Headphone upgrade questions

So now that the Atom HE is sitting on the desk, the upgrade bug has been stirring again. This time the curiosity of whether I should upgrade headphones to more fully show the performance of the Atom.

Currently I have a Mezze 99 Classics and a Sessheiser HD660s.

Whereas I would obviously want the Focal Utopia, that is not going to happen.

So in my investigation I seem to think that the Sennheiser HD800s or the Focal Clear MG would be the sweet spot.

So, what do you think? Would either of these offer a significant upgrade over what I have? And which one of the two?

I am definitely going to demo before buying but waiting for the second vaccine shot first so doing some homework now and your opinions would help a lot.

Having spent a lovely couple of pre-launch months with Atom HE and Clear Mg, I can attest to them being a fabulous combination - unsurprising as they were designed in parallel!


Thanks for the info!

I was reading quite a few reviews yesterday and the only thing that made me doubt that a little was one reviewer that stated that the Clear MG sounded not quite as transparent as the original Clear.

However I do prefer slightly warmer sound and a nice balance between treble and bass. Is that what you found with the Clear MG on the HE?

Yes - between the voicing and the comfort, it’s so enjoyable to listen at length.


That sounds great. Definitely going to demo them in the not too distant future. Thx again for your input :smiley:

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Depending on how and when you’ll be using them, the comfort is very important.

In this new world of home working I use my headphones all the time during the day since my better half now works from home as well now… loud music over speakers during the day came to an end! I often have mine on for 5-6 hours a day… sometimes more. They need to be comfortable and certainly not too bright so as to become fatiguing during long listening sessions.

If you think they will get a lot of use… also think about costs of replacing parts such pads and bands etc.


I so agree with comfort and natural frequency response that matches your hearing and physical shaping of ears and even auditory system… as you get better and better headphone systems all this starts to become quite noticeable … of all hifi components - I would say headphones are probably the most critical item to audition over an extended period if you can.
It was that for example that resulted for me on being initially impressed with a pair of Focal Utopias - which after a while (several hours and days) moved to tiring and irritating on certain familiar masters. (I felt they were too hot in the upper mids/low treble around 8k - and for me resulted in an artificial response)


You are most certainly not wrong here! Spot on.

Have had the same, thankfully on much much less expensive headphones.

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I guess we are all different in what we want. I have the Atom HE using it with my Focal Utopias and i’ve had it on my head now for more than 4 hours now and i crave for that nice sweet ‘top end’. Some days it sounds really nice in those top frequencies and other days it does not, but that’s me, because that’s how my hearing is, which is quite annoying.

I think it is also more about how we are built and what limitations that causes.

For example quite a while ago in my life I got some on ear headphones. The reviews were lyrical about it and the comfort. Meanwhile I could only put them on for an hour at a time or suffer excruciating ear pain.

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So you can tell today, because it’s been on my head for so long it sounds excellent.

My experience is not just that headphones differ hugely in character and performance (at similar prices) but comfort is a big factor that just has to be tested. As Simon says.

As a bit of a Grado fan I’ll offer the GS1000e and 3000e at about £1k and £1.6k respectively. The 3000e is well worth the extra, but they both sound very different to the (more technical sounding to my ears) Sennheiser HD800s. I’d be surprised if you liked both brand ‘styles’ equally but well worth auditioning the Grado’s you want something different. I have not heard any of the the Focal range.

Good to see Clare staying on brand message with her Focal recommendation!


Hmmm will throw them into the “demo mix” if I can find them. Thanks for the tips!

So time for this to progress a bit.

Went to demo some headphones this morning.

On the list was:

  1. Focal Celestee
  2. Grado GS2000e
  3. Hifiman Ananda

Reason for these? What my dealer suggested and had as demo stock. And I may be looking to replace my closed back headphones as well. I have an idea if I get something along the lines of the Clear MG that I would never want to sit downstairs anymore if I don’t get my closed back listening to the same level.

My findings are:

  1. The Focals sound incredible on the Atom HE. I find them well rounded in the low and hi ranges bringing out detail in both I have never heard before without hurting my ears. I have read many comments about the Focals here on the forum and, perhaps it is the pairing with the Atom HE, but I do not experience any harshness or unbalance. Definitely the winner of the day.
  2. I could not listen to the Grado for more than a minute. On the Atom HE and with some of my music it was so bright that it hurt my ears to listen to. I am quite sensitive to treble in this way. So definitely not the thing for me.
  3. The Hifiman headphones is the a beautiful set. When listening to anything vocal and instrumental it really shined. I mean really. But when turned it to my other tastes, such as electronic or metal it started heading into the direction of what I experienced with the Grado.

So I took home the demo set of the Celestee for an extended listen so see how it feels on my head after a few hours. They are heavier and press harder than I am used to so the jury is still out on that one.

But on all genres of music I enjoy it is just an incredible experience and a huge upgrade over what I already own in the headphone department.

Way forward is to see what my head says over a few hours. If it is fine the sealer will get me a set of Clear MG to try out. Depending on the results of that in terms of difference in sounds between the two, sound bleed into the room etc there is a good chance my hifi collection will be extended with one or even two Focal sets.


So today I ordered a set of the Celestee for myself. Tested them with the better half in the room and the sound bleed is minimal. Also sounds really good on my Star. So that is half of the challenge sorted.

Also coming is a set of the Clear MG I can demo with my Atom HE in my office. This I am really looking forward to.

I have an HE and I’m currently using Utopias. The Utopias replaced HD800 S and Audeze LCD-4’s.
I loved the Sennheiser’s but the cans for you should be Focal Clear’s.
They won’t have the wide soundstage of the Sennheiser’s (what does?) but it does everything else better. My Utopias are as comfortable as my 800 S were.

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Thought I would report back here on what happened.

TLDR - I ended up buying both the Celestee and the Clear MG.

So why both? Well I really do need a closed back set of headphones when not listening on my Atom HE in my office. Due to the layout of the house and where my Star sits, an open headphone is just not a good idea.

And honestly, as good as my Mezze Classics 99 is, they just don’t measure up to the upgrade I was planning. So I did not want to end up in a situation where I avoided listening on my Star as well.

And as it turned out, the different sound profiles of the Celestee the Clear MG may make me actually prefer the Celestee for my electronic music.

The Celestee is so detailed and what I really like is how the bassey-ness of the closed back design in no way swallows up the voices or the detail.

As for the Clear MG, they are just magnificent. For my ears they seem to perfectly bring out what I like about the Naim sound. I find them extremely well balanced between low and hi frequencies and after many hours on the head I do not suffer any discomfort.

As I type this both have been played in for about 20 - 25 hours or so. Handy that you can hang multiple headphones off the Atom HE as I am playing the set I am not listening to as well to run both in.

Apparently they will get even more pleasant by the time I reach the 100 hour mark or so :wink:


So happy to hear this. I had a early-run Atom HE on my desk for 3 months, along with early samples of Celestee and Clear Mg. It’s a mighty trio, each with its own strengths.

I’d run Celestee when I didn’t want to be disturbed/disturb others, and then let the Clear Mg rip when I was on my own.

100 hours is about right - i left them running overnight with the door shut, to hasten the process.

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That’s exactly my experience so far. Biggest joy of such an upgrade is going through the music catalogue again and rediscovering everything.

Due to the openness of our house I would rather not do this as we have cats. Last thing I want is while I am sleeping them getting too curious about where all that sound is coming from…

But it does not bother me. It’s such an upgrade over what I had that out the box it already sounds miles ahead so no complaints doing it the long way.

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Ah yes, curious cats + hi-fi = not a good result!

Going back to the performance: it’s a total cliche, but I really did hear things in some familiar tracks that i’d never heard before! Enjoy your journey of rediscovery :slight_smile:

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