Your Top 5 Favourite Headphones

I am more of a headphone person than a speaker person.

And I am intrigued by what all of you pros, enthusiasts, lovers use across the globe and if you can mention your Top 5 headphones with a short 1 line description describing ‘the why’ for each of the 5 headphones you chose.

Also upto 5 honourable mentions , if you want to .

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Not ranked:

  1. Hifiman Ananda – for someone who understands value for money (80-90% of HD800s)

  2. Focal Clear - For amazing dynamics and beautiful build.

  3. Sony MDR Z1R - Best soundstage in a closed back, fun to listen, warm, relaxed and polarising the community the most :wink:

  4. Pioneer SE Monitor5 - No marketing hence No love, but a Hidden Gem with amazing neutral reference. Probably the best package --> Sound + price + quality

  5. Meze Empyreans - Heard once for 30 mins, beautiful sound, but cant justify paying MSRP/RRP.

Honourable mentions:

-HD800s - Godly Soundstage but That price…ouch ! Anandas almost there at half the price.

-Philips X2HR - Friday evening , whisky sipping , tubthumping pop listening headphones.

-STAX SR-007MK2 – Just WOW !! But unsure of that price point especially with competition

-ATH R70x - These have to be the best Under $500 headphones, smacking Senn 6xx series.

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My list is ranked, best on down …

  1. RAAL-requisite SR1a - by far the best headphone listening experience I’ve had (which includes every flagship I’m aware of, including the AIO electrostatic systems).

  2. ZME Vérité - gorgeous, readily tunable (w/ pad swaps) and the easiest, and most reliable, way I know of to simply lose oneself in the music.

  3. LB-Acoustics MySphere 3.2 - closest I can get to the SR1a and still use a conventional amplifier or (trans)portable source.

  4. Focal Utopia - the best overall conventional dynamic-driver headphone I know of - with a slight technical edge over the Vérité but yielding to the ZMF model for raw enjoyment.

  5. JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC - the fastest, most enjoyable and visceral planar-dynamic headphone I’ve heard, fun-tuning (if a bit hot at times), but fussy to live with.

More detailed versions of the one-sentence summaries, there, can be found here.

I own all of the above, among others, except the Abyss now (had the Phi CC and all prior versions), but decided to skip the TC and see what comes next from Joe.

Honorable mentions would include the HEDDphone - for daring to do something new, largely pulling it off, and posing the question for almost everything anywhere near its price … “Why bother?” And the venerable HD6XX for going on between 17 (HD650) and 23 years (HD600) and still, overall, handily bitch-slapping so much of what’s been released since then - even units at much higher prices.

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In no particular order:

  • Koss PortaPro - Light, portable, good sound, and cheap

  • AKG K-712 Pro - I love these for classic and movies

  • Sony MDR-7506 - IMO the ideal recording headphone

  • Panasonic RP-HD10 - Most comfortable closed back I had on so far

  • AudioTechnica ATH-AD500x - Light and comfy

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In order of preference:

  1. ZMF Atticus

  2. ZMF Verite Closed

  3. ZMF Auteur

  4. HD650 no mods

  5. Audioquest Nightowl

#5 was a surprise, but I keep listening to it, despite it’s odd tonality. As you can see, I’m addicted to ZMF dynamics. Since finding them, I rarely listen to anything else.

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  1. Raal Requisite SR1a - I dont own one but I dream about it. heard it in my local hifi plugged into a mcintosh mha150.
  2. Sony Mdr z1r - one of the most comfortable and well made headphone I’ve ever tried. I hope to own one when prices go below $1k…maybe used in mint condition.
  3. Sony mdr 7520 - broke one so I bought another coz I love the sound: detailed mids & highs, deep bass.
  4. Sennheiser hd 558-the headphone that got me into the hobby.
  5. Senn hd800- comfortable and soundstage. I like listening to it when I’m playing vinyl.
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I’ll throw my favorites in the hat, list is in order of 1 top of list 5 being bottom :wink: just in case there is any confusion:

  1. RAAL SR1a: I don’t really consider these headphones outside of the fact they sit on your head :wink: they remind me more of near-near field speakers … that you know sit on your head … ear speakers? ha! If I had to go down to two headphones it would be these and the ZMF Verite Closed. (own)

  2. ZMF Verite (open/closed): one of the most “enjoyable” headphones I’ve listened to…plus they look to me amazing! (own both open and closed)

  3. Focal Stellia: Only heard at friends or demo settings… but in those sessions… I could tell it was special… the only reason I never purchased one was due to the “look” of it… but, it may grow on me. (do not own)

  4. ZMF Aeolus: These are to me, the more attainable to most, as one of the best (to me, the best) all-rounder headphone currently out in the under $2k range…plus it looks amazing :wink: (owned 2 down to 1)

  5. HEDDPhone: For the price point and capabilities this is a great headphone that easily outperforms a lot of other “planar” style headphones in its and even above its price point. (do not own)

Honorable mentions:
LCD-GX is a very good headphone and the price point is similar in my opinion to the HEDDPhone in that it punches above its price point as far as enjoyment (sleeper hit in my opinion). (own)

HD6xx Like @Torq mentions above, I don’t think I need to add anything more here…It was my first “real” audiophile headphone purchase. (do not own currently, may pick up another down the road)

HD800s/sdr mod: I don’t listen to these that much anymore… but every time I go to put these on the chopping block I give them one more listen and then immediately put them back in my case. They just have a “wow” factor that makes them very addictive to listen to…especially when paired with a good tube amp. (own)

Focal Elegia: These are probably my most used headphones, they are not “exceptional”, nor do they have a “wow” factor. But, like the Goldilocks story, they are just “right”, especially for a closed back. The Stellia just turns these to “11” and are in my experience more enjoyable. (own)

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I know you said headphones but here are some IEMs:

  1. Campfire Audio Solaris SE -> Balanced, spacious, punchy, engaging, dynamic bass, does everything well
  2. Vision Ears VE8 -> Lush mid-centric sound, smooth highs and great BA bass, emotionally evocative signature
  3. 64 Audio u12t -> Analytic, detailed, spacious, appealing tonality, good bass for BA
  4. Empire Ears Legend X -> Detailed resolving bass cannon…addictive sound
  5. QDC Anole VX -> Neutral-bright sound, highly engaging…very deep and nuanced soundstage.
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[Not in any order]

  1. Sennheiser HD600 - nothing really could dethrone these babies throughout my full tenure in this hobby.

  2. Fostex TH900 - the most dynamic sound I have ever heard.

  3. MrSpeakers Alpha Prime - extremely underrated but the best planar bass I have ever heard. No idea why I sold these off. If anyone has a pair (which is hard to find), please send me an offer.

  4. Sony IER-Z1R - best IEM ever made imo.

  5. Empire Ears Legend X - the greatest IEM for a very specific audience. If you are one of them, then this is an absolute cult.

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Continuing my belief that even the greatest headphones can sound quite shite in bad chains… My top 5 headphones and accompanying gear:

ZMF Auteur > ECP 3F > Yggy A2.
There’s just so much character to everything I hear from this chain. Enveloping, smooth, rich sounds where nothing bites you or sounds harsh, yet is textured and detailed.

ZMF Verite C > EC ZDS > Sonnet Morpheus.
Huge sound stage. Speed in spades. Exciting timbre. Morpheus magic.

HD650 > BH Crack > Bifrost 2.
Just a simple little setup that’s pretty much good for everything.

E-mu Teak w/ ZMF Universe Suede pads (non-perforated) > Asgard 3 > Bifrost 2
Everything here combines together to tame the savage Teak. Lows and highs are reigned in but remain exciting. Mids are enhanced. It’s such a more even sound than any other Foster headphone I’ve ever heard, but retains the impact the bio drivers do so effortlessly.

Koss Porta Pros > Fiio BTR3
It’s ultra portable, sounds great, simple. Best for those of us who can’t stand things inside their earholes.

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I had this list in a different post but it apply’s here:

HiFiMan Edition X: The low’s on this headphone is unbeatable. But that is the nature of this headphones. Is that type of bass that makes your heart race.
Edition X and HE1000 are basically the same HP and the cover on this headphones is just amazing, and thats nature of big planar magnets. I do EQ it a bit to bring the highs a tad down, it can be bright at times.
The weight on them is also something to talk about as HiFiMan has been able to make amazing planars (Not all of them) and keep the weight at a manageable point @399g.

The only issues I have had with this headphones has been the headband size. I had to improvise to make them fit. (This is fixed in v2)

Focal Elegia: This are my favorite closed back so far. Has very good controlled low’s and not too bright nor too dark. Is just right for me, They have become my daily go too headphones. I can use them for work and listen to music while doing some coding, most importantly I do not suffer from baked ears which most planar headphones will do after prolonged use (not all). Weight is @430g, which is not that much ahead from the Edition X so is tolerable.

Audeze LCD3: Amazing lows but a bit to dark for me, I do EQ them on that side of the house to make the brightness come forward a bit. BUT if you are after the LCD3 in general thats what they are known for. The only issue I have with this, You know it… The weight. For extended periods of listening, it does not work well for me. Weight is @ 635g

Moondrop Starfield: Amazing IEM’s and awesome bang for the buck. Sound profile is superb and are great for daily use.

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Great Question @Anubhav - and I love the replies. I don’t have the budget that some of the other here do. Well, I could, but I’m a bit of a tightwad. And on the cheap end of things, I like to buy several and hand them out as gifts. Further, I live in a backwater and don’t get to listen to and lust after high end ZMF and exotic headphones. I haven’t listened to the super-flagship models, so my list has rather different parameters than some others here. So here goes in rough low to high price and therefore inverse cost/performance ratios.

  1. Koss Porta-Pros. I have several, and have given away several, with and without Yaxi pads. Probably the gateway drug to good sound.

  2. Sennheiser PX-100 / PX 200. The Ford to the Koss Chevy. I’ve given away a few of these also.

  3. Sennheiser HD-6xx. Price point leader from Massdrop. I’ve had the HD-580 since they came out, and still love them, but at Drop / Massdrop price point, the 6xx is a winner. Requires serious amplification to show it’s stuff. If you won’t invest in some power, then stick with the HD-580 / 58x

  4. Stax SR-5n. I got these in the early 80s and they are still a favorite. They will not be replaced but some modern STAX are on my list to get. I’m a fan of electrostatics. The SR-5n is round, maybe a proto of some of the near flagship of these days. I liked the Lambda Pro when I got the SR-5n, but $495 in 1982 dollars was quite enough, thank you.

  5. Grado RS1e. This is a surprise pick for many of you. I have Hifiman HE-560, and I like them a lot, but the Planars are just not - in the same price range - the favorite. The Grado RS1e has better soundstage than the Sennheiser HD-6xx, is perhaps more detailed. It has less treble emphasis than the usual Grado, and is to me an all around winner. I like the open feel of the technically on-ear Grado. But I got mine lightly used from @MCM so it fits my price performance matrix.

In the words of the immortal Porky Pig, “Th -th -th that’s all, folks!”

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My curiosity has been piqued on this one for a while so we may or may not have a unit on the way soon!

Anyways my top 5, in no particular order:

  1. Focal Utopia - In my opinion, one of the best TOTLs for all around listening. It doesn’t excel in any particular FR region like most TOTLs where there is a trade-off for great low-end but messed up treble or wonky mids, etc… It also truly looks and feels like a TOTL headphone and it is one that I could easily see myself grabbing a pair of down the line (with different cables of course).

  2. Rosson Audio Design RAD-0 - Has one of the more natural tonalities that I have heard in a headphone and is just an enjoyable listen all around. The weight can easily be an issue for some but my neck has grown in size twice over since we started the company from office listening so that’s no longer an issue for me. Because of the individualistic nature of the designs, it’s a to each their own kind of thing when it comes to design but I of course have a soft spot for the ones I made last summer. I like describing the RAD-0 as a LCD-X on steroids because it sounds a lot like what the LCD-X wanted to be.

  3. 64 Audio U12t - I had a hard time choosing between this and the Legend X but the U12t ultimately won out in the end. While I do really enjoy the Legend X, I do feel like the low-end can be overbearing at times and the U12t has a more balanced presentation. The U12t will probably be the IEM I go with down the line (or the A12t possibly) as it’s right in line with my tastes. I enjoy the Fourte and Trio but both are a little too bright for my personal tastes.

  4. Focal Stellia - Easily my end-game closed-back headphone (although I haven’t listened to the VC for any proper amount of listening time). The Stellia is luxury. The pads and headbands are like little clouds, the sound is lush and warm with surprising resolution that I did not expect on my first listen with them and it just hits all of my personal preferences. Once again it’s a Focal headphone that I would get rid of the cable ASAP but at least the Stellia cable is lightweight compared to the Utopia cable. And it doesn’t use the LEMO connector which makes swapping cables nice and easy.

  5. Empire Ears Valkyrie - Once again I had a hard time choosing between the Valkyrie and the Legend X but for me the Valkyrie is probably the headphone that I could see myself spending the most time with. For me, the Valkyrie is a better Polaris II. It’s more detailed, the low-end is more controlled and the treble is done just right. Make no mistake though, this is a “fun”-tuned, V-shaped IEM that will most likely turn off anybody looking for neutral or Harmon. But they have a gorgeous shell, easy to fit and are right up my alley.

Honourable mentions:

HEDDphone - Very close to cracking the top 5. If they are able to shave down 100 - 150 grams it would probably be there. I would take it pretty easily right now over the HD 800S as I don’t find the tuning fatiguing at all.

Focal Clear - This would be in the top 5 if the Utopia wasn’t there.

Audeze LCD-4 - I really like the LCD-4 but I would take a Utopia over it just for the sake that I find the Utopia to be the better all rounder and the Utopia is more comfortable. There’s something to be said about the low-end, planar slam that’s just so addicting and Audeze’s house sound is generally a treat. Of course, the LCD-4 does suffer in the treble region and I haven’t played with Audeze’s Reveal Plugin with the LCD-4s to fix it.

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I took a break from (everything) when I had my first kid, so quite a period there between obsessions, also means memory of things bit warped.

But the 4 that I have owned that I have the most positive thoughts about, and a bonus round 5th;

  1. ZMF Verite Open. No brainer. Best headhones I have owned. Do everything really well, built beautifully.
  2. Senn HD650. Have owned a version of these maybe 3 times now. Always have a place as a favourite.
  3. Sony MDR-Z1R. A special headphone. Just a super relaxing, fk everyting else, closed headphone. A lot of expertise in the build too, it shows.
  4. Audio Technica AD900. First expensive headphones. Bright. Airy. Soundstage for days. Comfy.
  5. Focal Clear / Stax SR009. The clear grew on me. Focal house sound not exactly my jams, but the dynamics on it were addictive. And SR009. Punnnnnchy. Love it. Just too $$$ to justify in a world full of high value cans.
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It’s funny that you mention these two together…when I a/b’d them last month (among a couple others) I was often noting to myself how similar they are in terms of their overall staging, detail and resolution. In some ways I think it would not be far off to describe the Legend X as u12t + bass.

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For the longest time I couldn’t decide between my HE-1 and my Shangri-La, but lately I’ve found myself preferring the Sennheiser. So I’ll probably just use the Shangri La for when I’m jogging on my treadmill. :slight_smile:

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Same @nugget. I find the marble on the new Orpheus is easier to clean soap scum off from the bath, hence I like to sit back in some bubbles and have a listen. Cable is watertight, its all good.

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Legend X is definitely a fun one ! It doesn’t really match the balance of U12t and the resolution / detail, but it’s a nice IEM for sure ! That bass is amazing for some genres.

I haven’t gotten to hear some of the amazing high tier stuff, so my top 5 are:

  1. Audeze LCD-2 Rev 2.2 Pre Fazor
  2. Focal Clear
  3. ZMF Atticus
  4. Focal Elegia
  5. Sennheiser HD650 (on tubes)
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Is that Audeze one of the unicorns, by any chance? I’d love to hear one some day.

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