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I often get asked what audio gear I personally own and use for this hobby. So I’ve decided to publish my current up-to date music listening setup.
As you probably know after reading my blog posts, I’m a huge fan of headphones in general. Partially because my family circumstances don’t allow monster speakers in the living room. But I also thorougly enjoy music through my STAX electrostatic headphones
I just switched to the “dark side” (vinyl) by purchasing a new turntable. But heck no, I’m not giving up digital audio anytime soon. My setup consists of a Marantz TT 15 S1 turntable, Clearaudio Virtuoso MM cartridge and the Schiit Audio Mani phono preamplifier. Read the whole story here.
Update 2017 / 2018
I bought the Martin Logan reQuest speakers in marvelous condition pre-owned in 2017. You can read all about them in this article.
STAX SR-007 MK1 (Serial No 72xxx)
These are marvelous headphones and I would consider them a strong contender with the SR-009 flagship. Although they won’t wow you at first listen, their smooth yet naturally resolving character puts a smile on my face every time a wear them. STAX has released different variants of this headphone throughout the years and the most current MKII model is a small refinement.
Don’t trust all those opinions on major forums that there’s a massive difference between them. SR-007s (or better known as the Omega 2) are generally darker and smoother sounding than the cheaper Lambda range. I wouldn’t call them really dark, certainly not as dark as an Audeze LCD 2 or 3. However, it is true that Omega 2 headphones need loads of power to really open up and deliver good bass. I drove them with a modified STAX SRM T1 and SRM-007t and wasn’t impressed at all. Since driving them from my DIY KGSSHV (see description of my amplifier), I am totally flabbergasted. I get a wider soundstage as well as a deep yet perfectly controlled bass. I couldn’t be happier. I bought my pair second hand from a dutch audiophile in absolutely flawless condition.
So if you cannot afford them new, I’d definitely look for pre-owned Omegas on Audiogon or AudioMarkt. Importing them from Japan is also an option. My favorite sources are: PriceJapan.com and eBay. I’d personally (advertisement) try to source them through Amazon. This is because you are then eligible for their extensive consumer protection in case things go sour.
If you are on a tighter budget, check out the new Lambda SR L-700 which is awesome, too. If Omegas weren’t available anymore, these would be the phones I’d purchase. They are way cheaper than the SR-009 but sound pretty similar for a lot less.
Beyerdynamic T51p – Closed Mobile Headphones
I actually bought these from Amazon (advertisement) after reading glowing reviews by Ken Rockwell and the people over at Head-Fi.org. These are fantastic portable headphones for traveling but of course not in the same league with the STAX products to be perfectly honest. Well, but for less than $250 I wouldn’t expect them to be perfect. Great for exploring music from Tidal on the go.
Mjölnir Audio KGSSHV (500V Version)
This is purely an electrostatic headphone amplifier for STAX headphones. I built this myself starting off with a basic kit from Mjölnir Audio. I sourced the remaining components directly from Mouser.com. Took my about 2.5 months of work but the results are awesome! My SR-007 never sounded this great. And I could sell off my SRM-007t and SRM T1 to fund the cost of this DIY project. The amplifier is also being sold ready-made but it would cost over $2500. My total cost was just a hair over $1000 and that includes a nice stepped attentuator from eBay. There’s also a very nice community around this project at head-case.org who is willing to help if you run into problems with your build.
NWAVGuy O2 Portable
This was also a DIY project – really nice little amp but I rarely use it. I cannot hear any difference between this and my iPhone powering the Beyer T51p, sorry. However it works better for higher impedance headphones.
I just bought a Chinese Gustard X20u and it is shockingly good!! I will do a review soon but for the price I can say it kills a lot of the overpriced crap sold in High-End stores. Has great build-quality, too.
My favorite and trusty SMSL M8 is still going strong and earns my highest recommendation.
My Chinese WM8740 DAC which is now heavily modified – gets you to 85% to what’s possible with a good DAC, unbelievable for the price.
I rely on the Raspberry PI 2 configured as a Roon client. My music is stored on a decicated PC wired with Ethernet and I’m a Tidal Hifi subscriber. This covers all my needs. Remote control is possible through my iPad.
Don’t get me started on this one :) I just made my own balanced cable using Neutrik plugs from Amazon (advertisement).They are high-quality and cheap if you know how to solder. As for the rest of my cables, I usually search on Amazon and try to avoid the audiophile stores like the plague. I’m not saying that differences don’t exist (even though they are miniscule) but I wouldn’t pay a fortune for a solid connection. I plan to experiment a bit with power cables but this will likely be around November or December. Until then I just want to enjoy my music :)