Who are the headphone worlds giant killers? Headphones, amps, DACs and whatever else you think belongs here!
Wait, isn’t Chord Mojo cheaper MSRP compared to Black Label? And they both seem to go for about the same price on the used market. I haven’t heard either yet but I really want to. Besides features, how would you say the Black Label compares in sound to the Mojo?
I think there was a price drop on the Mojo. I know it does go for $549 new now and the iDSD Micro goes for $599 new.
In terms of answering the OPs question, I don’t think there really are any giant killers out there when it comes to headphones. There are definitely headphones that offer great value for your money that can be 80-90% of a Utopia for example, but they aren’t the Utopia at the end of the day. The Clear for example is about 90-95% of the Utopia for about 1/3 of the price. Does it surpass the Utopia? Not in my opinion but it definitely offers excellent value for your money if you aren’t looking to drop 4 grand.
The HD 6XX is pretty much the entire mid-fi market. When it was released, I could have seen it being regarded as a giant killer as it pretty much completely changed the pricing for the mid-fi market and offered the standard for headphones at that price point to be compared to and pretty much still is.
Yeah I totally agree about the whole “giant killer” misnomer. In headphones, using percentages is really weird, but let’s say X is 95% as good as Y. For many general consumers, there is no reason to spend say hundreds or even thousands of dollars more to achieve Y. But for people like us that sit in headphone forums all day obsessing over the tiniest of details, that 5% could be the difference in feeling merely satisfied vs achieving nirvana.
So yes, there are cheaper headphones that clearly try and match up against higher tier offerings, and while some of them can get to say 90-95%, none of them clearly best the target in every way such that it makes the target headphone obsolete.
I personally like my FiiO Q5 ($350) better than iFi’s products as an audio Swiss Army knife.
Every iFi product comes across as eccentric to me–I don’t really want to live with them. And considering the competition I’m not labeling any of these “giant killers.” Just all good products.
Yeah, sigh, my devices ramp up up from cheap and good to expensive and very good. All have respectable sound, and I use them for specific needs without complaint. None are giant killers. The differences in quality are obvious, but many people don’t care. My wife uses cheap IEMs with panda bears on them because they are cute – ignoring better devices in the same room.
$15 Panasonic corded IEMs
$100 Apple Bluetooth IEMs
$100 Grado SR80e
$300 Sony Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones
$300 Sennheiser HD600
$400 NightHawk Carbon
$700 Focal Elex
Only the hardcore in quiet rooms really care about quality above $300. And not even me every day.
How is the sound quality compared to iDSD BL, particularly with iems?
I haven’t compared directly, and you don’t want to trust my (noise damaged) opinion anyway. I based my purchase in part on the reviews here:
Some reviewers do compare it to iFi’s products.
As for headphone killers, I generally agree there aren’t any, at least in the most literal sense. Also agree with your comments about the HD 6XX dominance. (It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I agree to the extreme of owning 3 pairs of HD650’s–with Cardas Cross and Clear cables in different lengths for different sources). But how about killers in the context of much earlier headphone history? My first cans, in the early 1970’s, were Koss Pro 4A. It’s hard to remember that far back, but I don’t recall anything widely available to compare with them. They certainly struck me as Rolls Royce level of quality, and I think a lot of other people thought so too.
I really dislike the term “giant killer” in the audio space in general, and especially in the personal audio arena. This is principally because almost every time I see something vaunted as such it turns out to be a massive disappointment.
Now, I’m taking the term to mean something that is outperforms multiple alternatives up into meaningfully higher price tiers. I wouldn’t apply it to a $400 unit “beating” a $500 unit. It might come into play if that $400 unit took a $1,000 unit to “properly beat” it. But in general I’m not using that term unless we’re at a 3x price multiplier against multiple units.
I would have initially put Chord’s Mojo in that category, for example, yntil I listened to it more and started to find issues in the treble and less slam in the bass than can be found in comparably priced (and even some cheaper) units.
Similarly the much vaunted Gustard X20 or LKS MH-DA004, both of which were hailed as the 2nd coming but were, for me, average at best and barely justified their asking prices (I know of better, for less) much less beating out anything competent above that level … despite having every feature known to man (mostly a result of using every capability of the XMOS boards they were using).
Claims of “giant killer” seem to be very frequently applied to no-name/new-name products coming out of China. Lots of features, lots of enthusiastic buyers thinking they’re getting a major deal due to the country of origin, and in reality getting a lot of “me too”, competent-but-nothing-special product and not much else.
There are exceptions, but they’re ultra rare in my experience.
Overall I’d rather listen to the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label than the Chord Mojo. Provided that the headphones being used are insensitive enough to get past the low-level channel imbalance on the iFi unit (which is the most pronounced demonstration of that issue I’ve ever come across). I’d rather carry the Mojo though!
But those are definitely not examples of giant killers. The Mojo I think is a bit overpriced and the iFi does so many things that it loses focus … great if you want/need all it’s features … but if you were just using it as a DAC then there are much cheaper units that do a more convincing job (for me).
So what have I come across that might earn the title “giant killer” in the headphone space?
HD6XX is the only headphone that comes to mind. There were some “unicorn” 2012-era LCD-2.2 from Audeze that were amazingly good, but finding one was more luck than judgement. I got lucky there and it took their LCD-4 to beat that unit (and not by much), but most people had a very different experience.
Schiit’s Yggdrasil is a fairly good candidate … in the extensive DAC comparisons I found you had to spend at least double to equal it in terms of how good it sounds, and for me it was necessary to step up to the Chord DAVE, at 5-6x the price, to make it worth bothering with an upgrade there.
Beyond that I think the last true “giant killer” product I heard was in the early days of Bitstream (and D/S) DAC availability with the Marantz CD-65 MkII SE … which genuinely crucified the competition.
That’s just my experience though …
I think that very much depends on how you define “need”.
The iFi Micro iDSD Black Label isn’t resolving enough to get anywhere near the best out of most flagship cans, is somewhat lacking in micro-dynamics, and adds enough color (between DAC and amp sections) to make it a less-than-ideal pairing for anyone looking for true fidelity.
It’s very good, as a transportable unit, for the price, but is easily bested on technicalities by relatively modest desktop class components, and for less money. It definitely has it’s place, but it’s not significantly outperforming any reasonable setup that’s priced in the same realm in any metric other than raw, available, power.