Best Planar and Dynamic combo under $6000?

I have been saving up money for the past while and am ready to embark on a journey to find the two headphones which summarize the high end ( not summit ) audio market most thoroughly. I really do listen to all genres of music and want to have the right tool for the listening at hand.

I am specifically looking for:

  • 1 Open Back Planar under 3000

  • 1 Open Back Dynamic under 3000

  • Presentation:
    1 Analytical and 1 Warm OR 2 Neutral

I am planning on purchasing the planar first, and have been struggling to purchase something ‘sound-unheard’.

Where should I look to continue my quest towards musical euphoria?

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What do you intend to drive them with?
New prices, or used?

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Will be driven by a THX 789. Ideally new prices.

I’d strongly recommend spending more on Amp and I’m going to assume DAC, if you are moving into that tier of headphones, a lot of headphones at that price won’t sound their best on a 789.

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I would imagine you are correct. I have a Bifrost 2 on its way currently. I was planning on looking into amp upgrades after I purchased the first set of cans if I found that the 789 was a bottleneck.

FWIW, I just sold my Verite C, and kept my Eikon, because despite the VC being an obviously “better” headphone it was going to be used on my secondary setup, and it just wasn’t a win with the source electronics in that chain BF2 → SW51+.

While BF2 is “good enough” (and would be my choice upto $1000 and possibly higher), the 789 is really not a great amp with better headphones, they really expose it’s weaknesses IMO.

On the Dynamic side, Clears, used Utopia, but neither will play well with the 789.
You should be able to relatively easily demo Focal headphones once the pandemic becomes less of an issue.
The ZMF headphones are attractive new price wise, but less so used because they hold so much value.

I’m not the right person to ask about planars in that price range New, I decided I didn’t like any of the cheaper ones, then leapt straight to a D8KPro and a Susvara, both of which I like a lot, but your source chain whouldn’t play well with either.

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Good to know. I will definitely keep the budget flexible for a new amplifier then! As you mention for DD’s, I could easily see myself purchasing from either ZMF or Focal when the time comes.

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The 789 performs best in controlling the bad habits of flawed (cheaper) headphones, but it tends to excessively magnify the characteristics of sensitive or precise headphones. I also don’t like it with the Clear or Utopia, but do like it with the cheaper Elex.

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I’ve just never liked it even when it was surrounded by hype. (not that it’s terrible or anything)
It’s one of those pieces of electronics that sounds initially impressive, but to me at least becomes more and more flawed as you listen.
The stage is very constrained and flat, and I find it has somewhat brittle treble representation that I find irritating to listen to.
I’d rather listen to an OG Jotenheim than a 789 and that is not anywhere near my favorite SS amp in the price range.

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I got my 789 very shortly after the first reviews cam out, and when everyone wanted to give it a try. It’s sometimes the right product (aka synergy) for a given setup, and serves an analytical function as worst-case-scenario on raw details.

I don’t use mine very much, and wouldn’t choose it for a primary amp.

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What would you recommend as a step up from the 789? Something Balanced Preferably?

Well, hmm. I went down the balanced hole a while back and concluded: (1) I only hear differences with dynamic drivers – the 789 on balanced is good for my Sennheiser HD600, but (2) I like my less technical, tube-hybrid, singled-ended Schiit Lyr 3 ($499) better…

If you’d asked me a while ago I’d probably have said the SPL Phonitor at $2,499. But, now I’d focus on tube or tube-hybrid amps and probably ignore balanced.

Check out this thread:

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Balanced is a design choice by an amp designer it isn’t fundamentally better, this has been discussed to death. The only time it really matters is if the prior component in the chain (usually the DAC) has fundamentally better balanced output.
The BF2 doesn’t.

I think you first have to decide what you want out of an amp, and how much you want to pay.
I’m a sucker for tubes, but they aren’t IMO really worth it in the lower price brackets. There are some lower priced hybrids like the Liquid Platinum that I think are really good.
And I still own and use SS amps, I wouldn’t go phonitor, it’s just not what I look for in an amp, but it might be what you want.

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With a budget of $6000, and a pretty good DAC already in the Bifrost 2, you could easily get a TOTL headphone and TOTL amp combo. That would serve you much better than trying to diversify between two TOTL headphones. To answer the question, I think a He1000se and a ZMF Verite would fit what you’re looking for, He1000se being more analytical planar, and Verite being more warm dynamic.

But to go back to my first point, you could pair either one of those with a TOTL amp and have a setup that is both resolving and musical/fun.

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I would go with a second headphone later and build that first setup to the max…

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I really love your thinking there. I have been considering the 1000se for the longest time but cannot decide for the life of me whether or not it would be a better choice over something like the RAD-0…

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The HE1000se and RAD-0 could not be different despite both being planars. HE1000se = tuning more neutral, wide soundstage, very light and comfortable vs. RAD-0 = warmer, more intimate soundstage, punchier sound, heavy and tight clamping force (YMMV). The RAD-0 was very fun while I had it, but ended up returning because of the clamping force, couldn’t wear it more than 30 minutes without painful hotspots on my head. Not sure if the more recent headphones from Rosson are slightly re-designed or not.

The ZMF Verite was my “first love” in the TOTL headphone realm, so I will always highly recommend it, despite no longer owning one. I feel fairly confident in saying that most everyone who’s listened to the Verite enjoys it, regardless of their sound preferences, and even then you can tune it more neutral vs. warm with various pad shapes and materials. When you’re up in this tier of headphones, as have said, it’s more preference than one perfect headphone. IMO, the Verite is probably the closest to a “one-size-fits-all”, so it’s a good starting place while trying to figure out what you really want in a setup.

If you list out some of the headphones you’ve tried and liked, maybe we can provide some more tailored advice too.

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I can tell you from personal experience that the Bifrost 2 pairs very well with the Topping A90 and with the Valhalla 2 - both reasonably priced and both powerful enough to drive anything short of a Susvara (and maybe even that). Schiit’s new Jotunheim 2 is also getting rave reviews.

As for headphones, I can only tell you what I did: HD800S & Arya. And I have my eyes on adding a Verite to the mix sooner or later.

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  1. Meze Empyrean - Warm/relaxed, fantastic well-extended bass, big and beautifully laid-out soundstage, excellent for live recordings, rock/metal and electronic music.
  2. ZMF Auteur - Neutral-warm, inoffensive, very natural/organic sounding, excellent for vocals, acoustic/instrumental music.

Could add in a Schiit Bifrost 2 + Jotunheim 2 if you also need a DAC/Amp, which will pair very well with both.

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Not here to be one to question your actions, but what headphones do you own now?

Do you not feel it’s more sensible to go with maybe two pairs of 2000 dollar headphones. Kind of feel like that’s a big jump, or maybe go 1000 and 3000 pair.

If you own headphones already what will happen with listening time on those headphones and the ones you plan on purchasing.

Possibly better yet than even splitting your investment just buy one pair of 3000 and wait a bit before making another transaction.

I am just providing a sensible approach. As someone new to audio I don’t wish to provide you with advice on which headphones to buy but rather maybe be more considerate or reevaluate your decision.

I only own two headphones and I personally enjoy my newest headphones better, but I alternate to give both listening time. If you have been into headphones for a long time you may end up like one of those expensive headphones better than the other and basically have one in idle. So why invest so much.

Just trying to be helpful, you got that money and it’s not going anywhere.

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