Top-end travel rig

I’m looking to put together a closed-back headphone and DAP combo for use while traveling. Assume long plane and train rides.

Would spend up to 4k combined. My musical tastes are eclectic, but definitely skews towards jazz and classical, folk, blues, some ambient/electronic … But all in all, favoring space over density, detail and tone over volume, and spatial clarity …

My primary headphone is the Utopia. I’ve considered IEMs esp. for portability, but my ears don’t like the feeling and cushioned headphones feel more comfortable. Models considered right now include Stellia (but maybe too “luxe” looking), Liric, Stealth (a budget buster but I love the look, and seems the most portable of the options). I have an original Aeon Closed and really enjoy it, but it’s a few models out of date now.

For a DAP, it doesn’t look like you can beat the DX300 for the price but maybe folks have some other ideas. I will likely sell/trade other gear to help fund the purchases, as I am running two different Hi-Fi systems at home, plus a headphone system.

Honestly, the options you mentioned pretty much answered your questions. :smiley: If I was you, I’d audition the Stellia, Liric and Stealth; and maybe some of the cheaper DCA stuff. @Resolve did a recent comparison and explained the differences really well.

DX300 is hard to beat IMO. Seems like you’ve done some research and narrowed your options nicely.

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Even though I too own the original AEON Flow Closed, I’d never consider taking it on long flights or (European or Asian) train rides. It’s too bulky and demands far too much power. I personally value traveling light and there is lots of noise and many distractions in said vehicles, so I don’t hear audiophile nuances much anyway.

I bought a Bose QC-15 years ago for travel, and now use Sony WH series noise cancelling headphones. I don’t use a DAP, and just bluetooth in from my phone or tablet and kill two birds at once. I also carry a 3.5mm wire for the headphones and set of wired IEMs as backup. These are useful for plugging into onboard media systems and working around battery issues. I also carry a plain set of earplugs for when I don’t want music.

Odds are the Focal will be the easiest to drive with a DAP for many hours.

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I have the Stealth and I’ve been getting advice about driving them. Seems they need a lot of current and most portables can’t adequately drive them (I can’t personally confirm this). But they are light and fold up pretty tight.

When I travel (and when I used to commute on the bus) I just bite the bullet and use the Apple Airpod Max headphones (Sonys before that) and my iPhone.

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Thanks! I guess I’m “too audiophile” for noise cancelling 'phones, and I should add that there’s probably at least as much listening that would happen in non-mobile situations where there wouldn’t be as much ambient noise. As @generic suggests, maybe the Liric is the way to go, esp. since I can EQ as needed with the right DAP. It also got high marks for borh comfort and isolation. (I don’t expect a plane seat to be an ideal listening situation, just need enough isolation to zone out). Anyway, will check out the DCA comps video …

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Quite honestly, I think you will get a much higher end sonic experience in this budget with IEMs over closed backs. Honestly, there just arent a lot of great closed backs. You are right than you can do stealth + something like iDSD Sig but that would be significantly outclassed by a setup such as P6 Pro → Rhpasaudio infinity m2/MMR Thummium/Mason FuSang. If you can wait, personaly, i would wait to see what comes of abyss’s closed back. Until then I would probably just not use your whole budget (use maybe 1/2 or so?) and get an LCD-XC + upper mid-end dap (RS6, Paw6000,etc)

I’d be interested to hear more conversation about closed back vs IEM around a 1500-2000$ price point. My preference for closed back vs. IEM is that I don’t enjoy wearing IEMs. I’m sure there’s superior pairings out there beyond what I mentioned, but the gear you’re suggesting is far beyond my budget. (Not the XC,etc but that gets poor reviews for comfort). Also, so much of this comes down to personal taste and experience … Thanks for sharing some thoughts.

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Im sorry, I was going off of used pricing. A very very good dap (say LPGT) + thummium/infinity/fusang should be doable for 4k used.

Ultimately, I just honestly dont think there are any really compelling closed backs. Some stuff with amazing technicalities but it often has massive tradeoffs in FR (R10P is a great example of this). I may even be tempted to req something like ZMF VC + Sp2kT just because of the lack of options if im honest

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Sorry what is FR … Frequency range?

frequency response, FR.

How about the Focal Radiance? You already own the Utopia so likely already find it comfortable and quite use to the Focal sound signature. It’s also not as “luxe” looking as the Stellia, IMO.

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In that case I’d personally bring along IEMs for the travel portion and set of easy-to-drive open backs for everyday use with available local equipment (beyond a DAP). I may choose Focals in their factory travel case.

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A few recommendations:

  • I have used Aeon Noire with Go Blu and it actually sounds fantastic. No wires from the phone, and the Aeon Noire comes in a very small case that is very easy to pack. The Go Blu needs to be turned up pretty high - haven’t used in super noisy. But, i’m currently trading in the Aeon Noire for the Liric. Liric needs only about half as much power to drive as Noire, and should sound great and solve a very mild volume issue with the Noire. The case for Liric is quite big - like a Focal case - but willing to trade the Aeon. Liric also looks great while Noire looks a bit goofy out in public if you care about that.

  • I know you don’t like IEMs, but if you ever see the light, I also use Meze Rai Penta with a Dragonfly Blue. you can fit the whole think in your front pocket, and running it off your phone sounds GREAT. Super mobile and comes in under $1500 if you want one that’s extremely convenient.

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I was always happy with the sound I had using IEMs (original Solaris) with Cobalt into my phone, but the dongles annoy me, and I just never felt entirely comfortable with the way it all hung together (and frequently came loose, etc. … too fussy). IEMs would be ideal in terms of ease of carry, esp. for someone who likes to travel light.

Honestly, the Liric appeals to me in part because I can straight up trade some little-used gear for a pair without much added cost if any. And boom – set. Even if I just used with my phone and Cobalt until getting a DAP. I noted the large case, which isn’t ideal for me but I can certainly make room for it in my shoulder carry (a laptop and camera “bag”).

Clearly there are strong advocates for upper-scale IEMs … Maybe I’ll be one of them some day. But there’s no easy way to audition any models for comfort and fit, and money is too limited to play Roulette. Anyway, please keep any ideas coming … Much appreciate all the input!!

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So true about the Aeon as well. I felt like I’d never heard those headphones until I plugged them into my Stratus

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I have an Astell & Kern SE180 combined with a Focal Celestee and I’m really happy with the combo. If you like the Focal sound (I also have the Utopia and love it), this might be one to consider.

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Yes - although the Cobalt sounds great the fussy balance of the plugs, converters, etc bothered me too - I got the Go Blu to avoid all the fussy alignment of wires and plugs (and after buying my 4th lightning to USB converter in a year as they die very easily). Logistically Go Blu is great, and it’s got good power out of balanced for such a small easy cheap (ok, maybe not end game but good sounding) device and has a mike if you get a phone call. Based on the reviews I watched, the Rai Penta seemed the most comfortable IEM, so it was my first IEM just to try it. It’s a good option to shove into a pocket, but I also always rather lean towards headphones.

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Good to know. Will check it out.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss noise cancelling wireless models. Given your situation of long
Train and plane rides, it might be worth a try. About 7 years ago I flew from St Louis to Honolulu
thinking closed back phones would work. NOT!
I know you lose some “high” fidelity but to my old ears it’s a non issue. For $250 to $500 you can
get into a nice set of Sennheiser, Sony or Bose phones, If you are in the Apple system, I’ve heard good
things about the Apple over ear phones and they obviously play well with ipones.
I personally use a set of Sennheiser Momentum 2’s and I love them. Only gripe with them is that the ear cups could stand to be bigger.
Good luck with your quest.

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Tell me more about what you like about the AK
… that’s the sweet spot in my budget for a DAP. Was thinking about the DX300 but those are sold out. Obviously, a lot of different options from AK, and DX240 is available. I like what I’m reading about the SP2000T but it’s a stretch budget wise.

Sure. What I don’t like - or rather, don’t care about - is the switchable DAC functionality. At least, I haven’t felt the need to explore what other modules might bring to the game.

What I do like about the 180 is how it compares to the SR25, which I found a little anemic in its bass and overall presence. By contrast, the SE180 has the same revealing detail as the SR25, but more power and stronger, deeper bass. The overall presentation is a more powerful, more confident sound.

I realize how unscientific this comparison is - I can only tell you that the SR25/Celestee combination felt underfed and underwhelming. The 180 has power to spare to drive the Celestees and just works for me.

The A&K software is fine - depends on what android apps you use. I found Qobuz’s app nearly useless and Apple Music’s much, much more reliable (which is the reason I subscribe to AM - for my commute and for the car).

Storage is generous, particularly when supplemented with a Micro SD card.

The 180 is bigger and heavier than the SR25 but smaller and lighter, I believe, than the A&K flagships.

Combined with the Celestees, I get an engrossing, detailed, strong presentation that makes a NJ Transit commute way more bearable.

Hope this helps!

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