Need new headphone setup.

I have a speaker oriented system that is very satisfying to me. But because of a need to maintain domestic tranquility I’m looking to go to a less noisy alternative: i..e. headphones.
I want to spend a total of about $1000. So, nothing too fancy. Not the equivalent of my much more expensive speaker system.
What do I need to assemble a headphone system independent of my regular system which is accessible from my listening chair and side table?
I plan on solely streaming. My present system contains a WiFi streamer.
Can that be incorporated, or do I need a new streamer?
I understand that I need a headphone preamp along with the cans.
I know my budget is not too high, but can I get something relatively decent at it?

Currently, I listen though cheap ear buds and stream through an iPad.


If you currently use cheap ear buds, then maybe another option to consider is something like Etymotic “In Ear Monitors” (IEM)?

Even with an iPad dongle, or with a standard iPhone 1/8” audio out they are surprisingly good.

If you are looking at cans. Then you probably want to select the can before selecting the amp, so that you can ensure the that required output impedance works.

Half the time I use the IEM without a pad, as their noise blocking is pretty good, so I use them like ear plugs. But I also have a few Etymotic ear plugs handy most of the time as well.

How much portability do you want?  Your iPad is already a streamer, so I would just buy a dongle DAC, like the Dragonfly Cobalt.  If you buy a streamer, DAC and amp for headphones, you're likely limiting your listening to one location and eating up a chunk of your budget (since you're essentially building a second mini-system).

I have several headphones and DAC/amp combos and, frankly, my cheapest, Dragonfly Black and Grado SR80s, sounds pretty damn good.  The Black, the new SR80x and a USB/Lightning adapter would run you a bit under $300.   A Cobalt and Grado 325x would run around $650.  Lots of headphone choices out there - but keep the source simple.



I have a good headphone amp in my DAC/preamp, but for portable use I highly recommend my alternate setup, which I run from my phone or laptop. It sounds excellent.

A good set of budget reference phones like my Sennheiser 600 or 650 (Massdrop, now called Drop, does runs of these at a great price). $330 on Amazon Amazon / 650



Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt DAC/amp



Building a HeadFi system is like building a mini “big rig” so the same principles apply.  That said, what sound characteristics are most important to you?  This will help narrow down your choices for headphones, then you can go from there.  But, to answer your question — yes, you can build a surprisingly good headphone setup for $1000 or even less, and I think you’ll be surprised how good it sounds assuming you take the time/effort to choose the right gear.  If you share more about what sound characteristics you’re looking for you’ll get some good recommendations here.  FWIW. 

I listen 90% of the time to classical music, the other !0% Jazz and other acoustic formats.
I would like to have full bodied sound with good imaging.
With the suggestions so far, it looks like It’s not practical to go for a whole second mini system with cans, DAC and separate streamer.

I’m ready to order something soon, but I’m not sure what headphones are best for me in my budget.

‘Besides Grado and Sennheiser, any other quality brands should I consider?

Given the sound qualities you’re looking for, I think Audeze ‘phones should be on your radar although you might need to up your budget a bit.  And unless you can’t have any sound leaking out into the room I’d recommend open-backed designs as they tend to have more open and expansive imaging.  Hope this helps, and best of luck. 


Thank you



As a neophyte here, I’m not sure about closed or open

What should I know about each?


Closed back are more private in that under given circumstances other people cannot hear what you are listening to unless you listen at ear busting volumes. I prefer the open back myself as i find it gives a much airier sound and I can pinpoint the instruments easier on the stage.

As said open headsets usually have better imaging. Most useful in quiet environment, not church as sound leaks out. Closed keeps out external noise.

I have started a headphone rig and am curious about applying eq to them. So far I have a Topping A30 pro amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD 58x Jubilee. They are currently connected to the analog out of an Esoteric DV-50s. The 58x could use a bit more upper mids / low treble, a touch more sparkle, and definitely more bass below about 80 hertz. Mid range is pretty good on them. Overall they are very decent, but I would like to tweak them a little. I do not stream music, as I end up with too many dropouts from my internet. What options are out there for adding some eq to them? Is there a reasonably priced (~$500 used) headphone that would appreciably improve on these areas (Hifiman Sundara maybe)? I am willing to try out open or closed back phones. Any input is appreciated.

What do you mean by “using the IEM without a pad?’

“In Ear Monitor” = (IEM)
And I meant with an iPad.

If you use an iPad now, then an “In Ear Monitor” (IEM) seem like a progression.

For isolation of external noise the order is:

  1. IEM
  2. Closed Back
  3. Open Back

I usually go #1 or #2, but if it is quiet then #3 also works. If it is noisy or in an public setting then you may want #1 or #2.

The Eytmoytic measure well and sound good, So for an IEM they are a good choice… But a can may be more comfortable.

I highly recommend checking out IEM’s from Periodic Audio, in particular the Be beryllium version.  The newest models now allow interchangeable cables, which is great if you wish to upgrade.  To my ears they sound detailed and rich.  Periodic also now makes a very small DAC that, along with the earphones and a smart phone for streaming create an incredibly portable system that is great for travel without compromising sound quality.  Can be found on Amazon if you’re interested.

The fact remains that most all earspeakers sound fine if you make them your own with a top shelf source. I don't have $325 into the present Koss 30i's pushed by an Xduoo 20 tube amp and it sounds super.

And I own Quad and Stax open cans🙃(better.)  My Focals sound great until A/B ing. You won't have any preferences until you start.


Well, I pulled the trigger.

ordered the

Sennheiser HD 600,

Dragonfly Cobalt DAC

Lavricable adapter

Thanks everybody for your help


Hey, wait a minute.  You didn't give me enough time.😊

I have ideas, opinions, thoughts.  These take time to contemplate and compose.  You can't ask us early in the morning on a Tuesday and then tell us later that day you have made your decision and ordered your new gear.  That violates sub-section 4, article b(8) of the audiophile code of conduct.


The Sennheiser HD 6oo should be a good choice. Putting together a good sounding headphone system is like putting together a great sounding speaker oriented system. It takes time and money, but you must start somewhere.

It took me over fifteen years to put together a great headphone system (click on my user ID to see it). To do what you want, you need a headphone amp… or head amp. This is frequently the real key as it provides the power to really bring your headphone to life. Then you need to work up to a good DAC. I have tried some of those little DACs… never did anything for me. Ultimately I got a really good DAC, raised my system to the next level. Finally, I addressed the streamer… I tried all sorts of iPods, iPhones, and iPads and finally when they with a real streamer, an Aurender N100. IPads work, but at some point they get in the way of good sound. Also, to get magic. I needed power conditioning and good interconnects.

I think you made a good start with the headphones, but I would have put additional funds into a good tube headphone amp… Woo. I have had 3 Woo headphone amps, they are natural sounding and provide a good amount of power.

I have another option for your consideration. I have the same requirement as you changing from speaker to headphone setup. Eventually I choose Electrostatic headphone also known as headphone speaker. Means that it's a he@dphone but gives you a speaker effect. It's worth to try. You may start with a used unit and amp if you have a limited budget. I have no regret of choosing this type of headphone. I don't miss too much compared with speaker listening. 

Congrats!  You chose some pretty can’t-miss products, and coming from basic earbuds I think you’re gonna be pretty amazed.  BTW, what streaming service are you using?

I would just go over to Drop (that's what I did).  There you can pick up a decent DAC, headphone amp, and a set a cans for under $1k. You can of course spend more too but you don't need to for some decent stuff. 

1+ Soix

Agree with the Audeze recommendation.  I enjoy my Audeze LCD-X.  Easily run off an iPad or phone.  Being over-the-ear, they’ll be a real change from in-the-ear monitors.  They are heavy but, unlike other ‘phones that I’ve had, not fatiguing.  Stellar review in The Absolute Sound by Arnie Nudell (the genius behind Infinity and Genesis); it’s an older review (Sept. 23, 2014) and they’ve since been updated with fazor technology. List price is $1,190, but Music Direct currently has an “open box” set available at $999.  Best of luck with your search!

Good luck with your HD600 and Cobalt!

I was gonna say that the Cobalt is great. I use a Black myself but has listened to the Cobalt in a store and it is better.

If you ever want better headphones I suggest trying Focal. I think the Elex from Drop is available for $700, cheaper if you buy used. I have Beyerdynamics Amiron Home which were said to be slightly better than HD600. There is also DT1990.

You can also look around in the headphone forums for more ideas once you get hooked. For example in Reddit. 



I'm sorry, but all "ear speakers" absolutely do not sound fine if they are used with "top shelf" components feeding them. If that were the case, then the same would be true for typical home speakers and that's clearly not accurate at all. As for the OP, you do not need a headphone preamp at all. You can use some preamps as headphone amps if they have a jack, but you don't need a preamp for a headphone amp, if that's what your asking.

Can they be open headphones which leak sound or do they need to be fully closed?

If you can use an open set then consider the HiFiman Ananda with the Topping DX3 Pro+ amp/DAC/Bluetooth combo.

For a closed headphone, there are not a lot of great choices.

I recommend the Graham Slee Novo headphone amp and a pair of Shure 1540 headphones...right at your thousand buck budget. I think you will be happy with both. The Shure's are closed back but with an open back sound. Another option is the AKG K550's, also closed back with an open back sound. 

You might consider the Austin Audio Works Black AMP.  It was on a SBFA tour as a good a great headphone amplifier - no feed back current mode when used with the Audeze LC series of headphones is a most rewarding combination of detail and clarity. 

Just pulled a reverse and cancelled the Sennheiser and spent a lot more on the AUDEZE.  

it’s only money!

I have a reasonable system that sounds fabulous!!!!! (When not using my speaker based system)   Apple i phone 6S, Amazon HD service, Apple Lightning device, (whole system wired) Through a fiio IEM FH5 and all WIRED into a Fiio BTR5.

Can be used Bluetooth, but doesn't sound nearly as good.  Wired gives you ultra HI DEF, when music allows. WOW       BTR5 does wonders with the HD service!!!! Enjoy

As a budget Audiophile. Basically one who has no budget 😁 I needed something that was affordable and could be a mix of office and portable. It was hard to have a nice system at home then come in to work to listen to earbuds. So I thought how do I do this without breaking the bank, but can also use at home and office as well. So I picked up A Fiio X5MIII(used for $150.Plus two 256SD cards) portable unit so I could use the DAC on the go. I also wanted one that would do most Hi=Res file options but wanted Native DSD Conversion and this had the AK4490. you get two for them, one for each channel . It also has the ability to pick up DLNA for streaming from a Serviio server I have running. I then picked up two K5 (75.00 used ) Amplifiers that use the X5 as the DAC. Then I added a pair ESS422H Heil headphone (on sale for $99.00 ) Swapped out the cushions with Sure 1540 Pads. This opened them up quite a bit. I had read many reviews that put them up against 800 to 1000 dollar headphones and still preferred them. I have to say the sound vs $$ has worked out better than I could have imagined. Milage may very as the Dap is getting a little on the old side and there are many newer ones out depending on your needs.


I've been a headphone believer for decades; currently, I splurged on a set of the HiFiMan HE1000 (an insane $3,000!).  But the Sennheiser line is outstanding for the money, if you can use an open-back design. The HiFiMan is so open, by the way, that one can listen to it without too much loss from several feet away.

FWIW, I'm also a believer in the HeadRoom headphone amp with its crossfeed processing circuit. The circuit's effect is very subtle; the only dramatic way to confirm it's doing anything is to unplug one of the channel leads while listening. With ordinary amplification (or the processing circuit switched off), the result is like having one's head split in two, or going suddenly deaf in one ear. In other words, not at all like disconnecting one speaker of a stereo pair. But with the processing circuit in, the effect is startlingly like losing one of a stereo pair of speakers. You still have a 3-D sense of space, even though all the music seems to be located at the still-active earcup.

Of course, no one listens to music like that. So what is the real world effect of the circuit? Well, less headphone fatigue, for one thing. And the music really does seem to be coming from in front, rather than being piped directly into your brain.

There are several versions of this device, and used ones are available from time to time on eBay for $200 or so, depending on the model. They're all very well made.

Incidentally, the mind behind HeadRoom is Tyll Hertsens, an interesting person in his own right.

Just pulled a reverse and cancelled the Sennheiser and spent a lot more on the AUDEZE.

I love you man!  Which model did you get?  I hate to say it, but they will scale up considerably with a better amp/DAC, but the Cobalt will definitely be a good start.  Congrats...again!


Was going to suggest the Meze 99 Classics.  They have a richer sound great for classical and jazz.  Not so great for bass heavy music like rock, etc.  Just too much bass IMO.  Excellent build quality and super comfortable as well.  I am in the process of researching an amp for them.  Something dynamic with a clear top end.  Extra bass emphasis not required!  Any suggestions welcome!

I really like Audeze's house sound.  I have LCD-2, LCD-XC, and LCD-4.  You're probably leaving a lot on the table in terms of sound quality with that DAC.  You really need a decent DAC and a headphone amp to get the most out of those headphones.  You're off to a nice start though.

An iPhone or Android phone streaming Tidal into a portable amp with the Drop

version of Fostex headphones. 800-1000 bucks total for great sound anywhere.

Just getting into streaming and headphones. Bought a iFi NEO iDSD , Grado gs1000e. Sounds great, very open soundstage. For comparison, ordered Massdrop 6xx ( not here yet) and a set of HD 600 to try. Those don't have the ease of presentation or the big soundstage of the Grados and are muffled by comparison. They are going back. Got a used pair of Hi-Fi Man Sundara ordered to try planar magnetic design. 

The iFi DAC/pre really opened up my Audioengine HD4 desktops as well.

A lovely pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, arguably the best on the market, with only the Bose QC45 and Surface Headphones.

Noise-cancelling technology that leads the industry, incredible sound quality, multi-device support, a very flat response curve, excellent EQ control, and useful features like hold to chat and voice assistant integration, to name a few. There's also a wired mode for even better sound.

Did you mean to say the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones were the best at their price point !!

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, arguably the best on the market

Maybe the best noise-cancelling headphones, but that’s about it.