Best Value Headphone

What is the best VALUE you have experienced in a headphone, Bang for the Buck? Where are those hidden gems which offer TOTL. Performance for a surprisingly reasonable cost?

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Koss PortaPro
Sennheiser PX-100
NectarSound Hive

The Sennheiser is no longer available but there should be some descendants around under $125.

At the low end several Koss represent great value as we all know. If you already have the eStat amp then I don’t think you can beat the Hive. At $700 approximately, it is compared to the STAX SR-007 by people who have heard both.

The Rosson RAD-0 also comes close at $2600 list it’s not cheap, but it is an applicant to your TOTL tier, and I think represents value in that context.

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I’ll preface by mentioning that I’m not aware of the current price since I put my own pair together with TH900 drivers and AD500x housing. Zerousen’s “Philphone” which is a Fostex THX00 + Audio Technica AD-XXXx Shell for the $750~ish ballpark would be v-shaped endgame. They’re also a great headphone to pad-swap (especially with ZMF pads) since you can get markedly different sound-signatures depending on the material type and thickness.

The only other one I can think of is a used Audeze LCD-5 for endgame planar. It’s depreciated so much since 2021 that I’m seeing prices as low as $2300. I don’t know how many will agree, but I consider it to be technically comparable to the Susvara, and with EQ, surpassing it in some areas.

** I should add, that on the topic of system building, I found myself perfectly content with the LCD-5 running off something like a Q5K or QP2R off the balanced output. Is it the best synergy? Absolutely not, but it’s more than great as a stopgap. I’m often driving it off an iFi Diablo, which can be had for around $500 used.

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I would say the Hifiman HE400SE - it is a stunning Planar for the price and sometimes on sale at around $100.

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I struggle with the opposing goals of TOTL performance versus value. I came up with three ways of overthinking this, and therefore three types of answers.

  • In my experience true TOTL performance isn’t available with anything less than the Focal Utopia or a RAAL, so it costs about $3K to $5K plus compatible supporting hardware to get there. I hear obvious differences in quality versus lower price ranges, but there’s absolutely no “value” here.

  • Let’s say $1,000 is the maximum cutoff for “value.” I like the OG Clear as presenting music against a distinct background, having precise spatial placement, ease of driving with modest (or entry-level) equipment, and gentle treble. For $900 it puts you in the ballpark of true TOTL products, and should keep most listeners happy.

In the sub $350 space there’s serious value but nothing I’d call TOTL performance:

  • I respect the HD 600 every time I go in with fresh ears. Despite fuzzy and rolled-off top and low ends, limited dynamics, and a three-blob soundstage, it absolutely enters audiophile territory. When run from the inexpensive and warm iFi ZenDAC, the built-in bass boost balances out its natural excessive brightness.
  • The Beyerdynamic DT 880 600 ohm competes with very, very expensive headphones in the midrange (vocals, etc.), but it has brutal treble. When run from a solid DAC, a warm OTL tube amp, and with an EQ or pad filters it’ll shock you for <$200.

Many Hifiman products may fit in any of these tiers if they didn’t self destruct after 6 minutes of use. So, no value ratings from me on that brand.

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A used utopia (og) I’ve seen for around $2k, sometimes sub-$2k. That is a good chunk of resolution for the money, but as you said you “need” to build a chain around it as well to get the most out of it.

I don’t think it can exist, there’s often “work” you have to do in order to get the most out of something. If you want plug and play, something is often compromised to reach that.

You end up stretching more than you’d like in the end but you can be smart about it and buy used, which I think is the key to getting totl performance for a reasonable cost.

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Hifiman HE5xx, a good one on eBay (check for channel matching with a decibel meter and test tone generator) is amazing with a +4db low shelf filter, so much comfort and fun for the price.

Yincrow X6: best ear buds at $10 but only available on Aliexpress.

7hz Salnotes Zero:2 I use one as a daily driver along with the He5xx and done shopping for IEM’s now for myself. They really are that good for $24.

SMSL DL200 It’s a 5 volt output DAC for under $200. The headphone amp is really good too, if the HE6SE is your white whale, you can add a heavy hitter amp later. I have one with a Topping A90 on it and it fits perfectly, they look great together.

Apple USB to 3.5mm adapter. For $9 you can put it into Windows exclusive mode and it sound great. Even 9600khz high res stuff down samples to 48khz and really sounds good too. A lot of headphones can be powered with it, just not a lot of headroom for EQ with a preamp reduction.

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Now that I’m at a real keyboard, I’m replying to myself. The Sennheiser. PX-100 It was a gateway drug into audio. I bought 4 of them. One for me. That wore out and another one for me. Two I gave away to people that had only listened to Gen1 Apple Earbuds or maybe Cassette Walkman headphones. The PX-100 was like a Porta-Pro upgrade. It folded, but neatly, and was a bit more robust. Sound made me smile, especially with a Headroom Airhead amp. When I finally destroyed my last one in 2012 - it got wrapped on the halo vest that was holding my head on my broken neck and something else, they were no longer around.

There was a PX-200. Roughly the same price, $89/99. Instead of getting that, I got my first GRADO, an SR80e. That’s also a good value - but needs some mods and has issues with people who find the high end a bit too hot. The Sennheiser PX-100 was much much more balanced, lacking sub-bass and probably most bass below 50, but still Harman fun.

I’ve been buying PortaPro Koss since forever. With an in-line mic, they are awesome for phone calls. With Yaxi pads, they’re almost cool. I think I have 3 pair now, keep them wherever I make phone calls. And I’ve given away at least 6 pair. My grandnephew, age 15 next month, has treasured a pair for 3 years.

This list doesn’t have IEMs on it. My current value favorites are the DUNU Titan S and the TRUTHEAR Zero:Red. Traveled light this Christmas, have been listening to the Zero:Red with a bit of EQ. It lacks authority from the Apple Dongle, but sounds like a value leader when pushed by an iFi Go-Link. So $59 x 2 for the chain, not counting a phone or tablet because I need one of those. That would probably be my value recommendation if I had to put in an iEM. TOTL iEM? I got my Audeze LCDi4 when they had their annual sale. Paid $999. Retail is what, $2500? I don’t need no other high end IEM ever. I don’t give a damn that other people might hear it a bit, or that it sticks out of my ears. Next best thing to a headphone, and it has actual soundstage.

I’ve had a soft spot for eStat sound since the 1980s when I first auditioned and bought my STAX SR-5n. The lesser STAX at the time were well, lesser. And at $495 in what, 1983 or so, I didn’t feel like going higher for the Lambdas. Which still look a little funny. For a couple of years before Headphones.com was founded, they’d gotten less use because of some intermittent fuzz-garbage I was hearing. Finally motivated to get them fixed, I sent them to STAX USA only to find out that it was my SRD-6 adapter that was bad. Having entered the rabbit hole a second time (thanks to @generic @ProfFalkin, @tmarshl, @pwjazz, @PaisleyUnderground, @tmarshl, @TylersEclectic, @Torq, @antdroid and other fine folk here), I “fixed” the adapter problem with a Mjolnir modified STAX SRM-T1S hybrid amp. And since THAT had both standard and Pro bias, I was tempted when the boutique HIVE came along.

I haven’t regretted that at all. It is still tied with the Rosson for my favorite headphone.
So the HIVE is clear on the value list.

One other mention. In wireless, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 can be found as a great value. Half the price of the Apple AirPod Max, and 1/3 of the Focal Bathys, it gives 85-90+% of the sound. Superb battery life. Wired mode is excellent. A winner for the Sennheiser again.

I haven’t mentioned the usuals - Yes, I have a Drop (was the Massdrop) Sennheiser HD-6xx, and I still have my original HD-580s from about a year after they came out. Good values, yes, but lacking that extra something that makes them a standout. They remind me of the BMW salesman I talked to recently. I told him I did not want a white, black, silver, or grey car. “Ahh, the BMW Rainbow, he said.”

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Sometimes you can find a needle in the haystack simply by matching mid tier headphones and the accompanied equipment.

Personally I also feel that there are definitely TOTL cans that check off multiple boxes, but never all of them. Which satisfy 95% of the people who listen to them. But finding an inexpensive product that checks off the boxes you desire is probably the missing link. First to figure out what you like when you’re new and then to find that combo is tough without trial and error.

I only own 3 over ear headphones and recently added the meze 109 pro. As stated previously which is over a year old I found those headphones to be fairly decent but was blown away by the combo using the Mojo 2. Again might be synergy or whatever you wish to call it.

I paired it with a dongle, tempotec sonata bhd pro, and I am getting outstanding on the go performance vs anything else I own including my non portable products with the 109.

Similarly with Susvara, and owning the HE6SE V2 or 3, if a three even exists, from Adorama. Those headphones sounds like absolute crap without the right amp. This is my personal experience, and recall thinking man did I dodge a bullet by purchasing that he6se, however I bought a flux labs amp strictly for my he6. So to me it was amazing from day one.

What I found with the Susvara is it needs a true power house, whether it be current or watts, to make it shine or achieve that experience where you are like oh man this is brilliant. I know many people will disagree with me on this, but I am certain if you fed this headphone a fudge load of power you would get what I mean.

Some may be dac related which is far more unlikely. Others can be power, but again those are niche headphones that occupy less than 1% of the market.

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HE-6 SE new $599 - w Ether Angled Pads, PEQ, less restrictive rear grills (Arctic)) - all around
HE-500 used $380 - as above plus fuzzor mod - less technical, warmer
HD-600 new $315 - timbre, doesn’t do deep bass

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In my experience I have owned 6 different Hifiman headphones and non of them have failed or broke on me but I do look after my headphones.

3 Focal headphones I have personally owned 2 have had driver failures. 1 of them being the Focal Utopia and two things to note. Getting them repaired is a nightmare as you have to find a specialised dealer picked by them and the cost for repair was nearly as much as half the cost of the headphone itself. They would not sell me the drivers to me to fit either and no other option were possible.

In the past as a example I have been able to buy the drivers like for my Fostex TH-900 for less than $50 each and been able to repair myself.

This is just my experience but reading online seems to suggest Focal have terrible reputation for driver failure and not the best customer service with there timescales and cost to repair.

Focal is not a company I would recommend to a friend in contrast Hifiman is.

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Run your own race and be happy.

Check the HFM threads to learn in excruciating detail about the negative experiences of myself and others. And to learn about poor HFM cable quality.

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Luckily I haven’t had a problem yet with three HIFIMANs and one Focal and I can’t say I’ve liked any of the cables.

Knock on Wood

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I also had a driver failure with my Utopias, but had an entirely different experience. Focal replaced the faulty drive at no cost, and in a very short period of time.

Sorry to hear that you had a poor experience.

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In terms of dollars-per-year owned, or hours-per-dollar-listened, it would have to be the HD650.

There’s not even a close second place.

I paid $449 (MSRP was $549) back in 2003 for my original pair, and had them for 17 years (in the interim I bought 2 more pairs, plus an HD6XX … but had the originals for the full 17 year span).

That’s about $26/year.

In terms of listening time … until late 2012/early 2013, the HD650 was ALL I used for headphone listening (unless I was traveling, then it was a set of ER4s). I’d bet on about 2,000 hours a year to that point, given 4-8 hours a day listening while working, not JUST listening while working. And then the 10 years of them being “my only headphone” and the actual 17 year span.

So, I’d guess it is well over 20,000 hours in total … but we’ll assume 20,000 hours.

That’s $0.02/hour.

While probably makes them not just the best value headphone, by miles, that I’ve ever had, but almost certainly the best value anything I’ve bought.

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Must be quite a contrast with the HE1!

Indeed!

The HE1, in my case at least, is an interesting one.

I don’t think I got to 1,000 hours on it (probably closer to 700), so that’d be up around $100/hour for listening-time. However, I also sold the thing for about twice what I paid for it, so effectively I got paid about that amount to listen to it.

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My Utopias were just out of warranty. I am guessing yours were not. Can’t speak for warranty claims only for Focal’s out of warranty experience.

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The best value headphones that I’ve heard are made by ETA. I’ve owned a Mini Semi-Closed (which I gave to my son to replace his 6XX) and an O2. They were both under $600, which is not exactly “budget” but relative to the thousands of dollars that many of us spend on headphones, they are a bargain IMO.

I don’t use them on my desktop system because I’d rather use my Caldera or Utopia 2022, which I consider better in terms of sound, albeit not in terms of value. But if I ever wanted to downsize, I wouldn’t be upset if I ended up with an O2 as my only headphone.

I use the O2 (and the Mini Semi-Closed before it) as a travel headphone. I love the fact that the ETA headphones fold and can be taken with me in a backpack pocket on vacation or to work. Combined with an iFi Go Blue or Gryphon, I don’t feel that my listening pleasure is compromised at all.

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For Value I have to agree with Chrono the DT770pro sound great for the money. But best sound for the money in my opinion are Iem’s.

I know this thread says headphones hence I said the DT770 but Iem’s are definitely much better value to sound quality.

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