The value of personal audio

This isn’t the typical purchase advice thread. But, I felt this was the best category for this thread.

I want to start a discussion on the relative value of home theater systems, headphones and IEMs.

I recently tried to build a new home theater system. I auditioned a bunch of speakers and selected a fairly high end amp. I am privileged enough to have a decently large budget. But it got me thinking about comparative sound value.

I was not happy with the amp or most of the speakers I auditioned. This is what lead me to headphones. Of all things, the sony xm4 headphones made me start looking at real headphones. I had purchased them during the speaker audition (for an unrelated reason) and found those terrible headphones to be better than the comparatively obscenely expensive home theater I was trying to build.

This basically blew up my audiophile existence. I cancelled the home theater (temporarily).

I started down the over ear path. This is somewhat documented in my blessing 2 dusk review.

Ultimately, I landed on IEMs as, by far, the best bang for your buck. I could buy empire ear odins for each member of the family and still spend less than I would on an arguably inferior home theater system.

To me, that statement is bat crap crazy. Like seriously? That’s an argument that says $3400 IEMs are possibly good value? Really?

What I really want to hear about is how does your personal audio experience compare to your theater experience?

How is the quality comparatively?

Which is the better value and why?

Does the crazy surround sound of 11.2 systems actually add value for you? Atmos?

Anyway, I would love to hear about others journeys.


My 2.1 Channel and Home Theater to me are 10X more enjoyable than headphones. Don’t get me wrong I love headphones and will always love headphones but for me headphones became a necessity when my daughter was born. It’s what landed me on this forum with so many great people.

If you told me tomorrow I could only have speakers/home theater system or headphones/IEM’s for the rest of my life with no caveats such as kids etc, I wouldn’t even think twice. Home theater system and a true 2 channel speaker system or 2.1/2.2 would be my choice all day every day. @Dynamic

Luckily I don’t have to make that choice and now have the ability to enjoy them all but I sure as hell wouldn’t give up my 2 channel system or surround sound for headphones. I view them as complimentary listening experiences for different situations or moods.

Out of curiosity can you tell me about the store you auditioned the home theater and speaker system at?

Also what is your room like? Why do you feel the need to go to a 11.2 Atmos system when you can build a highly enjoyable 5.1 system for a reasonable price?

Edits for spelling


What makes it so much better to you?

I auditioned in my own home. It’s covid world. There are no stores. (And there aren’t near me anyway).

I ordered svs, klipsch and rsl speakers as well as a rythmik sub (which I loved!). The problem was likely more my “room”. But the end result is it just wasn’t worth the money to me.

Ok well ya, I can see why you likely didn’t enjoy your setup. The room is huge portion of the sound. Not knowing exactly which speakers you chose as well specifically from those manufacturers I can’t really comment, but they would not have been my choices for a home theater setup. Did you install them yourself? Do you have experience in setting up a home theater system?

What would you have chosen?

(To be clear, in the end none of those would have worked for size reasons among other things beyond sound)

I agree totally. 2 channel is where my head is mostly at but Ive fleshed out a system synergistically where Im done, no more tweaking. Those efforts are now on my headphone side which I listen to when the lady goes to sleep. I feel I’m pretty much to a point with my headphone setup is set too.

with speakers I favor 2 channels as it keeps it simple and if done right can image and soundstage like no other. I like adding a sub for the TV too.

with 2 channel Ive seen people put together a system that costs only 1k but is crazy good where on the other end Ive heard 20k speakers sound horrible.
It took me awhile to flesh out the sound I wanted and the gear that gave me that and it took some time. If you couldn’t find the right gear just keep on trying different stores that carry other companies.

just because something is expensive doesn’t mean you will like it and speakers can have that effect tenfold.


Without being able to hear any gear, that a hard situation. you are batting blind with curveballs being thrown


First let’s start off by you telling me about your room, shape, dimensions, viewing distance from your tv, windows, floors, furniture etc. then I can tell you what I would have recommended for you. You see every house is different and each room is different. For instance in my last house I had a different setup based on the room, and in my current house the room size dimensions changed which required me to change to best setup the room optimally. So I have a 5.1 system and a separate 2.1 system.

I auditioned 3 pairs of speakers in 2.1, put them on tables geared for the couch. And listened to music. The intent was to but an 9-11 channel system from the brand I liked most. Installation was not part of the audition particularly. But I did position them near their final location. And used audyssey to calibrate each set separately. (Such a pain in the ass)

Gotcha well that tells me nothing about your room. Setting up a good 2 channel system or 5.1 system is much more complex than headphones or IEMs as there is no room to take into account with headphones.

So if that process frustrates you then stick with headphones or IEMs or pay a professional to set it up for you if you would rather not deal with it. However the sound when done properly is tremendously better than what headphones or IEMs can provide.

Oh, I have done this multiple times before. Just decades ago. (5.1 and 7.1 mostly)

The room is impossible. 18x13 It has 6-12 foot doorways on three sides and windows and a fireplace on the remaining wall.

There is no possibility of sound treatment and practically zero space for speakers. It’s all hard flooring. It’s just not good. There is also a constant radon system running outside the fireplace wall.

It’s about as frustrating as a space can get for audio.

Yeah that sounds like a very challenging room for sure. Definitely not ideal. For tough rooms I sometimes go in wall and in ceiling. You would need to do something about your floors though and get nice rugs to help with that and maybe increase plant life if you can’t treat the room. I am more visual, if you ever wanted to snap some photos I would be happy to help or even draw a simple diagram. That radon system outside the wall would be very annoying.

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I don’t need to solve this problem. Theater is on hold (maybe until renovations can be done somewhere else in the house)

I am tempted to put up an old bose system I have from another project. But it’s just not worth the effort.

I have been looking at on wall speakers to solve the space issue (golden ears I think is the brand). In wall and ceiling isn’t an option.

Gotcha, well enjoy your Headphones for the time being.

I wasn’t aiming for 2.1, but even if I was, the systems were much more than my Dunu Zen and apple dongle (listening right now).

What have you seen on the less costly side that worked well?

I think your experience largely reflects my journey - and from the conversations I’ve had, that of many others. I went down the high-end headphone road because getting even CLOSE to that quality with speakers would require 3-5x the investment. Basically, you have to buy two of every component, treat your room, and probably spend much more per piece before you’re anywhere near the performance of a top-end headphone setup. My deal with myself and my wife is that I can go nuts with headphones, but I’m largely leaving speakers alone. Not for nothing, it’s nice to be able to work all day listening to one of the best hi-fi experiences available :slight_smile:

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And the convenience! I have always worked from home. As I move around my home, the entire hifi system goes with me! Crazy.

Ok I have seen what you have spent on amps and headphones and I kinda gotta call BS respectively on that statement. You could setup a pair of Kef LS50 metas with a decent 2 channel amp of your choice a streamer Dac roon endpoint with Dirac room correction and still be cheaper than a pair of a utopia and one of your tube amps and still have better sound in my opinion, again With respect :fist: . Now the real reason you may have revealed though, and that I understand all to well…


:wink: been there done that. The only reason to not use speakers over headphones in my opinion is for the purpose of not disturbing someone else, extreme room issues, or just that you enjoy that more intimate experience. Saying the sound is better though makes me think :thinking: have you really experienced a 2 channel setup or surround sound system that rocked you?

Edit: “ Not for nothing, it’s nice to be able to work all day listening to one of the best hi-fi experiences available :slight_smile:

I do understand this fact though, especially when working at a computer it’s nice to use headphones, and when I am working that’s usually what a gravitate towards but if I am listening for pure enjoyment from my experience even with the most expensive tube amps and headphones, my speaker system is a far better listening experience to my ears.

Another Edit lol:

Also since we’re all dudes on here on Valentine’s Day, that says something :joy: but how do you enjoy a movie with your significant others properly at home without speakers :loud_sound: you guys are telling me you use headphones and close yourself off to your partners!!? That is really going to mess with the mojo and cuddling imo. Ok I am done much love and respect!


lol - no offense taken! And don’t think I don’t plan on getting myself something KEF LS50 - ish at some point (:wink: ), but I think it’s tough to argue that it would match Utopias + high-end headphone chain. Don’t get me wrong, I understand they are amazing speakers, but to get a Utopia-level of fidelity up and down the frequency range, you’re probably looking at $20K+ speakers, and that’s not to speak of high-end power amps, pre-amp, bigger power regenerator, high-end power cords for all of the above, and probably another DAC (unless you want to shuttle one around between your headphone and speaker rack). If I just go by mid to high tier PS audio range gear (“affordable” hi-fi), I’m looking at $6K for power amps, $5K power regenerator, $6K pre-amp, $6K DAC, let’s say $1.5K in cables, and I’ll grab Focal’s mid-high-end speakers (Sopra 3 - not even touching the speaker range Utopias) at $20K, and we arrive at $38.5K. I’m not going to call my setup “humble” by any stretch, but that’s a different tier, there. I’m never going to argue that a 9/10 speaker setup is bested by a 9/10 headphone setup, but it’s more of a practicality and bang-for-your-buck argument.