Technology

Best Equipment for Audiophiles: Headphones, Amplifiers, Amps, DACs


take it from Someone who records music: The sophisticated world of acoustics is often tainted with nonsense. Precious materials and terminology (often snake oil) are exploited to sell products at inflated prices. Faux-science was posted to trick you into thinking you need expensive accessories like 2-inch speaker cables.

Once you start shopping for gear near the low three or four numbers, it’s hard to discern what’s good and what’s simply good looking. Never be afraid! I’ve spent thousands of hours listening to music in my home studio that’s acoustically processed through many of the most popular headphones, amplifiers and amplifiers on the market. Below you’ll find my current favourites, and some information on what each item does.

Before you continue reading, be sure to check out Cheap (or free!) tips on how to get the most out of your home audio setup.

Interested in other audio tips? Check out the tips in our other guides, including Best wireless headphonesAnd the Best bluetooth headphonesAnd the Best turntables, And the Best equipment for learning music.

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Before wasting money!

I recommend Where You will listen before you decide what or what You must listen with.

The sound quality you hear in your room will be as good as the room itself. In other words, a pair of $250 tweeters will sound better in a room treated to calm echo than a pair of $10,000 tweeters in an empty room with bare floors and walls.

What exactly is “bad” when it comes to room dynamics for high-end listening? Usually this means that the sound waves bounce back a lot, giving the room what is known as a long frequency decay time. This is the amount of time it takes for sound to disappear when it bounces off walls. Try this: clap your hands loudly in the middle of your room and hear the dissolution—the audible echo of that clapping sound. The best way to shorten the decay time is to fill the room with as much soft, porous mass as possible. This brings the sound reflections under control, softening them so you hear more focused sound waves coming from the speakers, and fewer messy sound waves bouncing around the room. Properly acoustically treated rooms use acoustic panels (usually rock wool wrapped in inexpensive fabric and hung from walls or ceiling) to provide Recommended amount of coverage for their space.

Low, choppy bass frequencies, which are hard to tame on higher frequencies like cymbals and solo guitars, usually degrade the sound quality you get in smaller rooms. Large porous absorption is required to make large speakers look great in a narrow space such as a bedroom. If you like big speakers with big bass, set up your stereo in a more spacious setting.

The softer and larger your room is, in general, the more systems it will have, and the better it will sound. If you’re stuck setting up your stereo in a room that’s either small or especially resonant and acoustically “bright,” I recommend buying smaller speakers or just sticking with headphones. (But don’t worry, great headphones are too Fabulous.)

When improving your listening room, it’s worth noting that investing in some audio processing is more cost-effective than investing in more audio equipment. You can buy or build enough panels for a medium-sized space for only a few hundred dollars. In my experience, hanging a few panels and curtains on bare walls will increase sound quality more than any single piece of equipment.

headphones

Sennheiser is one of the best names in high end headphones. The company makes several models (like the HD6XX shown here) that are excellent for listening at home.

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