$3,000 budget

Last year I purchased my Focal Elears with a Schiit Vali 2 amp, and Modi DAC. This forum was great at helping me out. After a pad swap and some eq I was very happy with my purchase. I like Focal’s house sound. I naively thought that if I quit visiting the forum, and other related websites that I wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade or purchase more gear.

Ok you’re probably laughing at this point. So when you’re done, you can continue reading.

I recently got to audition a pair of the Focal Clears + Asgard and here I am. I’m back. I got a taste of what could be. When I purchased last summer, I did not think headphones could sound as good as they do. Otherwise I would have started with the Clears. I remember having that internal (infernal?) debate. So here I sit with a $3,000 budget to upgrade my gear. I’m considering the Clear + Arche combo. Idk if the Stellia is offered as an open box, but I would love to get a pair if I could squeeze it into my budget. Of course going this route would mean choosing a less expensive amp like the Lyr 3. My setup is for home listening. My musical tastes are diverse. Jazz, rock, singer songwriter, folk, blues, downtempo, Synthwave, and you get the point, all find regular rotation. So if anyone wants to share their thoughts, offer up gear suggestions, sage advice, the meaning of life, or whatever. I’m in the research phase and I’m all ears. Thanks for making it this far.



I haven’t heard the Stellia yet, but I do own the Clear and I really love them. They’re so revealing sonically, and of their source. I actually use them to help me determine what the electronics are doing!

I run them off of an Airist/RNHP pairing and it’s very enjoyable. I’ve heard them off of a Chord Hugo TT2 and that’s a fantastic pairing as well.

The Bifrost is an extremely popular DAC that I know a few people that use it with the Clears with. As far as amps, I haven’t heard any of Schiit’s options but I know they’re popular.

Good luck, and cheers!


I feel your pain. Three years ago, after my two-channel system had been boxed up for ten years, I realized how cool streaming was becoming (to the high-end user), how easily a headphone setup could be assembled and placed in a corner of my study (because my family room is crap for a “real” music system), and how far headphone systems have come in the last ten or fifteen years.

So I made the superior decision to put $3,000 “or so” into a headphone system. I did a lot of research and two years later I finally purchased my first component, a streamer/DAC… But then, how did this happen; and, I’m not done?!

A question: Are you going to sell some of your other items and add the proceeds to your $3,000 budget? Does that make your budget $3,500 or $4,500?

Here’s a suggestion I give a lot of people: most people in this hobby (at least the high-end of it) take super good care of their stuff; therefore when they sell their old equipment after they upgrade, what they are selling is many times “as good as new”. (I’ve been practicing this for the last thirty years, and three of the four main pieces in the above photo I purchased used - I guess four of five if you count the power conditioner.)

Along those lines, I know of a guy with a used Pass Labs HPA-1 amplifier for sale for about $2200 shipped (MSRP is $3500). OK, it’s me; it’s listed in the Buy/Sell thread of this forum. It’s a very well-built solid state headphone amplifier from a high-end amplifier company, and will power low-, medium-, or high-impedance headphones with ease (which cannot be said for all amps), and sounds great. Have a look and read some reviews if you are interested, and maybe some other people here can weigh in. I’m not trying to shill my amp; see what other people say about it.

Here’s the truth, a) they are really nice headphone amplifiers, b) I’m trying to offer advice and an option, and c) someone will buy this amp so I don’t need to pawn it off on someone who can’t afford it or for whom it doesn’t suit their needs or budget.

Regardless, this is a great hobby and I wish you luck as you do your upgrades.


WOOPS, my apologies. I didn’t consider the Arche includes a DAC (or two), so (about) $2K for a headphone amp really isn’t good advice. But looking for high-end used equipment offered for sale from people serious about the hobby does allow many people to get a lot more bang for their buck. A little more enjoyment now, and it also prolongs the time between upgrades! Sometimes.

A couple of thoughts that come to mind:

  • Maybe you’ve listened to some planar magnetic headphones, if you have not, just for educational purposes, it would be interesting for you to hear the differences between them and the dynamics.
  • A lot of people really like the ZMF (dynamic) headphones, if you can have a listen that would be educational, and the owner is a teriffic guy. (On the other hand, I heard the Focal Elears at our last headphone meet, and they have a lot of appeal - if I weren’t headed to the Raal system Focals would be on my short list.)
  • Speaking of headphone meets, do you live near a large city? I’ve learned a lot (and met some great people) attending two meets/year in middle-Tennessee, and one last year in Atlanta (much larger, and I planned on going this year but it was canceled). If it wasn’t at last year’s Atlanta meet, it probably wasn’t worth hearing!

If you aren’t in a hurry and there is a meet scheduled near you, it’s definitely worth a full day of travel and listening (or, a long drive, listen, spend the night, drive home the next day, as most meets are on a Saturday).

Here’s a photo from our small meet in May (showing some of the things people brought, not all). If you are anywhere near a big city, you will learn a lot at a meet. Or, fly to Nashville in Nov.; we’ll pick you up at the airport - all you’ve got to do is get here and we’ll do the rest!


because my family room is crap for a “real” music system

Haha. I can relate to this. Fortunately I did not go too far down the rabbit hole for my 5.1 setup. It is great for movies, but my room acoustics ruin music for me. There is nothing worse than hearing the fridge hum while you are trying to critically listen. Headphones have really changed my enjoyment of music.

You have a nice set of gear. Thanks for the picture.

$3,000 is a hard limit. It includes what I’ve already offloaded. I appreciate the suggestions. You have some good advice. I learned a long time ago that buying from audiophiles is often like buying new. My biggest problem is that I really need to hear some different headphones like you suggested. For educational purposes. It would make reading reviews more meaningful. Especially if I knew the preferences of the reviewer.

Big cities are a bit of a drive for me, and with this COVID stuff going on right now, it could put me in a quarantine from work for 14 days depending on where I travel. This is something I will look into, but its not something I can likely do this year. Your last meetup looks like a fun time.

As for waiting or purchasing right away. Well that depends on how long I can stand listening to my EarPods :smiley:


Go. Get the Koss Porta Pro + BTR3. Go now. Don’t stop at red lights.


I think a Clear + Arche combo sounds like a winner. Especially if you can get a package discount. Clears are widely available on the used market for around a grand, as well, if you aren’t buying a package new from a dealer. I have heard the Stellias briefly and they are so seductive.

1 Like

Yes, I agree. I would love to get the Stellia, but it stretches my budget too far. I need to remind myself that nothing I get will be “endgame” equipment, but look at it by what will keep me happy for a long time. Clear + Arche will do that for sure. If I sell the Clear and upgrade to the Stellia later, I will have one amazing DAC/amp to run it.


ZMF Auteur + Bifrost 2 + Lyr3 ???

That was what I was aiming for at one point. Havent heard the schiit combo but the reviews put it on my radar.


I love my Clears, and I imagine that they would sound fantastic on the Arche. I think you’ll be very happy with this combo.


I couldn’t agree more.


I see that Headphones.com has the Clear/Arche bundled at exactly 3k.


Yes. I chatted with @taronlissimore and he was a big help. My package is in transit. I’m so excited! Not just for the new gear. I haven’t been able to enjoy music for some time. My gear had been in storage due to an upcoming move.


That’s awesome! Congratulations. :+1:t4:


That’s great @GymKirk! A really elegant combo, and you’ll benefit from the built-in synergy of gear designed as a specific match.


Congrats @GymKirk! :smiley: