Cheapest / no cost improvement to your system

I’m wondering what the cheapest thing you’ve purchased or changed in your system that had the biggest result. If it was free, that’s even better!

For me, earpads and eartips. After fitting velour earpads to my M50X’s and comply foam tips to my IEM’s I heard noticeable difference in low-end reproduction, and general comfort increased for long listening sessions.

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A glass of decent Scotch usually yields the best improvement to musical enjoyment … though a nice claret will work in a pinch.

The Audeze “Reveal” plug-in for their line of headphones transforms some of them.

The right tips on IEMs (I like Comply on SE846 but Spinfit on Zeus XRA) can make a huge difference.

Employing a proper EQ capability for situations/cans that need it … which might be free in some cases, but isn’t generally very expensive even when not.

But as a single point of improvement, for the greatest number of headphones I can think of, however, the $79 I spent on Sonarworks True-Fi has had the furthest reaching and most impressive results. Provided you have a supported headphone model, that is.

With the Sony MDR-1000X it makes an already decent sounding can much better. With the ATH-M50x is saves them from their bassiness without messing anything else up (I use those for tracking w/ Sonarworks Reference sometimes). HD650 and HD660S both benefit quite a bit here … though I’ll be honest and say that I actually prefer both of them “vanilla” for listening (rather than mixing). The HD800 gets a real boost here … especially if combined with the “SDR” mod. And with the Focal Elear it turns a somewhat lumpy stock-tuning into a performance that is insanely close to par with, and maybe even more neutral than, the Clear.

I have quite a few of the headphones supported by both Sonarworks Reference and True-Fi, so that $79 winds up being the equivalent of maybe $10 per headphone, probably less.


I’ve looked into Truefi, but shied away because I am hesitant to use digital EQ’s. In my experience they add compression and artifacting, and I’m not good enough at EQ’s to justify purchasing an analog one. In your experience does True-Fi add any noise?

No, I’m not noticing any noise with it, nor any compression or other artifacts. It’s about as transparent, beyond it’s intended effects, as anything else I’ve heard in my respective chains.

It’s worth bearing in mind that almost every piece of music you’ll hear/buy/stream today was mixed with the same software EQ tools we’re talking about here … so any un-intended qualitative effects they’re going to have you’re likely already being subjected to (not that adding more wouldn’t be bad).

The results of software/digital EQ are very dependent on how they’re implemented. Some are shockingly bad and very obvious, but most of the serious products (which aren’t necessarily expensive) do what they do with no audible impact otherwise.

True-Fi is, however, not a traditional EQ product … it works with presets for specific headphones rather than allowing arbitrary adjustments. After choosing one of those, you can add some level of bass enhancement as well as compensate for age-related hearing loss, but those are the limits of it from an adjustability perspective.

This makes it much easier to get appropriate results with.

One major benefit you get with software based tools like this is that they’re typically available with a free trial, which makes it very easy to see for yourself if they are doing anything negative in your system.


For me the best dollar-for-dollar value is, by far, Cardas Conditioner. For about $16 you get enough liquid to condition at least 50 plugs and interconnects. The difference in quality of sound that flows into your headphones is really surprising–if not amazing. If it has been several months since contacts or plugs have been cleaned and conditioned, the improvement can be upwards of about 10-20%…a very big deal for only pennies per application.


Hello Ryan. Yes changing my ear pads from crummy cheap leather to velour was a huge improvement for my HiFiMAN HE-400’s. Only cost 20 bucks. I would say it was a $100 worth upgrade. The most radical mod was removing the outer screens and placing pieces of 70 duro sorbothane along outside rim of the plastic piece that holds the planar driver. This not for the faint of heart and I don’t think this would be helpful for dynamic 'phones. This “tweek” has only been done on planars and electostatics. Mostly on older Staxs. Good thing is I was careful doing this so I would be able to remove the sorbothane and put everything back to the stock assembly. However the improvement was remarkable! Cost me $20.
Sorry be so long winded, but you asked!
Good luck and good listening.


The cheapest (free) improvement to my system is called FIDELIZER a software that makes your computer customized for Audio.

Adding a plugin to Foobar2000 that generates some software crossfeed made listening on SE535’s much more pleasant.


I tried True-Fi with my hd700s and liked it, eventually bought it, and liked that I could do some fine tuning. Although I am disappointed that there is no support for the Nighthawks.

Check your local libraries/universities for a music section. Mine has a turntable and amp with a VERY large section of records. Its often unattended and I try to get there as often as possible. Otherwise maybe folding an old pillow in half while sitting /laying down so your cans don’t hit.

To begin with, I purchased atwo sets of Samson SR850’S. These were $32 a pair and and l needed something that me and my son could listen to late night action movies on without waking up everyone in the house. I had read a lot of great reviews and the price was right , so I grabbed them. They sounded great, not phenomenal, especially for the price. Here is the no cost improvement that after a little experimenting pushed these 850’s close to the phenomenal range. These are semi-open back headphones and on each earpiece there are 4 sets of ports to give you that sense of spaciousness. To begin with, they don’t do there job very well, and I found if you cover 2 of the 4 ports on each ear, the sound quality increases at least , in my opinion 3 fold. I will include a photo to show you which ports to cover, because it makes a big difference if you don’t get the correct two. I would like to hear if anyone tried this, their opinion on this free upgrade to

some of the best sounding low budget cans out there.

Very interesting. I’ve heard of a lot of “budget hacks” in order to get good sound out of mediocre headphones, including ATH-M50x’s, some Phillips headphones, and Monk. Never heard of this one! For $32, I might have to give it a try.

Another “tweak”, which is very low-cost (about $10 if you’re handy with a soldering iron … as you need to make up a simple cable for this one) is something called the “Phase Reversal Trick”. This is one a local friend of mine shared with me. He’s very much into tweaking his setup and hopefully he’ll join and participate here when the site opens up publicly.

In essence, it involves inverting the phase (polarity) on one channel in your software player (easiest), or in the connection from your DAC to your amplifier. And then you reverse that channel’s phase again (bringing it back to correct phase) in the connection from your amplifier to your headphones.

The idea is to maximize the power available from the + and - rails of your headphone amplifier by driving one channel out of phase with respect to the other, and then putting it back the right way before it hits your headphone. This is generally most beneficial, and most audible, when dealing with lower powered amplifiers and/or very demanding headphone loads.

I wrote up a detailed how-to on another site, but don’t really feel good about repeatedly posting links to that, and doing a new write-up for it here seems a bit redundant (I’d prefer to stick to “new” stuff for that) but if you Google for “Phase Reversal Trick” you’ll find it pretty easily.

It’s non-destructive, easily done, instantly reversible and … your mileage may vary - but if you try it I’d love to hear what you experience.

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Sounds great. I will have to try it this weekend. I have had a foray into making my own cables over the past few months, and my soldering skills are getting better. :grinning: Thanks for the fun project!

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My already paid for " Recliner "

That decent glass of scotch sounds like an excellent improvement, but it doesn’t always come that cheap.

I’ve had a few earbuds - Etymolic 6’s come to mind - that have had tips that I never really cared for. Here’s my cheap mod.

Go to the hardware store and find some foam ear protection plugs that you find comfortable. Then get some plastic tubing - I’ve found that the finest tubing from the aquarium store - not standard size but narrow airline tubing. Many hardware stores care this also.

Using a razor, cut off and discard about half of the length of the foam earbud. Using whatever devious method you wish, drill out a hole, lengthwise in the remaining part of the foam. I’ve used a Dremel, an awl, and a hot soldering iron, depending on my mood.

Insert the aquarium tubing into the hole, not quite to the rounded end (the part that will face your brain and inner ear) and cut the other end off flush. If you’ve thought to check how the tubing fits on your earbuds in place of the tips, you’re all set.

I found much better sealing and comfort with my home-made tips than I did with the ones that came with the buds. Plus they’re dirt cheap, and you can make extra pairs and friends can listen without wondering which of your ear creatures might be transplanted.

Mmmm…a good whiskey in a dark room with good music…hard to beat. I didn’t find True-fi all that great, I gave it a go on the trial, and it actually ended up crashing Spotify consistently, using my FLAC files I didn’t see an immediate improvement over my stock HD800(modded with Superdupont) sound. I also tried a couple of my other cans with mild changes to the audio. Neat trick, and I might go back to it eventually but, who knows.

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I actually just finished my TrueFi trial. I was a bit disappointed in TrueFi after Torqs good review. Not because TrueFi didnt work; TrueFi works. No doubt about that, and it actually works well. The issue I was having is that TrueFi is used to normalize the sound on all headphones to be completely flat (Save for some age and bass improvements if needed). My main cans when I want to listen to music are the HD650s which are known for being extremely neutral. TrueFi barely made any changes to the sonic signature of the headphones which was a bit disappointing. I couldn’t hear any difference and I actually thought I had installed something incorrectly when I first started because there was literally no difference in sound.

I tried my secondary pair of cans, the ATH-M50Xs which are much more colorful, and bingo! I could tell the difference in sound. TrueFi neutralized the sound signature and there was a definite audible difference. For some genres (Classical, Jazz) the difference was very nice, however for others (Rock, Electronic) I actually preferred the colorful signature of the M50’s. All in all it didn’t make sense for me to plunk down the money for just one pair of headphones. TrueFi WORKS, and I’m sure it works well with some headphones, but unfortunately not with my current setup. I do recommend you download the trial and try it with your headphones though. Depending on headphone and genre, you might have better luck than me.

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That could be my problem with the app as well, I was using cans that really don’t need the flat signature lol. I will say the Fostex PH X00 I noticed the biggest difference. I only tried it with the HD800/700 and the Purplehearts. So I concur completely the technology is really cool, and the fact that it is catered to specific headphones is huge. That being said I think it is best used on non-neutral cans and dare I say Low-Fi cans…

If your headphone has been modded, then the profile True-Fi (or Reference) is applying is going to be “incorrect” as it’ll include “corrections” that may not be needed anymore, and as such is not going to give the same degree of change from a stock headphone - nor will the results be correct.

The degree of change varies greatly with different headphones … since some “need” more “correction” than others.

Either way, it’s not for everyone. The principal intent is to get to neutrality, which is not the signature everyone wants in the first place (it was conceived, originally, to help music producers mix on headphones). And it cannot correct every issue even if that is what you want (you can’t prevent the 6 kHz resonance in the HD800 with EQ alone).