The <$200 Audiophile Starter Pack

This starter pack is oriented toward maximizing performance per dollar. It’s not meant to be a meme that makes fun of the community, but instead; serves as a potentially useful guide to help friends and family that might be interested in getting started with high quality audio equipment.

For each of these categories, it was really really hard to only pick one option. My choices are a bit biased toward what I actually own. Others are biased toward what I see people posting a lot about.

Of all the categories, headphones were the hardest to get under $200. There are plenty of options under $200, but most of these have flaws that make them difficult to recommend.

  1. Desktop DAC: Schiit Modi
  2. Desktop Amp: Schiit Magni
  3. Mobile DAC/Amp: Fiio BTR5
  4. Dynamic IEMs: Moondrop Aria
  5. BA IEMs: Audio Technica E50
  6. Hybrid IEMs: Ikko OH10
  7. Open Back: Hifiman HE400i
  8. Closed Back: Shure SRH840
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For amp and DAC, I’d go with JDS Labs Atom amp+ and Atom DAC+.
I’d agree with the mobile amp/dac as the FiiO BTR5.
I don’t do iems anymore (ear issues), so I can’t really recommend any there.
Can I suggest used for headphones? The Shures are fine for the closed back in the price range, but open… you can do better than the HiFiMan 400’s if you look around the used market for the full $200. If the audio gods are with you, you might find the original Ananda or DCA Aeon closed X.

This is a very good start for new audiophiles, but I would recommend the used market starting out. First, as mentioned, you can usually find a used dac, amp, iem or headphone for about 50% to 70% of retail, stretching your dollars.

Good places to look are HiFi-Shark, eBay, head-fi, and US Audio Mart.

I have had the srh840 for 15 years now and always go back to it when I want reference, but I feel like the SRH840 is going to be “bright” to an entry level audio enthusiast. I would recommend the AKG K371 over the SRH840 for a way to show someone who is new what hifi could be.

As for mobile amp/dac, I’d go quedelix 5k for sure.

Just my two cents…

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My variation is below. Cool idea!

  1. Desktop DAC: Schiit Modius
  2. Desktop Amp: Schiit Magnius
  3. Mobile DAC/Amp: Qudelix-5K
  4. Dynamic IEMs: Moondrop Kato
  5. BA IEMs: Haven’t heard an all BA under $200 that’s really good, so instead I’d go TWS and get the APP2 when on sale for $200; alternatively, go planar and get 7Hz Timeless
  6. Hybrid IEMs: Used Moondrop Blessing 2
  7. Open Back: Sennheiser HD 6XX (on sale)
  8. Closed Back: AKG K371

Great responses! I have to agree that the JDS labs version of this Schiit stack is objectively better. I guess I chose Schiit because it seems to be so ubiquitous and popular.

In retrospect, the Qudelix-5K is a better option at a lower price, it’s just hard to recommend to someone starting out who may be confused by the complexity of the app, the opaque buttons, etc. This is the option that I own though.

I have to agree that pure BA headphones (especially at this low price point) are probably not going to satisfy anyone’s tastes, unless you are okay with a completely absent bass response. Going planar with the 7hz Timeless would be a great option, but it’s a tad over $200. I have the Timeless AE on order and am very much looking to making this one of my ATFs.

The closed back category is another one that’s just very difficult to find high resolving, neutral curve options. I very much like @ Nuance’s suggestion of ditching category this and going with a TWS. There are so many very very high quality TWS options options at this price range. It’s amazing how far this category has come in the last two years.

Regarding used good pricing; you’re absolutely correct that purchasing used is the more sustainable and economical option. It just makes setting a consistent and durable bar difficult because the used prices are always fluctuating up and down. I wouldn’t want a new person to be confounded years later by a lack of used Moondrop Blessing 2’s at the target price, but any of the options I mentioned should be available at a wide variety of retailers, today.

Have you seen the headphone headquarters’ guide?

A have the shure and I love it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not comfortable, can break. The 840A may have a better band, not sure about the sound.

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