a short diary of some part of my life.


Like everything else, a journey may end at some point. I just didn’t expect this would end so soon. I was an advocate Head-Fi reader – not a frequent poster. I have gradually but surely, walking away from Head-Fi. It has become a place where I buy and sell my headphone gear. There are only very few respected Head-Fi members whose comments/replies are worth reading. To make it even worse, most if not all of them are Head-Case members (they provides better users’ impressions due to their vast knowledge about audio electronics in general and anti-hype approach). Head-Fi user interface has also become dreadful (did I mention that Head-Case interface is MUCH better than Head-Fi’s?). A prominent Head-Fi member have summed up the problems, he too decided to leave.

Head-Fi’s Major Issues

There are many other major (disturbing) issues that prompted me to say good-bye. Issues like their over-protective approach over their site sponsors, post deleted without any notice (I have seen this myself, several times. I refreshed the page after 5 minutes and some posts were gone), users’ idiocies (of defending their purchases, users’ incompetencies… make the forum very uninformative, unfriendly, and useless. There is another issue (another issue and another issue?) about sponsors trying to make easy money. Head-Fi is going to be a much worse place for those who cheer good sound if the admins decide not to do anything about those issues. Many have left, many have not posted useful posts for some time.

Head-Fi DGAF about Regular Folks

Even after issues after issues are exposed, Head-Fi still do not give a crap about us regular folks who spend countless hours on honest jobs. If I were to run a forum, read by millions of unique visitors per month like Head-Fi, I would make sure that the vendors are always kept in check, especially after vendors are caught lying or making very questionable products at extraorbitant price. They could have made the forum much safer for users with a bit more effort but they don’t.

It’s not fair to leave without saying anything, so here is a few bits of my story:
During my time searching for the right headphone, amps, and sources, I have learnt a lot. This headphone journey led me to speakers system which I think sounds superior to any headphone systems on the planet. I’m grateful for my experiences on Head-Fi. Without it, I would not know how to start looking for the right system. For those who have the funds, the space, and the time to set up a speaker system, but you are still using headphones, I urge you to try a good speaker system. It will blow you away!

I figured, it will be fair to list what headphones and amps that I have owned and tried. So, you’ll know how far I have gone. Here are the lists:


  • JH Audio JH16 Pro
  • Sennheiser HD650
  • Sennheiser HD800
  • Grado RS2i
  • Grado HF2
  • Audeze LCD-2 Rev.1
  • Beyerdynamic T1
  • HiFiMan HE-5
  • HiFiMan HE-6
  • Shure SE535
  • Grado HP2
  • Sennheiser HD600


I think I have had a few more amps but I can’t remember the names.

Which headphone and headphone amp are the best and the worst?

From the owned lists above, I consider Audeze’s LCD-2 and AMB B22 as the best headphone and the best amp. The worst are Sennheiser HD800 and Audio-gd Phoenix. Although I did not own them all at the same time, I can definately tell you that HD800 and Phoenix are my least favorite headphone and headphone amp.

I dislike HD800 due to its’ artificial-like sound signature. Anything that comes out from HD800 do not sound right to me. Audio-gd Phoenix sounds too smooth, is not as transparent as other top-tier amps, and has its’ own sound signature. My only requirement for a good amp is complete transparency. Its’ sound signature masks almost everything and changes my source’s sound signature. A reference amp must be transparent to the source, otherwise, you are better off settled with a tube amp like I once did with a Woo Audio 6 SE. AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X are much better amps than Audio-gd Phoenix, they are much more dynamic and transparent. I can easily do DBT on what source is used with AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X but with Audio-gd Phoenix, the differences between sources are very subtle. Even with ACSS, the Phoenix sounds soft and dull compared to AMB B22. I’m beginning to think, Audio-gd is not good at designing headphone amps. I have also briefly auditioned their Compass and C-2C and found them to be mediocre at best. A small headphone amp like AMB M^3 and HeadAmp Gilmore Lite are also much better alternatives than the big honking space heater Phoenix. Audez’e LCD-2 should pair well with any top tier amps like the GS-X. It is a very transparent headphone, I think it’s a better headphone than HiFiMan HE-6 which is quite piecing on the ears. I sold the LCD-2 because I simply wanted a retro headphone and I was also disappointed with LCD-2 build quality. It’s gone now and I don’t miss it at all.

Portable Amp (w/ DAC)

There are a few things that I want to talk about portable amps. If you really need portability and you are using a notebook computer, look no further, get a CEntrance DACport. It has a superb DAC and a superb Class A amp for its size. Don’t bother buying portable DAC/amp from various unproven manufacturers, they are all inferior. Most general DAC/amp combo use battery and they need to be recharged. This is not the case with DACport, DACport only needs a USB cable to connect it to your laptop or your iPad because it does not have a battery. It draws its power from your computer’s USB port. You don’t even need to install any driver. It’s that easy. Oh yes, you can use a DACport with an iPad. If you are using a portable music player, don’t bother buying a portable amp. It adds bulk and weight. You may also end up spending too much money on LODs, interconnects… Look at this set-up: Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo. Honestly, I think it looks rather stupid. If I have to use a portable music player like an iPod, I greatly prefer to use my old trusty iPod Mini (that’s right, iPod Mini) without an external amp or DAC. Sometimes, audiophiles may turn into audiphools. They are willing to sacrifice everything for one thing called sound quality. I bet CEntrance DACport offers much better SQ than that bulky set. That bulky set is NOT a portable setup. Instead of wasting your hard-earned money for silly things like LODs for an external amp or DAC, get yourself a nice pair of headphone. You will be much more satisfied in the long run.

Do I keep any headphone and headphone amp?

Now, I’m settled with Schiit Asgard (3/16 /11 – oops, got a Lyr now, purely for the tubes) and Grado RS1i. I consider both of them to be the best in their price ranges. Surprisingly, I find Asgard superior to Audio-gd Phoenix (yep, a $250 made in USA amp Vs. $1200 made in China amp). Grado RS1i is a very fun pair of headphone. It excels with rocks. Guitar strings sound superb. It’s just magical with rock genre. The RS1i fits better on my head, LCD-2? not as good and very heavy. You may question why I decided to scale back a bit. Well, the reasons are:

  1. I no longer listen to headphone that much. I listen to headphone ± 1 hour a day.
  2. I don’t feel comfortable wearing headphone for hours.
  3. My fear of hearing impaired.
  4. Speakers are superior in every way. Headphone cannot resolve the same level of resolution and imaging as a good pair of speakers.
  5. I could have splashed a chunk more for a GS-1 which had always been my number one preference for a single ended solid state amp. It’s been well known that GS-1 and GS-X are the most transparent headphone amps in the market. My reason is simple, sometimes, good enough is good enough. Asgard Lyr is good enough. 😀

Now, I’m obviously a headphone lover, but the truth is, as much as I love headphones, they will always be secondary to speakers in my life, because speakers are just that much more dimensional, natural, and convenient to listen to; there’s nothing on your noggin that could fall off, or prevent you from hearing important audio cues like phones, doorbell, neighbor screaming for help, and it’s much easier to share music with others.

Schiit Asgard Lyr and Grado RS1i are my last headphone system. I will likely not going to add a headphone, unless it is broken. That Schiit amp will likely outlast me, so there you go, a long-lasting headphones system. And this is where I stopped: A Happy Ending (Hi-Fi) ~ [I also explained a bit about how you should spend your money, where to spend it on, and various issues about audiophile in general]

Head-Fi users’ impressions and reviews…
I think it will be wise for those of you who are reading reviews to make sure that the reviewer has considerable knowledge about various amps in the market. A review like this is pointless IMHO… The reviewer did not compare his gear with top-tier amps and DACs or even worse, the reviewer has little to no experience with top-tier amps and DACs. I imagine the reviewer will be completely floored with an AMB M^3 or a HeadAmp Gilmore Lite .

From those many reasons above: Head-Fi is no longer a useful place and headphones are inferior to speakers, I decided to leave Head-Fi world. It’s been a fun experience. Thank you Head-Fi!


Update (3/19/2011): ~ read links on the top of this page:
Looks like Head-Fi has become extremely hostile towards NwAvguy, links to his blog have been deleted. Let’s wait and see what will be deleted next… This is not the first time I have seen this happened on Head-Fi. I just didn’t expect them to be super protective of their sponsors. I have all the print screens and PDFs of the deleted posts if anyone wants to read them. No wonder there are more and more bad guys roaming free on Head-Fi. 😦 I guess, a farewell to Head-Fi is a good thing after all…



Post a comment
  1. Jeremy #
    February 3, 2011

    What about your Audio-gd DACs (19DSP and Ref5)? Do you still think they’re a high value in comparison to other DACs?

  2. February 4, 2011

    Yes, I still regard them as one of the highest value DACs that you can get.

    (edit: March, 2011) IMO,
    Best DAC based on performance:
    1. Berkeley Alpha DAC
    2. Weiss DAC202
    3. PS Audio PWD
    4. Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2
    5. Audio-gd RE5 DSP

    Best DAC based on $$:
    1. Audio-gd RE5 DSP
    2. Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2
    3. PS Audio PWD
    4. Berkeley Alpha DAC
    5. Weiss DAC202

    I’m actually looking for a DAC-19Mk3. I want to use it for my bedroom rig. 😀

  3. Anonymous of Indonesia #
    February 5, 2011

    Well, I don’t really browse Head-Fi much either nowadays except for a few threads that I’ve monitored for their progress. Head-Case is overall the better forum I agree but seriously, it’s not a good place for newcomers. Head-Fi’s continued existence is needed to regenerate the hobbyists. It’s like a cycle of life don’t you think? 😉

    Beta22 is good I can give you that. I have posted again and again in HF that that the Phoenix has a dull treble but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Oh well, more power to them. I had posted before that the only Audio-gd products worth considering are their DACs and it seems that I’m going to be proven right.

    I’m not convinced yet on speakers as they are expensive and a pain in the ass to set up right. Electrostatics are what I’m going for in the end. I’m currently using the Audez’e LCD2 and a 3-channel Beta22 that I built myself which are not perfect but I know it’s a good compromise for the Stax 007MK1/MK2.

    • August 21, 2013

      #Head-Fi’s continued existence is needed to regenerate the hobbyists. It’s like a cycle of life don’t you think?#

      I agree 🙂

      #I’m not convinced yet on speakers as they are expensive and a pain in the ass to set up right.#

      When you have a family, you’ll find out that you don’t really have much time alone anymore. That’s probably just me, but I would like to spend as much time as possible with my family. 😉 And, about the PITA thing, it’s not as hard as you think and certainly not as expensive as some of the most expensive headphones setups out there.

  4. Abszer0 #
    February 6, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Your comments about the Audio-GD Dac is interesting.
    I am currently thinking of upgrading my source for HD650s (now using a Dac1 USB with Headamp GS-1) – considering Weiss Dac2 and Ayre QB-9. In what areas did you think the Weiss DAC202 and Berkley Alpha were better than the Audio-GD? Was the difference quite subtle or large (in audiophile terms)?

    • February 6, 2011

      Hi there, both of them are much better than the RE5 in almost every way. The difference is large, very large. Far larger than the difference between my RE5 and W4S DAC-1. But then again, the price increase is quite big. I think once you go up to Weiss DAC202 or Berkeley Alpha DAC levels, you won’t find anything better.

      You have a superb amp already. Now, all you need to do is upgrade the DAC 😀

      • Abszer0 #
        February 7, 2011

        Thanks for the commnets, Ravenda. The GS-1 is great – I just wonder how much better balanced would be for the HD650s (I tried it on the benchmark and really like its fuller sound, but couldn’t justify 1k+ for the same amp with balanced outs). I’ll probably upgrade to a Weiss Dac2 for now, since the 202 and Berkley are too rich for my blood. Have you had a chance to compare the first two? My ideal is to have a warm, full, and organic source that does not sacrifice too much on micro details and soundstage. Would you recommend the 202 or Berkley in that regard?

        • February 7, 2011

          I wouldn’t bother balancing the HD650. I’d rather spend the money to buy a better headphones like Audeze LCD-2. Heck, even my IE8 sounds better than HD650.

          I have not compared the first two. If warm, full and organic are what you are after, you might want to look at MHDT Havana. I still have the Havana, it’s buried somewhere in the storage room. The Havana is not the most detailed DAC but it can give you a very pleasing sound signature. Unlike Weiss DAC202 and Berkeley Alpha DAC, the Havana never sounds harsh with bad recordings. I’m not saying the Berkeley is not capable of producing warm, full, and organic sound; it really depends on the recording. If you have a great collection of good materials, the Berkeley will be the ultimate choice but if you want something that can make bad recordings sound bearable, get the Havana.

          One of the biggest deal-breaker of these new DACs is their ability to drive a power amp directly without a preamp. I’m now running a preamp-less system. I thought you might be interested in this. If you use a preamp, you introduce a very long signal path (a preamp + a power cable + a set of interconnects) which may degrade the quality of the signal. I for one, believe the shorter the better. I don’t think you could go wrong with either one.

          Edit: oh and, another thing that you might want to consider is gear matching. You will have a hard time matching this and that if the DAC and the amp are not transparent and neutral. I prefer to have the least colored front ends whenever possible. That way, I can always easily switch the speakers or the headphones to my liking and not touching the DAC and the amp.

  5. Abszer0 #
    February 11, 2011

    “I prefer to have the least colored front ends whenever possible” – Actually, I believe in the same thing….which is why I purchased the DAC1 USB in the first place. I guess the Pico’s sound signature is what I would consider neutral….with the DAC1, it is more resolving with bigger soundstage, but something in the mids bother me a bit. So a much, much improved Pico might be what I am looking for.

    I have heard some people complain about the Weiss and Berkeley Dacs sounding a bit thin and dry compared to their CD Players, so I hesitated with the purchase. I thought perhaps it is like a vinyl vs. CD comparison..whereby digital files through a Dac may sound a bit more artificial compared to CDs played…

    • August 21, 2013

      This is probably the reason why people own so many things that do the same job, in this case DACs. 😉

  6. pdxbrewer #
    February 25, 2011

    I second that speakers beat headphones out of water if the set up is right. I am more curious about the Selah speakers you briefly mentioned and raved. Beyond listing the components, RAAL, Accution, and Sacn-speak, little was said about coherence of the sound, tonality balance, forte, weakness, etc…given that you detest reviews without comparison with products of the same tier, I wonder if your verdict is based on experience with other premier speakers. Any interest in writing more about the Tempesta? I’ve been eying them for a while but am not sure if I should pull the trigger given how little information can be found…

    • March 2, 2011

      Hi there, I never compared anything without any real-world experiences with similarly priced products. I didn’t have the intention to write anything more than what I wrote on that subject. Speakers, in this case, the Tempesta is superior to any headphones that I have tried. It is also superior to any speakers at its price point.

      “Any interest in writing more about the Tempesta?” Yes, but I won’t be doing it at least until next month.

      You could ask Rick any questions that you have in mind. He’s kinda friendly 😉

  7. Garrett Conaty #
    May 4, 2011

    Hey there, thanks for simplifying. For a desktop setup what would you use for speakers and headphones? splitter y-cable RCA? the Schiit Lyr doesn’t seem to have a pass through. Thanks in advance.

    • hrl #
      August 10, 2011

      Garrett, Lyr has a set of preamp output. It comes in handy if you have desktop speakers.

  8. June 21, 2011

    Sad but true guys, headfi is not the same as before. Even jude is supporting overpriced crap such as the beats (he really gets good money for it) its pure marketing, and not honest reviews/feedbacks.

    • August 21, 2013

      I guess I can’t blame him (for trying to make a living out of head-fi) 😀

  9. HZE #
    September 7, 2011

    Hi, I completely agree with your opinion. I have a question. Is the AMB M^3 good enough to drive LCD-2? Thanks.

    • May 28, 2012

      It’s more than good enough 🙂

  10. Dave #
    November 18, 2011

    The Berkely Alpha has an excellent digital filter designed by ex Pacific Microsonics engineers. The real sleeper/best AudioGd DAC was the PMD100-3SE. It has the Pacific Microsonics engineered filter and the exceleent analog stage. You really should here one if you like the Alpha and the ref5, it is the best of both.

    FYI Headcase, is run by Jude.

    • May 28, 2012

      I did try both, they are completely different. Just because it uses PMD-100, that doesn’t mean it sounds similar as the Berkeley Alpha. The Alpha actually outperforms the RE5 by a wide margin.

      Case & Fi do not look alike at all. The former is run by punks, Jude isn’t one of them.

  11. Magick Man #
    April 8, 2012

    Eh. I own nice speaker systems and headphone rigs, it isn’t an “either/or” situation. You really can have and enjoy both.

  12. D #
    April 11, 2012


    For whatever it is worth, as a new headfi member, I already see and agree completely with all you have said..

    Useless pace really, and yes, the hype and marketing is too much.I hoped it was a resource to learn and assist in finding genuine info on what I was after, but alas, it is merely a lot of claptrap..

    Just happened to come across this. Not the only one who feels this way obviously..


  13. September 26, 2012

    I could not agree more with your thoughts regarding headfi and more importantly of loudspeakers vs headphones. I was listening to my Beyer DT-880s and La Figaro tube amp last night when I felt I was missing a lot of information. I quickly swapped over to my speaker system and it all became apparent. I was missig lots of subtle detail and resolution as well as placement.

    I have been chasing a dream that will never materialize as far as trying to get a decent headphone system to do what my speakers can. And I am not going to spend thousands more to get there. I may try to find a simple but good solid state or tube amp to replace the La Figaro but cannot and will not spend lots more. Any thoughts to get a more open and transparent amp with my 880 600 ohms?

    cheers and see you on headwize in the future, if I could put up with the negative and sarcastic banter.

    • September 26, 2012

      I’m not sure if La Figaro is the best amp for your Beyer. Have you tried a (small, affordable) superb solid state amps like AMB M3 or Headamp Gilmore Lite?

      • September 26, 2012

        Thanks for the input, no I have not tried either of those amps. I was thinking about perhaps the Lake People g103 (?), since I am not a great DIY solderer. I would appreciate any input on assemblers that might be current. I will seek the above mentioned amps out right after the RMAF here in Denver in a few weeks. Any input on the mentioned characteristics would be helpful. You can always use email, since I do not want to take away from your blog.

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