Lessons learned in 2021?


Folks, I’m aware I’m being presumptuous here, but since there was a lot of feedback in the 2020s post, maybe there is something new to be shared this year?

Lessons learned this year

I’m sure we all have seen/heard some items given below. However, genuinely understanding them, this is what I call a lesson learned:

  • brain burn-in is real – this one is weird. Even trying to explain is weird; :man_shrugging:
  • the importance of a collection – noticed a certain seasonality in my tonal preferences. There were months where I leaned into a neutral-bright signature, and there were times which I preferred darker presentation headphones instead;
  • ignore hype trains – this was probably the most difficult lesson learned ever since I started on this hobby. :slightly_smiling_face:
  • your journey is yours alone – goes along with the previous lesson learned. I do like to know/understand other opinions out there though.

So, what has happened to you in the hobby in 2021, should you like to share it?

Happy Holidays!

Cheers. :beers:



Trust your own ears, with your own music and your own equipment. “So let it be written, so let it be done.” :wink:


I’ve come to understand that by having this I curb any instincts to upgrade. Having a collection that compliments each other is paramount.


There will be people in this hobby with great knowledge and great advice. They will come and go. Sometimes they will show themselves as not the most patient among us. We will wonder why they bounce from forum to forum every few years. Ultimately we are here to enjoy music and gear. I try not to lose sight of the good here and the people here.


I’ll write my Deep Thoughts later, but here’s a small “learning story” from 2021: Soldering. I had to retrain myself to build a Bottlehead Crack, and the tree below was a practice victim. It didn’t work at first, as the power switch melted the second I touched it (very cheap). Work around: bench power supply and alligator clips to + and - on the PCBs.

Don’t give up, and be creative.

I left the top leads long – they look like little antennas.


EQ is the audio equivalent to fantasyland

  1. People are way too passionate about which couriers are terrible and will go out of their way with anecdotal evidence to prove that that courier is bad.
  2. People really dislike when others enjoy a hobby in a different way than they do.
  3. Healthcare workers don’t get nearly enough appreciation
  4. Same goes for minimum wage workers
  5. The wow factor of TOTL headphones has been diminished as the $4k price bracket has become more of the norm.
  6. Tubes are wonderful but a whole other rabbit hole to fall down
  7. The pandemic has caused increase demand which has let companies sit back a little and rest on their laurels. Those that continue to innovate now when business is going well are those that will come out ahead when things return to normal.
  8. Chi-Fi is no longer a meme and people should be paying close attention to what’s happening on the IEM side. FOTM is still real but there are some true standouts being produced.
  9. This hobby has become quite a bit more affordable for the good enough crowd.
  10. The iFi Audio GO Blu needs a shirt clip @SebastienChiu :wink:
  11. Learn to have fun with hobbies and don’t let the little things you see online bother you.

I have been a member of the Forum for almost two years, and as a beginner I have been the recipient of a lot of good advice from other more experienced and knowledgeable members. I have been very impressed by the willingness of those members to share their expertise so willingly, even answering the very same questions repeatedly posed (including by me). So while I am not unaware of the back and forth regarding complaints about some less than courteous attitudes in the posts, it’s easy to forget about the many, many more less dramatic times that people are respectfully helpful to others. My lesson learned is to keep it all in proportion and be grateful to all those who have been so helpful. Thanks all.


Trust my ears and gut - Especially with hyped/well regarded stuff, if I heard something I didn’t like, I would obsess about messing with EQ, trying different amps, changing input impedance, etc. But, I’ve come to realize that if I just don’t like something, I’m almost certainly never going to love it no matter how hard I try.

Build a good collection of ear tips - This slightly contradicts my above point, but IEM enjoyment and sound depend a lot on good fit, insertion depth and even ear tip composition, bore size and so on. I haven’t found a pair of tips that can fix a poorly tuned IEM, but I’ve had plenty of tips that ruined what turned out to be a good IEM. A large collection of tips helps me get the most from any IEM I use and can even make the difference between an IEM being usable or not.


Well said, the more I try to learn about measurements, finding ideal amp/DAC set ups for each of my headphones, and fiddling with EQ the less I enjoy actually listening. I plan to spend 2022 listening for pleasure not chasing minute improvements on things I already love.

  • If you’re spending more time on forums and discords talking about being an audiophile than listening to music; you’re doing it wrong.

  • Sometimes its better to be the second owner of something than the first

  • Somewhat related to the previous… Much like cars, don’t “expect” that your custom or one-off thing has more value to the next person… keep that in mind before you pay significantly extra for it to start if you plan to sell, you’re likely not going to get that extra money back.

  • Lastly, there’s space for people to enjoy whatever they like and, ultimately it’s their ears and money. While you may laugh at some stuff that people do or say IRL (and trust me, I chuckle at a few folks here and I’m sure some at me as well), try to give them space to do/enjoy what they want. If you don’t like a product, don’t find ways into every conversation about that product to say so… let people enjoy it. basically, don’t be a dick.


Memes aren’t really memes.

  1. Senns do scale.
  2. Speakers are better than headphones. Most headphones are overpriced and that money would do better with speakers.
  3. Spending more money on source/amplification is better than on transducers.

Lessons learned through experience this past year:

  1. Synergy of equipment is almost always more important than caliber/price of equipment.

  2. Zach at ZMF is telling the truth when he says none of his headphones are meant to be upgrades or better versions of his cheaper models. It all comes down to the end user’s preferences. I’ve owned 3 of his dynamics so far. The third one I got was the one I expected to like the least, but now it’s my favorite.

  3. Tubes are legit. I avoided them for years and years, but I’m glad I finally started my foray into tube amps. It has been very rewarding.

  4. It’s scary to sit down and do the math on what I’ve spent on headphone-related stuff. At one point I had $6000+ worth of stuff sitting next to me. A few years ago, I thought I was splurging on a $350 Mod House Argon and $300 on a JDS amp and DAC. It’s a slippery slope.

  5. Ignorance is bliss. Until you’ve heard some really nice stuff, you can easily enjoy cheaper equipment. Once you dabble in the high end, your ears become accustomed to that level of fidelity. My poor Argons have now been delegated to tv/movie watching because my spoiled ears can’t deal with their shortcomings with music versus my fancy cans.

  6. If you look, there are knowledgeable and friendly people to be found at all the different audio forums around the internet. I like hearing different perspectives. I have gotten great info from many places in this hobby, so I enjoy being active in many different communities.

  1. If three people tell you you’re drunk, lie down - when the consensus of this community goes in one direction, you go elsewhere at your peril. This is particularly true during the pandemic where auditioning opportunities are harder to (want to) do - I’ve purchased a lot of equipment on faith and have found it to work for me virtually all of the time. Listening to others doesn’t guarantee satisfaction, but it probably tells you you’re not going too far off-base. I know that THAT philosophy isn’t necessarily popular for those of you that want to learn over time and by hard-earned experience (which I completely respect), but it’s been successful for me.

  2. There’s no question I’ve asked that wasn’t entertained cheerfully - being polite in your inquiries always pays.

  3. All the LCD-5 hype is well-earned.

  1. TOTL headphones are too expensive for their performance

  2. Speakers are generally better than headphones, but have a much deeper rabbit hole to fall down and lose your wallet/purse

  3. EQ is not the solution you are looking for

  4. Beware of snake oil salesman parading as friends

  5. Enjoy what you have, not everything is an upgrade

  6. People are people, practice empathy and ask yourself “am I the antagonist here?” when conversations go south

  7. Remember that you are not the only protagonist on this planet, all those NPCs IRL are protagonists too! We all don’t have to like each other, but we should still, do our best to respect each other.

  8. Stop and reread messages written before hitting send! Make sure it’s how you want to be remembered/presented

  9. we all have biases/opinions even the most “objective” amongst us are just hobbyists, and not “experts”! with their own opinions and biases, coloring their opinions… never follow just one person’s advice when you have a plethora of sources to glean information from… we are all human after all!

  10. I’ll leave with, be responsible for your own decisions

  1. Be polite, show curtsey, and assume positive intent.
  2. Consider suggestions carefully, but know when to go your own way.
  3. If you really want to try something (and can afford it) – go for it. YOLO
        1. :+1: Crucial

Well said @hnordberg


Here’s my Deep Thoughts posting. Some points duplicate those above, while others contradict them or contradict my own views from a year or five ago. It’s just a hobby, so everyone please relax and enjoy life.

  1. Multibit DAC hype is real. If you haven’t yet moved away from Delta Sigma (e.g., AKM/ESS, etc.), do so. The Bifrost 2 converted me to the “start from the source” strategy. Drivers matter, but they can and will be crippled by a weak DAC. With a good DAC everything else you have will sound better. Your Delta Sigma DAC may be responsible for that terrible treble whine you hear – don’t fixate on tube amps or tube swaps.

  2. The best headphones pale in comparison to even cheap speakers for staging and room presence. Given how sensitive speakers are to rooms, one can create a shockingly good speaker setup for relatively little money. However, it’ll not match the details of a mid-grade headphone setup.

  3. Before you dismiss entry level tube amps, try them with better DACs and headphones. In 2021 I started back-to-back testing on the (a) Bottlehead Crack, (b) Schiit Lyr 3, (c) DarkVoice 336 SE, and (d) Loxjie P20. The Loxjie is only $99, but is not the worst by any means. I was stunned by its performance with the Bifrost 2 and HD 800 S – an odd match that no one ever makes ($700 + $1,400 nominal retail + $100 + $30 for two 6N3P-DR tubes). The bass isn’t the fullest, but it’s very solid otherwise. The technical loser is the Lyr 3, but it has a wooly charm too. The Crack and DarkVoice differences largely follow from their input tubes…neck and neck… Believe @andrew above in taking Chi-Fi seriously.

  4. Tube swaps often don’t make much difference…about 80% of the tubes tried on my amps sound similar. There are differences but one still hears the basic character of the amp and tube design potential (e.g., 6SN7s sound like 6SN7s, while 12AU7s sound like 12AU7s). Many of the audible differences follow from distortion and artifacts (e.g., whine), and can lead to distractions as often as benefits.

  5. EQ can be very useful, but must be used for a reason. First, some music was butchered and needs correction (especially 1980s independent and later self-produced music). This has nothing to do with headphones or DACs or amps. Someone in a studio messed up, so these sources will sound bad on everything you own. Second, EQ can be useful for fixing headphones or flawed setups in the lower price brackets. Entry-level buyers will find more value in a Schiit Loki than in budget sidegrades. See next item.

  6. The Beyerdynamic DT 880 (600 ohm; <$200 street) can be shockingly good in the midrange, but requires treble EQ. I do not exaggerate in saying that it surpasses the Focal Clear’s mids and competes well against the HD 800 S in the mids. The HD 600 and 6XX fall well behind. However, without EQ you’ll suffer.

  7. People who focus on measurements and double blind testing sometimes seek (a) ways to find optimal equipment with minimal time or cost, or (b) support circular, pre-determined outcomes and don’t seem to care much about music or experience. I need 1 hour or more to assess many setups – got to wait to see if fatigue sets in and how long it takes. A rapid 5 second or 30 second ABX text is akin to walking in and out from sunlight into a dark room and then back again. Scientific testing is possible, but I’ve seen scant evidence of serious perception research methods among audiophiles.

  8. (Counterpart to #7) People who resist measurements and blind testing sometimes (a) seek to let their ears determine their preferences and to not worry about a pleasurable hobby, or (b) engage in trophy hunting to find the rarest, most expensive, and hardest to obtain equipment, or build biggest collection. These are perfectly valid hobby goals, but understand that this has nothing to do with sound quality or equipment performance per se (“Mine is bigger than yours.”). You sometimes don’t get much beyond exclusivity for the money, but you must try before judging too.

  9. Hart Audio cables and Worlds Best Cables provide serious real world performance at reasonable prices.

  10. The RebelAmp is fantastic, and its large volume knob makes it a great preamp.

  11. You must know how to solder to build a Bottlehead Crack, and soldering is a fine skill. However, the Crack’s exclusivity and image follows from it being a kit. Do not attempt to build one if you aren’t careful and willing to learn, but don’t sweat it either. Its sound quality is competitive with other tube amps. Competitive, not world-changing.

  12. The HD 800 S delivers a step up from the HD 600, as it’s technically superior but has about the same tone and amp requirements. The stage is much wider, the treble and air are more precise and relaxed/comfortable at the same time. Both the HD 600 and 800 S are more finicky to drive than the Clear, but more responsive to the right setup too.


The main lesson I (finally) learned this year goes against the norm on this forum, but:

  1. I don’t need a bunch of headphones and earphones. I found myself gravitating to and truly using only a few, so I sold and/or gave away the rest. I can only listen to one at a time, and so having a bunch to simply own them is pointless for me. Figure out what you no longer use and sell them or give ‘em to someone less fortunate. Or don’t - whatever works for you.

I love this. Well said!