For those of who haven’t seen my YouTube videos on the Amplify YouTube Channel or my posts on HeadFi or its Facebook group, my name is Sajid Amit and this is my first piece for Audiophile Style. I have followed Chris’s work closely, so was rather delighted at this opportunity to contribute to this exciting publication.
I recently traveled to India where I was a part of 4 or 5 audiophile meets. The largest one was organized by Sennheiser in Gurgaon, New Delhi Commercial Region, India. And what a wonderful meet it was. Other than various Sennheiser headphones, and other gears audiophiles had brought with them, I got to hear the HE-1!
I also spent some time listening to headphones at Headphone Zone in Mumbai. HPZ is India’s largest audiophile store and the flagship headphones they have on display, is quite diverse and impressive.
For reference, I personally own the Hifiman Susvara, Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC, Raal SR1a, Stax 009S, and the Focal Stellia, and have the Audeze LCD5 incoming.
What follows are my impressions on all the headphones I listened to on this trip, in no particular order, some for the first time, and others, for the second or third. I also hope to soon update my ranking here.
So here goes.
The IE900s are impressive monitors. In fact, they may have been the best IEMs I heard on this trip. What stands out about these monitors is their fast, snappy, detailed, and hard-hitting bass as well as an infinite treble extension, without ever being bright or sibilant. Also surprising is how good the midrange is on this IEM, despite being a tad recessed. Despite the midrange recession, the presentation still sounds natural. There is plenty of detail, staging is wide, certainly aided by the V-shaped FR, whilst dynamics are solid, and timbre is quite good. The only shortcoming worth pointing out is the cable is total janky junk.
I didn’t like the HE1000 V2 a lot. I know many love the HEKV2, but to my ears, they were bright and the dynamics reminded me of the Susvara – too polite for my ears. Politeness can be a desirable trait if the entire presentation is like the Susvara’s, i.e., smooth, flowing, organic, etc., which can lend itself well to genres like classical, acoustic, jazz, etc.
However, I wasn’t sure what genres I would listen to the V2 with. I thought the staging wasn’t noticeably wide or deep, imaging was fine, and detail retrieval was probably very good. It sounded like a brighter, slightly bassier, and noticeably less technically-adept Susvara with those oval caps I never liked.
The Focal Stellia is my current favorite closed-back. I was a fan of the HIFIMAN HE-R10P when I first heard it, probably because it was a reasonable complement to my Susvara, which was my only TOTL headphone at that time. But once I bought the Abyss TC, and got used to it, it made the HE-R10P redundant.
Comparing the Stellia to the R10P, the Stellia has a far better tonality. The bass is elevated and is great fun, the midrange sounds natural, and the treble is forward without ever being in-your-face or peaky.
Dynamics are outstanding, as is Focal’s wont. Staging is impressive for a closedback with great layering and imaging. In fact, with regard to stage, there is not a whole lot to choose between the Utopia and the Stellia, for me.
It is a near-flawless headphone, with outstanding aesthetics. The unequivocal weakness is its stock cable which is janky, and an area of contention could be its timbre, which can sound metallic in the treble. I quite like it because percussion instruments sound great as a result of the hard, slightly metallic presentation.
I was not a fan of this headphone, so I won’t spend too much dwelling on its impressions. It had a nice midrange when you first listen to it and a decent sense of staging and imaging. But there is serious wonkiness in the tonality. It is a muddy-sounding headphone with clear bass bleed and a strange implementation of the presence region, causing it to sound boxy, unclear and congested. It is a classic reminder of how hard it is to build flagship level closed-backs. Even more reason to appreciate the Stellia.
HEDD Audio’s headphone was a mixed bag. Yes, it is technically as proficient as people say it is, while being extremely hard to drive, and ridiculously uncomfortable for long-listening. I didn’t like the implementation of the cups or the yoke or the overall weight. Easily the worst headphone I have tried in terms of comfort.
However, it is a performance-oriented headphone with an incredible treble that is detailed, silky, and enjoyable, and overall great detail retrieval and good dynamics across the frequency range.
Other than its comfort, the HEDDphone has no faults. The midrange can be thin sounding but I know people who like the midrange. Overall, if you can deal with the comfort, it is probably a bargain at MSRP and even more so at used prices, as the HEDDPhone tends to not hold value in the secondary market.
I have a Stax SR009S incoming. I ordered a Stax SR009S and a KGSHHV Carbon because I wanted sufficient time with TOTL e-stats. And I am still hoping that off the Carbon, the 009S will please more than it did off the Stax amp and the Cayin DAC. However, on this setup, the 009S was a rather mixed experience. It sounded a lot like the Susvara in some ways but could be peaky on certain tracks.
This was still a “natural” sounding e-stat compared to many others. The midrange is reminiscent of the Susvara’s midrange. And although Stax’s own amp could not push its bass to its potential limits, I am aware that the bass can sound better off the KGSSHV Carbon. It is a more detailed headphone than the Susvara in my opinion, and technically at the same level as an Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC. Imaging is worldclass and staging is very deep, perhaps the deepest I have heard, without being spectacularly wide.
I am not a fan of the older LCD headphones. I do have an LCD-5 incoming and I am extremely curious to try the CRBN, and this is inspired by the 2021 tunings of the Audeze LCD-X and the LCD-XC 2021.
Yes, as is well-known, the LCD-2 and 3 sound warm, creamy, inviting, with a nice midrange and decent bass, but I always find them boring and lackluster after a while. Their technical performance is fine for their respective price points, but I enjoy the macrodynamic of a Focal Clear more than what these headphones offer, and the resolution, timbre and staging of the HD800 or an HD800s. The lack of energy in upper midrange, to me, is a serious drawback.
Although I prefer the Celeste over the LCDXC 2021, it is still a solid closedback headphone for the price.
The XC 2021 retains the warmth and body of the LCD lineup with a more present upper midrange. The detail retrieval, staging, and imaging are all great for the price. The reason I prefer the Celeste is that it has better macrodynamics, and overall, a superior tonality.
The Stellia is a clearly better headphone than the XC, but you would expect that given price differences. Switching between the XC and the Stellia, the first thing you notice is the sense of space and layering in the Stellia – very open-back-like.
That’s it for Part 1 of my two-part series on headphone, IEM, and amp/DAC impressions. Part 2 is forthcoming!
Sajid Amit is an academic, researcher and practitioner in international development by day, and audiophile night and day. His YouTube channel is called the Amplify Audiophile Show.