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SteveG

Lost old guy could do with some pointers.

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Hi All,

Firstly, the hard part............. My name's Steve, I'm 50, and I Know Nothing About HiFI.
There, I said it,  I admit it wasn't easy, but I feel better for getting it out in the open :P

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I've had a set of HD650's for over 15 years - which I really like, but I've recently started to think they're sounding a bit tired. They get used every day, and for long periods at weekends and holidays.
They are coupled to an original Schiit Asgard amp (serial number somewhere in the 700's), and a Bifrost DAC from the same period. They are connected via optical cable to my computer, and fed flacs.
I listen to all types of music - (both country and western - j/k) - except classical and rap. Everything from Alicia Keyes to Alice in Chains, Macy Grey to Motorhead and Pete Tong to The Platters.

About 10 years ago my Wife bought me a set of Grado 325i's - which I've hated from day one. I didn't get rid of them because neither of us has ever earned a great deal, and the cans were the first bit of expensive (to us) audio gear she bought me, so they have sentimental value.
Every 12 months or so she remarks that I don't listen to them much anymore - so I dig them out for a few weeks and I try really hard to like them. I fiddle with audio eq profiles, read about mods. sacrifice small animals to the audio gods....... but I still hate them, they make my ears hurt. They actually do have lovely bass and an airy sound, but its covered up by that horrible upfront midrange. EQ'ing the midrange back abit just means you lose the 'airyness', and they sound......dirty?

So, I've been quietly putting a few quid away here and there, and at the moment have around £1200 to upgrade my kit. I figure that my last upgrade was around 15 years ago, so if this upgrade lasts 20 years, at that point I'll be beyond caring about hifi (haha). With that in mind, it's likely to be my last upgrade, so I want it to be a good one.

I'm in no rush to buy, I can keep saving and its my big 5-0 in a few months, so the family will want to buy me something nice (I need time to drop them hints though :) )

I'm asking for advice because up until this point I was simply looking at the most expensive kit I could realistically afford - maybe Sen800's and something costly from Schiit or Lehmann - but after reading the thread on here about the build quility of the new Schiit units I realise whatever limited knowledge I had is massively out of date.

 

I'm toying with the idea of buying a better amp (would the bifrost still be ok as a dac?), that would hopefully make the Grado's sound better, and then upgrade the cans a few months down the line - is that sensible? Or am I flogging a dead Grado shaped horse and I should just get a new amp & phones in one go?

Any thoughts you might have would be really, really appreciated.

.

Thanks for taking the time to read this :)

Steve

 

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Sadly, no amp or DAC will make a John Grado sound good so the best course of action is to buy better headphones. I think an entry level Stax setup is about $700 USD on this side of the pond so that is well within your budget, but I'm not sure how much they cost in the UK. Replacing all the pads on your HD650 will spruce it back up, and replacements aren't prohibitively expensive. Hope you enjoy whatever you end up deciding on!

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It will also be helpful if you can share more about your preference of sound signatures and other characteristics (warmer or brighter sounding, is a wide sound stage important to you, etc.) which may help folks here to offer some recommendations. 

Also, is DIY an option to you? If you prefer to stay with dynamic headphone, there are a few very good headphone amps that can be built with parts cost only in the hundreds. The HD650 does scale well with better amps.

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12 minutes ago, mypasswordis said:

Sadly, no amp or DAC will make a John Grado sound good

I don't know whether to feel sad I'm stuck with a donkey, or relieved that its not just me that thinks that :)

STAX SR-007A MK2 are on Amazon for £695 ($937) - something along those lines?

@mwl168

I'm not even sure how I'd go about answering that question. I like the warmth and richness of the Senns, but sometimes I think the bass could be a little tighter, a bit more controlled - and the Grados do have some lovely highs, up around the 12k range. A wide soundstage isn't that important to me - with the equipment I'm used to I don't think I've ever experianced a truly accurate soundstage, so I'm not missing what I've not known. (Although I'm happy to be blown away if its affordable ! ).

I'd prefer to stear clear of DIY. I diy'd some speakers a few years ago, and even with the help of the guys at Wilmslow Audio I've never managed to shake the feeling that I didn't do things quite right and things arent as good as they could be !

 

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The SR-007A usually goes for double that amount, which makes me doubt the validity of the seller but if it seems trustworthy then you should pounce on that! Stax headphones are electrostatic, so they are like Quad ESLs in headphone form, but without the transformer so you have to use a dedicated electrostatic amp. The entry level system is called the SRS-3100, which consists of the SR-L300 headphones with the SRM-252S amp. However, if you can really get the SR-007A for £695 then that would be the way to go, then get the cheapest standalone Stax amp you can find (another couple hundred quid). 

Edited by mypasswordis

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Is going to a meet an option for you? Major cities often host a couple every year. Look around on Head-Fi for announcements. It'll give you the opportunity to try a whole lot of different things. Just remember that show conditions can be noisy and difficult. Also, keep your bullshit detector on. I've had people at meets try to convince me of some staggeringly dumb things.

Also, seconding the advice to refresh your HD650: replace the earpads and headband pad, and it'll look and feel good as new.

The SR-007A is my favorite headphone, but that price you're quoting sounds too good to be true. If it's a grey market import, keep in mind that you'll have warranty service problems (which, granted, are unlikely to be needed; also, Stax has stingy warranties; anyway, asking for help here on HC will be more effective for some problems). The 252S amp is pretty good, but you might find yourself looking to upgrade to a KG amp, which will never be cheap, since they're all DIY (though not difficult to find). It makes for a pretty expensive system, but it can definitely be that "setup for 20 years" that you're looking for.

As a really nice alternative which doesn't require exotic amplification, the HD800 can be found for $800 or less on the used market in excellent condition. I've even seen it for around $1000 new, depending on holiday deals at various retailers. Add the (easy to install) SDR mod for another $30 or so. It's an excellent headphone, with much, much less bass roll-off than the HD650. It takes well to equalization, so you can give it just a touch to make it sound even better to your ears.

Dynamic amps are tough to recommend. I've never been a fan of Schiit amps for numerous reasons, but I don't have great or inexpensive suggestions that don't involve DIY. There's a lot of popular garbage on the market.

As for DACs, ask yourself: can you hear a difference between your current DAC and the audio output of an iPhone or iPad (with volume turned to the max) plugged into your amplifier? The answer should be enlightening.

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@steveg - the sr-325(i) is the most aggressive sounding grado going around. you might have found the sr-225(e) which is cheaper or the ps-500(e) which is more expensive, more to your liking. going to a meet or to an audio store that carries a range of headphones for you to try is recommended.

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Thank you all for the help.

I've just revisited the Amazon page to grab the link for those Stax, and the price has jumped from £695 to £1447 - although they are still Japanese Imports. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/STAX-SR-007A-Electrostatic-Earspeakers-Japan/dp/B0013D3BPE

I live in a semi-rural area of the UK where PC World and Maplins are considered 'Hi End' - visiting a 'proper' hi-fi shop isn't out of the question, but it is a bit of a trek. I'd like to have a short list before I went as I'm too easily swayed by a convincing salesman with a good pitch ! ("These phones have nano-quantom technology and they're yellow - for gods sake man, yellow with 'sound better stripes')

At the moment I'm leaning towards the HD800 as I know I like the Sen sound, keeping the Bifrost and getting a new amp.

 

I do have a couple of very newbish questions that I hesitate to ask, but am going to anyway as you've been so helpful.

Firstly, I run an optical cable straight out of the motherboard (MSI z170 Gaming Titanium) into the DAC. Am I right in thinking that fitting a dedicated soundcard with optical out would have no beneficial impact on the sound quality?

Secondly - do the actual drivers in headphones 'wear out'? If it takes time for 'phones to burn in, that means the drivers output changes over time. If the phones are many years old, has the sound been subtlety changing for many years?

And finally - is the HD800s a big jump over the standard HD800 ?

 

Thank you again.

 

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the hd800 won't sound like your hd650. i preferred the hd800s to the hd800 because it wasn't as bright. sennheiser's taming of the notorious 6khz spike made the hd800s a less fatiguing listen for me. everything wears out eventually, including headphone drivers.

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The SDR mod for the HD800 brings it close to the 800S at a fraction of the price. I never compared the 800+SDR to the 800S directly, though, so don’t know for certain.

Re: optical out and connecting your DAC. That discussion is a can of worms. Supposedly a high-end interface card can make things better (e.g., a Lynx AES16e or whatever it’s called — you’ll need a breakout cable and connect your DAC through its SPDIF input, or AES if it has one). I don’t know, never heard one. Check the used market — people started dumping them since Schiit released the Eitr USB-to-SPDIF converter and gen5 USB.

You could also send your Bifrost to Schiit for a couple of upgrades: $250 for multibit, which most people seem to like, and $150 for gen5 USB, which will upgrade its USB interface to one with all kinds of fancy isolation electronics. FWIW, I upgraded my Gungnir Multibit to gen5 to keep up its resale value, but can’t say I hear much difference.

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I haven't heard the HD800S but the HD800 sounds totally different from the HD650, to the point that if you like one you probably won't like the other. That treble spike is killer. 

Sennheiser has subtly changed some of its parts over time, which they officially claim don't make a change in sound but really cause bigger changes than any aging. The pads flatten over time, which also changes the sound a lot, so they need to be replaced every 5 years or so (depending on usage). 

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I cant thank you all enough, lots of really helpful advice. My decisions aren't made, but I feel a bit more confident that I can at least concentrate on certain areas over others.

Next step is a sly visit to a decent dealer and do some auditioning - I just hope I can resist the yellow ones with the sound better stripes :P

Last question - whats a realistic asking price for a set of minimally used 325i's with new foam pads?

 

Thanks again folks,

Steve

 

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Don't know if the Focal price cut applies to your market but the Focal Elear may worth a try based on you budget and the sound signature you described.. It's only been out a couple of years but the build quality sure looks like it'll last a long time. It's also easy to drive.

 

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Thanks for the link gepardcv - very useful :)

 

I actually looked at the Elears already. Taking a deeper second look nearly every review (both professional and amatuer) I've found really raves about them - I think these will be at the top of my audition list.

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