Believe it or not, people ask me (with some degree of consistency) what audio products to buy. I thought I would put together a quick buyers guide for the holiday season as a handy reference. Hope you find this useful and please feel free to add your own picks in the comments section as this is by no means a definitive list.
Best Pair of Headphones for $100 – Grado SR80i
These entry-level pair of headphones are many audiophiles gateway drug. A good sonic signature with great energy makes these little guys a great jumping off point into the hobby. Excellent clarity for the price.
Best DAC for $250 – AudioQuest Dragonfly
This little wonder provides excellent price to performance with a very unique design. Extremely small and one of the most portable entries in the market, the AudioQuest Dragonfly steps up to the plate when it comes to clarity and dynamics in the budget DAC arena.
Best Pair of Headphones for $300 – Beyerdynamic 880
At the $300 range the audiophile headphone competition starts to get a bit more congested. I like the Beyerdynamic 880 based upon it’s balanced frequency response and overall superb articulation. Not a bass-heavy headphone, but just the right amount of acoustic energy mixed with a very comfortable fit suitable for long listening sessions.
Best Pair of Universal-Fit IEM for $400 – Heir 4.Ai
These universal fit In-Ear-Monitors pack quite a punch for $400. The unrivaled clarity at this price range is accompanied by suitable bottom end extension for an IEM. Slightly-forward but articulate highs and uncrowded mids left me with the impression that we may see some great things coming out of Heir in the years to come. Bonus points for top quality build and ergonomic design.
Best Pair of Headphones for $500 – Sennheiser 650
While some do prefer this headphone’s little brother the “600”, many in the audiophile community are quite content with the previous Sennheiser flagship the 650. Many owners of this fine headphone rejoice in it’s extremely smooth texture and unique bass presentation. Look here for an extended low end over some of the cheaper price points.
Best Headphone Amplifier for $600 – ALO Pan Am
I am continually surprised by the output of this little all-in-one headphone amplifier and DAC combo. A tight sound signature with an amazing low end make this a extremely versatile to pair across the headphone spectrum. I especially liked this amp paired with the Audeze LCD-3. The ability to “roll” the tubes or a different sound signature opens up another door of the audiophile hobby. Good power for full size headphones coupled with a great value for what you get.
Best Integrated Amplifier for $900 – Rega Brio-R
The british-made Rega Brio-R is a no frills integrated amplifier design. Understated controls (no tone adjustments) and simplistic cosmetics make this amplifier a subtle addition to your stereo rack. This amp has it where it counts fortunately. Great clarity for the price and a pleasant, full sound signature give the Rega it’s value. Matching DAC and CD player available. It does however come with a remote now, that’s what the “R” stands for in the name.
Best CD Player for $1,000 – Oppo BDP 95
Although it’s quite a bit more than just a CD player. The Oppo BDP 95 performs brilliantly for the price. Extremely well built and specialized audiophile-grade components add up to a bit more than the sum of their parts. More than twice the price of the video-comparable 93 this Blu Ray/DVD/SACD player pushed out significant clarity and refinement though it’s analog outputs. Soon to be replaced by the Oppo BDP 105, this transport has won more than a few over with it’s striking good looks and outstanding value.
Best Money-No-Object Headphone – Audeze LCD-3
These $2,000 headphones have quickly worked their way into the hearts of the audiophile headphone community. Just a newcomer compared to many of the popular headphone makers, Audeze has burst onto the scene quite rapidly with it’s LCD-2 model and now it’s flagship piece, the LCD-3. A fast clear tonal signature sets it apart from many of the cheaper headphones, and a solid bottom end keeps it competing with the absolute top-end premium headphones out there.