Welcome to my first wall of text!
I am putting this here as it kind of covers more than just headphones or just equipment but feel free to move this to where it may be more appropriate.
After years of dabbling and keeping loose tabs on the audio world I want to plan an all around upgrade path to reach what would be my endgame. I don’t have much hands on experience with different equipment and headphones and with lockdown hitting v2.0 i don’t think ill be able to do any in person auditioning. Below im using an outline i saw another member use but looks to be organized well
Can you stretch your budget if significant quality/features improve at a slightly higher price point? Yes
What are you plugging the headphones into? this is part of figuring this all out, but looking for a balanced SS system to start
Do you need noise isolation? No
Will this be primarily for home listening? Yes
Do you do a lot of flying (on airplanes)? Already have travel covered
Are you hard on gear? No
Preferred music genre(s) -
Mostly 90s/00s Rock/Metal: A Perfect Circle, Tool, NIN, Unkle, The Bronx, The Hives, Smashing Pumpkins, Incubus
Hip Hop/Rap: Think old school East Coast: Gang Starr, Tribe, Mos Def, Atmosphere, Action Bronson, Common, Lupe Fiasco
Electronic: Daft Punk, Justice, Nero, Ratatat
Video games and video game music: anything from chiptunes to witcher 3 soundtrack.
What have you used in the past? Ultrasone Pro2500 (my first pair), Ultrasone HFi-780 (used for commutes and travel), Senn HD6xx, Cowon J3 Dap, ASUS Essence STU dac/amp
What do you like and not like about these?
Pro2500 & Hfi780: I bought these as a teen and it was my first real pair. Even through the PC back audio out it made me feel like things where there and around me. The first listening test I did with them i turned around because i thought the airplane fly over being sampled was behind me… in my basement. Detail and feel was there I used these for years and only shelved them for the HD6xx b/c omg legendary senns. I tried this again recently after they sat for a few years and they may need to be rebroken in. The highs are now piercing and everything is bad tight sounding and maybe slightly distorted. The pressure and feel of big explosions are still there.
The Hfi 780 were bought as a closed back for train and plane travel. They were build resilient enough that if i got stuck walking in a rain storm in the city i didnt have to worry about it. As will the Pros, the sound i like from these are able to convey details and make things feel real, (see Zs pro 900 review) the soundstage is like sitting 2 or 3 rows back at a jazz club and you can tell where everything is on that 10 x 15 ft stage. Bass was tight with a decent thump, highs had sparkle and sizzle (symbols and guitar string squeaks felt like you were there) mids were, midish. These are def colder and more precise than most. After 2-4 hours you need to take these off to let your ears breath and not fatigue.
HD6xx: A bargain for the $200 price tag but these dont do anything in particular insane, i would say everything about them is a solid 7-8 except a 10 in comfort. Sound warm and comfy, physical fit warm and comfy, extended use even with glasses is comfy.
Cowon J3: a good small cheap DAP i use for travel. The built in EQ and DSP are good and it has room for expanded storage. Battery lasts a long time to boot. Downside is this is old and it cannot be used as a source to anything else. This has a Wolfson dac chip.
Asus Essence STU: I bought this used and the owner even put Muse01 opamps in it. I only ever used this with the HD6xx and it may be the limiting factor of the senns. I have to put it on high gain and 3/4 up on the volume knob to get the volume right. Even the optical has a digital noise to it maybe from some grounding issues that you can hear all the time except when you put your hand on its foot. This will probably be moved to the bedroom. This has a Ti Dac chip
What aspect of your current listening experience would you like to improve? I want to combine that life likeness of the Ultrasones (i dont even know if thats timbre, detail, imaging or a combo of everything) with a more full, slightly forward and semi neutral sound i can listen to without ear fatigue. I want to do this by taking that next step up in gear and maybe once again catching that white rabbit i had when i first put on the pro2500 and thought i was on a bomber run. Maybe something with a slightly larger soundstage but im ok with that jazz club feel where it feels theyre putting on an intimate performance for you but violins and instruments are still crisp and soar. I use EQ right now and its a soft v, but if possible i would like to let the kits natural flavor come through but I’m never against EQ to reach personal tastes
A new DAC: $600-700: I was looking at the Topping DX7 Pro as it seems to be Dac first and the connectivity is top tier. I dont know if ill be able to ever use AEG or I2S but the bluetooth may be nice and it does balanced out. The ESS9038Pro chip makes it seem like it would cater to the more detail oriented side of me. Its not a dual chip but I dont know if that matters. I know topping is more lukewarm here than other places but it doesnt seem like a bad piece by any means at the $520 i can get it at currently. It also features SE and Balanced outputs.
Balanced Amp: I have the Geshelli Erish. I am going to use that and i would be surprised if it cant push the HD6xx or any other headphone. Once again pushing that clean SS chain
Headphones: Something ~$1000-1200 seems to be the sweet spot getting me into a higher end. I plan to match the HD6xx with a Crack with down the line and use that for warm fuzzy flannel sunday mornings. I was thinking the LCD-X for a slightly bright neutralish planar experience. Something that also is known to retrieve details but maybe not murder you with them.
Far Future: A Crack for my HD6xx. This would be fed by whatever dac i choose now
Maybe One Day: A Dap upgrade. Im thinking M11 because it just has soooo many features and i can use it as a source as well. Maybe a ZMF can, preferably a closed Padauk set but I’m not looking to headphone collect.
Suggestions? Thoughts? Notes?: I think I am decided on amps but am i looking past an obvious DAC choice? Should I drop a little more on an RME ADI-2? Should i look at different architecture like a bifrost 2? How about headphones? I am ok buying used for equipment but i rather not for headphones as i tend to get ear infections easy and I dont want to invite any more of that. I wont even IEM as they usually put odd pressure on my ears. Lastly ill need it do the equipment doesnt have any lag or delay since it will be used for gaming as well.
And Thank you all for the input and experience.