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

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

  1. ilikebananafudge_

    ilikebananafudge_ Friend

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    It's interesting how differently we all hear things, because I very strongly disagree with this. I really like my Porta Pros and I think they represent a fantastic value, but I pretty much never listen to them because I prefer all of my other gear.

    Anyway, my pick for budget gear is the classic Bottlehead Crack + Sennheiser combo (HD6XX, HD650, HD600). It lives up to its reputation and sounds simply lovely. I've used a few DACs with it and it doesn't seem to matter a significant amount. It sounds great with my old Schiit Modi 2 Uber or Modius (AKM version) and even better with my Bifrost 2/64. As far as I understand it, the Speedball upgrade has pros and cons and isn't necessarily better. Mine doesn't have it, and I quite like it the way it is, so I'm not sure if I'll ever install the Speedball.

    If you get upgraditis, the Crack works wonderfully with ZMFs, too. I hear good synergy with my Auteur and Atrium, in particular. It helps to smooth the ever-so-slightly rough lower treble.

    The downside (or upside depending on your perspective) is that it's DIY, so you have to build it. Or spend some time finding a pre-built one. I enjoyed building it, but others may not.
     
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  2. ColdsnapBry

    ColdsnapBry Almost "Made"

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    Yea, ears preference, type of music you listen to. I have both version of Bottlehead Cracks sitting in a corner along with a bs650 and lsn800 unused. Speedball blows out the soundstage and smooths over any microdynamcis. And the basic version sounds too over dampened/wet and peaky to me on an what I hear as a already over-dampened and peaky headphone. Also had a Verite and Aeolus in the mix too. But that's just my preference like all things.
     
  3. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    For a very high quality dedicated digital source or transport anyone can obtain for very little money I recommend the iPhone 4. Unlike certain collectible iPods, people are practically giving them away on local classifieds and ebay. For best performance you have to downgrade it to iOS 4 which may take 30 minutes or 30 hours depending on your computer savvy.

    On its own it makes an excellent DAP for sensitive headphones or earbuds. To use as a source, you can make your own LOD cable (see https://www.instructables.com/DIY-High-Quality-iPod-Line-Out-Dock-LOD-Cable/) or buy a Wadia dock like the 170i (~$100 second hand, make sure to get the remote control). This will let it serve as a DAC or in the case of the Wadia, a S/PDIF transport.

    The downside is maximum 32gb storage (sorry no dorky lossless formats), iTunes, and... iTunes. If you can get over that then the sound in this configuration is very clear, fresh and interesting. I have better sources but I could use this as my only one.

    of course you can also use any iPod touch or classic for this purpose. I prefer the early touch models to the classics for sound, its just important to put an early iOS on there.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2022
  4. ductrung3993

    ductrung3993 Facebook Friend

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    With all due respect, i think this is borderline ludacris. There exists no universe where the budget Koss would come close to a Starlett setup, or even a well done 1k setup let alone 10k.

    I like the porta pro myself, but after all it is what it is. Ksc75 is a bit overrated, especially when ksc35 exist.

    Budget, high value audio gears are cool and we all love them as we should. However, there is a a stopping line. A KSC35 wont rival a $10k setup and a Piety wont make Donald discontinue the Stellaris.
     
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  5. ColdsnapBry

    ColdsnapBry Almost "Made"

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    Well this is all the gear I churned through and I still gravitated to my ksc75 and porta pros. Every single combination of the gear below has one or two major limitations to the sound due to either the headphone, dac or amp or chain synergy. So I'd figure I'd cut the middleman out and just go with two headphones that sound good across all genres. Honestly, build a combo out of the gear below and I can confidently say something that the KSC75/Porta Pro does better. And when you're comparing $2k chains to $15 headphones, that's a problem to me. Verite Open, SW51+, Bifrost 2 - W sounding with very recessed vocals, minimal microdynamics and annoying amount macrodynamics, KSC75 vocals are more forward and clear and carries better microdynamics. Focal Clear, Jotunheim 2, Bifrost 2 - metal timbre throughout the FR and attacks are blunted and decay rings, Porta Pro has a more natural timbre and the KSC75 has better attack and decay.

    Verite Open, Aeolus, black silk 650, 1k serial number hd800, Focal Elex, Focal Clear, Bottlehead Crack, Bottlehead Crack w/ Speedball, Feliks Echo MK1, Hagerman Tuba, Schiit Jotunheim 2, Bifrost 2, Modi Multibit v2.
     
  6. Johnny Opps

    Johnny Opps Facebook Friend

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    Concision beast mode ftw.
     
  7. Slade01

    Slade01 Almost "Made"

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    Jesus, I never realized the Schiit Fulla was an amp AND dac for 100-ish. You certainly cannot beat that. I also agree the HD58x is probably the best starter recommendation for anyone without a clue.

    I also fully agree with you. I believe that, to a beginner with zero knowledge, the proposition of studying and investing in vintage hi-fi is no more different than the studying and investing in current beginner/mid-fi/hi-fi. The money/budget spent for either segment doesn't change, nor does the approach in trying to figure out what sounds like what. What is most problematic is the premise that "You only know what you know". To experience it for yourself is really and truly the best way to understand both yourself in your sonic preferences and the validation of your research. While I believe the journey is a necessary component in the hobby, having a shortcut or two to make it more efficient both time and money wise is nice these days. I certainly could have used this to avoid my taking a trip through Topping town back when I got duped by ASR, for example in the very beginning.

    That being said, the list below are what I would recommend for anyone starting. Most everything there is under 200 whether new or used. I've had experience with these items, and feel to be solid choices for their price points. The headphones recommendations - these represent a good range of tuning differences between both each other, and regular consumer crap. I think they have the most potential to represent a significant leap to a user to have a reaction where "I didn't think music could sound like this / makes listening to all your favorite songs that you've done so for 1000 times sound new all over again" kind of way (even if in hindsight, none of these are perfect). They are a great entry point though IMO for a user who is starting out at ground zero.

    Headphones
    Drop HD 58x
    Drop HD6xx
    Drop Meze 99 Noir
    Hifiman 400se
    Hifiman Sundara
    Beyer DT770 32ohms / 990 32ohms
    Grado SR80x

    DAC Standalone
    Schiit Modi (+ or Multibit)
    Drop Grace SDAC
    JDS Atom DAC +

    Amp Standalone
    Schiit Vali 2++
    Schiit Magni
    JDS Atom Amp+
    Drop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (CTH)
    Drop Liquid Carbon X (LCX)

    AIO
    ifi ZEN Dac V2
    (LCX or CTH) + SDAC
     
  8. CEE TEE

    CEE TEE MOT: NITSCH

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    ^Makes me happy to see this stuff still get love. :rolleyes:
     
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  9. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    I was going to post this in the "starting all over thread", but it probably fits better here ...

    I was lucky enough to luck onto a winning combo (for me at least) 6 months after my re-entry into the hobby back in 2015. I still use the same Wadia 121 + SPL Phonitor 2730 + Sennheiser 800 (SDR added later) as my go-to seven years later. All bought secondhand, USD equivalent cost was around 500 + 650 + 550 = US$ 1700 ... nicely inside the $2k budget cap. For my tastes, I haven't heard better for the money. As an alternative, but maybe less mainstream option, I'd say get a decent $500 DAC (used is better value) and a baby Stax set for another $500. Killer kilobuck system but listen before you do this.
     
  10. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    That's a very nice starter/endgame kit. I've owned all of those at some point. If it were me, the Wadia would be my first replacement, or possibly upgrade to the Phonitor X with a dac for a more compact desk.
     
  11. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    Yeah I know. But getting something significantly better will cost significantly more. I'm not one for mega hirez (ears top out at 96kHz sampling rate, more recently 44.1kHz) or 3-letter acronyms (DSD, MQA, ...). The Wadia is not the most resolving or incisive DAC around but it does most things well enough.

    Having said that ... With you knowing the Phonitor/HD800 pairing, what DAC would you suggest?
     
  12. caute

    caute Lana Del Gayer than you

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    Thanks for the thread set-straight @purr1n. I've added another rule to the first post due to the little derailment (hey, it wouldn't exactly be "SBAF-style", if there wasn't some contention, right?)

     
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    Last edited: Dec 20, 2022
  13. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    Wow this thread got weird.

    Good to great beginner headphone amps for me would be liquid spark, ZDT Jr used obviously (regret letting mine go but sw51+ helps in that regard) or a piety if can be obtained. Something that sounds like these amps that are obtainable easily or just get used stuff. Not sure about the magnis have never heard them aside from piety. Most beginners don't wanna f**k with tubes though.

    For someone that already had a decent CD player, just grab 6xx on sale or used and be done. Add modius or modi multibit 2 when it launches, add pi2aes later, used again obviously.
     
  14. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    $130 - Modi 3E (I assume the ESS based Modi+ would provide similar synergy)
    $100 - Vali 1 (or Piety - both OOP, but assume you can find one of them used)
    $400 - Ollo Closed/Open (depending on needs)
    $630

    I'm delinquent in putting my thoughts together on the Ollo loaner, but these are excellent cans for $400. No wonkiness to the closed cans... both Open and Closed are remarkably similar. Very even sounding, not fatiguing... FR is similar to a stock LCD-x without the upper mid suckout. Maybe not the be-all/end-all in bass extension, but IMO much stronger than the HD6x0 series (have yet to listen to the JARs).

    I love the above pairing... Vali 1 boosts the mids a little and Modi 3E gives it just a little air (compared to my modi multibit). This is in the running to become my bedroom (don't wake the wife) rig... just waiting to get ears on the ETA mini-C loaner to compare.

    ----edit----
    prices
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2022
  15. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    I would second the Liquid Spark. Had one a long time ago and because I was stupid I sold it. Honestly I prefer it over the LP and LAuX.
     
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  16. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    My stepdad had my liquid spark and a good local friend still has one. I should revisit. From memory it's sounded like piety IMO maybe not as good overall though, it was like $89 though when I bought it.
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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  18. Ksaurav402

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    DAP and IEMs are pretty useful for any beginner
    Some DAP that I have owned in past
    1. Sony WM1A - Available at ~$500 in used market with Mr. Walkman Mod. However no streaming unless connected via Bluetooth with phone
    2. Shanling M3X or M6 or newer model - They have streaming and can be acquired in used market for cheap. Always available. Shanling DAPs are good and musical.

    Dongle or battery powered DAC/Amp
    1. Ifi Gold Bar- get this and be happy. Can be acquired for ~400 if you are on lookout.
    2 Chord Mojo - Gen 1 can be acquired for ~200 now a days else Mojo 2 is good option.
    3. Check out for other Ifi options based on budget.

    I don’t have tons of suggestion in IEMs as I have heard only few but below are always recommended
    1. Dunu Zen Pro
    2. Timeless 7Hz
    3. Moondrop Kato

    For desktop setup thats not too expensive is finding out Drop ZDT Jr. and Schiit Gungnir in used market with HD6X0. I had Verite Open paired but that’s an expensive buy so start with 6X0 or used 800s
     
  19. Philimon

    Philimon Friend

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    Without music streaming subscription or illegal downloads:
    - #1 dont spend more on hifi than you do new music.
    - Modi > Magni > 6X0, T50RP
    - Porta Pro from whatever for portable
    - x iem, preferably wireless for greater convenience and utility. I like Galaxy Buds Live.

    With music streaming subscription or illegal downloads:
    - Well, now you have more money for gear so:
    - ModiMB > Magni+ > 6X0, T50RP
    - Porta Pro from whatever for portable
    - x iem …

    More expensive is dimished returns on investment relative to personal preference and situation etc. imo.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2022
  20. Woland

    Woland Friend

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    There's plenty of free music and web radio! I've had many happy hours listening to SoundCloud and radio station streams.
     

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