Choosing Headphones up to 1700 USD

I’ve been going back and forth between reviews of different headphones of up to 1700 USD price range.

I currently have the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro and I like them a lot, both the punch and slam that they provide, and the detail they have across the range. I know that the treble of those headphones is notoriously sharp, but I just EQ it out when listening to music (and leave it un-EQed when mixing). 

I only have a USB audio interface (Focusrite Scarlett), so if the headphones require an amp that would have to be part of the budget).

I mainly listen to electronic music, but also some jazz and rock. 

I would like to upgrade to something higher end and the main headphones I checked out are Audeze LCD-X, Hifiman Arya, Ananda (which are much cheaper) and Focal clear. 

I might be wrong but from what I picked up from the reviews, there seems to be a compromise between soundstage and dynamics. 

I was mainly focused on the LCD X but encountered many complaints about serious reliability issues with Audeze headphones so I decided to drop them. 

The Arya looks awesome about everything except the dynamics, and this worries me as I like the punch and slam of my current headphones (the DT1990). 

I understand that the focal clear has very good dynamics but no soundstage at all. 

Now soundstage is something that I’m really curious about, as I never heard a really good soundstage headphones. I know that the DT 1990 are supposed to have some mid range soundstage but frankly I don’t notice it at all (perhaps it has to do more with the music I’m listening to?).

To sum up:

I’d love to hear about what other headphones I should check out in that price range, and how they compare with each other and what to expect comparing to my current DT1990.

Hifiman right now has a sale going on with their electrostatic headphones at $1,700.  Less if you don't buy their amp.
It sounds like you liked the Audeze LCD X, have not heard about reliability issues with them as an issue any more than any other phone or brand and have had the LCD2f  in my three phone rotation for 4 years with no issues, actually they get as much playing time as my Hifiman HE1000v2s which cost 3 times more. My point is Audeze and Hifiman have excellent customer service and replacement/repair programs in place if there is an issue. I would also recommend the Hifiman Edition XV2s, very efficent, a sound to die for and if you shop them, can find them new for around $900.00. Just keep in mind, like a good speaker no headphone can make up for deficiencies upstream. Enjoy the music
Curious about the "reliability issues" with Audeze headphones.  I have three pair (LCD-XC, LCD-4, and LCD-2).  They are all very well made and I have had zero issues with any of them.

For electronic music, consider closed back headphones (LCD-XC instead of X).  I suggest adding the Sony MDR-Z1R to your list of options.  And a decent headphone amp. 

You may find that you get better sound quality and more enjoyment by adding a good headphone amp to your existing headphones.  I'm not familiar with your headphones, but if you like them, you'll like them a lot more with a good amp.  A little above your budget, but the Sony TZ-ZH1ES is excellent.
Thanks for the suggestions, I might indeed include a headphone amp in this budget.
@big_greg I heard it here: 
several people seemed to agree in the comments of the video. 
and also here:
But I don't know, maybe it's just rare cases that made some noise.

Why are closed backs better for electronic music?
Generally speaking, closed back headphones dig lower, similar to sealed subs, speakers, etc. There are of course exceptions. Both my LCD-XC and the Sony MDR-Z1R reproduce bass really well. It's a weird sensation when you feel your head being "pressurized" by the bass!

It looked like there were 2 people in the head-fi thread that said their Audeze headphones had failed, and one thought it may have been his fault?  I didn't watch the youtube video.  
I am really into headphones now.

I have the following amps for headphones:

- Benchmark HPA4 (incredible for both 2 channel and headphones)
- Topping A90 (very good overall and great for $500)
- CODA Csib integrated amp (being shipped and to be used with RAAL SR1a headphones)

I think the Topping A90 is a great amp and should drive most $1700 headphones. You may want to look at the under the UnderwoodHiFi of the rebranded Russsian headphones + Topping A90 = $1700

My other headphone is the Meze Empy. A much different sound than the RAAL SR1a. Enjoy both a lot.
I think the HIFIMAN ‘phones would really be worth a try given what you’re saying. What I find really striking about them is their expansive “out of the head” soundstage and the very detailed yet not harsh or fatiguing treble. The bass is different in that it has a lot of impact and is also exceedingly quick, but it may not have the lower end depth or heft you may have heard from ‘phones that overemphasize that area or excel at the Stygian depths. But you may find the bass more than sufficient, and when combined with the other considerable strengths the planars offer you may be more than happy with any trade offs.

So, what would I recommend? You can get the Arya open box from HIFIMAN for $1300 as I think that gets you well into the best of what planar technology can deliver. The Aryas will, however, require a decent amp, and I agree with others that you need an amp anyway as I think it’ll also significantly improve what you’re hearing out of the DT1990s. I’m not familiar with your Scarlett at all, but I’d consider something like the Singxer SDA-2 amp/DAC as it’s fully balanced, offers six filters to customize the sound to your liking, has plenty of power, can be had for about $600 and uses one of the top AKM DAC chips that will provide lots of detail but help avoid harshness and glare versus some other options. If the Arya and SDA-2 are too much for your budget the Anandas are on sale for $699 and would also be great, but if you can stretch for the Aryas I think it’s very worth it. Incidentally, I’m not sure the Audeze would be the best choice for you given you’re coming from the very detailed and transparent DT1990s as you may find they skew a bit too far in the other direction of being on the softer/warmer side of things — but I could be wrong.

Sorry to drone on, but hearing a good planar headphone was a revelation for me and thought it might be for you as well given what you value and are looking for. Hope this helps at least a little, and best of luck in your search.
@soix thanks for the very informative response!
The Scarlett is a studio USB interface used for music production (it's basically a DAC/amp unit but suited more for recording and monitoring rather than audiophile listening). 
I decided to start with a DAC/amp and to save for a while and than get headphones (maybe indeed Arya). 
What do you think about this DAC/amp?
I heard about it in this review:
and also here:

I think the Monoprice is probably a very good unit and a good value (gotta love Monoprice!).  The SDA-2 uses a more advanced AKM chip and they’ve paid a lot of attention to improving the USB input, clock, jitter, etc. whereas I don’t see anything about this implementation on the Monolith, which is a little frustrating as this is fairly important.  Just going by what I’ve read, your DT1990s are already on the transparent/detailed side of the sonic spectrum as is the Monolith, so I’d be a little concerned that the two together may be a little much and possibly become fatiguing over time.  The SDA-2 on the other hand will still give you a lot of detail and transparency with perhaps a little more flesh on the bone in terms of tonality and heft and maybe a little smoother and more refined sounding, which is why I thought it might synergize well in your particular situation.  I think both units are great and excellent values, but as with everything in audio it ultimately comes down to personal preference and system synergy so let that be your final guide.  In searching around I did find a review from that actually compares the two and this is what he had to say.  I have no idea about this guy so can’t vouch for the validity of his impressions, so FWIW...

Well, I think these two are approaching AIO from different perspectives. The THX feels wider and cleaner. Separation feels slightly better. More fatiguing treble, and overall not as enjoyable as the Singxer. It feels more “harsh” to me. That being said the THX-788 is still my recommendation for AIO or even DAC/amp under $600, and honestly even higher depending on your preference. The THX-788 is a more analytical sound and it has EQ options (a little hard to figure out at first but once you do it is pretty easy to get around the menu). If you are looking for the best bang for your buck, I would go with the THX-788. If you want a more relaxing involving sound and don’t mind not having EQ options baked in and don’t mind the price, or will be potentially pairing with better amps down the road, Singxer SDA-2 is the option I would go with.

Again, hope this helps and by all means let us know what you find and decide. 
Does anyone have an opinion on electrostatic headphone amps?

I wanted to get something that sounds warmer, richer rather than accentuate the hyper detailing of the headphones.

I was thinking of Woo GES, but read mixed reviews about the circuitry.
“Better” is impossible to say because that’s really a personal taste thing, but reading between the lines in the reviews the SDA-2 seems to be a more complete and refined-sounding amp/DAC that I think would come through on an excellent and transparent pair of ‘phones like the Arya. I may very well buy an SDA-2 for myself in the near future unless I end up going with a separate amp and DAC. Anyway, FWIW...
erik_squires 12,512 posts 01-08-2021 at 02:04pm Does anyone have an opinion on electrostatic headphone amps? I too looked at the WOO GES. From my research they tend to be pretty pricey, whether it’s Blue Hawaii, mjolnir, upper tier Stax, or linear audio. Still looking for an amp for my SR-009 phones. I’m leaning toward a mid level amp from mjolnir but that’s still $3k. Not exactly chicken feed….

Another great headphone line is Kennerton.  I have a pair of Gjallarhorn GH50 and a Rognir Planar Magnetic.  The Gjallarhorns use just that, horn-loaded graphene-laminated mylar dynamic driver and has great bass and dynamics.  The Rognirs have much more detail, speed, spaciousness, and transparency but not the bass weight and dynamics of the GH50s.  Both are relatively easy to drive.  Getting these St. Petersburg, Russian made phones is getting more difficult as you can imagine but are available from Audio 46 in NYC.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned ZMF headphones.  The Aeolus is $1199 and it has beautiful hand finished wood cups.  They have punchy bass and excellent mids and highs.  A lot of ZMF owners like tube amps but solid state amps will do very well.  Here's a link to the Aeolus: 


The one downside to ZMF headphones is quite often you'll have to wait for 2-3 months for the headphone to be made.  Their headphones are in high demand and there's always a waiting list.  The wait is worth it imo.