Atom HE headphone advice

I am very much enjoying the HE for late night listening after my wife has gone to bed. I am using a long owned pair of Sennheiser HD650s, but I suspect that upgrading might pay dividends.
Does anyone have an informed recommendation?
And what about the headphone cable? Does it make a difference?

Type in ‘HE and headphones advice’ in the search feature and 50+ threads are available for review. Lots of great knowledge available in the forum archives if you spend some time reading. I do not own a HE but lots of good discussion has taken place on the forum.

Thanks. I did try a search before posting, but came up with very little. I’ll try your specific search suggestion.

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I like the synergy of Focal headphones with the Atom HE very much. I use it myself with a Meze Classic and that’s for financial reasons. Once we’ve a bit money and the garden is finished, the Focals are on my list.

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I use Focal Clear MG with my HE, I use the supplied cable into the XLR at the rear… Good vfm match for the HE, sound great.

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Open or closed?
Sort of music you like?
What do you like/not like about the Sennheisers?

I have found headphone cables made a big difference to several headphones I have owned. They can not just be ‘better’ but alter characteristics and there is very much a ‘system synergy’ effect. I prefer one cable with my ZMF 'phones on the main system, and a different one with my DAP.

Definitely lots in the search by the way!


I used use the Sennheiser HD660s and Mezze Classics 99 for open and closed back listening on my HE. I then upgraded to the Focal Clear MG and Focal Celestee for the same jobs. The upgrade was massive.

But with headphones demoing is essential. Not only the sound but also personal comfort when wearing them. Best if if you can demo them for an extended period (my dealer let me try them at home for a few days so may yours will do the same) because only then you know if extended wear will remain comfortable in your head.


I’m on the opposite quest — looking to add Atom HE to my Focal Celestee headphones. My use case is the same, I listen with headphones after the missus has gone to bed and sometimes when working from home. Hence the closed back headphones. Currently I’ve been using Qobuz from iPhone via the Apple DAC / headphone dongle — which honestly is rather good sounding for what it is.

I fully expect good synergy with the HE and the Focals, but will test first and will report back.

Regarding the Focal Celestee. I like the sound, the comfort and they do look very nice. The cable supplied is very short, mostly intended for mobile devices like I use now. With a source like the HE, you’d have to sit right next to it. Otherwise the cable is good, it doesn’t snaggle and isn’t annoying touching your skin. Sound quality wise headphones cables don’t make a difference unless you go for really long runs or total garbage.

Absolutely not my experience.

Definitely agree re demoing for comfort. A must.



The HE will happily power a long headphone cable. I had a 3 meter Customcans cable made for my Celestee. My choice was for the XLR connector.

This way you are not limited in sitting right next to your HE.

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Budget relatively unlimited. Closed back I think. Music is everything from opera to rock.
The Sennheisers are my only reference, so it’s hard to say what I like or don’t like about them.
I’m ideally looking for advice from someone who has experience with Sennheiser 650s and has graduated to something clearly better.

I suggest ringing a dealer to try a bunch of alternatives as a demo or even a home loan. My experience of decent headphones is that ‘better’ is also often ‘different’. Brands definitely have a ‘house style’, for example I found the more expensive Sennheisers to be very distinctive-and just not for me. Others love them. Note their range are all open back at the high end, and that generally there is more choice of open back than closed if it is not crucial to your usage. Not all open-back designs leak sound as much as others.


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I agree different is more appropriate than better. I tried the Sennheiser, HD800’s, on the HE, lots of detail but a bit bass light. Also your last point on sound leakage is very true, I listen to the Focal Clear MG’s with other people in the room and no one is disturbed, the scenario of listening after someone goes to bed wouldn’t be an issue. I think if you were using them in close proximity, eg. public transport, may be an issue.

Strongly suggest you don’t audition Focal’s Utopia…… or if you do, leave all means of payment at home :smirk:.

Open back, but if that can be tolerated in your listening environment, you will not regret at least demoing a pair.

My wallet is still in intensive care :grinning:



Focal Utopia 2022 is the latest most expensive model, but this means that the previous Utopias are discounted in some dealers. (Unheard by me)

I have Focal Clear MG (open back) which I like.

For closed back I really like ZMF Verite. These are lightish, wooden and the ear pads can be repositioned and swopped. There is no sound leak.
I use the XLR connectors so I don’t need to sit next to the HE.

Comfort on the head and ears is important. I know that custom XLR cables can be made up, but I’ve not taken that step yet.

I have a pair of elegias which i love with my he, however, i think my Elex (massdrop) do 95% of the job. I particularly like them however through my sn3. I love my sn3.

@RipVanRadio I have today borrowed a couple of pairs of headphones (Breyer T1s and Quad ERA-1s) for a week on loan from my local AudioT dealer.

In my Naim system (based around a DAC-V1) I have had huge enjoyment from my ageing HD600s, and was curious to see whether these could be improved without spending mega bucks (Clear MGs or HD800s would be my limit atm).

Both demo pairs are better sounding to me (than the 600s) but after going from Senn, Beyer and then Quads, I know which ones I prefer after keeping them on now for about 4h!

I have yet to re-appraise the three, but in my system I sense the T1s are too rich and the bass is overblown albeit with a very good soundstage. I sense the Naim headphone amp is naturally strong in bass character and doesn’t need any accentuation.

The ERA-1s are an (almost) perfect blend of the other two, and I am mightily impressed with the deep yet taut bass, exceptional midrange and clearly segregated treble. Musicality in all three is good.

I am curious about the Clear MGs, but I am told by my dealer (active guitarist/musician) that the Quads are difficult to separate from the Focals.

If the Quads fit your head size then I would recommend you add these to your shortlist. I will be buying a pair of ERA1s to retire my Senns, if the Clear MGs don’t justify the 2x cost.

Keep us posted on your findings and decision, given you have a more recent dedicated headphone amplifier than my DAC-V1.

Without hijacking this thread, I too am interested in others’ real world experiences with the Quads, Focals and anything else worth auditioning up to £1.5k (in my case).

I sense the ERA-1s will be difficult to beat at up to £1k, and wonder if above that figure we are beginning to enter into rapidly decreasing marginal returns, aside from comfort/fit, aesthetics, materials, place of manufacture/handbuilt, which are a perhaps a more personal and subjective choice/decision.

Mightily impressed by these ERA-1s, esp. for the money.


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I bought a pair of ERA 1s when they first came out after a back to back demo against several other options which were actually all more expensive. Nicely balanced sound, engaging and I recall the treble being clear and clean without fatigue. Not ‘technically’ as good as the Senn 800 but I just liked the Quads more. I found the Audeze models I tried just too heavy to consider.

When I was looking to upgrade I ended up with a pair of Grado GS 3000e, and they were far more sophisticated, detailed and enjoyable but at over twice the price, and out of your budget I think.

I have ZMF Verite closed now and a pair of Grado RS1e. The new upgraded RS1/2x are worth a listen at the lower end of your price range, and for about £1200 there is the GS1000x. I love the Grado sound, but they are not for everyone, and the fit and design are distinctively different. Worth a try though.

Ultimately if you like the Quads buy them! There is quite a good s/h market for quality headphones if you decide to change


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I’m a little out of date with headphones but as much as I liked my old Grado’s they were mighty uncomfortable and would often have to stop listening after one album….

Demo is king.


They are still a bit odd, very much on-ear rather than around-ear, but the pad design seems to be softer now and I find you get used to them. Many don’t!