Full chain for 5k or less

This is a follow up to a thread I started earlier, after a lot of reading, learning, and talking myself into a much bigger budget. I am hoping that now that I have learned a bit, I won’t be annoying anyone here with a much revised version of basically the same question.

Budget: $5,000 FIRM - not a penny more

Requirements: exactly one (1) Dac, exactly one (1) Amp, at least one (1) pair headphones - preferably exactly one (1). NO open back headphones, but semi-open with decent isolation could be on the list.

Optional: upgraded cables, upgraded power supply, DDC and/or external clock.

Usecase: Many hours of mixed active/ passive music listening ~50% of time.
Several hours FPS (imaging critical) and RPG (detail and soundstage critical) gaming ~30% of time.
Finally, movies, Netflix streaming, anime, and Twitch, all aggregate together to ~20% of time.

I spend a LOT of time in my headphones at my desk. My desk is 7 foot steps from my bed (home office in bedroom). I listen to music all day while working 8+ hours, then game and/or watch media from various sources 5+ hours. All day comfort for wearing the same headphone for 13+hours a day 6-7 days a week is a must.

While listening to music, I commonly (2-5 ish times a day) take a break to more actively listen to the music and appreciate the recording. Such breaks can last from one pop song (3-5 minutes) to an entire album or a full symphony. While gaming, I need both similar to “competitive” positional accuracy, as well as “immersive” soundstage. The real bitch with the gaming side is the need for closed backs.

I am just trying to hedge my bets, as I am only going to get one (1) shot at this. I have 2 kids in College, and the third is starting his senior year in HS as I type this. Making it worse, all 3 are thinking about advanced degrees after undergrad - so future “upgrades” will require the selling of a component, and receiving payment before I can then spend that scratch on its replacement. Alternately, I suppose I could just wait the 7 or so years until the dust settles and my boys have a real handle on their education debt before I upgrade anything.

Currently I am thinking Soekris 2451, Vioelectric V281, and Focal Stellia. If I can get all of the above used, they should fit nicely into my budget with ~$400 to ~$500 to spare for the optional upgrades, but that “spare” disappears quickly if I need to find any components on this chain new, or get a price near to new.

I am quite familiar with Equalizer APO and am not even a little intimidated by using it to tune frequency response to my preferred curve (which resembles the Harmon curve, but is a little more upper mid forward for my Kpop girlcrush vocals), so sound signature of specific headphones isn’t super critical, as long as stage, imaging, detail, and separation are in order.

Am I overlooking anything critical? I have had thoughts of maybe a DC Aeon 2 closed in place of Stellia, and there have been some good deals on lower end Chord dac’s that compete with the few listings I’ve found for 2451 for price, so there does seem to be some wiggle room in specifics. Are there better alternatives for any specific component within budget?

i have to do it…i have to ask…why the closed back requirement?

Because my wife’s desk is 4’ from mine. Not only does she get crabby if I /chew/ too loudly (let alone music leaking from my headphones), but her constant yammering on is much easier to tune out if I can credibly claim to have not noticed.

The Verite Closed is often considered the best closed back. So that’s another one to consider. Have you tried on Focal’s headphones before? Literal all day comfort is a lot to ask for. Honestly I think it’d make more to sense have a pair selected for comfort and different pair another pair for attentive listening.

How about a pair of closed backs or maybe some Meles for the wife :stuck_out_tongue:

I really liked the aeon 2 noire (and didn’t like the aeon 2 closed all that much) and the imaging was pretty damn good. Super natural sounding and though I have liked other closed backs a lot for their different sound signatures in one area or another, the noire is probably my favorite all around closed back I’ve personally ever heard, though admittedly I’m usually a closed back hater.

I still have yet to hear a verite closed but I’ve heard nothing but good things in terms of music but haven’t ever seen anyone talk about their imaging capabilities for gaming so I’d love to hear from someone that uses them for gaming.

Honestly focal nails imaging pretty much perfect on all the open backs I’ve heard and I can only assume all of their closed backs are every bit as good. I will say I never really liked focal’s tuning though.

What kind of music do you listen to?

Lol, she has a pair of closed backs! They only sorta help :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Yeah, all day comfort really -is- quite an ask! I have no illusions there, but do bear in mind where I am coming from is a pair of Audiotechnica ATH-M40X with skullcandy hybrid pads. They’re reasonable, but clamping force gets tiresome after a few hours. All I really need for comfort is a significant upgrade from these.

I am also looking hard at a pair of Audiotechnica AWKT as an alternative to the Stellias, it has these big, cavernous ear cavities in the pads, which just looks comfortable. Not so sure about that split headband though.

Well, it doesn’t suck :grinning:


Could you elaborate? As funny as “doesn’t suck” is, it is a promising start and little else. How do you find the sound quality, imaging, and comfort? Is the soundstage unduly restricted by the closed back nature of the HP? Is there any specific component you would change, or something you would do differently? What’s the next thing in the chain for upgrade (cables? Clock? Etc.).

Feel free to ignore, but if you get a few minutes, additional context would be appreciated!

Headphone itself is always the most important, then the amp, and finally the dac in my opinion.
I’d recommend a Dan Clark Stealth, and a Monolith Liquid Gold X DAC amp which puts out 6 Watts balanced at 32 ohms. This will cost you a grand total of $4999.98. You can tell your wife you saved 2 cents haha

liquid gold x exists? thought that were never going actually make it to market because of the akm fire. nice. i’d love to hear some reviews on it.

edit: they downgraded to a 4493eq from a 4499. makes sense.

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Shoot if he’s a DCA member he can save more than a few cents.

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600$ atm

That was really pretty cheesy of me to do, and I apologize. It just struck me as funny as I had been sitting at that desk that had pretty much the source you were thinking about and I had just got a Stellia in on loan and was listening to it with that setup at the time and was admiring how well it sounded to me when I read your post.

I have only had the Stellia for a short time, but here is what I have in my notes so far

My head is average size (I’m 6ft). I like the comfort, nice clamp, light on the head without any noticeable hotspots. I am able to wear these for long stretches of time without any issues. Focals are one of, if not the most comfortable headphones I’ve tried. (I’ve owned the Elegia in the past and now the Stellia on loan)

Sound Quality:
Clean, clear, good dynamics, speed and energy, punch - kick drums, plucks of stringed instruments, pianos hit hard. Nice timbre, vocals are nice, detail retrieval is also very good. Bass is nice and has good tone and texture but doesn’t extend that far into the sub-bass. The mids are nice though for me there were a couple instances where the upper mids get a little too aggressive for me on some vocal runs, electric guitars and horn stabs - but this seems to be track dependent than a norm. Treble is smooth, much smoother than I was expecting it extends nicely but again not as far out and “airy” as I was expecting, which for my personal preferences was a pleasant surprise.

Sound Stage and imaging:
The staging is pretty close to my head, some dept but not that wide but doesn’t feel congested in anyway doing a fantastic job with effects like attack/echo/reverb/decay giving me a real sense of the recording space. Layering and position and separation of vocals and instruments within that space is something that really stands out to me as a positive. The stellia feels to me closer to an open-back than closed in the same sense that my Fostex TH900mk2 does being more a semi-open than closed.

If this were my primary setup and we’re talking specifically for the Stellia, it may be too early for any comment as I’ve only had this phone on loan for less than a week. I think that there is pretty decent synergy with these pieces. The DAC is quite capable and doesn’t appear to be holding the headphone back at all in regards technical ability. (I have not heard the 2541 you are thinking about) but I understand it to have some technical improvements over the 1541, so I’d assume it to be even better with the Stellia. The Soekris DACs and the older Violectrics have really good synergy where the added warmth from the 281 helps smooth and give some sweetness to both the 1541 and the Stellia. I think That with this headphone if I had dac/amp pairing that was was more neutral leaning that the headphone would be too dry/lean/analytical for my personal preferences.

Nothing for a while - I suggest deciding on a headphone, then amp & dac is key. Listen to that setup for a while get to know it and learn what you like, or what you feel may be lacking or is nice but may want to improve on. I mean there may be things like headphone cables you’ll want to upgrade sooner than later, primarily because most stock cables are sort of meh, and may not have the desired termination.

That setup I pictured is actually my secondary setup, I do have a DDC in that chain but it is not really necessary - though it officered some improvement, but the DAC has a decent clock already and a great USB implantation with galvanic isolation, so noise from power and jitter issues were already pretty well handled in my situation.

I hope this in someway makes up for my empty detail comment - again I apologize for that.


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No apology necessary! It was quite funny, but got me second guessing and finally I decided to just ask if you had more. Boy did you - what a detailed informative post!

I thank you for the very considerate follow up. Cheers!

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