www.stereophile.com
#7
You are correct. Chesky has committed to binaural. Although they are pseudo for the most part. There are some start- ups that are are pursuing binaural.
I am sorry I did not take note of the amp or source at CAF 2019. But the Stax headphones sounded as good as any speaker I ever heard. That is with conventional stereo recordings.
I find that all headphones with conventional stereo recordings are intolerable.
 
Likes: morricab

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,152
238
280
Metro DC
#8
The Senheiser is the most expensive headphone system of which I am aware. That is for headphone and amp/preamp. That seems hefty for the parts you get. If you evaluate from the perspective of sound quality it presents a different question.
Would you pay $50 k for the best? The answer has to be yes. Some audiophiles pay more than that for cables.
Solo listening. Let us be honest. Most critical sessions are done alone. Even if you have an audiophile buddy chances are you have disparate musical tastes.
Room treatment. Not required.
Comfort. No need for a vacuum seal or sweaty ears.
Bass. Surprisingly good but not on a par with a top notch full range speaker.
Spatial imaging Spooky good.
WAF Not a factor except cost.
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,152
238
280
Metro DC
#9
I find that all headphones with conventional stereo recordings are intolerable.
I am not surprised. I suggest you are in a distinct minority. Perhaps that is where you want to be. I can't debate preference.
 

Rocoa

Active Member
Oct 17, 2018
73
39
25
Spain
#10
Hello,

I'm very fond of planars, specifically Audeze.
About Stax, I've owned some but I don't like the plastic coloration of the drivers. For my taste none shows " the natural state of things" as Audezes.
I've owned in my collection the full range of Audezes but I'm very happy with LCD4 now a days.
I have Sennheiser 800 and 800S, ATH W 3000 SE, Fostex 900 and many more but usually listen LCD4.

About the amps, I've owned a lot of them. Zana Deux, Woo Audio, Burson, Auralic, Cavalli, Leben, Rogue Audio, Icon Audio...and many more.
Currently I have Leben, Auralic Taurus, Burson Virtuoso 2 and micro ZOTL. For time now I only listen the David Berning micro ZOTL 2 design in my late night sessions.
This is a very special amplifier, without output transformers, and with Sennheiser 800 sounds a lot better than their top Orpheus (Oh, my God :eek:;)). It's a bargain for the price!

https://www.lineartubeaudio.com/headphone-amps

Some photos

1.zana deux.jpg 2.CAVALLI5.jpg 3.rogue.jpg 4woo.jpg 5audeze.jpeg 6.ZOTL16.jpeg
 
Likes: Uk Paul

cjfrbw

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
2,688
419
260
Pleasanton, CA
#11
I like headphones and listen to them all the time. I have a few premium pairs.

Replace speaker setup? Purely wishful thinking. There's still no comparison. Big space, big air. Little space, little air. Turning little air into big air doesn't work just yet.
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,152
238
280
Metro DC
#12
I agree there is no comparison. That conclusion takes us down different roads. Big air creates its own problems with which we are familiar. Unfortunately it all funnels to a bottleneck called the ear canal.
 

Kal Rubinson

Well-Known Member
May 5, 2010
1,778
207
225
NYC/CT
www.stereophile.com
#13
Some audiophiles pay more than that for cables.
That is a separate issue for another time.
Solo listening. Let us be honest. Most critical sessions are done alone. Even if you have an audiophile buddy chances are you have disparate musical tastes.
Granted.
Room treatment. Not required.
Granted.
Comfort. No need for a vacuum seal or sweaty ears.
But the thing is still on my head and on my ears!
Bass. Surprisingly good but not on a par with a top notch full range speaker.
Granted.
Spatial imaging Spooky good.
But wrong! I went to CanJam NYC this year and sampled several headphones recommended to me by a colleague. He was right: They were remarkably undistorted, clear, balanced and detailed. They sound was also significantly less "in my head" than in the past but not one of them presented a credible soundstage. It was in my head, above my head, on either side of my head or some combination of the three. Not a one put the soundstage in front of me where it belongs or convinced me that I was in the midst of an ensemble. As a caveat, I was offered limited source material and I strongly suspect that none of it was binaural.
WAF Not a factor except cost.
Sure.
I understand the appeal of headphones and I actually built my own way back in the very early stereo era before there were commercial stereo phones. I am also grateful to have decent headphones for plane trips.
 
Likes: morricab

steve59

Active Member
Jan 7, 2018
207
30
35
#14
Kal, if I may. I would have thought your appreciation for surround sound would have made headphone imaging a non issue for you and surround sound enthusiasts in general. Live and learn.
 

Kal Rubinson

Well-Known Member
May 5, 2010
1,778
207
225
NYC/CT
www.stereophile.com
#15
Kal, if I may. I would have thought your appreciation for surround sound would have made headphone imaging a non issue for you and surround sound enthusiasts in general. Live and learn.
Hmmm. Did I miss a smiley in there? :cool:
 
Likes: steve59

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,152
238
280
Metro DC
#16
Kal I guess we can agree in theory that image should be in front. When listening through my smartphone I get precisely that. I am often fooled into thinking my bluetooth has cut off.
Headphones can give the impression you are sitting in the orchestra. But when done correctly it can be dead on. The whole point of binaural.
I see no point at this rime to enumerate the shortcomings of conventional speakers.
 

Kal Rubinson

Well-Known Member
May 5, 2010
1,778
207
225
NYC/CT
www.stereophile.com
#17
Kal I guess we can agree in theory that image should be in front. When listening through my smartphone I get precisely that. I am often fooled into thinking my bluetooth has cut off.
Then I envy you. Achieving an ideal illusion is wonderful.
The whole point of binaural.
Ah. Da capo. If only there were sufficient binaural sources.
 
Mar 27, 2020
33
6
10
New York
#19
I have owned my Revel F208 speakers as my first intro to "nicer things" in the speaker world, but the problem is for me the room being not so ideal being the biggest bottleneck for me.

So for me, I spent all my funds into my headphone system, and my headphone system costed more than my speakers.

My streamer/M Scaler/DAC/AMP/Abyss Headphones ended up costing around: $40K

Sometimes I wonder if it was a better choice to just jump to the $50K set up from Sennheiser, the HE1.

But with that said I really enjoy my gear knowing that the room is not affecting my sound, as we all know the room is very important.

Also in the speaker world obtaining the best is an absolute money pit, where as for headphones obtaining the best, is just to not buy that BMW and instead buy the headphone gear and eating 99 cent cup noodles every day.

So for me, I took the headphone route, and love it.

I do enjoy feeling the bass rumbling to my chest with speakers though, can not deny that!
 
Last edited:

Rocoa

Active Member
Oct 17, 2018
73
39
25
Spain
#20
Sometimes I wonder if it was a better choice to just jump to the $50K set up from Sennheiser, the HE1.
I think you've made the right decision. About the expensive Sennheiser combo, I don't think it's a good choice. I've listened it and the performance doesn't seem extraordinary to me. I've listened it I've prefered the Senn 800 wiht a very good tube amplifier, hand by hand.

Regards.
 

About us

  • What’s Best Forum is THE forum for high-end audio, product reviews, advice and sharing experiences on the best of everything else. A place where audiophiles and audio companies discuss existing and new audio products, music servers, music streamers and computer audio, digital to audio converters, turntables, phono stages, cartridges, reel to reel, speakers, headphones, tube amplifiers and solid state amplification. Founded in 2010 What's Best Forum invites intelligent and courteous people of all interests and backgrounds to describe and discuss the best of everything. From beginners to life-long hobbyists to industry professionals we enjoy learning about new things and meeting new people and participating in spirited debates.

Quick Navigation

User Menu

Steve Williams
Site Founder | Site Owner | Administrator
Ron Resnick
Site Co-Owner | Administrator
Julian (The Fixer)
Website Build | Marketing Managersing