Let’s assume we want a stereo setup. Let’s also assume you have found speakers you love, a pre-amp and a power amp. Let’s say we won’t use a CD player – so last century. Here is what you want (((I know I want it))):
Weiss DAC2 D/A Converter – made in Switzerland. Look at it, it recalls Helvetica, speaks of handmade precision… and looks expensive in that small edition audiophile way. Yes, but you won’t need a CD-player!! The Weiss DAC2 is a Digital-to-Analog converter that connects to your computer via FireWire and turns zeros-and-ones into delicious analog sound, parsing anything from 16/44.1 to 24/192. Your audiophile super system will only consist of a computer with FireWire output, the Weiss DAC2, and whatever amplification you choose, that is, a nice headphone amp and cans (((studio slang for headphones))) or pre-amp, power-amp (((or one that combines the two))) and a pair of loudspeakers.
What I find most attractive about this setup is that one can have a very high-end sound system using only three or four relatively portable components: a laptop, the Weiss DAC2 and a headphone amp + headphones. Nice!
There is the STAX SRS-4040II Signature System II for $1,775, which includes Ear-speakers and a wonderful vacuum-tube-low-noise-Class-A-DC-amplifier. I listened to STAX for the first time in Köln in the early Eighties, while visiting my parents. I bought my first STAX system around 1997, I think, and have used it on every mix since.
I must say I am really liking the Ultrasone PRO 900 I found on Amazon for $130 off – $469 is still a lot of money, but…
By the way I am going to modify my Pro 900s, because they come with two cables – both unfortunately with 1/4″ plugs – and a 1/4 to 3.5 mini plug converter that is HUGE. I am very careful about inserting the giant converter into my iPhone, but it seems like trouble waiting to happen. That’s why I ordered a gold-plated Neutrik NTP3RC-B Plug 3.5mm Right Angle for $6 and will soder it to one of the two cables that come with the headphones. Then I can use one cable for 1/4″ plugs and the other one for mini plugs, which are on all portable players and computers.
Then there are these Sony Headphones ($70), a true workhorse. And, for something more discreet, for walking around for example or or for the stage – this is what we wear during our concerts – there are the Shure SCL5CL earphones ($350).
What do you get from the Stax or Ultrasones that won’t get from the Sonys? Clarity, space, more definition, better imaging, maybe one could say it’s like watching HDTV instead of a VHS tape.
One last thing about headphones and loudspeakers. Our ears are all different and since the shape of the ears is so instrumental in creating what we hear, headphones are not for everyone, and not every set of headphones works with every set of ears. If you had, say, large ears that stand out quite a bit, you might find that some headphones force your ears back and that might not sound good to you or could be uncomfortable. Your ears are meant for loudspeakers, maybe, or a different headphone design.
I have always enjoyed headphones. Headphones are as introverted as a boombox on one’s shoulder in the Eighties was extroverted…
Thanks for the tip about the Ultrasone headphones, James!