Sub 1000 dollar setup showdown!

I am deciding on a new pair of cans and I’ve narrowed it down to a few different options.

For headphones:

  1. Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow
  2. Sennheiser hd6xx
  3. Monoprice Monolithe M1060C
  4. Audeze lcd-2c

For amps I have a few that I like as well:

  1. Cavalli x Massdrop tube amp
  2. IDSD micro
  3. Dragonfly Red
    4.Schiit Magni vali
  4. Objective2+Odac
  5. Audiogd nfb-11

I am open to alternate ideas as well but my price range is right around $700 all in all. Higher is ok but definitely not encouraged. I really listen to just about every genre so I need something that is very flexible. Also note that if I have a slight sound signature preference it is toward a headphone that produces great bass though not elevated and a smooth treble that’s free of siblance and/or harshness. I’ve done my research but I am having a hard time narrowing my shortlist.

If you value technical performance and critical listening, for under $1k my recommendation would be a used HD800 and used Valhalla 2 (or even Vali 2). Throw on SDR mod or EQ and treble issues are solved. I also think treble is fine stock. I honestly don’t think any setup in that under $1k price range can come close. Bass quality is excellent and well extended like you mentioned.

Both AFO and LCD2C are going to take a more mellow and laid back approach to listening. They are both sort of what I consider “easy listening” types of headphones. I feel both are a little too far off on tonal balance to be perfect all rounders. HD6XX can also be laid back depending on source gear, but it can also take on a more lively nature too. Many people are really praising CTH with that pairing. I haven’t heard M1060C, but I used to own M1060. If you are playing with $1k budget I would skip the Monoprice stuff, you are just going to be itching to upgrade down the line.

Other options that I believe are worthy of consideration are DT1990, Focal Elex, Sundara, and Stax 3100 system (L300 +252S). I used to own DT1990 and quite liked it. It would play well with any of those sources you mentioned. Focal Elex is getting a lot of praise right now. I haven’t heard it yet, but I own Elear and have heard Clear so I have a good idea of what it should sound like and it would fit what you are looking for. Sundara is another one I haven’t heard yet that is getting praise. But based on my experience with HE-400i, HE-400S, and HE-560 it seems like Sundara fits right in there and perhaps is even better than those other three. The Stax 3100 system is an excellent and underrated option for its price. It can hang with the technical performance of HD800 in certain areas like detail retrieval and transient response. Being estat, it isn’t necessarily a good fit for everyone, but it is certainly worth consideration.


I agree with Tacos, if you’re looking for an all rounder, an HD800 can be EQ’d to sound pretty much however you’d like.

Another good option would be an LCD-2 Fazor. I’ve owned it previously and the bass is very textured and extends well. It’s closer to neutral than the LCD-2C is and it’ll likely be a better all rounder for different genres. You can get the Fazor for a good $300 cheaper than the LCD-2C.

The aeon Flow is more neutral than the HD6XX by a lot, much better treble and less bass. It’s actually pretty close to a neutral response, albeit slightly warm.

As someone who likes a particularly neutral response, if nothing else maybe even a bit bright, I’d say the LCD is still too dark to be an all around option, even with the fazor.

The only problem is that the hd800 with a good amp would cost way too much😬

Speaking from personal ownership and experience:

I own a set of Sennheiser HD600s ($300) and the Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (MCTH; $250). The MCTH is indeed an exceptionally good amp for the HD600 series, and a good foundation for other headphones too. It pulls better (full, neutral, and clear) performance from the HD600s than my cheap Bravo Audio V2 tube amp, or from any solid-state amp I’ve tried. My perception is that the Sennheiser 600 series (600, 650, 6xx) strong current demands result in sensitivity to the flaws/artifacts of the amp (which comes across as bass weakness, high-end weakness, or harshness).

An alternative could be the AudioQuest Nighthawk Carbon ($400 recent street price). It’s has strong and pleasant bass, with a very warm profile. I can listen all day comfortably, as the high end is subdued. The soft high-end does color female vocals with some recordings, but is beneficial for harsh/bright masters (e.g., Replacements “Let It Be” album). You might pair it with an AudioQuest Dragonfly ($100 to $200) or cheaper USB amp competitor.

I think “neutral” in headphones is still up for debate and there’s just not a clear way to compare them to what neutral is on speakers. But let’s take a look at comparison frequency graphs:

AFO does extend better in sub-bass than HD650, but it also has a bit of an emphasized mid-bass bump that most people would say is above “neutral”. It also is less even in the upper mids and treble as Tyll notes: “That said I do think it sounded ever so slightly rougher or grainier than the HD 600/650.”

So if someone aims for “neutral” being closer to the Harman target curve, AFO misses the mark as Tyll also says: “So why is Sean Olive not going to like this review? Well, the Aeon Flow Open really doesn’t match up particularly well with the Harman target curve…”

I’m not saying AFO isn’t a great headphone, I actually quite like it myself. But I think saying it is far more “neutral” than HD6XX is a bit of a stretch.


I specifically said a used Valhalla 2 (~$250) or a Vali 2 (B-stock currently $99) would be an excellent starting point with HD800. I always feel there is some misconception with HD800 and source pairings and that unless you spend $2k+ on TOTL tube amps it isn’t worth owning. I agree that HD800 has the ability to scale well with better gear, but that doesn’t mean it is in any way unlistenable with cheaper gear. Diminishing returns in source gear is absolutely relevant. If I had to keep only 1 headphone in my collection and wasn’t allowed to ever own an external DAC/amp and had to use this headphone straight out of my computer or my phone, I wouldn’t hesitate in keeping HD800.

Yeah, I was wrong. I’d agree that the hd650 is technically more neutral, but for some reason the AFC sounded more so. I’ve only heard the closed, forgot to clarify.

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Oh yeah, the AFC is also good and definitely more neutral than AFO, I agree with that. I would even agree that AFC is more neutral than HD650. I believe AFC is one of the most tonally accurate headphones available :+1:


Haha so I wasn’t wrong, just confused. Sounds like my daily life. :sweat_smile:

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I’ve been using a pair of the AEON Flow Closed for the last 3 days and I can say that they are definitely the most neutral pair of headphones that I’ve actually enjoyed. Comfort and great sound are my two most important factors when considering headphones and the AFC has that in spades. I’m not a huge fan of all the gloss though. While it looks nice, its very prone to smudging. In comparison to the HD 6XX / 650 I am definitely enjoying the AFC more.

They are pretty power hungry though. I’ve got the dials turned up pretty far on the SPL Phonitor X and Director combo right now. I tried it with the Dragonfly Red as well and still had to push the volume pretty high.

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I second the HD800, only topped by stax for <$1k. their used price has gone up a lot though. Remember them being sub $600 at times, now closer to $750

I really enjoy the HD800 with my JDS Labs The Element which would put you just around $1000 depending on B-stock at JDS and price of used HD800. The other option is the infamous HD700 which I personally really enjoy, they are like a mini HD800, and if you mod them to avoid the “treble spike” you should be fine (personally never had an issue with them stock, but still modded them because…reasons?)

How significant of a change is that mod on HD700? With the used prices that HD700 goes for these days (~$250) it definitely presents an interesting option given the mods help. I only briefly auditioned HD700 and the treble wasn’t painful to me, but it definitely felt incohesive with the rest of the spectrum in a way that HD800 approaches, but just holds the balance a bit better.

I have the Modhouse mod on my HD700 and after playing around with it more beyond my initial impressions and measurements showing little difference, I still really don’t hear too much difference other than volume difference. The treble never bothered me either but it’s definitely still incohesive, especially combined with the dipped upper midrange.

They look cool, but I still would pick most headphones over them.

@I_want_all_the_tacos, @Ishcabible basically nails it on the head. But as far as incohesive, I never really experienced that, and I honestly didn’t mind them stock. I will say they are ridiculously comfortable, and while playing games they are amazing. That being said having the HD800 makes them a moot point. But for the price point it was an easy purchase. I wish they had more pad options though (Dekoni give me some focus pads for these!!!). I stick by my words of these are basically a less cohesive HD800 :wink:

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While the SDR Mod with the HD 800 is pretty amazing, and quite dead neutral, I’m not always a fan to recommend modding your first high end headphone. Now you can find quite a few of them second hand that already have the mod installed! Which would be an excellent way to purchase one! Otherwise I’d grab something like an HD 600 [NOT the 650 or 6XX] or the DT 1990.

As for Amps & Dacs I kinda dig the JDS Labs EL Dac with my Own HD 800 but there are quite a few other options! I’ve heard the MassDrop sDac a few times as well and if it’s available it’s not bad either!

Though if you really wanted to go for the best Budget System around a HD 800 you can look for a used Schiit Vali Gen 1 [I’ve never paid more than $70 for em used] and a Behringer UCA 202 [$30 new] I own both of those and for a $100 Dac/Amp Combo it’s pretty stellar with more neutral stuff like the HD 800

But for a more robust modern amp, I do agree with others in starting off with a Vali 2, which is also excellent starting point with a variety of Dynamics like the HD 800/600 DT 1990

If you want to go the Planar Magnetic route, the HE 560 and Sundara are both hovering around $450. I’m more impressed with the HE 560 than the Sundara but I’ve only heard the Sundara in a few noisy meets where as I’ve spent a little more time with the HE 560 in quieter settings. Both are solid though and would do well with a beefier amp than the Vali 2, so I personally like the Garage 1217 Ember II for my Planar Magnetics and it runs around $350ish

Still wouldn’t call HD800 “dead neutral”. But that’s a subjective term for everyone I suppose.