Favorite Gear Purchase of 2018

Okay, the year’s not nearly over, what with Black Friday and the holiday shopping season yet to come, but I found myself reflecting on this today so I’m posting anyway!

2018 was really my first year going wild on buying headphones and related gear, so more than 90% of my current gear is eligible for taking this honor. I acquired several headphones, all of which are great in their own way but flawed in others, several amps (including solid state and tube) and one DAC/amp. However, the one piece of gear that’s consistently blown me away has been a phone, my LG V20, which I originally bought for use as a dedicated DAP.

The sound quality is fantastic, with a DAC that measures extremely well and a built-in amplifier that provides enough juice and low enough output impedance to work with all of my favorite headphones at comfortable listening volumes, from my RN-QT2 IEMs all the way up to my LCD2C.

The user experience (especially with Neutron or USB Audio Player Pro) is great and I love being able to carry my whole music collection in my pocket thanks to the expandable storage. When I want, I can discover new music using the Google Play Music and Bandcamp apps, and I can even watch YouTube and Netflix videos when I want. The Neutron music player has made it very easy to experiment with EQ and allow me to hone in on a sound that I like, which has been a central part of my listening journey this year.

When my wife’s iPhone died, I gave her my iPhone and switched to using the LG V20, in which capacity it’s worked well too. I bought the V20 for $220 in “like new” condition and a 256GB microSD card for another $110, and bought a couple of music player apps for a total of about $25. I basically never use any of my other source gear now except when I want to go back and compare to the V20. I’m also happy enough with the user experience that I won’t be renewing my Roon subscription, which at $499 for a lifetime subscription would make it more expensive than the V20+microSD+Neutron.

Prices on these continue to go down and I see similar ones to mine for $170 on eBay now. For a music-first audiophile, the V20 is an incredible value and my favorite gear purchase of 2018!


Nice. I thought about the V20 but ended up getting the Pioneer XDP-300R DAP instead this year and I am really enjoying it.

I’ve made too many purchases this year, but my favorite is the Unique Melody CIEM. I just really love it for its fit, portability and size.

The runner-up is the Focal Elex/Elegia combo. Thanks to this forum’s members (@pwjazz and @taronlissimore) for getting these into my hands.

And third would be Panasonic GX85 camera – its not audio but it is used to take photos of audio. :slight_smile: I also like the U-Turn Turntable I got this year for its simplicity. I dont listen to records enough to really justify buying something nicer but it’s good for what it is and seems like an upgrade from my previous Pro-Ject turntable.

I just put together my IEM purchase/review/loaner list this week. I’ll post it in a separate post on this thread.


Here is my IEM list:

The following is my ranking of the IEMs I’ve listened to and/or reviewed recently this year:

1. Unique Melody ME.1 Custom IEM - $1100
This happens to be most expensive of the items on the list. Is it worth it? For me it is. The ME1 had some sonic issues that weren’t awful but did require some EQ to fix. Taking the gamble to convert them to CIEMs really paid off. The sonic issues are no longer a concern, and the IEM sounds very well balanced and feature all the great features of planar drivers in a open-back IEM design. This is as close to an open-back headphone as I’ve tried.

2. BGVP DMG - $139
I have not tried the BGVP DM6 yet. The HYPE train for it is reaching legendary status in the headphone communities. But I have listened to its cheaper brother, the DMG. This one has a slight V-shaped signature that is fun, exciting, and well-tuned that it is also technically saavy. The biggest feature is probably it’s biggest flaw – the screw-on filters do subtle changes, however they do come off very easily.

3. Tenhz P4 Pro - $120
TenHz rebranded recently and then released the Pro model of their P4. The P4 Pro has an extremely lightweight and comfortable shell that I can wear for hours upon end. It also seals in very well and isolates well. The signature is near flat-neutral which is unique for this price range.

4. Audeze iSine - $199 - $599
Audeze released the iSine a while back but I finally got a chance to own one earlier this year. I ended up selling it once I got the UM ME1 but I still think I rank the iSine over the universal ME1 only because of the price to performance ratio. The iSine isn’t technically better but it’s still quite good, with the right EQ applied. If you have an iOS device, get the Cipher version as it already fixes the issues with the iSine’s sonic limitations. If you can get past the weird look and get it to fit well, it’s extremely comfortable, but be prepared to struggle through fitment trials. The LX and the iSine 10 versions are identical outside of appearance.

5. KZ ZSN - $20-25
The ZSN hasn’t been reviewed by me yet, and it’s a newcomer to the significant and large Knowledge Zenith lineup. It also happens to be incredibly cheap. It’s worth the $20 for the metal/acrylic housing and the good cable it comes with. But then you factor in that the cable is detachable, and the sound signature is extremely pleasant to my ears, and unlike anything KZ has put out so far, and you hit a jackpot for budget IEMs! While it lacks some detail of more expensive IEMs, this thing has a wonderful sound profile that will be great for all genres.

6. Campfire Orion - $350
The Orion is a pleasant-sounding IEM in the Campfire lineup, and happens to be one of their lowest priced offerings. Some people call it the baby Andromedas, for its sound and its shared housing. This review is coming up from me, but as a preview, I find these very enjoyable to listen with a good linear bass response, and very coherent mid-range. It does lack extended treble response in the upper registers, but I really have nothing to complain about. This is a great all-arounder.

7. Tin Audio T2 Pro - $59
Tin Audio released the T2 out of nowhere and it featured a very well-balanced neutral headphone that was also very cheap. The only thing I felt like was missing was the lack of upper treble extension and air. The T2 Pro came out a couple months ago and boosted the upper treble and made the already great T2 an even better headphone. Some folks may not like the additional treble, but for me, I really enjoyed it. It really helps bring clarity and air out.

8. TRN V80 - $39
The V80 is one of the best budget IEMs out right now. It has a very likeable sound signature which has a warm but very clean sound signature that has great mids and good treble extension. The build quality on it is impeccable and is made of solid metal and the fit is very good. Occasionally, the upper mids and lower treble sound slightly incoherent, but overall this is a very good IEM for all genres.

9. Audio Technica LS200iS - $349
I have only had limited time on this one but I am finding this to be a great IEM that has a similar sound to the Orion but slightly warmer, like the V80. It’s also got very good detail and mid-forward sound to it. The biggest flaw is the cable is pretty medicore at best, and uses a cable connector that isn’t very popular. The IEM looks wonderful in ample lighting though, and is incredibly light.

10. Unique Melody ME.1 Universal - $759 (on sale $599 at musictek)
The ME1 was already discussed above as my favorite IEM I own. The universal one is pretty unique in that it is a true IEM planar headphone and the first of its kind that doesn’t require special hooks like the iSine do. They look like miniature Audeze LCDs in your ear. The shoutiness in the 1KHz area does affect listenability of the IEM if volume is elevated, and the generally darker sound, similar to the iSine does make this one sound a lot better with EQ.

11. Tin Audio T2 - $49
The T2 is an extremely popular IEM and doesn’t need a lot more description. It’s really an easy recommendation-buy for anyone who has $40-49 to spend. There are a few IEMs above these now on this list but one unique characteristic that this has that no other IEM above have is that these can be worn with cable down, as well as cable up.

12. Final Audio E2000 - $45
The Final Audio E2000 was one of my favorite budget IEMs up until the latest crop of Chinese companies came out with their recent models. This Japanese company has put out obscure gems over the past couple years and the E2000 is one of their cheapest, yet best value you can find. It features a balanced pleasant sound signature with great isolation and lightweight. No interchangeable cables though.

13. KZ AS10 - $69
The KZ AS10 is one of the flagship models from Knowledge Zenith. It features 5 balanced armatures per side and has a warm and detailed sound signature thanks to the multi-BA setup. The AS10 is on the large side, so fit can be challenging, and overall looks leaves something to be desired. But if you want a detailed relaxing IEM with good bass response, this is a good choice.

14. Final Audio E3000 - $55
Similar look and sound to the E2000 but with a bigger boost in the mid-bass. This gives the E3000 a warmer and punchier sound that will appeal to a greater audience than the slightly less E2000, which will favor a leaner and cleaner sound.

15. Campfire Comet - $199
The Comet is the lowest priced Campfire IEM that features a stunning stainless steel body and a wonderful package of accessories. The sound signature is pleasant and enjoyable but doesn’t wow you in any way shape or form. It’s a safe IEM that works with many genres but does lack extension and dynamics.

16. KZ ZSA - $25
The ZSA is the tamer, cheaper and smaller version of the famous or infamous KZ ZS6. It has a significant V-shape sound that is exciting but does cause some bloat occasionally. Unlike the ZS6, the ZSA doesn’t have as much issues with treble sharpness and sibilance.

17. 1More Quad Driver - $129-199
The Quad is 1More’s highest priced IEM and features 4 drivers per side. It has good detail and a rich sound, however I found it a little too emphasized in the mid-bass to be enjoyable for my personal tastes. Many people will enjoy this warmer, punchier sound though. The IEM does also lack detachable cables, and the stock cable is only just average. The build and looks is quite nice and can be worn up or down.

18. KZ ZS6 - $45
The ZS6 is a polarizing IEM that some people love or hate. I find it to have the utmost potential but falls flat for a single fatal flaw. It has a wonderful build that is a carbon clone of the Campfire Andromeda, and it has plenty of detail, and good sounding bass. The mids are recessed but it’s not awful. The treble and upper mids is where these fall flat. It’s just too boosted and too sharp and I find it sibilant in almost every track I listen to that has female vocals.

19. TRN V20 - $20
I haven’t spent a lot of time with these but they have a decent warm sound but really lack any details. The build is odd, with a rubber coating on them but have detachable cables. These are really geared towards the gym or jogs.

20. Shozy x AAW Hibiki Mk2 - $75
The Hibiki Mk2 was quite disappointing to me. It had attractive looks, and decent fit, but the soundstage was just too narrow and caused everything to be congested. The heavy mid-focus and mid-boosted sound really pushed everything at you creating a disaster when playing a song with multiple instruments or singers at once. Other than that, this IEM would have been a great choice.

21. KZ BA10 - $79
The BA10 fails on many levels for me personally. First it sounded bad. It had a weird dark tone to it but because the mids dropped off and the treble remained elevated, the IEM produced very sharp peaks that bothered me a lot. Finally, not only was I experiencing sonic pain, I was experiencing significant physical sharp pains from the large, heavy, metallic sharp square body of these odd looking monsters. The sharp corners dug into my ears and were painful within minutes of placement.

22. Hifiman Bolt - $10
Finally, the cheapest IEM on this list is also the worst buy of the year. That’s really sad. The Massdrop special from Hifiman was a complete disaster. Right off the bat, the packaging was awful, and the cable was a flat, jangled mess to use. Then after placement, you’ll experience significant, loud, driver flex. The worst ever. The included tips are all bad. Finally, the sound signature is heavy, heavy bass focused. It’s like putting on an old gen Beats by Dre headphone in a crappy, though still better build. These just don’t have anything going for them. Not even worth the $10 I paid. I couldn’t even give these away because people turned them down after listening to them. Nuff said?


This year I grabbed myself:

  • Audeze Mobius (Easily my favourite wireless headphones + the gaming aspect)
  • Focal Elegia (Hasn’t arrived but we’ve had a demo unit in the office for a while that I am quite fond of)
  • Questyle QP2R (Ended up selling it as I am eyeing up the Astell&Kern SP1000M now that they have Tidal and Spotify offline for convenience sake)
  • Campfire Audio Comet (Sold, a little too meh all around for me)

I am considering picking up an Audeze LCD-X as I like its laid-back, neutral sound a little more than the Clear. But I’m torn whether I want the LCD-X or if I should go all in on the Audeze LCD-MX4.

Tried but did not buy :

  • Audeze LCD-2 Closed-Back
  • Audeze LCD-4z
  • Kef M100, M400, M500
  • Sennheiser HD 660S
  • Final Audio Sonorous VI
  • Final Audio Heaven VI
  • MrSpeakers AEON Flow Closed
  • 64 Audio tia Fourte
  • 64 Audio tia Trio
  • 64 Audio U18t
  • 64 Audio 12t
  • Campfire Audio Atlas (This one was close but I am going to wait to hear the Solaris before purchasing)
  • MrSpeakers Ether 2 (Only tried at RMAF. I quite liked it and its comfortable as hell)
  • Grande Utopia EM (Didn’t actually get to hear any music through these. They were set-up at RMAF for a post-party for UFC watching. There were 4 of them set-up. Probably overkill for UFC but they are a spectacle to behold in person. Each speaker weighs nearly 700 pounds)

There’s actually a lot more to add to the list but its been a long year so I’ve forgotten plenty. Those were definitely some of the stand-outs though (aside from the Kef headphones which are OK).


I saw a grand utopia listed at $120K off regular price on audiogon. What a deal lol


The year is not over, so I cannot accurately answer this question. I have a variety of recent purchases that require further evaluation, as well as other things on the way. So, I plan to update my answer in January. Special acknowledgements to @antdroid for his good advice on many things, and for seeming to share my tastes.

My favorites so far:

  1. Focal Elex – An all-around improvement to my old HD-600s and the cause of many other purchases in 2018. As they respond well and get better with different pairings, they led to my explorations of balanced systems (a huge rat hole now). They also seem to have become a common benchmark in the ‘best cost-effective practical quality’ category.
  2. TRN V80 and KZ AS10 (together/tie) – These two budget IEMs demonstrated what’s possible in the $30 to $50 range. They honestly B-l-o-w A-w-a-y some expensive products, and point to a future with much lower costs for high quality audio. Consider what the emergence of Honda, Toyota, and Datsun/Nissan did to the car industry. See @antdroid above for his spot-on evaluations.
  3. AEON Flow Closed – I’m very happy with these for meeting my closed headphone needs. They are a bit softer focus than the Elegia, but I already owned the Elex and wanted something different.
  4. FiiO Q5 portable DAC/Amp – This little Swiss Army Device [ Coining the term ‘SAD’ :wink: ] brought me into the modern mobile audio era. I resisted mobile DAPs forever because I didn’t want to maintain multiple copies of my files, and didn’t want to get stuck in an unstable, unsupported, and/or proprietary ecosystem. So, I muddled along with phones and tablets and quite mediocre mobile quality. But, the Q5 is a DAP with many inputs and without storage, so I can keep my old files and devices and use Bluetooth or USB as needed.

I thought I was bad for buying gear but you guys shame me.

This year purchases included:
Massdrop Plus
Massdrop HD58X
Focal Clears
Pioneer XDP-300r Dap
Topping D50 Dac
Forza Audio Custom balanced cable
Various other aftermarket cables

I guess my favourite purchase would be my Dap. It’s got great sound and lots of features. I can use Spotify and Tidal on or offline. Can be used as balanced. It’s great.

Close second is the Focal Clears. In fact I have been more than happy with all of my purchases this year. I haven’t gone into detail with any of the items as you’ll all be aware of their details.

1 Like

OMG. You deserve the title of IEM King of Forum.Headphnes.Com.

I have very few IEMs. Got em so I wouldn’t bother others, or more likely, just for a good mic so I can make phone calls in noisy environments like meetings and conferences.

My favorite thing to stick in my ears are my fingers, so I can say “Whoop Whoop Whoop” usually when my little brother is talking.


Some great buys in there!

How do you find trying to purchase gear in the UK? Are there hi-fi stores around there that keep most of the brands in stock or do you end having to do a lot of importing?

1 Like

Sadly lots of importing. There are some headphone shops scattered around but a lot of the best ones are down the south. Not all though. Still there aren’t that many with good Audiophile stuff. I get hammered for import taxes. I wish I had something like you guys near me. But I think I will be getting further purchases from your store anyway. I may as well your prices are very good.

1 Like

I hope the “whoop, whoop, whoop” is followed by tongue sticking out too. :stuck_out_tongue:

Funny thing is, I actually never cared for IEMs until the last 2 years. I actually hated them. I could never find something that fit me very well and didnt have the patience to try to make it work. I have and still am an over-ear headphone guy. But then I learned about 3rd party tips and that makes all the difference in the world. Getting something like SpinFits or Final Audio E tips makes the challenge of fit issues go away for many IEMs since they conform well to my right ear. The right type of foams help too!

And then I wrote a couple reviews on IEMs I had bought and tried and next thing I knew, people started sending me IEMs to review (this year). lol. My IEM knowledge base is pretty good for under $300ish but when you jump to the higher costs IEMs, I have not tried as much as some others have. I put over-ear headphones priority for higher priced purchases - I’m happy with my 1 higher-cost IEM for now. Temptations always creep up though!


I’m…well a lil embarrassed by the amount of gear I picked up this year…

Focal Clear
Focal Elegia
Focal Elex
HE4XX (second pair first set was given as a gift)
Bottlehead Crack
CA Cascade
CA Comets
CA Andromeda
Monolith THX amp/DAC
Audeze Mobius
T2 (gave it away to a friend)
NiBL(favorite on the go DAC/amp for travel portability)

I’m sure I’m missing stuff…

Current favorites are the Focal Elegia and Clears!
Oh I also got a black Jotunheim which I’m enjoying a lot, and is my primary amp currently.

Mobius is my go to PC gaming headphone.

Focal Elegia goes everywhere with me!

1 Like

I have picked up some SpinFit tips, and like the fit better than the stock on my 1More Triple Drivers. I’m reluctant to opine about how this creates a difference in sound, as pushing them in further or less also makes a difference. You’ll see that months ago I explained my home-made design that I used with my Etymolic ER6’s I used foam earplugs from the hardware store and mini-aquarium tubing.

I can’t find the Ety’s for about a year now…

I’m not sure I have patience to play around with too many tip designs. And some of the manufactures pack a half dozen or more to try.

1 Like

Curious about the SpinFits, I always have trouble with my left ear with IEMs. Pretty sure my ear canal on that side is smaller and tips kind of get pushed out/fall out fairly easily if I move my jaw. Over ear with cables helps but doesn’t feel like it seals right. Haven’t had any luck with foam tips staying in either.

1 Like

I have a similar “issue” in that one of my ear canals is smaller (or seems that way) than the other. In most cases, and with most IEMs, I don’t like foam tips (which do fix that particular issue for me), so I had taken to just using different sized tips in each ear.

More recently I’ve found that the newer SpinFit double-flange tips fit both ears much better, so I can use the same size tips for both. And additional bonus is that I’ve found the SpinFits give me the best general result sound-wise as well - as foam tips have a tendency to subdue the treble too much with most of the IEMs I’ve tried.


Sticking to audio-related gear purchases (of which there have been an embarrassing array this year already; see spoiler, below), and defining “favorite” as “has gotten the most listening time relative to how long I’ve owned it”, then:

For components, so far it’d be between the Michel Gyrodec/SME Mk IV arm/AT ART9 cartridge combination and the SPL Phonitor X. For headphones/IEMs, it would be between the HD820, ZMF Eikon and tia Fourté. And for upgrades/tweaks, it’d be the Elex pads for the Elear or the CC pads for the Abyss AB-1266 Phi.

Notable mentions would include the Focal Elegia and Clear (probably the best value high-end open-back headphone out there right now), Massdrop x EC ZDT Jr and Elex (these would pip the Clears on the value front for me IF they were as resolving), and the Bottlehead Crack (on several levels - fun to build, listen to and fiddle with).

And just because I’m feeling a bit spiky this morning, things I would not have purchased if I had heard them ahead of time would include the Tin Audio T2 Pro (I probably would be better off with the non-pro version) and the Topping D30 and D50 (they’re technically competent, but I don’t really enjoy them - the D30 seems to be imbued with a consistent ability to completely suck the life out of music and the D50 gets fatiguing very quickly).

Candidate Gear List (2018)
  • 64 Audio tia Fourté
  • Bottlehead Crack (+ Speedball)
  • Focal Clear
  • Focal Elegia
  • Fostex TR-X00 (Ebony)
  • Fostex TH-900 Mk2 (Emerald Green)
  • KZ ZST
  • KZ ZS6
  • KZ ZS10
  • Massdrop x AKG K7XX (Red)
  • Massdrop x EC ZDT Jr.
  • Massdrop x Focal Elex
  • Massdrop x HiFiMAN HE4XX
  • Massdrop x Sennheiser HD58X Jubilee
  • Massdrop x Sennheiser HD6XX
  • Massdrop x Cavalli Tube Hybrid
  • Massdrop x Liquid Carbon X
  • Massdrop x THX AAA 789
  • Massdrop x Grace SDAC
  • Massdrop x Airist Audio R-2R DAC
  • Michel GyroDec w/ SME Mk IV Arm + AT ART9 cartridge
  • Monoprice Liquid Spark
  • QuantAsylum QA401
  • Questsyle QP2R
  • RevoNext QT3
  • RME ADI-2 DAC (#2)
  • Sennheiser HD820
  • Schiit Modi 3
  • Schiit Modi MB
  • Schiit Magni 3
  • Schiit Vali 2
  • Schiit Sys (x2)
  • SPL Phonitor X (w/ DAC192 Module)
  • Tin Audio T2 Pro
  • Topping D30
  • Topping D50
  • ZMF Eikon

You make me feel… slightly better about my spending sprees on audio lol, I really want that Massdrop x EC ZDT Jr amp!!! I’ve been scouring sites looking for one…and waiting for Massdrop to put it up again…


Since everyone is listing their full set of 2018 gear, I’ll add my own relatively paltry list.

Audeze LCD2C (might sell)

These are the most unique headphones I own, with amazingly deep and clean bass, low distortion, an overall easy-listening sound and distinctive industrial design. They somehow manage to combine a dark, laid-back sound with impressive resolution. That said, they get less head time than my other headphones and even my cheap RN-QT2s.

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro (sold)

Impressive headphones spoiled by the fact that their treble is sufficiently elevated that I couldn’t listen to them without EQ. With EQ they were great though.

Garage 1217 Project Ember II (might sell)

Beautiful amplifier, hand-made by a small outfit here in the USA. My first and only tube amplifier, with adjustable output impedance and auto-bias for easy tube-rolling, and the smoothest volume knob I’ve encountered. I particularly enjoyed it with the DT 1990 Pro, but it’s not a great pairing with the LCD2C. It’s not bad with the HD58X, but not really necessary for it, which is why I might sell it.

Hifiman HE560 V1 with 2.5mm connectors (returned)

Very comfortable, but sounded a bit boring. They’re known to be power-hungry and the most power I gave them was a Magni 3. There was plenty of volume on tap so I assumed that the power was sufficient, but perhaps they would have done better with a different amplifier. In any case, the sound wasn’t for me, and the heavily pitted and poorly cut wood veneer looked tacky and cheap. They were quite comfortable to wear though.

KZ ZST (keep)

V-shaped and overly bright, but not painful like the DT 1990 and a good introduction to the Chifi sound. Plastic shells look cheap but are comfortable to wear.

LG V20 (keep)

Great DAP/phone with wonderful sound and enough power for all my current headphones.

Massdrop X Focal Elex (sold)

Irrespective of how they sound, I could never get comfortable in them. After all the great things I heard about the dynamic and clear Focal sound, I was also underwhelmed by how they sounded. They just weren’t for me.

Massdrop X Sennheiser HD58X (keep)

Not just an amazing value, but currently my favorite over-ear open-back headphones, period. They’re great without EQ and amazing with it, and they’re easy enough to drive that I can listen straight from my LG V20.

Nobsound NS-DAC3 (returned)

I got this as a kind of experiment and had it sent straight to AudioScienceReview for measurement. The measurements were disappointing. Once I got my hands on it, it sounded okay if a bit dry, with enough power and some interesting features, but with a poorly fitting 3.5mm connector and measurements that were way out of spec, I figured that this unit might turn into more trouble than it’s worth so I sent it back.

Revonext RN-QT2 with Spinfit CP 145 Tips (keep)

After investing a fair amount of time into EQ’ing these, they’ve become my daily drivers. Their resolution isn’t quite up to par with my over-ear open-back headphones (not sure if that’s a problem with these IEM’s or just an IEM vs over-ear thing), but the frequency response is great and they’re overall enjoyable. They’re comfortable to wear and look and feel great too.


Not me, yet. I acquired much more than I listed…and am planning to sell several too.

1 Like

It’s a lovely little amp.

There was an issue with the production versions having a slightly different chassis configuration, that turned out to require some additional shielding to avoid some low-level hum. My unit has the pre-production chassis and doesn’t have the hum issue.

I know that Massdrop have been coming up with (and I believe have now settled on) a fix for this for existing customers. I would assume that until that has been deployed to existing customers (and integrated into any future builds) it won’t be dropped again. After which I imagine they’ll sell out … (I don’t think they did on the first drop, mostly due to a long lead time).

I have a litany of gear at this end of the market that I will likely unload once I have reviewed it (and included it in a suitable comparison/write-up), but not this little guy …

1 Like