YOUR top 3 for 2023?

We will soon be wrapping up the year, the festivities will start and all that. And one thing we can guarantee there will be no shortage of is lists of “the best”, “the most”, “the greatest” and all those other videos and entires from reviewers.

I am just as guilty, although I have no idea on what I will do this year yet (I try to not do the same thing every year, as my reviews are already monotonous enough!).

So… It would be great to know what YOUR top 3 of the year is.

I know that there is still some time left yet but what are the three audio related things that have impressed you the most this year?

There are no rules (except for it being audio related), no budgets and it does not need to be anything that was released this year. Maybe you just grabbed a set of 1983 Koss headphones that impressed you the most.

Just as a note, I am going to post this same question on a couple of other forums (English and Spanish) and my YouTube channel.

It will be interesting to check back in a few weeks and see what the general masses think.

(I’ll obviously post back here with the findings, if any).



Top 3 for 2023 for me are :

Topping D10S, takes everything I throw at it and does a workman’s job of feeding to -
Schitt Magni Heretic which does a clean job of amplifing out to -
Focal Elegia which I never thought I would be able to buy.

That’s been my desktop chain for most of this year and I’m very happy with it.

Mark Gosdin


I had a really quiet year when it come to purchases/discoveries.

  1. Cayin RU6 - Dongle
  2. Hisenior Mega5P - IEM
  3. Venture Electronics Zen Lite - Earbud

Pairing my new R-2R RU6 with my xDuoo X10T II digital transport was a real eye opener of an experience. Literally the best sounding source I have heard. Simply amazing.

The Hisenior IEM is a very warm and dynamic unit with excellent imaging and resolution for a lower mid-range offering. That, and the accessories from cable to case were top-notch.

I had the VE Zen Lite earbud collecting dust in a drawer. I guess when I first tried it I used whatever dongle was included with it and wasn’t impressed. Luckily, when I decided to give it a try again, I didn’t have that dongle anywhere to be found and decided to use my iFi hip-dac instead. Boy am I glad I did! What a smooth, warm, non-fatiguing listen it presents. I no longer need to struggle getting comfortable lying down with headphones because I have this guy. I’m so pleased, I’m now an earbud convert looking to spend money on more of them.

Honorably mentions go to:

  1. Sony NW-ZX300 - portable player
  2. Drop x Etymōtic ERX - IEM
  3. Truthear x Crinacle Zero:RED - IEM
  1. kz castor bass version. a lot of fun mid bass kick, highs could have been brighter.
  2. schiit midgard. just got today, it sounds good.
  3. haven’t really bought much this year.
Yes, it was a quiet year in audio for me too.

But I was able to identify three quiet products.

  1. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Headphones
    I finally made the leap to wireless with ANC headphones when I saw these on sale at Best Buy. Great for listening to movies and streaming video, respectable for music. Liberating me from wires, and muting the infernal neighbor’s woodworking hobby.

  2. The Luxury & Precision W4 DAC/AMP.
    I think this is endgame for me in the ultra portable / mobile space. Single ended and balanced output. Nice ergonomics, and utterly amazing sound for the about $450 price. Preset EQ and modes for whatever you need. Balanced gives adequate power for most headphones. Excellent soundstage and detail, including treble and air without fatigue.

  3. Hart Audio silver braided cables.
    There, I’ve said it. Me, the cables don’t matter guy. But sometimes they do. James hinted that he was considering a silver option, and I presumed on him to give it a whirl. He first built me balanced replacements for the LCDi4 IEMs I had, and they make a difference. Especially when pushed vs single ended on the L&P W4. Maybe it’s just more power, but I finally hear an audible improvement.

    So next I had them make a replacement 2.5 to 3.5 4 foot cable for the Momentum 4. I was not impressed with either the length or the quality of the supplied cable. When listening to music, the Momentum 4 is happier in wired mode, though it takes very little power to drive them. This cable also makes a difference. I think I hear a bit less veil and better high end. But I know I appreciate the extra 14 inches or so it gives me to relax.

In the picture here, you see the original Sennheiser cable (probably about $5) and the supplied single ended Audeze silver cable (around $300). The Hart cables both cost under $100.

Also pictured is the Momentum 4 with the Hart 4 foot cable inserted, and the L&P W4 connected to my iPad mini 6 on one end and the Hart Balanced 4.4mm adapter to the Audeze cable on the other.

(apologies for little specs of white stuff on bedspread background visible at full magnification, but I was in a hurry, and unlike professional photographers don’t always vacuum surfaces after the cat has been visiting to help with setup.)


For stuff I’d actually consider buying at the end of 2023:

  1. Sennheiser HD 600 - Cheap, fire and forget headphone with very little EQ needed.
  2. Meze Empyrean 2 - While I don’t think it’s ‘endgame level’ the way some of my colleagues do, its certainly good enough for me, with top tier comfort and low distortion, making it great for dialing it in just how I like it.
  3. TruthEar Hexa - There’s actually a stronger case to be made for EQing IEMs compared to over-ears, since the pinna is being bypassed (it needs to be assumed) and you’re far less likely to find something that matches your HRTF - even if you know what that is. The trouble is, most IEMs use BA drivers, which have notoriously high third and fifth harmonic distortion. For this reason, I’d choose the Hexa, since it’s already very close to my HRTF, with very minimal adjustment necessary.

I made some pretty big changes this year to my setup. I went on a quest to find a solid-state amp that would take me out of the never-ending tube anxiety I had been trapped in for a while. I had grown tired of all the little annoyances that come with tube amp ownership. I thought I could be satisfied with my Cayin iHA-6 which did everything I needed it to, but ended up splurging on a Cen.Grand 9i-806 “Little Silver Fox” and almost called it quits there. In the end, I did not hear enough improvement to justify the upgrade, so I returned the Little Silver Fox.

All the while, I was using an OG Bifrost 2 and thought that it could be holding back my ability to hear improvements in amplification with my Meze Elite. So here is my first entry for 2023:

  1. Schiit Yggdrasil A2 - Finally took the plunge and upgraded my very competent and much-beloved BF2. I was leaning towards the LIM back when I was using a single-ended Quicksilver tube amp. Now that I was using a balanced solid-state amp, I thought I’d go for the OG Yggy. I don’t regret my decision. I immediately heard more bass detail and texture. As it has warmed up over time, it’s become even more coherent and nuanced. Glad I took the risk and upgraded my DAC.

I started to read about the new Schiit Mjolnir 3 and how it was a high-end, over-engineered Class A amp that was hiding at a mid-fi price point. It sounded like a perfect match (cosmetically and acoustically) for my black Yggy.

  1. Schiit Mjolnir 3 - I’ve finally found the solid-state amp that has put my tube-mania to rest. It’s an amazing match with my Meze Elite (Angled Alcantara pads w/ZMF Verite Silver XLR cable) in push-pull mode with no feedback. It was equally adept with the ZMF Caldera I had in the house for about a week. It outclasses my iHA-6 in most ways, as expected. It’s incredibly detailed without being strident or exaggerated. It’s just a joy to listen to overall.

This leads to the my number three. I have to go with current favorite headphones. They’ve had a few challengers over the past year but still maintain the top spot in my personal hierarchy.

  1. Meze Elite - I got to demo a lot of great headphones this year and thought one of Zach’s ZMF creations might dethrone the Elite. I got to try an Atrium Open, African Blackwood Verite Closed, Auteur Classic (still own and cherish my Manchurian Ash OG Auteur btw) and the one that I really thought might win me over, the new Caldera.

When I found out Zach was finally putting out his first planar, I thought my Elite was in trouble. I’m a huge ZMF fan and love to support them whenever possible. When I finally got my week with the Caldera, it was just as good as I expected. With my MJ3/Yggy A2 combo, the Elite and Caldera were neck and neck in my opinion. Technical abilities was as good as I will ever need or desire. More importantly, they are both engaging and natural while also being completely non-fatiguing. Both sounded right. The Caldera was bit more visceral and muscular in its presentation while the Elite was a bit more airy and spacious.

You may be wondering how the Elite remains my number one if the two headphones were so evenly matched, along with my longstanding ZMF preference. I added two things to my Elite this year, the new Angled Alcantara pads and a ZMF Verite Silver cable. The combo of add-ons has taken my favorite headphones up another level. I used to prefer the Hybrid pads before the Angled Alacantara pads came out. The Angled pads noticeably improve the technicalities and soundstage in my opinion. My big ears even have more space!

On top of those improvements, I also find the Elite’s comfort unrivaled, even by the new BBB strap from ZMF. I can wear my Elites for hours without any discomfort. ZMFs are very comfortable as well, but Meze has upped the ante in high-end headphone comfort.

It would also have cost me a pretty penny to switch to the Caldera. I’d love to have that ZMF lifetime warranty on drivers, but for now I’m sticking with the Elite and taking my chances.

To mix things up, I still use my Ash Auteur from time to time. They sound great on the new MJ3/Yggy 2 (in SE Class A instead of push-pull mode I use with the planars). This way I don’t feel like I’ve betrayed Zach and Bevin!


My favorite IEMs I heard for the first time in 2023:

  1. Campfire Bonneville
  2. UM Amber Pearl
  3. Dita Perpetua

Runners up: Oriolus Monachaa, NightJar Singularity, Aroma Fei Wan, Fir Rn6, Subtonic Storm


My top 3 are pretty easy to identify–I’m looking right at them:

1 - ZMF Caldera: I had the loaner and reviewed it on Head-Fi, then bought my own from ZMF. With the mantle mesh installed and my favorite of the 4 pads I tried, the lambskin thicks, installed on the Caldera, it’s shockingly good, a real marriage of high resolution with pure listeability and musical satisfaction.

2 - Wells Milo: This entry level Wells amp requires special handling due to its excessive gain. But when you get that under control, the sound is really something special, true high-end SS sound.

3 - Violectric V281 (reissue): I already own an OG V281, and it has been my number one headphone amp (and best/near-ideal system preamp) for ~5 years. Yet I immediately signed up for the reissue. The reason is simple and compelling: bad things can/might happen to a six year old TOTL amp/preamp, but are less likely to happen to a new one (translation: I never want to be without a V281).


After a couple of years of trial and error and deep DEEP research, this is the year I really went summit-fi:

  1. DNA Stellaris (*arrived early this year after a very long wait. I could not be happier with it)
  2. Holo May (*I couldn’t pair Stellaris with just any old DAC, so an upgrade was necessary)
  3. [REDACTED] (*recent unplanned purchase, awaiting arrival. Pretty sure it’s going to rock my world. It may rhyme with schmaldera. :wink:)

Also, honorary mention to Roon. I resisted Roon for the longest time, as I don’t have a library of hi-res audio files that I need to stream, I just use streaming services. But Roon allows for much easier integration of HQPlayer w/ Holo May, so I finally jumped on the bandwagon. Despite the annoyingly high cost I do find the user interface & directional suggestions and commentary interesting & useful.

  1. Caldera! I had a pre-release driver version which was my favorite headphone and when I got my stabilized one it was clear whatever final tweaks Zach made for the production driver only made it better. Everything more forward and exciting than the pre-release version.
  2. Feliks Envy. Heard at 2022 SoCal CanJam and knew I’d own it eventually, which became February when a used one was listed and I was able to get it. Added in the $1600 (more than most amps I’ve owned) set of Western Electric 300b and the amp really could not be better with ZMFs. Tons of tube rolling options with 6SN7s and adapters for 6J5. Going to CanJam again this year and there was nothing ampwise I was dying to have and my Caldera/Envy/Sonnet Morpheus setup sounds as good as anything else I’ve ever heard. I still like having the Glenn OTL and prefer on some combos of tubes and headphones and tracks.
  3. Atrium Closed. Got the Redwood Burl and it’s amazing in so many ways. Beautiful and ridiculously light for a ZMF, very different from my beloved Verite Closed, and so enjoyable I’m ordering a 2nd one in a much harder wood. Looking forward to a suede pad which should bring it closer to the lambskin sound.

Aside from tubes and re-buying the 6XX, that’s all I got this year. Though I’ll likely get the Bokeh but probably won’t arrive until 2024. Hopefully we’ll get the Caldera Closed next year and there’s nothing else I have any intention of getting until another ZMF comes along. After 5 years in the hobby I know what I like and don’t feel the need to chase new headphone and amp experiences like I did before. Tube rolling provides plenty of new experiences. Nice to finally be at this point.


ROON come for the streaming player, stay for the database.

  1. Yamaha YH-5000SE. A can with hardly any flaws (according to my taste), and I don’t say that lightly. It’s simply the best headphones I’ve heard with outstanding performance. It took work getting there though, but it was worth it to me.

  2. Allnic ZL-8000s. I just got this recently and I’m blown away. I have all their previous power cables but this exceeded my expectations by a long shot. The amount of control it has over the entire frequency range is nothing short of insane. Being able to hear low frequency energy oscillate between my ears is an amazing experience (also a testament to the yh5k’s performance).

  3. Brise audio custom cable. I haven’t received this one yet, but I have extensive experience with their yatono (and mikumari) line of cables. This is for the yh-5000 since the synergy between the two is fantastic.


For me …

  • Cayin N30LE
  • Sennheiser HD660S2
  • AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C/MagSafe)

Was a toss-up between the AirPods Pro 2 (latest version), the L&P W4 and the Sennheiser IE600 for that third spot.



N30le (Shanling M9+ close behind)
Mest Mk3 / Rn6 CIEM (can’t decide which I like more sonically, mest fits better though)
NAD M10v2 (can’t fault it for a desktop amp)


Well I guess I’d have to refer to the recent and major changes I have made that have had a significant and lasting impression on me.

  1. Final Audio D-8000. Getting this headphone proved to be such a smart move given my sound preferences.

  2. Woo Audio WA22 (2nd Gen.)
    An excellent all tube design amplifier that has truly one me over. Beautiful holographic sound and a mid range to die for.

  3. Pathos Aurium With S-Booster BOTW MK2 Linear power supply.
    This has become my dream amplifier to listen to metal and electronic with. I’m truly overwhelmed with the smooth delivery of details this amp can retrieve with incredible degree of effortlessness.

If I could have a runner up?

Yup. #4 would be the A&K Kann Max. This DAP has been an amazing travel companion and has terrific versatility and functionality. A+.

  1. Topping L50 Desktop Headphone Amplifier. Bought on sale… sounds great with every flavor of headphones (4) I own (Elex, Elegia, Oppo PM-2, Philips Fidelio X-3).

  2. iFi XCAN Portable Balanced Dual Mono Headphone Amplifier with Bluetooth. Enough power to drive all of my cans easily. Although it offers almost nothing in the way of EQ, I’m satisfied with what it can provide (I’m not a big EQ fan). Also bought on sale.

  3. Philips Fidelio X-3. Yes, you read that right. Mostly maligned, almost universally ignored. Bought on sale (Do you detect a theme here?) for a fraction of their initial release price, they perform ridiculously well, despite complaints of anemic bass (submitted by bassheads, I suspect).

  1. Mysphere 3.2
    (Had Sold Mine But Purchased Again, with A&K SP 3000 DAP for mobile use case)

  2. Sennheiser IE600
    (Comfort and Performance for $)

  3. AirPods Pro 2 (USB)
    (Convenience, Size, ANC shines)

Although it is not new for 2023, the headphone I keep coming back to for pure pleasure is the Focal Utopia OG, with Transparent Ultra Cable terminated in XLR.


I’m answering based on the top three items that most broadly affected my listening in 2023. I didn’t actually buy…anything…in 2023, but received something I bought in 2021.

  1. Decware Zen Taboo Mk IV: With this purchase I have no way to deny the ‘audiophile’ label. (a) A niche brand no normie ever heard of? Check. (b) Joining a long waiting list for a product that’s “maybe better” than mainstream stuff? Check. (c) Buying a weird product with esoteric features and no labels on the device? Check. (d) Paying a price that is – extremely reasonable – to audiophiles but not to outsiders? Check. I’ve been using it pretty much exclusively as my desktop amp after testing against my other stuff.

  2. Schiit Lokius 6-Band Equalizer: I had the original 4-band Loki Mini and it’s not good enough. It damages details and limits highs and lows. In contrast, the Lokius hurts nothing and can make everything better. Those 6 knobs strike a good balance between correction and not spending too much time on adjustments. Having balanced and RCA input/output adds to versatility and flexibility for connecting multiple DACs and amps, and I hear no differences between them.

  3. Apple Air Pods Pro (series): These have done more to transform my casual listening than any other audio product ever. If one lives in the Apple garden, one can easily transition between sources and use the same ear thingies. This means phone, tablet, watch, notebook, and TV/media PC. In seconds. Listening on your phone? Just switch over to the watch when working out. Want to listen to TV but not disturb others? Just connect to a media server Mac Mini. Want to travel with a noise canceling product but not be weighed down by headphones that are only used for the flights? Use these. Sound quality…a rational antidote to my #1 above? :expressionless:

Honorable mention every year to the WorldsBest inanimate carbon cables and rods:


Ditto. I made the same switch, and put the Lokius in my work system (speakers). The Loki is sitting at my home battlestation, unused.