Help Choosing First Audiophile Headphones and Portable Amp

Hello everyone and Merry Christmas! I’m looking for some help choosing my first set of audiophile headphones. I primarily listen to music every evening sitting on my front porch while vaping weed and nicotine based products using a pair of Bluetooth headphones from Audio Technica, I believe the model is ATH-SR50BT. They have been alright headphones however they are a pain to charge as they constantly stop charging after as little as 5 minutes most of the time. So when Apple announced the AirPods Max and so many of the reviews were so glowing I thought I’d get a pair. Then I saw A review by DMS about them where he called them the best of the worst and I got to thinking, I primarily use headphones sitting on the porch 95% of the time so I don’t need things like noise cancellation, transparency or event Bluetooth really. So I started looking into wired headphones around that same price and realized I could get much better sound this way.

Now, as I stated, I primarily listen to music on my front porch so my music comes from my iPhone using the Tidal app and adding an amp that needs to be plugged into the wall is out of the question as well. So I am looking for something that can be powered fine from my iPhone or using a portable dac/amp combo (I’ve been looking at the fiio q1 mkii as a possibility). So far the headphones that have piqued my interest during my research have been the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro (I LOVE how they look and people seem to rave about them but they might be too hard to drive in my situation? I’m not sure), Sennheiser HD660s, Beyerdynamic DT 177x Go, and the Drop THX Pandas on the wireless side as a distant consideration.

For reference the ways I listen to music now are primarily the Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT, then AirPods Pro while on the og or working out or cycling, and then lastly at my desk using a set of Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers. My music tastes are pretty much all over the place and I’m constantly listening to different stuff although I probably listen to different kinds of rock the most.

Does anyone have any advice on what I should get in my situation? My listening environment is a bit unique as far as I can tell as I’m outside but stationary and not in public, but also can’t use a desktop amp. Budget is about $750 CAD. Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to read this and respond :slight_smile:


Welcome to HFG! There are some factors you haven’t really addressed yet that come into play here. The seasoned veterans on this forum recommend that going straight to a pricey headphone like the DT 1990 or HD 660S is too much of a gamble in the early stages of learning about the world of headphones, which is far more involved than one might suspect.

There are some excellent wired headphones at a third the price that would likely be a better choice, and most of them don’t require extra amplification, making your life that much simpler. Yet they can offer such an improvement over mass market headphones like the Air Pods Max that you may feel no need to upgrade at all or at least for several years. But even then there are several factors to consider. Here’s one:

Many headphones don’t aim at delivering an accurate reproduction of the recording, but instead add extra bass and/or a reduction in highs or an emphasized mid range. We call these flavour cans. If you aren’t sure which direction you want to go in, one thing you can do is play with the EQ options on your iPhone like bass and treble enhance and reduction to get an idea whether a particular flavour appeals to you or you just want vanilla neutral.


Thanks for the response and the welcome! I’ll try to answer the sound signature bit the best I can. I actually have played around with adjusting the bass and treble on my Vanatoo speakers and landed on running the bass at the default and the treble up 3 notches using the remote. Also I will mention I used to own the Pioneer HRM-5, which I had read in reviews were fairly balanced in sound signature and I just found them to be rather boring and like everything just kind of blended together which is why I didn’t keep them. I also know I am not a fan of overly heavy bass like found in Beats in my experience. I prefer clear, crisp vocals as I tend to pay close attention to lyrics in music.

Hopefully that helps, its the best I can think to articulate things. I realize sound signature is a personal thing and the only way to know for sure is to listen myself as everyone hears things differently. However, given that I live in Ontario Canada and the entire province just locked down for the next month at least, that’s not really an option so my plan is just to buy the most promising set for my situation and if I don’t like how they sound then return them and try the next.

I’m thinking Elex or Elegia since they’re quite “clear” and are easily driven by a phone. The Elex is right at the top of budget though while Elegia is harder to find since it’s been discontinued.

For vocal specifically the Senn HD600 or HD650/Drop HD6XX would be good but they may lack a bit in the bass dept for you. These guys will not be ok off a phone though - you’ll need a DAP.

There are a lot of other options which I haven’t heard myself. The good thing is, people don’t recommend bad headphones - just different flavors of good. I would take all the suggestions you get and read reviews of them and try to triangulate what would sound good to you.

BTW, when you sit outside do you want to be isolated from the various noises of the world?

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Thanks for the suggestions! The Elex is actually over the budget as my budget is Canadian and the cheapest I see them here is $850 which is cheaper than straight from drop after conversion. I can’t find the Elegia at all.

There isn’t much noise when I’m out on the porch, I’m in a small town so there’s not much going on and not much traffic. So isolation from the outside world isn’t a big necessity.

Thanks for the tips, will definitely research any suggestions I get!

Crap, I forgot your pesos are worth less than our pesos :frowning:


Haha yeah it’s no bueno.

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OK, I’m a fellow Ontarian and am also no stranger to not being able to try before buying.

First, an FYI: Amazon has sophisticated algorithms in place to flag customers who exceed their idea of fair use of buy-and-return. Once they flag a frequent offender, they try to lose him as a customer by sending damaged open-box items, etc. This may apply to other vendors as well. The upshot is I try to avoid over-use of buy-and-return. This has led me to develop a pretty heavy-duty approach to researching headphone purchases. On the off-chance you’re up to a deep dive, here goes:

The first thing is to calibrate your hearing and frequency response preference. Assuming your Vanatoos are not being influenced by room gain, then in theory your preference is something like this:

It’s quite possible your treble increase to the Vanatoo extends somewhat further towards the mid range. IAC, compare this with the only graph I could find for the Pioneer:

Tech note: to transform a headphone response graph into one that shows a flat-line frequency response as a straight line, a correction factor (compensation) needs to be applied. The graph for the Pioneer doesn’t specify what compensation was used, and they can vary all over the map, but the graph seems to be roughly in line with your description. For comparison, the Air Pods Max graph with a valid compensation looks like this:

IOW, roughly the same idea. Now let’s look at some of the headphones mentioned in this thread:

Vocal range looks great, but there’s a lot of fall off in the vocal overtone range. This is on purpose. One of the biggest complaints headphone manufacturers likely receive is piercing highs in the sibilance range (roughly the lower part of the treble just after the upper-mids).


About the same as the Elex…

As befits its reputation, the HD 600 is excellent throughout the vocal range. The slight elevation in the bass sometimes bothers me with some tracks, but most people seem to actually prefer it.

Now, the graph of the 1990s, even with the analytical ear pads, looks like the bass elevation should be a problem, but I don’t hear it as being any more of a problem than the HD 600s. In part because it has an intrinsically tighter, clearer sound (at least, straight out of an iPhone). OTOH, the huge loudness spike at the far end of the sibilance region can be a show stopper for a percentage of the population. This seems to be due to natural variability in ear canal shape.

The best match to your needs I can find, is another beyerdynamic, the DT 880:

Here, the potential problem is the loudness spike right in the heart of the sibilance range, which again may or may not affect you negatively. From all I can tell the DT 880s (250 Ohm version) don’t have quite the detail clarity of the DT 1990, nor the superb the all-metal build quality.

Another consideration that’s important to a lot of people is stereo sound stage. Most people find that the Sennheisers have a small, in-your-head soundstage, the Focals not a lot bigger, but more precise, while the beyers are bigger yet and quite good in precision.

Yet another consideration is dynamics. All these headphones are good at this, with the Focals be outstanding at it.

Then there’s power requirements. Both the manufacturers’ specifications and my own experience say the HD 600 and DT1990 can be pushed to rock concert loudness (+100 dB) straight from the iPhone. What an external amp does is tame the impedance spike dynamic driver headphones such as these have in the bass region. As an example, here’s the HD 600’s impedance curve (magenta line):

IF HD 600 impedance

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Thanks a lot, that was very informative. I will definitely look into the DT 880. When it comes to an external amp then would you recommend getting one regardless of if an iPhone can power them and would something like the Fiio Q1 MKii work well with the headphones being considered or is there something else you’d recommend?

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Sorry, I don’t have any experience with external amps and dacs. Plenty of knowledgeable guys on the forum who can help you there. You might want to change the title of this thread to “Help choosing first audiophile headphone and amp” so they know that kind of help is needed. But there were unusually few people on the forum yesterday and looks today as well, so it still may take a while.

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I’ve been thinking about this, and you may well have moved on to other possibilities. But assuming the 880 is still under consideration, here are some more considerations. First off, there are several DT 880 models. I’m pretty sure the graph I posted is for the 250 Ohm Pro version. (BTW: all 880 versions have the un-detachable ten foot cable. A hangover from a bygone era of headphone design.) But to my surprise the 880 Pro on Amazon seems to be nearly $500 CAD (including tax), not closer to half that as I had assumed. Then I discovered this by chance:

Which is going for $185US or $240CAD + what could be up to a $100 in shipping, customs & taxes, but still under $500. Catch is shipping date is Jan 22. Have to admit I like the all-black thing better than the normal colour scheme.

$350 makes more sense, while $500 is about the same as the used DT 1990, which someone is selling for $520 used on Canuck Audio Mart. Your heart seemed to be set on the DT 1990, which I can well understand. It’s the headphone I use every day, myself. But I use it with EQ, primarily to reduce the bass elevation. Others use EQ to reduce the treble spike. And it’s always possible you may find you’re actually good with the stock tuning when using the less bass heavy of the two sets of ear pads. Many people are.

If not, you might well be able to get away with the Piano or Treble Booster EQ presets on your iPhone. Or if not, then download an EQ app that allows customization. The downside of EQ is that it ties you to using the headphone with a device that has a usable EQ program. That shouldn’t be a problem with an iPhone or even an Android phone, but there are dedicated audio players that don’t have any EQ, although I believe that’s becoming fairly rare.

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Thanks for that info on the 880. The permanently attached cable isn’t quite ideal especially at that length for me, nor is the ship date with drop so that kind of deters me from them to be honest. I am actually in contact with that seller on Canuck Audio Mart about the DT 1990 Pro, but someone else is already ahead of me so it depends if they fall through or not.

Amen on the cable. I have a battered old Audio-Technica M50S with the same type cable that I used to use taped into a bundle. The DT 1990 comes up on CAM fairly often. At a guess maybe once every two or three months.

If you do snag one, again you’ll get a loud enough and good sound straight out of the iPhone. So you might want to hold off buying an amp to make sure it’s a keeper for you.

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Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll definitely try them out straight out of the iPhone first before pulling the trigger on any amps for them. Thanks again for the help and all the info!

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Heyo, I just went through a similar question of my own since an easy 95% of my listening (outside of a car at least) is done while walking around the house doing chores.

My advice (especially with you being in Canada) is to not buy any of this shit new. Your money will go 2x+ as far buying used in almost all cases (the elegia being a fantastic example since they can regularly be had for $350 USD used, and the elex $550 USD)

Now onto talking about specific recommendations. I want to start here:

I have been struggling to get a system wide EQ over all audio outputs on android. The problem is, most system wide EQs are either very technically limited (5 slider max), require rooting (something I’m not comfortable with personally), or have a hit and miss implementation (for example I cant get wavelet to work with YouTube or tidal). Hell, I had to make a thread specifically about how to EQ on android because its working so poorly for me.

Now, one option is, to go with a player/DACAMP that has an EQ function built in (BTR5 jumps to mind, but I’m sure others have it as well) and just not even have to worry about it. If you are going with headphones that you expect to have to EQ, this is probably the way I would go. IMO, the for-runners in the space for portable players to look into are the BTR5, XD-05+, micro iDSD, Q5S, and HipDac. Some of these will only fit your budget if you buy used but plenty are fairly cheap as well.

As for the headphones, I think the reqs you are getting are fair. You will likely be better served buying a few lower tier headphoes to find what you like before buying a bigger one. A piece of advice I got is to find a budget where you can buy 2-4 different style of headphones. Figure out what you like from there, sell off what you dont, and reorganize with a better idea of what you want and a better use of your total budget. The money you will loose doing this is also far less if you buy used (basically if you buy well just expect to loose shipping and paypal fees).

I woul also not write off IEMs personally (unless you have comfort issues with them). I haven’t broken into that world myself yet, but several reviews recently have stated they feel IEMs generally have better value offerings under $200 USD or so than headphones as a general rule. You also basicaly wont have to worry about power requirements with them either


Thanks for the advice! I actually may be getting a pair of the DT 1990 Pro used after all. I won’t know if I will want to EQ things until I have them and such, but knowing Apple my guess is a system wide EQ in iOS is either impossible or built into iOS and very limited anyway so my guess would be the only way I’d be able to do that is with a portable dac/amp combo that can do that.

Now, I fully understand the thinking and logic behind the getting 2-4 different headphones to compare and everything but for right now I’m a bit too busy to go through all of that, so I really just want to deal with one set at a time for now regardless of price and figure things out from there.

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Unless I’m missing something, you shouldn’t need to guess re EQ working with Tidal. The new headphones won’t change that. You can do this right now. Listen to a track that’s locally stored on your iPhone, then enable a really obvious preset, perhaps RnB from your Settings/Music/EQ options. Hopefully, the difference is immediately obvious when you switch it on and off. Now do the same thing, but with Tidal playing a track. Hopefully, the diff is again obvious.

Wasn’t aware of this problem. Thanks for pointing it out. I don’t have any streaming on my iPhone. Hopefully, jfoxdigital will report back whether at least the built-in EQ on the iPhone is system-wide.


So as far as I can tell there is no system wide EQ in iOS, even the EQ presets under Music in the Settings app seems to be only for the Apple Music app as far as I can tell. In fact I had to reinstall Apple Music to even get them to show up in Settings.

Tidal also has no EQ as far as I can tell, Joshua Valour also mentioned this in his review of Tidal. It’s a weird omission considering how they market themselves.

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Bummer. You might want to search the app store to see if any of the dozens of EQ apps for iOS work at least with Tidal if not with everything. Again, you may not even need EQ with the analytical ear pads.

But if you do need EQ, I was amazed as EskimoBob said, that the Fiio portable BTR5 amp/dac has a 10-band EQ as part of the app that comes with it. However, that’s a $300 price hit on top of the 1990s.


Yeah I’m not really worried about the EQ stuff for now, I’ll figure that out later if I need to. I could always switch away from Tidal if absolutely necessary. I believe the Fiio Btr3k uses the same app and I believe there are a couple others, but again that’s a problem to be tackled later if necessary.