The Best Audiophile Earphones headphones and Amp

I do not own a set of earphones (headphones). I have a high end HiFi system and I am interested in possibly adding a high end headphone/headphone amp.

I am looking for advice/information. What is the best audiophile ear (headphone) and dedicated headphone amp on the market today?

I have heard Stax electrostatics are good.
Check out for all things headphones. I would also suggest that if you are really going for something high end, where you be spending $2-3K, it would be worthwhile to go to a "meet" or to a show like RMAF where there is a major headphone presence. In addition to the many flavors of sound, comfort is something that cannot be determined based on some else's recommendation and is critical w cans.
One thing you should consider is whether you require sealed phones or not. Many phones, such as Grado, are "open" and you can hear every sound in the room while you're listening. The makers of such designs feel that this gives the best sound, but you may require a closed phone for whatever reason. Other than that, there are many good phones out there, especially once you get into the $500+ range. The other thing to consider is - you just may not like listening to headphones as opposed to speakers. I own what I would consider to be one of the top models, but I still prefer my speakers. Still, they're good to have and I don't regret the purchase.
Second headfi site, it is an exceptional resource, like Agon. Everything swampwalker said is accurate and great information.

Headphones and amps are even more pesronal, IMO, that regular systems. Use Headfi and find somebody close to you and visit them and check out their set-ups, it can be very educational and helpful.
I may be the odd one but I think more than 50% members on headfi are teenagers or young adults. In fact I noticed some are as young as 15 years old.
Word to the wise...take it slow. I,too, have a pretty decent 2 channel system and thought that I'd like to enter into the headphone arena. I started by doing a little research on and there's really quite a bit of information available. The Sennheiser 650's are a "good" pair of headphones and can be bought reasonably for around $500. A decent entry level headphone amp to drive them will run around $700 new. Start there and see how much you really like headphones. Sure you can buy a $1500 set of "cans" and spend 2 grand for a superior headphone amp and get a much better setup, but sometimes the journey getting there is better than the final destination. From your initial comments about your high-end hi-fi system, you probably built up your current system by steps so why not do the same with a headphone/headphone amp system because there will always be something better to move up to.
Go to your answers are there.
I would look into Woo Audio
I am really pleasantly surprised at how much I like my Sennheiser HD650s. They are not the most highly resolving headphone on the market, however they are very pleasant to me. They have a nice warm sound that does not cause listener fatigue, even when listening for hours. I just got mine for under $350 brand new in the retail box.

Regarding the headphone amp: Do you just need an amp, or does it need any other features, like a built-in USB DAC? For a dedicated headphone amp, the Burson HA-160 is getting excellent reviews and the street price is $699. If you need/want a world class DAC built-in, then the Burson HA-160D is excellent at $1100.

For less money, but still good performance, the NuForce Icon HD or Icon HDP get excellent reviews when paired with the HD650s and many other headphones.

Just like with any audio system, you can spend a lot more and a lot less. The above recommendations are just some of the products that fill the sweet spot between price and value.

As stated before, is a wealth of information. You can get lost for days reading forum posts and reviews.


If you hunt around a bit on the Gon you might be able to score a Cary 300sei without breaking the bank. Stick in some proper capcitors in the output stage and it is hard to beat.
IMO, you won't find better than the Stax. I've owned many pairs of headphones so this is not just my ego talking. All
others feel and sound like headphones. Stax create an ambient
space over your ears but without the distractions that plague
loudspeakers. I use both the solid-state and tube driver units
and I highly recommend the tube units. My best advice is to buy them first and you'll never feel that there is something missing. Also, used units on Audiogon are safe bets. Stax
headphones are hard to damage-I've been using mine for about 20 years and they still sound GREAT!
As others have suggested, take the time to figure out what you want. If you want closed headphones, then go for that. Open headphones require a quiet area. They also require people around you accept music leakage. I have a pair of AKG K1000s which sound spectacular, but require a big amp (not a regular headphone amp) and I won't listen to them with my wife around because they 'leak' something fierce. If I didn't have the AKG cans, I'd have a pair of high end Stax.
I second Tonykay's message: it has taken me over 10 years to get to appreciate what Stax headphones can do. As of today, I have sold all my electrodynamic headphones and only use the Stax Omega 2 mkII with SRM-727A amplifier (about 3.5kUSD combo).

Before that I have owned the following (from recent to old, probably missing some, headphone + amplifier). I give the approx. retail price:

> Sennheiser HD800 ($1500) + Lehman Black Cube Linear ($1000)
> Ultrasone Edition 9 ($2000) + Lehman Black Cube Linear ($1000)
> Sennheiser HD650 ($450) + Lehman Black Cube Linear ($1000)
> AKG K701 ($300?) + Meier Audio Opera mkI ($1000)
> Sennheiser HD650 ($450) + Meier Audio Opera mkI ($1000)
> Sennheiser HD650 ($450) + Ray Samuel Audio Stealth ($2500?)
> Sennheiser HD650 ($450) + Meier Audio Prehead MkI ($1000?)
> Sennheiser HD600 ($300) + Meier Audio Prehead MkI ($1000?)
> Grado RS-2 ($400?)

As you can see, it's been a regular rotation of headphones and amps. More recently, top dog electro-dynamic headphones (Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1, Ultrasone Edition series...) have closed the gap (pricewise) with Stax electrostats.
In terms of resolution too, a well amplified HD800 can very much compete with the Stax Omega 2 + Stax amplifier. However, when I mean well amplified, this implies 2 to 5kUSD of amplification.

What I realized for me is that there was no point to keep spending so much money on electrodynamic gear when I could have it all and more with a similarly priced Stax electrostatic system. For instance, there is no electro-dynamic headphone I have heard that can have the same finesse as Stax (non grainy yet extended treble, extreme resolution, excellent micro-dynamics, basically the usual benefits of electrostatic drivers...). While electro-dynamic headphones can do many things right, you always find that 1 headphones forte comes also with 1 or 2 flaws that spoils the experience, eventually...

To my ears, the Stax Omega 2 are the first headphones I simply feel are sounding totally natural. The Omega 2 is not perfect (the new prototype C32 might be as close to perfect though based on my audition ;), but it totally satisfies me because it always sounds natural. In that sense, I very much agree they're one of the only headphones that make you forget you are listening to headphones...

While sites like head-fi provide a lot of information they're also a bit misleading because a lot of the noise on the surface is based on the "flavor of the month" (there are some recommendations in this thread which are a clear example of that).

To summarize, I will give the same advice as some others: do not take someone's advice for granted (mine included, hey, I have hated Stax gear for years until I realized how right it was ;) ). Listen for yourself if possible, headphones sound come in many many colors, just like loudspeakers... The comfort is also indeed an issue (does not get much better than Omega 2 again though ;) ).

Apart from visting head-fi, you really do need to mention a budget and traits you're looking for rather than 'best'. Like speaker, there are some extremely expensive headphones out there... Are He90s (Sennhieser Orpheus cans)/Blue Hawaii in your budget.
Gopher, My budget is extremely flexible. What is the retail price for He90s, Sennhieser Orpheus? How do they sound? How do they compare to Stax Omega 2 Mark II?
Acharpen has told me that the Stax Omega 2Mark II and SRM 727A amp combo retails for about $3,500. That would not be a problem for me if I liked the sound as much as Acharpen. I wonder, what will be the price for the new Stax C32 and when will it be released?
If the headphones are comfortable and sound as great as Acharpen says, I would be fine with spending the money. I would have to listen to them before buying.
As far as traits:
Comfort, dynamic, detailed, fast, beautiful life like musical sound, 3D soundstaging, black silent background, excellent low level detail, superb decay, deep detailed bass, great midrange, sweet treble, great transients. I am looking for superb detail with tube like bloom. Basically, I want it all. Can headphones do this? Personally, I have never experienced this with headphones. But, Acharpen's discussion is very convincing that it is possible.
All the advice above is good. (and agree the HeadFi site is dominated by teens and twentysomethings)
You will like STAX. The traits the OP list are what the Stax electrostic headphones offer best.
(I own some Stax given to me, but have not used them, as the transformer box needs a separate amp to run it.) I also own Sennheiser HD800, and Beyerdynamic 990.. and four different headphone amps from $250 Lil' Dot II to a $2,000 Rudistor II
O2Mk.I and BHSE are worth investigating although the wait for the BHSE is approx 1 year.
Gopher: good point about the budget... Having said that, I do not expect the same type of crowd here as head-fi. Not only referring about the average age, but also (it correlates though) about the wallet size. I think people who have invested into a high-end loudspeaker system including room treatment will typically have sufficient funding for a good headphone system...

Matjet: the Orpheus is no longer manufactured. Lucky enough, you could find one used for 6-8kUSD I believe (you'd still need an amplifier which I believe would also run into 5kUSD, no less). I did not listen much to it, but basically I am not sure it is good value considering the C32 is just around the corner (and likely a very serious contender).

Stax C32 is projected to cost between 300 and 500kJPY which is 4 to 6kUSD at current rate. But again, with some Stax distributors being a bit thirsty, it could go north of that in Europe or the US... Release is targeted for "spring" which, by Japanese standard, could be March-April time frame.

Some information about the design found here: . My listening impressions here:

I would love to listen to the Stax C32 when it is released and compare it to some other high-end headphones. I will have to find a Stax dealer in the my area (Ma.) who carries it.
Tonykay 02-05-11: Used units on Audiogon are safe bets. Stax headphones are hard to damage-I've been using mine for about 20 years and they still sound GREAT!

If you want to consider a used pair of Stax's, you should be aware that original Stax replacement earpads can be obtained from Audiocubes2.

The earpads are supplied together with a replacement for the piece of foam that covers the electrostatic element. A couple of years ago I replaced the pads and the foam on my mid-1980's Stax Lambda Pro's, because the foam was disintegrating. They continue to work as new, after 26 years.

-- Al
O2Mk.I and BHSE are worth investigating although the wait for the BHSE is approx 1 year.
Theres a pair of HE90 available at eightyfivehundred over at headfi at the momemnt.
Keep in mind that the price you will pay for the 02MK1 and the BHSE will put you right around the price you would pay for the HD800 and RSA B52. With an electrodynamic amp (B52), you have the ability to try a bunch of different phones including the Audeze and Hifiman electrostatic phones that can be used through an electrodynamic amp. With the Stax amp you are limited to exactly that. There is a point on any audiophile journey where you find the quest to get the best sound is infringing on the ability to listen to music. When you get to that point, take the best of what you have heard ACCORDING TO YOUR PERSONAL TASTE and enjoy some music. The best way to start this journey is to go to and look for the next CanJam date. At this meeting you will meet the major headphone and headphone amp manufacturers; as well as, be able to listen to people's personal set ups. This may require a plane ticket and a hotel room, but that is a small price to pay for the money you will likely save by making the right choice based on your listening to the equipment and not trusting someone else's assessment. Bring discs that you know so that you can pick out what equipment you like with the recordings you know.
Agree in general about the AVERAGE head-fi poster who is likely to value specific design or parts choices rather than overall implementation, BUT there are several veterans who you can pick out by reading their posts. Comfort is even more important than SQ, cause if they make your head hurt due to the band pressure, or if they make your ears sweat (Stax Pro Lamdas did that to me) it does not matter how good they sound. OTOH, if they are comfortable to you and you don't need sealed cans, a pair of AKG K1000s hooked up to a good 8-10 wpc integrated amp is, IMO, pretty darn hard to beat. As long as you have a thick skin and don't mind being mocked by your entire family... they are VERY odd looking. But they sound fantastic and actually have a soundstage.
I'm sure I'm in the minority here, but as time goes by, I'm leaning more and more towards headphone listening. I have a full fledged 2 channel system, but I have to admit that for less money, the enjoyment I get from being immersed in the sound from my headphones surpasses my main system. Of course, the source is still critical (in my case Luxman D-06)...Anyway, I'm enjoying Beyerdynamic flagships which I find quite musical, as opposed to Sennheiser 800 which sounded unnatural, thin, more analytical, but probably more impressive at the same time.
I should also add that you really need to try on the headphones for the fit. How heavy are they? Do they bind or crush your ears? Do you get too hot? The sound from my Stax Omega II and 007II was incredible but I didn't like the fit at all. I currently use Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones. I find I like closed headphones and the sound limiting feature of the design gives me peace of mind regarding damaging my hearing (I also am careful with the volume control on my amp).

I have thought about trying Tesla T1s and the new Ultrasone Edition 10.

For what it's worth, I look for headphone use to isolate myself from the environment and sometimes act as a white noise provider. You may find you are more or less critical of the sonics compared to how you listen to your loudspeaker based system.
If you are still looking at options and not looking at electrostats, I recommend the Ray Samuels Audio B-52 amp with the Sony MDR-R10 headphones. The R10s are arguable the best non-stat phones that were made, but they're only available now on the used market. Ray Samuels voiced the B-52 with Sony R10s.
Quick update. The Stax SR-009 (was codenamed C32) is now in my system and it sings, oh yes does it sing! It's pretentious to say so but I think the competition, regardless of technology, is going to sweat a few bullets to catch up with this one...

Some pics of the unwrapping, an experience in itself:
This set-up sound the best to me but my experience with headphones and headphone amps is limited. I'm really enjoying a set of AKG K701 earphones with a Schiit Audio Valhalla tube headphone amp. I know this may be considered budget/entry level but it sounds good to me and I didn't break the bank.
This is the thread that never stops. I always laugh when I see any mention of Schiit Audio. Like so many products, it probably has a signature sound. So...what do people say when they hear it? "WOW! This sounds like Schiit."
I have used Stax phones for decades now. I had the Stax O2 mk1 and mk2 and other lambdas. I actually decided to keep the Stax Sigma Pros (very rare) and a pair of Lambda Limited edition (very good). Both are confortable. I plan to acquire the SR-009. My amp is the Stax SRM-007II. We are talking about a $ 3000 setup here which is reasonable.
If anyone is looking for great audiophile headphones (at any price), I really love and recommend the Audeze LCD-2 Rev 2 (that's the current version, this Revision 2). I've had LOTS of phones and these really seem like the top ones to me now. Here are my comments after getting this new version of the LCD2s.:

Well, way to go Audeze! I finally broke down and got the Rev2s, and they are much better than the originals and are fantastic phones, period, just with their stock cable with a conventional 1/4-inch plug.

(1) They have no sluryness or sense of overhang that I find orthos can suffer from (including HE6s).

(2) They do not ring at all in the upper midrange, so important to non-fatiguing vocals.

(3) The bass is controlled and detailed.

(4) They have great definition without any hyped up highs. I always thought conventional dynamic phones were needed for this level of definition, but the Rev2s are right up there with Beyer T1s, Senn. HD800s, and Denon D7000s in this area.

(5) They are excellent with my tube and solid state amps (but the tubes give more saturation of tones, a more continuous sound; but even with tubes, the bass is not soft and is quick and satisfying).

(6) The highs are (Goldilocks-like) "just right" to me (a rare achievement with headphones).

(7) They are just plain balanced over the entire frequency spectrum, more than any phones I've tried (& I've tried many of them). No anomalies that I can detect in the Rev2s.

Just plain shocked at how good these are out of the box. A big step up for me over the Rev1s.
Check out Schiit Audio for amps. Great stuff!
The Hi-Fi Man has excellent headphones, but they require a powerful headphone amp, as they are a difficult load. The Audeze LCD-2 (Revision 2) would probably be for me my favorite. They are easier to drive than the Hi-Fi Man phones and are more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Of course, all great phones require great headphone amps to sound their best, but with the Audeze's you can buy from a larger range of headphone amps.

I have not had two great head-phone amps in my audio life.

My first was the legendary Melos SHA. Used to listen to them with a few different Grados. I sold it about 10 years ago. If I found one used, I would buy one again for its amazing sonic abilities.

Recently, in March I bought myself a Eddie Current Balancing Act and the Audeze LCD-2. This is definitely on the higher end of what can be achieved sonically in the headphone listening world.

If I can sit and listen to music and not feel any desire to be anywhere else than just be and listen to music, then I am having a musical moment, like being in the pocket. I have many musical moments with this setup when I just sit and let the music come over me.

But, now I also have a small tube amp and speaker setup that gives me a whole different type of musical experience. And I am tempted to expand my speaker system, but it surely is going to get quite expensive both in space and money to achieve that kind of musical experience.
One thing to consider- the 4-wire system sounds immediately better than the 3-wire system (1/4" stereo connector)- its not subtle.

If you want the best then the 4-wire system is mandatory.
By the way, if anyone gets an LCD2 headphone, the Q-Cable replacement cable really helps things out, with much more resolved and tighter bass and adding a lot of overall refinement and faigue-free sound.
In my experience you must be willing to accept the compromises of any conventional headphones which I was unable to do. Recently I was in the market, auditioned Sennheiser 850s with various headphone amps. Good sound, right timbre, but lacking depth and imaging. Then my dealer introduced me to the Smyth Realiser, a 'magic' box that measures and records any system and plays it back through a set of Stax headphones. Just a gimmick I thought until I listened and could not tell the difference between music played through the headphones and the speakers! I heard spatial imaging and 3-D sound through headphones. Check out the website for information about this system. It is costly, but if I decide to buy headphones, it will be with the Realiser.
I just recently plunged into the world of headphones and am having a slight problem adjusting to the new listening experience. Generally I find headphones to sound, well, like headphones. The soundstage is small and doesn't sound as big and airy like loudspeakers. I also find headphones to be uncomfortable when used for long periods.

If I can get over all the caveats with more training(hopefully), I might want to explore Stax in near future. Is the Stax SR-007Mk2 or SR-009 a huge improvement over the Beyerdynamic T1 in areas of musicality and transparency with significantly higher comfort levels and lower listening fatigue?
There is no definitive "best" of anything. There are way too many variables involved. The "best" you can hope for is to find something that works well in your system. You can then say it's the "best" for you until you find something you think is better !!!!
I've been looking for a new pair of phones for use with a Logitech Squeezebox Radio.

I have Stax headphones on one of my system and am looking for something that will sound similar in terms of natural non-fatiguing sound especially at higher frequencies at least off the SB radio.

I have heard various Sennheiser, B&W, AKG, Grado, and one or two Audio Technica so far.

So far I like the AT best followed by Sennheiser.

Newer Focal phones have caught my attention. I have heard Focal speakers sound quite ES like and phones are rumored to have similar sound.

Would Hifiman phones be a decent match for a SB radio?

I've also heard Audeze and thought those had potential but pricey and maybe overkill for a SB radio.

Open for suggestions, ideas, opinions on which way to go with Stax as my reference sound.
As an owner of a high end system, you are undoubtably aware that there is no one single "best" in any component category. There are plenty of headphone users that like electrostatics and many that don't, and there is disagreement about the merits of any contender.

I own an Stax Omega II, Mk. I, and a Blue Hawaii Special Edition amp. I like the sound, but it is far from perfect. The Blue Hawaii amp is, to me an improvement over the tube amp that came with the Stax phones, in most respects, but, it does exaggerate surface noise on LPs a bit more than does the Stax amp (also adds a tonal "ping" to ticks and pops), which I don't like. I heard the Stax 009 model headphone with a Woo amp, and did not prefer that sound. A friend heard the 009 with a Blue Hawaii amp in a shootout with the Omega II and preferred the Omega II (not as bright). But, most listeners prefer the 009, so again, it is a matter of taste.

For a much less bright sound and a richer overall tonal balance, I have heard Audeze headphones that I liked. I can easily understand how someone could prefer this sound to the Stax sound (and save a LOT of money).
My experience so far with tube headphone amps and Sennheiser HD600s leads me to opine it all comes down to tubes, fuses, isolation, cryogenics, cable cooking, and a lot of other things. Not to mention removing the HD600 grills and foam pads inside is a step in the right direction.