To boldly go... where? Would appreciate some help entering the high-end market

Hey folks. I’ve spent quite some time with my current gear and I’m looking for something new.
Basically, what I want is something that will make me question everything.
What is life? Did I really listen to music before this? That sort of thing.
Yeah, I realize I’m setting myself up for disappointment :stuck_out_tongue:

My current gear:

  • Sundara: my main headphones. I enjoy listening to most things w/ them. I also game with them.
  • DT770 PRO 250 (balanced XLR mod): my goto when I need isolation. They are a little too bright, but I’ve gotten used to them. When on the Loki I dial the highs down a bit.
  • 6XX: my first real headphones. I don’t use these much anymore, but they’re not bad. Just superseded.
  • Airpods Pro & Sony XM3: on-the-go, convenience, noisy environments

Driven by:

  • Schiit Hel on the PC
  • Apple USB-C DAC / Loki / Magni 3+
  • Alex Cavalli CTH
  • BTR5

I want to invest in something that is 1-2 levels higher than what I have today. Ideally I’d like to buy something that will highlight why higher-end gear exists. Something that will make me go “wow”.

My current shortlist includes

  • Eikon
  • Atticus
  • Aeolus
  • LCD-2C
  • LCD-X
  • Ether CX

I realize that every one of these headphones has its own characteristics, but I can’t buy them all :joy: I also can’t try them out, although post-vaccines I might be able to.

Considering my existing gear, do you have any recommendations on what would be a good next step?


This is a pretty tough question. The “Wow Factor” vastly depends from person to person. For example, if you already listened to a vastly open headphone, HD800 or something alike won’t blow you away. I think that new and different characteristics are what cause the Wow Factor. If you are used to a certain sound and you get a headphone that has improvements in each field of your current headphone, I don’t think you will be blown away.

ZMF’s are usually the ones that are referred to as mind blowing. So I’d recommend them out of the bunch you mentioned, although I have absolutely no previous listening experience with any of the headphones you mentioned. I can imagine that Audeze headphones sound good, but there have been a lot of QC issues with them, so that’s kind of a “?”

You can also look into Kennerton headphones, they are also in the top league. From what I’ve read online, they have a similar reputation to ZMF.

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Honestly, and you’re probably going to think that this is counter to what you are asking, but before you go out and spend $900+ on a new pair of headphones to try hear that “wow” factor, I would move up to something like an Asgard 3/Modius stack. Because while you would be getting a better headphone from those listed, even if some of the LCD models to take some EQ-ing to sound their best, your current gear is going to limit you.

Also, it would help to know a bit more about what you like/what you do/listen to. You have said that the 770 is a bit bright for you, so we know that you aren’t completely fond of the Beyer sound, but some more info would give us a better idea of what direction to point you in.


Interesting points, thanks for the feedback!

I’ve only been wow’ed once by headphones and I don’t remember what they were (it was long before I got into the Audiophile hobby). I think they might have been LCD-2 CBs.

It actually took me months to appreciate the 6XX - my first audiophile-grade HP.
The DT770s broke my ears at first, but after getting used to them I do like them.

Other headphones that came close were the Meze 99 Noir. I still wouldn’t say I was wowed, but I really liked how they sounded. Sadly, they were too small for me and my head/ears hurt after a while.

The Sundara were a good match for me from the beginning. I enjoy how they sound, they are comfortable.

At this point I’m really curious to see what more budget can get me.

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I’m happy to pair the new HP with better gear, but I’m a little hesitant, because so far all my blind A/B tests have failed to showcase any difference -at the same power level- across the equipment I have. But I’m willing to blame my current HP and my inexperience as the limiting factors here.

I enjoy most types of music, but I probably spend more time listening to rock/metal, dnb and electronic.

Across all the headphones I’ve ever listened to (for more than 5 minutes), I think the Sundara are my current favorites. Perhaps what would be nice is this + more warmth? I currently use the Loki to… help them a bit :slight_smile:

I also really liked the Meze 99 Noir, but they were just too small for me, so I wasn’t able to put as much time into them as I’d have liked.

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It’s not your headphones. You are not crazy. In actual reality the difference between gear is very minor, and this difference will not be noticed by the listener most of the time. However, you will often see reviewers and some audiophiles make this difference seem much greater, they significantly blow it out of proportion (because that’s how they perceive it… but perception and psychology is a whole other topic).

I say that you stay with your current gear unless you need more power to drive the headphones themselves.

I recommend that before you get any further down this journey, read the articles I mentioned in this post.

I think it is most important to listen to any headphone before you buy it… especially when it’s a big purchase like the one you are looking to make.


So, what I can do is share my experience. Because I got that “wow” feeling the first time I put on the the Clear Mg and listened to my first song with them. They are my second “audiophile” headphone, with my first being the 6XX. I had had those for at least a couple of years, and had just been running them straight off of my computer. Most of that time, it was because I didn’t know any better, and the rest of it was me trying to decide what amp and DAC to get. Finally, in February, I made up my mind and got the Jotunheim 2 and a Modius. Could I tell a difference? Yeah, I could, but it wasn’t as much of a difference as I thought it would be.

Then the Clear Mg launched, and I bought a pair the day they came out. I’d seen people gush about the OG Clear, and had seen a couple of reviews of the Mg Pro, and I decided I wanted the non-Pro. As I said, I had that “wow” moment the first time I heard them. I’m still having moments after more than two weeks with them where I sit here and think, “these things sound so good”. But despite having an impedance of 55 ohms, using them on my phone or straight from my PC? I don’t get that. They just don’t sound like I know they can after hearing them powered by the Jot2.


Hey dude. Firstly, I’d be wary about ZMF headphones without trying them first (which is going to be hard to do). I love ZMF, and have the Verite and the Pendant SE (and a t-shirt), but they’re a headphone enthusiast’s headphone, and I’d say that with the Aeolus you’re either going to love them or hate them. They’re a far cry from the Sundara. The Eikon and Atticus as well, while beloved by many, aren’t going to be the most versatile choices you could make, and would perhaps serve better as part of a collection further down the line. I just think they’re SO different to what you’re used to.

I think a lot of people are going to advise that you step your actual equipment up to the next level in order to accommodate a higher-end headphone, and while I’d agree with that to an extent, I think it’s worth remembering that the biggest difference you’re going to hear is going to come from the headphones first, then the amp, then the DAC. I’m sure you know that already, but it’s so easy to get lost in the reeds with this stuff and forget where your money is really going to make the biggest difference. I think, for example, you could step up to some of the lower-end Schiit stuff like the Modius/Magnius stack and you’d pretty much be there. There are plenty of people who simply don’t hear a difference between lower-end DACs and the premium mega DACs, and while I massively respect the more experience audiophiles who find significant differences between high-end DACs and amps vs the more budget-friendly stuff, I do feel that things get overstated sometimes. Whether or not the often subtle and nuanced differences that higher-end gear has to offer over the more attainable options are worth it to you (and whether you can even perceive them in a way that you prefer) is impossible to know without trying said high-end gear, and it’s an expensive dice to roll.

Would you consider adding some of the higher-end Hifiman headphones to your list? The Arya, for instance, while not the most practical choice with you’ve got, is going to be a familiar sounding headphone that will also represent a big step up in terms of technical proficiency and staging. It seems to me like if you enjoy the Sundara, something else from Hifiman is going to be a good bet for you.

A note on the LCD-X - they’ve very recently made some changes to them, notable by the affected models having new pads that aren’t quite as thick and deep as they used to be (not in a bad way). The LCD-X gets very varied reviews, where some people love it outright, and others think it sounds downright broken without EQ. This new revision changes things a lot, and it’s now a very versatile and neutral-sounding headphone that I’d consider to be a fantastic step up for you. The only thing it really lacks for me is in the staging, but that’s a matter of taste. So is everything I suppose. The LCD-XC is also very highly regarded. Either the X or XC would also be pretty easy to drive.


Nothing you mentioned will “WOW” you on your current source chain, the only “WOW” factor you would get would be from the personal joy of buying a new toy worth more than you have spent before.
There is nothing wrong w/ what you are using or doing but nothing on your list will “wow” you on that source chain.

On your current source chain a Kennerton Magni would offer as much “bang for your buck” as possible. My reasons are that it doesn’t need the best source chain to sound good, it is sensitive enough to play well with what you have and will offer you a damn good looking piece of wood too. Add a really nice HP stand to display and enjoy it and at least for a while you will have scratched that “WOW” itch you have. You will have upgraded to something very nice, it a a great all around closed back, will offer you a very versatile sound signature, they are damned comfortable and at least to my eye look premium.

I understand wanting to get the “wow” feeling, I could elaborate further but others ahead of me have helped make my point.

There are other nice HP’s in this price range, get something that looks good to you, accessorize it, and you will satisfy your cravings for a good while. Enjoy yourself and most important HAPPY LISTENING! :muscle:

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Great suggestion actually, they’re really great headphones. You can get a really good price on the original Clear now, too.

They are, and I love them, but like you suggested I think he might be better suited looking to the Arya. @fxxr Another pair you might want to take a look at is the Aeon Noire and follow either DMS’s or Resolve’s advice in their respective videos.

From what I’ve read, people consider Arya to lean to the brighter side. Besides bright, I also read that people think it sounds shouty or piercing at times. I don’t think the OP would really like these sound qualities.

I also think he is much better off with anything he mentioned instead of the Aeon Noires.

Just my two cents :grimacing:

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Makes sense. That is my plan for now :slight_smile:

Thanks for the link!

Makes sense, that would be ideal. It might be worth waiting until I get vaccinated, then I’ll feel a lot more comfortable doing that. I can probably find many of the headphones in my list, I’m just hesitant right now.

Thanks for sharing! Glad you found that wow feeling.

That’s quite the risk for something that costs over 1k :sweat_smile:

Hm, it’s an interesting option. I do like the Sundara. And I am actually interested in finding out what 4-5x the money will bring to the table. But at the same time do you think it’ll be enough to be satisfying? I worry a little bit about “more of the same, just better”. Again, I need to make clear here that I do not have any reasonable expectations around what 1.5k should sound like, which is both good and bad at the same time :stuck_out_tongue:

Thank you for the insights here, very useful!

I’ve never heard of this brand before. I’ll have to read some reviews. Thanks for the pointer!

Most people suggest you buy headphones, then amp, then DAC, but… Given your hardware, I honestly think the safest purchase might be a Bifrost 2, followed by an Asgard 3. Your music is going to sound much more immersive, 3D, impactful, refined, engaging, detailed…

My order of audiophilia was HD 598 (enjoyed) → Tin T4 (disliked) → Ikko OH10 (really liked) → Magni 3+/Modi 3 (honestly… it made the music have a bit more impact but the difference was extremely subtle - sometimes I feel like it was just “louder”) → DT 1990 Pro (very impressed initially but also annoyed sometimes - kind of sibilant and peaky, but… more on this later) → Blessing 2 (loved) → Thieaudio Monarch (really, really loved, and love - my main device) → 6xx (wanted to see what it was all about - I love it for vocals and it’s super comfy; I enjoy working with it and listening to like Neil Young and Beach House, but while I have big affection for it, it’s not my top choice for really listening to music).

At this point I’m like… where to next. I’ve spent a bunch of money, the Thieaudio Monarch feels sort of like my IEM endgame until I’m making enough $ that I’m actively looking to spend more of it. But I kind of feel like I’m missing something.

On a stupid whim, I decide to buy the Bifrost 2 and Asgard 3. 700 and 200 respectively, I believe. The Bifrost 2 came first. I am not kidding when I say, along with the Monarch, the Bifrost probably made the most impact on me out of anything I’ve gotten yet. Like I said above, the music just sounded so much realer, all around me - the stage was no longer just left to right but front and back, up and down. I was in love. That was… around like October or November. It was until just this past week that I’ve begun thinking about a headphone acquisition again. That’s what, half a year? More? That’s the Bifrost. And the Asgard.

Not only did it make headphones I loved, like the Monarch, much better (okay IEMs in that case), but it also made the 1990 Pros so much smoother and more enjoyable, and it also made unlocked the 6xx and made it far more of a serious contender in my lineup.

Just FYI, my ears are sensitive - some report not noticing much of a difference in terms of what amps and DACs bring to the table. I didn’t totally notice what the Magni/Modi stack brought. The Asgard is great, but I’m actually currently looking at the Lake People G111 right now - apparently it’s a solid upgrade, improves staging and definition in a noticeable way.

Short version: consider upgrading your sources, particularly if you’re struck by such indecision when it comes to headphones.


I definitely see where you’re coming from - the Bifrost 2 is great - I have one, and I love it, but if you blindfolded me and asked me if I was listening to a Bifrost 2 or a Modius, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you. Give me a few days with each and sure, I could tell you the differences, but a regular person who isn’t into this stuff would not see the point or the value in spending the extra $500, and even as a person in the audio arena who’s looking to step up a level or two, I don’t think that’s where @fxxr 's “Wow” moment is going to come from (not accusing @fxxr of normality - I’m sure he’s extraordinary). I’m sure there are people with better ears who can hear very significant differences between DACs, but I’m not one of them and I’m jealous of those who can.

I think there’s a big premium placed on products aimed at audiophiles that are a step up from more basic equipment by virtue of very subtle aspects that won’t mean much without the benefit of experience. I think I’ve said on here elsewhere that it reminds me of wine. If you’re someone who’s not much of a wine drinker, you’re not going to be able to explain why a $100 bottle is worth it over a $10 bottle - it’ll just taste different. On the other hand, if you’re someone who loves wine, and spends time trying progressively more complex and nuanced vintages, climbing the ladder and developing an understanding of why $100 buys you a totally different experience, all of a sudden that extra $90 is worth it to you in a way that it wasn’t before.

I’m a 35-year-old who gets a lot out of this hobby and has good hearing, and I’ve just traded my Spring 2 KTE for the HE1000SE, because I finally caved in and had to admit to myself that while I could hear a TINY difference between the Spring 2 and the Bifrost 2 (more low-end and warmth to the Bifrost 2, more clarity and width to the Spring 2), I finally had to admit to myself that the difference was so small, and so close to being imperceptible to me, that the idea of trying some high-end headphones that would sound significantly different by comparison just made far more sense. Considering the premium placed on high-end DACs is the same step up in price compared to premium headphones or premium amplifiers even though DACs make significantly less of a difference to the end result, it just doesn’t seem like it should be a priority if you’re looking to upgrade your experience.

All just my opinion of course. This also all just pertains to headphone use - I don’t use speakers. I know some people find the differences between DACs with speakers to be more significant.


Speaking of wine, in the second article I mentioned, the so-called wine tasting experts were setup in a fake restaurant with cheap wines but with expensive prices & fancy names. The experts rated them extremely positively and even gave them awards. Now, there is certain controversy to this, but I think it clearly shows how easy it is to fool ourselves. Some people will use this to their advantage, the audiophile industry definitely has a lot of this… charging thousands of dollars for nonsense products, aka snake oil.

I say: Don’t focus on what others say, don’t fall under pressure. Close your eyes, listen, and if you do not hear a difference, there is no difference to you. If you cannot hear the difference when you are concentrated to find it and you have your eyes closed, you simply will not hear the difference under normal listening conditions where you are relaxed and not concentrated to hear the difference in the gear itself. Hope this helps.

This is present in many industries and just shows you the present bias.


Couldn’t agree more.

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Wow this is fantastic. Thanks for the link!
I’ve noticed many of the things mentioned there, but people rarely talk about them.

Nothing changed with the sound, but their brains deceived them into hearing the expected changes. And in blind listening tests, just like everyone else, they hear differences that don’t exist if they’re expecting differences.

This has happened to me so many times.
If I think there’s a difference, I can hear it, but if I blind A/B test, it’s not there.

It ruins everything though, because it makes it hard to evaluate other people’s experiences.

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Do not recommend the Audeze LCD-X without EQ. They might be fine for certain genres of music without EQ, but their true potential is with EQ applied either digital or analog. Another alternative to your list would be the Aeon 2 Noire or the Aeon 2 Closed instead of the Ether CX .

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To me the Bifrost 2 is just a Modius with a little more sound stage and better instrument separation. Bifrost 2 also have usb type b instead of garbage micro usb connectors.

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