Alternative to Focal Stellia’s

I’ve recently been trying a couple of headphone amps for my NDX2, 282/250.
I have on loan at the moment a Benchmark HPA4 which on first impressions sounded very open and neutral. However on playing Norah Jones ‘Come away with me’ (one of my favourite tracks to show off my hi fi setup), the vocals were so harsh and nasal and even the piano was jarring.
I assumed that it was the amp but on further listening to the Stellia’s on my ifi Gryphon portable DAC/Amp the Stellia’s exhibited the same harshness but to a lesser degree, I just hadn’t noticed it before. I then tried my custom FIR Audio M5 IEM’s on the Gryphon and they are just perfect, no harshness at all.
It appears that the Benchmark has revealed starkly the shortcomings of the Stellia’s at least to my ears. The Stellia’s always have rave reviews with no mention of harshness so maybe I have a duff pair.
Anyway due to changes in the household I no longer have to have closed back headphones, so which open back headphones do you recommend primarily low volume easy listening female vocals, ambient, violin.

I’d take time. You’ve been changing a lot, it may well be something not run in yet.

I’ve never heared the Stellias sound harsh.


It may not be your ears, I didn’t gel with the Stellia.

I auditioned Stellia’s when looking for a high-end closed headphone and found them a tad ‘technical’, although I wouldn’t say harsh. Lots of detail but a bit too much for my ears. I found Sennheiser 800s to be similar ie very impressive (the sound stage is amazing) but a bit cold and once I got over the wow factor I didn’t enjoy the music so much. I ended up with ZMF Verite closed back, a much lusher and appealing sound to my ears. Not better, just a different style I would say. They do an open back version which I believe has a similar signature. Amongst others I have also had Grado GS3000, a model just improved with the GS3000x. Not heard that version but Grado are great at those mid ranges, female vocals, strings acoustic guitar etc. Another I would try to audition.

Lots of choice out there and I found they really varied hugely brand to brand.

I’d also second that all my decent headphones have taken a good long time to burn in, and a bit of harshness may well go with time.


Same here, Stellia’s not harsh at all. Also agree in the run in comment.

Utopia is an open alternative and I guess there’s a lot of other brands to pick from.


The Stellia’s are not new I’ve had them a year and they’ve had plenty of run in.
I’ll try to audition some of the recommendations

I find them still harsh with my ifi Gryphon which is not new. The Benchmark is also not new as it’s been a demo unit.

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But is your ndx2 new or used?

The NDX2 is new

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However the NDX2 through 282/250 Kudos Titan 505’s sound just perfect, no hint of harshness

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You probably use a din cable between the ndx2 and the preamp - which sorts out the earthing.

You may want to buy another pair of headphones - which the greedy me understands, I do think though that there is a different issue. I’ve no experience with the ndx2, but I would shut the whole setup down and only connect the ndx to the headphone amp and try it that way. I would also play with the ground switch on the ndx. A Naim setup has a single ground which is the source, but you have introduced a non Naim item which might mess up the earthing. In my experience harshness is a symptom of incorrect earthing.

Anyhow, just my 2p trying to help.

I connect the head amp directly to the NDX2 using the phono outputs when using the headphones.

I have the focal utopia and the ifi xdsd gryphon, the harshness could be a lot of things, for example the presence switch enabled with the 3D also enabled.’

In my case changing from a cinnamon cat7 to a vodka makes the sound on the utopia too much on the highs. Also changing the usb cable into the gryphon can give different results.

As there are a lot of variables in this, and also everyone listens differently is not easy to conclude anything. But taking the utopia as an example and the gryphon the sound could be a little too much analytical, I like the detail this combination extracts, but the experience is not the most musical one.

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I had been a longtime Focal headphone user most flavours up to the Stellias but now use Audeze LCD 2 Planer Mags (my first PMs) different sound of course i hear more from them instrument placement especially the best Focals i had were Clear MGs which to my ears gave the the Stellias a hard time

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