The Ultimate Lurker's Guide to a Winning Budget Setup, SBAF-Style

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by caute, Dec 6, 2022.

  1. miter53

    miter53 Friend

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    The Geshelli J2 is a pretty sweet DAC for $250, or 300 if you need USB.
     
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  2. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    none of this is really obtainable
     
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  3. caute

    caute Lana Del Gayer than you

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    Honestly, you're right... I broke my own rule out of sheer excitement over the Piety + JAR600B combo.

    I would go the secondhand market and get a Bifrost Multibit 1/2, Magni+ and regular HD600 and wait for when @ext1 starts modding again if I were to suggest something that was gettable right now. But Modi Multibits should be starting production very soon.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2022
  4. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    He's still modding. He's going back to university soon so it will either slow or stop at that point. I'm hoping it'll continue since we have several JAR loaners going right now. I'd hate to give everyone a taste of something they can't get their hands on.
     
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  5. señorhifi

    señorhifi Friend

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    For me in EU, the most basic setup of an HD600 + Magni/Modi stack, would cost about 600€. That's the entry level barrier for me. I would still EQ the HD600 to flatten the shout they have and enjoy. Alternatively, the iFi Zen stack (Zen Dac + Zen Can) is an equally great option, but costs a touch more than the Schiit stack.

    As always, LOOK INTO 2ND HAND OPTIONS! I got the HD600 for 250€ like new in box + a Jotunheim 2 with ESS DAC module included for 420€. I added a cheap XLR cable for the Senn600 and ended up paying 750€ for a great setup.

    I really wouldn't wanna have anything below that.
     
  6. wbass

    wbass Friend

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    @señorhifi That sounds like a great, streamlined, set-up. Really smart.

    I'd also agree that I think that such a setup is where good mid to hi-fi begins.

    I haven't heard the Zen stuff personally, but reckon it'd be a good choice in this range, given reviews.
     
  7. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    You can't "one and done" or "buy once, cry once" as a newcomer if you're really serious about finding something that suits you... but if you're the type who thinks we're all nutjobs and the differences are all minor, but you still want "bang for buck, I'm willing to do some 'research' but honestly don't want to commit all that time to reading tons of potentially biased crap online", then yeah ok threads like these are a good starting point.

    Now if you are willing to experiment and buy used, then that opens up the ability to try a whole bunch of things and not really lose out on too much money as long as you're careful with the shipping and resales. So thus the journey into Fiddle-Fi begins.

    So for headphones, I would say there are a bunch of staples to try out, if nothing else than to have a reference point to understand where other people are coming from (please note most of my references are out of date, I've been sitting on my throne too long and have forgotten what the plebs listen to these days). And heck, just go ahead and ignore the notes and just look for the names to try out. Reading crap online is just going to bias your impressions anyways.

    In the sub $200 market (used or otherwise), roughly alphabetical:
    AKG K612 Pro - lowkey better than the more popular 7## family but harder to drive, clean and technical, weaker bass
    Audio Technica ATH-AD###x - wing headband system, super spacious, upper mid centric, go-to FPS gamer recommendation that isn't a "gamer" headset
    Audio Technica ATH-M50x - the most recommended closed budget headphone, typical midbass whomp and treble wobblies, get better pads
    Beyerdynamic DT 7##/8## - classic Beyer sound with a V shape, the 770 is closed and whomps more, the 880 is open and milder, I don't normally suggest the 990 as it overdoes the V
    Grado anything - house sound is peaky in various places, but for some it hits just right and the retro look is a thing
    Hifiman/Drop HE-4## - possibly your best and most affordable entry into planars, though if you can swing the dosh I recommend the LCD-2 first as this one is a bit gravely
    Koss Porta Pros - light portable but kinda weird shape, super competent for the low $
    Sennheiser/Drop HD6whatever - the other classic, relatively even frequency response leaning a bit boring, scales well with other gear


    Above $200... (not going to break down price categories beyond that)
    Audeze LCD-2 - honestly the only Audeze I even recommend as I feel the others do not offer as good performance vs price compared to the original, gives a great entry into the planar world, heavy oomph
    Focal anything - speedy snappy
    Beats - the newest generation are better than the first, it's not a horrible boomy mess anymore, but still overpriced for the less horrible not-as-boomy
    Bose - top marks for comfort and noise cancelling, but also top price for just ok sound, nothing bad, just very average
    Fostex TH9## - beats boom but cleaner sound throughout
    Grado - same house sound as the cheap ones but less plastic resonances
    Hifiman HE-6se - if you feel like going down the road of crazy ridiculous amping requirements, here's where you start; the rewards are there, but the path is dumb when you have amps that are now less compatible with more efficient headphones; strong overall performer, some tizz on the high end


    I was thinking to write something for amps/dacs, but honestly playing with the transducers is where it's at and the amp/dacs should come far far later unless you're into something that really honestly needs the power or you're tweaking for the last 5% which is not what this thread is about.
     
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  8. Woland

    Woland Friend

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    Inflammatory opinion: The headphone community is a bit technophobic and manufacturer-led, and greatly undervalues the benefits of cheap software (DSP) vs expensive hardware.

    Implication: For a budget setup, you can better the community advice with vast and flexible control over soundstage via DSP solutions like the $25 Waves NX plugin (also try the free iZOTOPE Ozone Imager). IMHO these are simply better than the attempts to simulate soundstage by allocating budget to headphones or an amplifier or tubes. I use these plugins from Audirvana but wouldn't recommend it to a new user. JRiver seems a popular alternative.

    HQPlayer also makes a substantial difference to sound quality, especially compared to most similar priced hardware upgrades. At $230USD it is easily justifiable in a $2k build.

    Unfortunately it's very difficult to use both these technologies at the same time.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2022
  9. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    AAAAaaaarrrgh No! Any EQ has to strictly analogue electromechanical or the sound will be ruined! Ruined, I say! RUINED!

    OK, ok... I got over my audiophile inflammation ;) and would add that there is even free software. I use Calf plugins under Linux. There is a big suite, all kinds of studio stuff, but I only use EQ. I use it to compensate for my ears rather than to change any headphone bias or colouration, so I won't comment on quality.
     
  10. joch

    joch Friend

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    I really like the recommendations for over/under $200, and referring for the user to try out once they have their budget reference items.

    Here are considerations for new stuff, without consideration for system harmony. That, people will have to figure out for themselves. These are generally reference items that the community seems to like or not crap on too much:

    <$250
    Drop x Sennheiser HD6XX (scales well)
    Schiit Modi, Modius E, Magni, Vali
    NITSCH x Schiit Piety
    Pi2AES (only Lite available currently, and BYO Raspberry Pi -- if you already have a DAC with SPDIF, this is the way to go)

    <$500
    Senn HD600 (scales well, different enough from HD6XX)
    ETA
    SW51+ (availability?)
    Schiit Jot
    Bottlehead Crack (DIY, and you're limited to 300-Ohm HPs)

    <$1000
    Drop x Focal Elex
    Focal Clear OG (if still available and on sale)
    LCD-X (when on sale -- may need to be careful with choice of amp because of low Ohm)
    Schiit Bifrost, Lyr

    >$1000
    This is where people tend to have more experience to gravitate toward whatever their biases are. Also, if you add up $1K+ items (transducers, amps, sources) it's hard to say they're budget anymore.

    I know I'm probably missing out on a lot of other items and apologies if I miss anything, but the idea is that you can start with any of the above items and build around them with a little research without going fully nuts. And some were left out like the HE-6SE because when you're looking at speaker taps to drive it then it becomes another branch of nuts.
     
  11. Woland

    Woland Friend

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    Yeah, there's a whole fun world of exploring plug-ins whether on Linux, PC, Mac whatever. Plug-ins are mostly geared to audio engineers, so can be daunting to a listener. But there's gold there - like saturators as a way of finely altering harmonics without the expense and hassle of rolling tubes.
     
  12. wbass

    wbass Friend

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    Not sure exactly what this thread might be building toward, but, just thinking through this from the possible perspective of a relative newcomer to SBAF/headphone rigs.... I really like the idea of recommendations at various price tiers.

    I'd also vote for keeping things pretty plug and play/user friendly. I confess that, after 5+ years of hi-fi mania, I'm still, for example, daunted by HQ Player. Which is why I'd suggest something pretty foolproof for, say, a streamer. Bluesound Node, WiiM, etc.

    I'd also up-vote, again, for some options that are available widely outside the USA.

    Maybe a stickie with price-tiered recs for various components and then 3-5 sample/synergistic systems could be useful.
     
  13. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    I've occasionally messed around with others. If you ever feel like, perhaps you could post a thread, translating the studio technicalities into personal-audio potential?

    /offtopic
     
  14. caute

    caute Lana Del Gayer than you

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    Great list and price breakdown!

    @Michael Kelly should call the LITE version the Pi2BNC, just sayin'... <<<whoops, my b, BNC is AES single-ended...
     
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    Last edited: Dec 12, 2022
  15. ergopower

    ergopower Friend

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    Totally agree with this. If you're starting from zero experience or outright crappy gear, you probably have no idea of the range of sounds that are out there; and therefore what you're going to find appealing. I'm entering into an experiment on this very soon - both of my sons are way into music; they have functional AVR-based speaker systems, but both have pretty bad headphone setups. So for Christmas they're each getting a Modi+ and a Piety, then help from me to listen to a bunch of headphones. I have several, and I just bought a low-end HiFiMan planar from here and will be looking for more. Eventually I figure they will settle on one or two. We'll recycle the rest through SBAF, and they can then decide whether it's worth it to explore improvements in upstream gear.
     
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  16. ergopower

    ergopower Friend

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    My personal experience led me to hanging on to 2 systems because my mood significantly affects what I want to hear; not just the content of the music but how I want to hear it. If I want to be energized, rock, blues, funk, etc.; I've found the speed and openness of a Focal Elex to fit the bill for a reasonable price. But they can sound overeager on a lot of amps, until I bought a T1 from here which for me is an ideal pairing. Really have no interest in tinkering with this pair.
    Other times I want to relax and let music wash over me. Think Sinatra, Kind of Blue, Nora Jones, Aimee Mann. For that, an HD6XX is my choice. Still fooling around with this some. Had been bugged about the lower male voices having some bloat. Turns out, that was mostly due to worn pads. A new pair of the Misodiko clone pads got me back to par. So I wondered about KISS or that copper ring or similar, and decided to first try the ZMF perforated leather pads. Pretty big difference - even a little less bass bloat; more open-sounding, even a little quicker-sounding maybe mostly due to the much thinner foam back. But after listening awhile, they weren't pulling me into that warm-ish, more intimate space that I really wanted. And they still weren't as fast & open as the Elex/T1 rig, so for now back to the Misodiko. I might still look into perforated suede, but stock fed by Valhalla 2 is pretty wonderful, also for a very reasonable price. I also used them with Piety, which is also a good match, but I feel like Valhalla 2 has that little better grip on the HD6XX. And the T1 is too gooey.
    Yeah, kind of extravagant, but I use and appreciate both of them.
     
  17. Michael Kelly

    Michael Kelly MOT: Pi 2 Design

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    FYI - BNC @75 ohm is AES single ended. Same protocol as SPDIF, but impedance controlled and higher drive for longer runs. AES Balanced uses XLR, but they are both AES.

    Just saying!
     
  18. caute

    caute Lana Del Gayer than you

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    Ah, that makes sense! lol, forgive my lack of knowledge, good sir
     
  19. Johnny Opps

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    And this is why I love spending time here, because, I learn summat'

    So according to electrical theory, Michael, is there a theoretical reason why BCN or XLR (single ended or balanced) should sound better than one another, or better than SPDIF over a short run between a Pi2AES and a DAC? I'm not asking you whether they do sound better (the good folks on SBAF have their opinions), but if these are the same protocol and just balanced vs. unbalanced vs. optical, and I'm going maybe 2 feet within an audio rack... trying to figure out if there's a reasonable explanation for *why* I prefer AES. Obviously there are reasons why in a challenging environment or over long runs AES should be better than BNC. But I don't think I'm in either of those situations. Also don't want to drag you into the religious discussions - you just make the preferred tool of many here.
     
  20. ColdsnapBry

    ColdsnapBry Almost "Made"

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    I think a KSC75 and a Porta Pro outdoes anything under $2.5k, unobtainium stuff like lsn800, ZDT Jr., bs650 and SW51+ included. The on ear to ear inferface just provides greater clarity and micro dynamics than setups under $10k can't touch. And there's some magic with a 40mm driver that's minimally dampened when it comes to transients and soundstage. There's some drawbacks of course but my $2.5k setup certainly had its drawbacks.
     
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