My Current Audio Systems

AMR / iFi audio

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Aug 21, 2019
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Morning Tom

Thought to share a couple few thoughts - picked up some NAD HP50's (A$302) and some Airport Max's (A$900) - the former to see if I can tolerate headphones before spending any money and the latter to see if BT quality is good enough for me as an audio solution.

For context I've owned a slew of headphones / amps in the past - but never really gravitated to them. Circumstances more or less force me to now - domestic harmony, and no spare rooms following Covid working from home etc.

NADs

I can certainly see what you report about the NAD's, and I certainly share alot of your enthusiasm for them. They are very easy to drive, and are an engaging listen straight out of my M1 MBA - bass is quite good, mids are lovely and treble is nice and clear. I found they made most music sound great - no problem enjoying the Furtwrangler Beethoven's from his War Years all the way along to something like Billie Eilish. At their price point - nothing to complain about SQ wise.

I didn't get the sound-stage you report - but that's probably me and my ears. The NAD's were all abit 'between my ears', but that is a compliant I have with nearly all headphones I've heard - including open backs - unless really well driven. But then I haven't heard the top cans - HD800s, Meze Empyreans/Final D8000's/Stax 009's etc.

Comfort was for me average - the pads are on the smaller side, and didn't really fit my ears. They clamped abit as well.

Cf the Airpod Max's - well different - the Max's are initially much more comfortable for my ears - but after a couple hours it evened out - both cans got tiring - the Max's are heavier and clamp, the NADs are lighter, the pads didn't feel great and after a couple hours they clamp.

The biggest grip I have with the NADs is their build quality. The pads disintegrated after less than 15 hours use, and the supplied cord was faulty from day 1 - had to jiggle the 3.5mm connector to engage left and right channels. I also thought they looked and felt cheap - but that is highly subjective. But then they are what - US$200 or something. I wasn't expecting a Meze Empyrean.

That said - to me the build quality is levels beneath eg AKG 701/Senn 6xx type headphone - both of which can be had for around the $200-300 mark on Drop nowadays. By contrast the build quality on a good set of studio cans - say the tried and true Sony MDR7506's - is subjectively to me much higher: they are - what - $120 or something on sale these days.

Here is a photo of the pads - so you see what I mean. That is after less than 15 hours use.

View attachment 81466

Long story short - they are being returned. Happy enough with the sound quality - I think it is pretty good for their price - but I can't live with the build quality.

Airpod Max's

Onto the Max's - I had high hopes I could get away with a BT headphone as a solution to listening at home, and being iOS/OSX, these in particular. I don't use Apple Music. I use Spotify and PrimePhonic.

Unfortunately after a few days of using them, I can't share your enthusiasm for their sound quality. Given the next stop would be Ananda BT's at many more $$ (and which can't be returned here) - I'm giving BT up as a viable option.

I should say I've owned the Airpod Pro's for years (I think I have around 3 or 4 pairs lying around now). They have been a work and travel staple. Great for calls, perfect for airports, easy to have about you - I usually have a pair in my pocket - and useful for music/podcasts when I was doing something like cooking, or late at night when speakers would disturb the household - ours is a very open plan house. Hence why my humble but to me good sounding 2 channel got sold off and I'm heading down the headphone route of late.

I found that the Pro's got annoying to me after a couple hours or so use - I got sore ears - but as an iOS user who needs a bluetooth ANC for work - they are a no brain purchase. They also deteriorate after a year or two's use, which is annoying: very much a disposable product.

Funnily enough - my wife doesn't like the Pro's - she gets pressure build up, no matter which size ear piece she tries. Go figure.

Now onto the Max's. Build quality is typically Apple - very good. That said the case they are meant to live in is useless for any sort of storage protection, much less travel protetcion, and the aluminium (metal?) ear pieces I thought would scratch easily - suffice to say they have been handled very carefully since I got them knowing I may want to return them: have to love the 14 day no questions asked return policy with Apple!

Controls were pretty cool - and for someone used to the Pro's - entirely intuitive. Loved the dial up volume on the top. Pairing etc was flawless.

Onto SQ: hate to say it but to me they just aren't very good.

The folks over on HeadFi rave about their sub-bass. I thought it complete mush. Lacked any sort of impact and it all blurred into one. Worse it bled over into the mids.

Listening to eg Notorious B.I.G. "Hypnotize me" or Sneaker Pimps "6 Underground" (actually any trip-hop) or White Stripes "In the Cold Cold Night" , Tool, Led Zep etc wasn't great. The bass lines no impact at all, what bass there was, wasn't crisp and clean, the mids merged... and well...you get the idea. I like deep bass, if tried to be reproduced, to be crisp and hard hitting. I'd rather equipment just not go there if it can't do it well. The Max's went there, badly, IMHO.

More positively - the NADs were much better in this respect. Much.

I won't get onto to Classical - which makes up about 80% of my listening - other than to say the Furtwangler Beethovens - or any Beethoven - wasn't a fun day out. The War Year Furtwangler have a really high noise level - and IME it takes a good set of cans to cut through that. The NADs did a great job of that - the Max's - not so. I don't even try it with the Airpod Pros.

Oddly back to back - I thought that the bass on the AIrpod Pro's was of better quality - principally because they just don't try and reproduce sub bass - its MIA - as well it might be. But what is there is punchy enough. I'd rather listen to eg Mees Dierdorp (deep house EDM I guess you could call it) on my Airpod Pro's than the Max's. The Max's go much deeper, but to me were slow and sloppy.

The mids were to me hopelessly coloured, and the highs lacked air. Overall I thought they were veiled. I guess by now you can see I really didn't like them much.

Sound-stage and imaging weren't bad - about the same as the NAD's - but still between my ears. Maybe that is just something I will find with all headphones.

Apple iOS "EQ"

A number of folks on HeadFi have been playing about in the iOS/Settings/Accessibility/Airpods/Audio Accessibility Settings/Headphone Accomodation - in which basically you have a limited ability to mess around with Apple's "true tone' .... a limited EQ ....specific to that iOS device. Talk about buried in iOS settings...

As usual on HeadFi you get some folks telling you about some miraculous change in character by changing one of these settings - and that may be so - for them.

I found all I achieved was that in trying to fixing one problem I created another - and eventually I just turned the Headphone Accommodation off. Chasing my tail on that one.

Compared to the NADs - well - I much preferred the sound of the NADs. Agree with you 100% on that.

Conclusion

So - all up - I wanted to thank you for your recommendations - I enjoyed trying them both, and share your enthusiasm for the NADs - build quality aside. I have trouble accepting that they were - for me - up to the standard I would expect of a high end can.

So I'm returning both - one (NAD) for build quality, the other (Apple Max's) because I don't think they are worth the money. I just didn't think they were very good. Compared to the AIrPod Pros they were better in some ways for sure, but they aren't for me.

But that is the great thing about this hobby - we all can enjoy different things, and have different experiences.

In this post please don't think for a moment that I am questioning your experiences or listening - I share alot of your enthusiasm for the NADs, but not the Max's.

Thanks again
That's really hard to believe they have only been used for 15 hours. It usually takes me months if not years to bring my cans to such a level, if ever at all given that I also replace my pads.

I am not saying that I have got Dobby's or Yoda's ears, but I'd say that the size of my ears is above standard, and the HP50's seem quite small.


You mentioned Meze Empyrean as a reference point.
First, I think Meze is a great company and the people who are running it know what they are doing. Two years ago after a nice dinner, Antonio gave me a pair of Empyreans and I cannot complain about them. They are definitely one of my favourite headphones. Fantastic SQ, easy to drive, comfortable during longer sessions, ovoid shape of the earcups is the right fit. A little suitcase they are packed-in, that is also a nice touch.
 
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Andrew S.

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That's really hard to believe they have only been used for 15 hours. It usually takes me months if not years to bring my cans to such a level, if ever at all given that I also replace my pads.

I am not saying that I have got Dobby's or Yoda's ears, but I'd say that the size of my ears is above standard, and the HP50's seem quite small.


You mentioned Meze Empyrean as a reference point.
First, I think Meze is a great company and the people who are running it know what they are doing. Two years ago after a nice dinner, Antonio gave me a pair of Empyreans and I cannot complain about them. They are definitely one of my favourite headphones. Fantastic SQ, easy to drive, comfortable during longer sessions, ovoid shape of the earcups is the right fit. A little suitcase they are packed-in, that is also a nice touch.

Yup - .... what I thought as well. I've had MDR7506s that took years of abuse to get to that state.

That is nice to hear about Meze: I've never owned or heard a pair - just referenced them by reputation: their build quality is said to be excellent. Thanks for your experience of them. I'll keep an eye out for a secondhand pair here.

Sad about the NADs - they do alot right for a cheap set of cans. I looked at HeadFi - sure enough - a couple hundred pages of folk looking for suitable replacement pads; and a host of other build quality problems. Most pretty happy with the SQ. Pity.
 

AMR / iFi audio

Industry Expert
Aug 21, 2019
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Yup - .... what I thought as well. I've had MDR7506s that took years of abuse to get to that state.

That is nice to hear about Meze: I've never owned or heard a pair - just referenced them by reputation: their build quality is said to be excellent. Thanks for your experience of them. I'll keep an eye out for a secondhand pair here.

Sad about the NADs - they do alot right for a cheap set of cans. I looked at HeadFi - sure enough - a couple hundred pages of folk looking for suitable replacement pads; and a host of other build quality problems. Most pretty happy with the SQ. Pity.
Exactly, perhaps a third party replacement pads would do? I'd have to conduct some more research to know the answer.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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For those looking for replacement earpads for the NAD Viso HP-50: Exact replacements are still available from the manufacturer through Lenbrook Americas. The pads are only $18 a pair plus $20 a pair shipping. Here is a contact phone number for Customer Service/Parts Admin: (905) 831-6555 / (800) 263-4641 ext. 4201 I got two pairs of replacements, one each for my two sets of these headphones. Yes, the pads will show wear after a while, but in my case the pads did not look as bad as the posted picture even after many months of using them occasionally.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Chicagoland
If you look at my system description, you will notice that it now includes both the Uptone Audio EtherREGEN (ER) and the GigaFOILv4 (GF). In my system, the ER feeds the GF, which feeds the Lumin X1.

I am very much aware that the manufacturers of both the ER and GF state that their unit should be the last item in the chain before the streamer/DAC. In fact, the manufacturer of the ER is on record stating that fiber optical isolation such as that provided by the GF should not be necessary either before or after the ER in the signal chain.

Well, both units can't be the last one in the ethernet chain. And in my system I have tried the units with the ER feeding the GF, the GF feeding the ER, and with the ER alone. To my ears, in my system, the best sounding result is the ER feeding the GF feeding the Lumin X1.

Using the GF fed by the ethernet cable which comes from my router and having the GF feed the ER does not really result in any improvement over the sound of the ER alone.

The ER alone also is far superior sounding to my old set up of the Netgear Nighthawk S8000 Pro Gaming Switch feeding the GF feeding the Lumin X1. If you had never heard the system with the ER feeding the GF, you would never know what you were missing.

But using the ER feeding the GF removes additional noise/blur/grunge around each note and further blackens the background. In my system, to my ears, this is the way to go.
Recent experimentation has revealed an even more sonically satisfying configuration for these two devices in my system:

I'm now connecting the ethernet cable from the main Xfinity Advanced Gateway router (which is 90+ feet long) to the input of the GF. The output of the GF feeds what is normally regarded as the "output" jack of the ER--the "slower" jack which is alone on one side of the device and is labeled as the "B" side. Each of the four ethernet-connected devices in my system (Roon Nucleus+, Lumin X1, and each Dutch & Dutch 8c speaker) are then connected to one of the four "A" side jacks on the other side of the ER. This way, the feeds for all my ethernet-connected devices must pass over/through the "moat" separating the A and B sides of the ER.

In my system, this configuration further clarifies the sound, blackens the background, focuses the imaging, and expands the soundstage without any adverse effects on perceived frequency response. In fact, high frequency air (top octave) seems enhanced.

Yes, there is a bit more delay when switching programs with this set up. But the delay is well worth the further sonic improvement.

Go figure.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
714
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Chicagoland
Since I'm not streaming upsampled/oversampled PCM or DSD content over ethernet, the 100 mbps speed of the ER's B-side jack connected to my router is plenty for audio purposes, the fastest of which is 24/192. Bit rate is frequency times bit depth times channels = 192,000 samples per second x 24 bits per sample x 2 channels = 9.216 megabits per second, about one tenth of the capability of the B-side jack.

As to why the ER switch sounds better in my system in this "backwards" configuration, I can only speculate. One possibility: in my system, there are two DACs active, one in each D&D 8c speaker. Thus, it makes sense that both speakers should be on the opposite side of the "moat" compared to the ethernet feed from the router. In addition, as I said above, in this configuration, the feeds for all my ethernet-connected audio devices must traverse the "moat" separating the A and B sides of the ER. For listening via Roon, all these devices are in the signal path.

I am aware of the lack of measurements to back up the Swenson's claims in his "whitepaper" as to why the ER makes such a significant sonic difference. Thus, Archimago, for example, is a doubter and ASR says it does nothing to improve anything. All I can say is that, to my ears, the chorus of users and reviewers who trumpet the sonic benefits of the ER are correct. To my ears in my system, the difference is obvious and significantly positive at first listen. No A/Bing or long, hard concentration on sound quality is necessary to hear the sonic difference and that difference is also instantly and obviously "better."

Yes, the ER is $640, which is quite a bit for a switch when other ethernet switches from the big boys in ethernet distribution can be had for a small fraction of the cost. I've owned and used units from TP Link, Cisco, and Netgear. Yes, those "work" and there are sonic differences among them. I would classify the Netgear Nighthawk gaming switch I used as sonically better than the other two, and I'd say the Cisco was sonically a bit better than the TP Link.

But those differences are tiny compared to the sonic chasm between the Netgear and the ER. I daresay the ER makes a sonic improvement on the order of getting better speakers. That may be hard to believe, but that's how I hear it. Other users have said it was the best $640 they've ever spent in audio. I will not dispute that pronouncement.
 

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