Looking to step into "mid-fi" - recommendations?

Hi all, apologies for the wall of text!

TL;DR… I seem to enjoy clarity and imaging, I am sensitive to sibilance; I like controlled, defined bass. and I am looking to pick something up at the upper end of the sub-$500 price bracket.

I have spent the past few years buying budget headphones far too often. I now have SMSL SU-8, SP100, SP200, SuperLux HD668b, ATH-M40x, SHP9500, X2HR, MPOW H21, Marshall Major III, Takstar Pro-82, B & O H7, Tascam TH-02, Fostex T50RP Mk 3, Koss Porta Pros, Koss KPH30i, Koss KSC75, Tin T2, KZ ZS10 Pros, and most recently HarmonicDyne Helios. I also have some Audeze Mobius mainly cause I was interested in the gimmicks.

Now, I have been re-evaluating my spending the past couple months and it’s hit me that by now I could actually have some headphones that I would consider to be insanely expensive by now if I hadn’t bought so many cheap ones. Well, I would like to action that by picking up some headphones in the near future in the $3-500 category… and hopefully my preferences now will help me decide what would be the best choice. I’m not gonna go through my thoughts on every set, but feel free to ask… but I will mention a few that I really do or don’t like:

  • Koss KSC75. These are great, I have two sets… one of them I have done the “Kramer” mod, replaced the pads and put them on a headband. They really sound awesome, tight bass, great imaging, sparkling, dynamic. I went for a run in them yesterday and just had a great time.

  • Koss KPH30i. I have a lot of fun with these too, for similar reasons to above but I prefer the modded KSC75.

  • Koss Porta Pro. Don’t like these much at all. I think the bass is just a bit too loose compared to the other Koss I have.

  • Marshall Major III. Major disappointment. These are super uncomfortable first of all, but they also do not sound good to my ear. They are just like generic “fun sounding” headphones, all bass and no clarity.

  • T50RP. I’ve had these for ages, I love the way they sound after some tuning (with 1540 pads, various felt and foam mods to tame the treble) but they have a really annoying bass rattle which seems to be due to a warped diaphragm in the driver. I didn’t used to notice but now it’s pretty much all I can hear so I don’t use them at all. I picked up a set of Fostex T20RP and had the same problem (though not as bad) and immediately refunded them. I love their clarity, well-defined bass.

  • X2HR. These are okay for me. It’s nice to have some bass monsters on hand but I rarely find myself reaching for them.

Finally… I was curious about the “tube” sound so I picked up the SMSL SP100 hybrid. I tried a few headphones on it and wasn’t blown away, but then I dusted off my old pad-swapped SuperLux HD668b (the first headphones I bought on this journey) and was absolutely blown away by the sound. I feel like something must be wrong with me for me to enjoy these budget headphones so much but they are my current benchmark. They seem to have just a bit more bass than the other headphones I like without being overwhelming.

So yeah, that’s my life story. I have been wondering about getting something Sennheiser… maybe the HD600 or HD6xx, but I have also been eyeing up the HiFiMan Sundara and the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro. I would welcome input from anyone!

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well given your lean towards the ksc 75s I would think you would prefer somethjing neutral with a bit of brightness. I think a sundara may be a good fit for you. how much do you like soundstage?

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For what you have listened to and like and dislike, I do think the sundara sounds like a solid bet. A slightly neutral bright signature with detailed bass, even midrange, and great clarity in the treble, but enough smoothness to not be concerned about harshness. The 1990 would possibly be too forward and up there for treble, so I wouldn’t rec that in this case.

One thing I might suggest, is that perhaps trying out an amp like the asgard 3 over the sp200, you might find it would match better with the sundara and reduce the potential for unpleasantness further


Thanks for the responses! For soundstage… I tend to prefer stuff that feels like it is like just outside my head, so I don’t want to feel super enclosed but also not crazy wide. I do a lot of gaming as well, though, and a wide soundstage is really nice there.

I also have a strong suspicion that I would enjoy Sundaras the most… though I am slightly concerned about HiFiMan’s QC issues after being burned by the T50RPs.

With regards to the amp, I think that’s a good point. I kinda jumped on the SMSL as a cheaper alternative to the much-hyped Massdrop 789… but I have started to suspect it might not be a great fit for me. I was hoping for it to be kinda “endgame” but it wouldn’t be a huge loss to sell it and move over to the Schiit.

I am in the UK, so I normally try to avoid US stuff as there can be quite a markup on it. Luckily Schiit does have European distribution centres, but the Asgard 3 still runs about $300 here… you still think it would be a good fit or perhaps there are other options to consider in that higher price bracket?

Hmmmm. I still think that’s a fair price for the performance it offers, but perhaps that might be a bit steep in terms of bang for buck. Can you get a Lake People G111? Or an Arcam rHead?

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Both of those are available here… the Lake People is much more expensive, but the rHead is actually a fair bit cheaper than the SP200 and the Asgard 3. It seems as though it is now discontinued and what is currently on sale is clearance/end of line… Thanks for the tip, I have never heard of this before and it seems pretty promising! I’m gonna do some more research into the rHead for now but I may end up having it replace the SP200 in my setup as a matter of priority if it is gonna become scarce soon!

Lake People G103-S would be in the 300$ price range and still kill the Asgard in details.
I tried the 103 and G111 predecessor G109 with Sundars.
With the 103 you should choose low gain because the potentiometer is not great in the lower range.
The warmth of the 103 hides the slightly lower amount of details, but you need the RS 06 DAC to hear it.
The G111 is super neutral and the G103 slightly warmer.
Jazz was really great for this combination because the treble offers so much detail and energy without fatigue or distortion.


So I actually think they are similar in detail to the asgard 3 imo, the 103-s is just more forward in it’s detail. The asgard 3 has better timbre and more impact at higher power, but the 103-s is a bit more controlled sounding and neutral in comparison. The 103-S was something I was going to rec but I decided to rec a bit higher lol with the 111.


If you hadn’t done this you’d have no idea what your likes and dislikes were. It’s a price paid but what you learn from having made the purchases is why you’re able to articulate things now.


The honesty and control of the G103 probably fooled me into beliving in more details.
In my defense, I have only heard the asgard 3 with my HE560 and a much cheaper DAC.
A little less forwards might do the Sundaras good, if you don’t have the G111 clarity.


I mean both are real solid, so I don’t think you are making a poor choice by going with either lol


Okay so thanks for all the recommendations guys - I didn’t come into this thinking I’d be looking at amps again but I don’t think I have been 100% happy with the SP200 (came from a Magni 2 Uber). Looking at all the amps discussed in this thread, these are the prices (in British pound) that I am seeing:

Asgard 3: £250
Lake People G103-P: £275 (XLR preferred as my active monitors already use the DAC’s RCA)
Lake People G103-S: £235
Lake People G111: £423 (more than I’m willing to spend)
Arcam rHead: ~£195

I am pretty tempted by the rHead… I can see that it is generally well received, has XLR inputs, would fit nicely on my desk (and it is the cheapest - I can see that it used to be quite a bit more expensive also).

Do you guys think the rHead would be comparable to the G103?

@db_Cooper You are right, of course! Thanks :slight_smile:

So it’s a bit different in signature, but I think it is on a somewhat similar tier of performance imo, the rhead is pretty smooth and sweet for an amp, a tad laid back, pretty enjoyable with plenty of power imo. That is an attractive price for it


How important is detail to you Kez? The Helios you bought i think has similar detail to the Sundara. How did you like them? I feel like they are a good entry midfi headphone.

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Honestly I am struggling to enjoy the Helios at all. I never really understood what people meant by a “veil” until I heard these headphones. Sometimes on low volume and like an acoustic track with not much going on, I think I am starting to enjoy them… some single high notes really shine (e.g. Little Bit Of Rain by Natalia M. King) but it seems they are easily drowned out when there is a lot going on.

Often I find myself thinking I want to turn up the volume, but when I do it suddenly becomes muddy and the treble hurts. On the track Peg by Steely Dan (excellent track and really well mastered), it starts off great… the bass is nice, a little loose but pleasant, then the hi-hat comes in really crisp and sharp… but then the singing starts, and it’s like Donald Fagen is wearing a tea towel over his head. So I turn up the volume a bit and everything just kinda merges into a blurry mess.

I have seen how happy you and other people are with the headphones, I am definitely not ready to dismiss them yet. I am not thoroughly convinced on burn-in but it takes more than a day to have a final opinion on something like this anyway, so I will probably use them as my daily driver for the next couple weeks and re-evaluate.

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Sounds like the problem Kamigoroshi had here

So they may need some burn in. leave them running overnight for a few nights and see of that veil clears up. they do have a lot of treble so i recommend you use those velour pads with the thicker foam. the ones you labeled Pad #11

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Also the sp200 amp may not be the best amp for these. its gonna bring out more trebl. try your tube amp

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I hear ya. My initial feeling on using the hybrid with the Helios was that it emphasised its flaws, but I am gonna keep experimenting and listening. Actually today I have put some Shure 1540 pads on it, and it seems to align with my tastes a lot more! I will report back in the Helios thread in a week or two.

As an aside, can anyone recommend any Europe-based audio reviewers/pundits? A lot of my information comes from US sources and it can be really tough to find some of the stuff they recommend, so maybe I should start looking at more local reviewers!