End game headphone choice

Hi all, I’m after a few suggestions on headphones to shortlist. I’m after end game here as already am a bit spoilt with a full 500 series setup and Luxman 750 headphone amp. I have Audeze LCD-XC originally bought as i had to have closed back and they hit the budget at the time. They are good, but not awesome and can be a bit harsh in the mids or lack musicality at times. I’m still wondering about sound leakage from open backs but that’s not as big an issue as it was. I do also need to use a 4-5m headphone cable - eek!

LCD-4, Utopia, Stellia, 800’s - etc. Your thoughts and why would be greatly appreciated as i’ll never get then hear them all. Not too bothered on price, in for a penny…

Thanks! Phil

Sorry pipdan, can’t help with the Headphones but you seem to have gone crazy with the system in the past 30 days. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Yeah, was waiting on a new 272 - gave up waiting :slight_smile: :grinning:

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That is interesting, as reviews don’t suggest it. I listened to a pair recently and didn’t find that, but only fed from an iPad so not a proper evaluation (if I get a pair of headphones they’d have to be closed back, as the only reason would be to listen to music when someone else is watching TV etc, or when travelling, when leakage in or out would be inacceptable.

I’m on the HD800’s, and those are end game unless they ever need replacing, in which case it would be the 800s or 820’s. Why? Apart from the detail and musicality, the soundstage is immense - quite unreal for headphones.

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Utopia (with your Luxman) and Stax 009S with 3rd party Stax amplifier - Mjolnir solid state Carbon amplifier or BHSE tube.
Each end game in their respective genre’s

I own both so I speak from experience and not speculation

PS… and Sony Z1R for closed back headphone listening


I’m not much of a headphone guy, only use them when necessary. But I have been very disappointed with the Focal Utopia, despite the great reviews. My favorite headphones are Grado–bought the GS1000 many years ago and am now looking at the GS3000e. Grado does the PRAT thing, Focal does not, in my experience. Admittedly, I have not tried a broad range of headphone amps, but these results are consistent with the amps I have used.

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I find headphones to be like HiFi - source first. Unfortunately many on the HeadFi forum (where I sometimes hang) put together what is referred to on this forum as mullet systems. Speakers first (headphones) and sources last.

I find the Utopia’s to be like a pair of good speakers - easily able to show upgrades to the source.


Fair enough. Can you recommend a standalone headphone amp that works well with Utopia? I have a good source (CD transport + nDAC, also good phono setup), but maybe the amps (SN2 with HCDR, also Linear Tube Audio Micro ZOTL) are inadequate. They all work fine with high-end Grado.

There are quite a number which people are using ranging from Chord products (TT2, DAVE), Violectric, tube amps etc.

I personally use amps from Headamp - GSX Mini or GSX MK2. That’s just me - there are a number of different good ones out there. Others not so good.

You are already using a good source. The point I was trying to make is that the Utopias are good enough to show if one moved from a nDAC to a NDS or ND555 or a Linn KDS etc.

I am in the process of changing my digital source and am at a disadvantage as my 552/500 are away being recapped and dr’d. I am demoing using the Utopias and they are having no difficulty whatsoever allowing me to hear the difference between my Linn KDS and a dCS Bartok which is currently here.

My new Grado GS 3000e definitely do PRaT, and they are really magical with the top end source and amp (NDS/555PS/Trilogy 933) however they also sound pretty fine from just my A+K Kann portable DAP. I would not describe them as unforgiving, they retain their fundamental character with both.

I am not great at technical review language but after a listening session I think they are best described as being rather like my SBLs. Fast, fresh, musical. Clean and detailed bass but some might consider bass light? That is also changing a bit with burn-in too.

If you like the GS1000 (which I have also heard) I think you will love them. One thing they do much better is a very natural soundstage and an extremely integrated ‘picture’ with the music filling your head not coming from one or other side. Quite beguiling. When I emerged after an album yesterday I realise I had been totally absorbed and was a bit disorientated!

They will never displace my system for the majority of my listening but they definitely have a place in my music world.



Another choice to consider at that sort of price is the Meze Empyreans.

How do you find the Grado for comfort? I had some RS1’s a few years back, loved the sound but couldn’t bear to wear them for more than half an hour. Sound leakage was appalling too, might as well have used speakers.

Thanks, so maybe the Z1R is worth a listen but I must say visually they look like £200 cans, never found Sony to be good at the wow styling thing. Have you ever heard the Stellia? Now that’s a good looking set.

I find the LCD-XC more than adequate and very good at revealing detail I never knew existed, its just much of my music sounds similar with the LCD-XC and I don’t find myself just listening for long periods. I skip by some over bright tracks and usually flit around rather than just sitting back. For day to day listening they are great and sound isolation is very good too, for really enjoying they are less so.

Thanks, not one I’d considered but will keep it in mind

Very comfy. Looking at pictures the GS series pads are much larger and form a cup that surrounds the ear, rather than sitting on top of them like the RS range. I can also wear them comfortably when wearing glasses. They are light too for a higher end headphone although the cable is a bit thick and unyielding but they do supply a long extension so it can be laid without tension. As ever comfort is highly personal so you’d have to try them!

They leak sound a lot. I think they could be annoying in a room with somebody else who was watching TV or just reading.


Utopia + Stellia

Classic and open music in Utopia, dance electronica in Stellia

I had sampled when passing a shop in London about 3 months ago, when they were selling ex-demo at a very good price. I felt that given the cost I had to not give into temptation but wait till I could have a proper audition, there being no urgency to get. I’m glad I made that decision, lest that causes me to feel the same as you.

My GS1000 has the large foam cups that I find quite comfortable. The smaller cups on most models are probably more of a problem… Sound leakage with Grado is substantial, though, no doubt about that.