Advice on new headphone system please

     I'm buying a new headphone system.  I have a few combos I'm throwing at the community that are being contemplated.  These units will be new except for the Cambridge Audio CXU universal disc player I already own.  The system will be primarily used for red book listening.  I will be streaming with the Cambridge and a computer also along with copying a relatively large cd collection to high quality file.  A discreet streamer is in the near future.  Pre-owned systems are also an option.  This would save money which is always a plus.  These are the few systems I'm looking at.

     1)  Bryston BHA 1 headphone amp, Sennheiser HDV 820 headphones and either the Bryston BDA 2 DAC or the Cambridge Audio Dac Magic 200.  The Bryston DAC is on sale here.

     2)  The same system with the Rogue Audio RH5 headphone amp. 

     3)  I'm also looking at the Burson Conductor 3 Reference headphone amp, dac preamp.  I like seperates better though. 

     I take care of my mother, so closed back headphones are necessary.  I'm open to headphone suggestions.  I'm not crazy about planars yet will consider all suggestions.  Planars may be better with the tube Rogue.

     Interconnects are also needed.  The few I have are low quality.  I'm not into exotic cables.  Please advise on a set of decent RCA, Coaxial and balanced interconnects. A coaxial cable will be used from the cd player to the DAC, A decent set of balanced cables will be used from the DAC to the headphone amp.  A decent RCA is needed in order to use the DAC in the CXU.  I'd like to use this option too. I'm using the cables that come with the headphones for now as the headphones are expensive enough.  Still suggestions for balanced headphone cables are appreciated.

     Thank you for your time.     



!) I got fatigue from the Bryston BHA1. I sold it and got the Benchmark HPA4. I used the Meze Empy with both. This is a warm and relaxing headphone. The hardness on the BHA1 that gave me fatigue was not there with the HPA4. Though the HPA4 is not warm at all so a bright or neutral headphone may not work for someone that likes some warmth..

3) I went through a few DACs in the last 18 months. The very best one by far is the Musetec 005. There are 2 threads on A’gon talking and arguing about it. This is an end game DAC for me. You may like the Gustard X26 Pro which is half the price and warmer. I sold that to get the 005.

I recommend the RAAL SR1a to everyone but for you that will not work since other people will hear the sound. More so than regular open headphones.

A’gon is not really headphone central. Check out and my fav reviewer for deep dives into headphones..


I should add that I sold the HPA4 and Meze because the RAAL SR1a was so much better, and this headphone needs a special amp or regular 2 channel amps/





I spent well over ten years developing and upgrading my headphone system to where it is now. There were many learning moments along the way for me (you can see my primary headphone system by clicking on my ID). A couple things, although headphone systems are very personal.


Be really carefull of overly detailed electronics. The headphones are right in your ear… high frequency noice and distortion go right into them. If your system is fatiguing, even in a small way, this is your problem. Over time I moved to all tube headphone amps after too many fatiguing solid state amps. Many headphones need lots of power… I chose Woo for my amps… I have used three for thousands of hours.


Look for high quality natural sounding DAC and streamer. A PC can work… but at some point in improving sound a dedicated streamer is necessary to get really great sound. They are built from the ground up to be quiet and high fidelity. Yes, they matter. It may not be intuitive, but they can make a big difference with appropriate other components.


Headphones come in a multitude of sonic flavors. Some are warm, some are very detailed, some emphasize bass, midrange, or treble. What's your budget? What flavor do you prefer? If you don't provide more information all you're going to get is "This is what I have and like and it's what you should buy.", which to me isn't very helpful. 

Thank you audiogon friends for the suggestions so far. Several very good questions and points were brought up by yyzsantabarbara, gdhprentice and Big Greg.  I definitely do not want anything to bright, revealing or fatiguing.  A good balance is preferred concerning bass, midrange and treble.  Bass needs to be pronounced, controlled and tight without bloat.  Midrange needs to be full ranged and balanced.  Treble needs to be non-fatiguing yet fully balanced, not rolled off and without that digital harshness. In other words, fully there yet warm.  The full frenquency range is enjoyed in my case. The music I listen to is very dynamic.  An album can go from basic electric instruments with little to a lot of effects to the full arsenal of woodwinds, brass and strings either mixed with electric instruments or alone. Orchestral instruments can also employ a lot of electric effects at times. There is also a lot of digital affects in this music.  I realize a perfect setup is impossible yet as full of a reproduced range as possible is needed and liked. It's looking more and more like the Bryston needs to be scraped and a warmer solid-state amp, hybrid or just maybe a full on tubes solution is necessary with the correct headphones and cables to compliment.  My budget is in the 5000-dollar ballpark for a headphone amp, dac and headphones.  Looks like the Sennheisers are also to bright and high frequency attenuated for my tastes unless a full tube or hybrid solution would balance this out.  Maybe even a warmer solid-state amp. Closed back headphones are needed for noise reasons.  This basically raises the price and options are less.  Also, I won't have the open-air nature of open back headphones so I definitely don't want a bright system or headphone combo.  I'm going through a lot currently and would like to get a system up and running asap mostly to unwind at night.  I'm suffering serious injuries from being hit by a police officer with a ramming device and my mother and I were hit by a van a year to the day later made worse by an extreme lack of proper care, etc.  This includes neck and back injuries.  I'm looking for a good surgeon as this requires. There are and have been other problems making the injuries worse.  As a result sleep is rare.  Sorry so personal.  Music is healing.  Interconnects were also mentioned.  I do not want to go over 750 for interconnects yet realize how important they are.  With my injuries and taste a warm and comfortable setup is needed.  Also, I like the warm yet full frenquency side of the spectrum. Never had a tube setup yet grew up with analog/lps.  The warm and full sound produced by analog is missed.  It's much easier on the ears too.   A large CD collection will be in rotation with this system.  Thank you for your time and PATIENCE.       

Closed back, go with Focals as much as you care to spend.Same goes with Morrow cables. When you get a streamer make sure it has USB-A in to play your files, some do not.

Very sorry to hear about your injuries.

‘From your descriptions of the sound you like, see if you can find some Beyerdynamic T2 headphones to listen to. They among the most unique and natural sounding that I own / heard. While I listen to my Focal Utopia and Sennheiser 800s the most, because in absolute terms they simply out perform everything else. The Sennheiser are not trebly… in my system… they used to be in earlier incarnations of my system.

Also, consider not thinking about spending any money on interconnects… get the very best components you can. Then listen and enjoy… and at some point your finances can recover and then you can think about interconnects… as an upgrade and treat to really optimize your system.


Also, I am sure most folks found this true. It is really hard to do a one time purchase and done. It is hard not to learn so much from your initial repurchase that you want to trade or try different stuff to zero in on the sound you really want. But you have to start somewhere and the higher you shoot the less turnover you have.


I own or (owned) top level Denons, Sennheiser, Focal, UltaSonde Edition 8, LCD2, ADK, Grado… and some others. Grado can be relaxing. Denon (D9000) require massive power to get bass under control… then they are amazing.

Check out the Sony TA-ZH1ES amp (it includes a nice DAC) and MDR-Z1R headphones. That might tick all your boxes and leave you with some money in your pocket. 

Thank you again for the responses.  Are there open backed headphones that are quiet enough to use in the same room my mother sleeps in?  I know open back sound better and are more forgiving.  I ask because I take care of her and this entails sleeping in the same room. She has the TV on all night anyways, lol and it is LOUD.  I just had to give her my Panasonic plasma! She currently has Yellowstone on with horses, cars, guns and swearing mouths a blazing.  Also, I don’t want to give the wrong impression about musical taste.  I didn’t mean I listen to digital based or led music.  Progressive rock, especially modern does employ a lot of digital effects though.  Todays recording technology employs a vast range of digital technology.  This requires the proper equipment to decode this in a pleasant non fatiguing way.  Still I prefer analog instruments.   For example,  I like analog synthesizers not digital.  Analog is so much better all around in my opinion.  Maybe the closed back headphones gave this impression too.  I’d much rather use open if possible.  I looked at the Sony amp and headphones and this isn’t an option.  Thanks for the suggestion.  I do have several dvd audio discs that maybe the headphones as a second or third set would come in handy.  I’m no where near this point though.  Focal look very promising.  The Utopias are to expensive.  If I had the money they would be a no brainer.  I’m thinking open back now as this would create a lot more options and sound better.  Still not sure if any are “quiet” enough.  I’m in the Florham Park area of New Jersey.  Please advise if any of you are in the same area.  I really need to audition equipment at this price and with my tastes.  Also looks like the Sennheisers are still an option with a warm enough amp and dac.  The Beyer Dynamics look interesting.  I couldn’t locate T2’s.  They have the 5’s.  I definitely would like to audition when I have this narrowed down better.  Waiting on interconnects is how I was leaning to begin with.  I still would need a balanced set to run from the dac to the amp unless I use my audio quests.  I know they aren’t the best yet I would have something to look forward to upgrading.  Thanks for the advice everyone. You saved me from rushing into possibly buying a fatiguing setup.  I do have the option of exchanging at audioadvisor yet auditioning in store is out.  Any suggestions on where to buy are appreciated too.  Sorry so long winded.  Thanks for the kind words ghdprentice and the suggestions fellow audiogon members.  Please advise if anyone is in area and would be interested in auditioning equipment with me.  Also if anyone is selling equipment in area I could audition.  You can PM me.

What gives you the idea open back headphones are "better"? In what way? Why was the Sony combination not an option? 

You should definitely go audition some headphones. 

@paulg1966 Where are you located? There is an audio show in Los Angeles that will have headphones in January. There is also CanJam in NYC in January or Feb. CanJam is all about headphones.


Just saw your comments about your injuries. Sorry to hear about that. Music will help you heal. I guess you can forget the shows I mentioned.

Open headphones tend to have a much less confined sound and are less fatiguing from a heat and humidity point of view… I can’t wear closed backs for long periods of time.


But, open backs do little to isolate you from surrounding sounds and visa versa. If noise is a problem either way then closed back are necessary. Then, typically there will be times when you don’t need isolation… most of us end up with both.


@ghdprentice. I suffer from a form of tinnitus.  Wondering if any other audiogon members can comment on whether open or closed back are better with such a condition.  There’s no way I’ll stop listening to music.  Music actually helps with this as I music/meditate the ringing out, yet I am unable to go very long periods with headphones.  The ringing comes back after some time. It’s not a ringing caused by music or made worse by music.  I’m hoping this can be resolved through surgery. I definitely need comfortable as possible headphones.  I would think open back don’t resonate as much as there are openings where the music/sound waves escape/ventilate to some degree. Then there’s the fact as you mentioned of outside sound getting in.  Sound waves are a big part of music and a lot of thought goes into headphones/speakers/magnates/cabinets/material used for  headphones/speakers etc, in order to reproduce the music as close to the original recording as possible.  There’s also a reason they make both open and closed back headphones.  Maybe members can comment on which they prefer and why. Thanks again.

Merry Christmas fellow Agon members.  I am narrowing down selections for a headphone system.  Again my source will be primarily red book cds via my Cambridge Audio CXU.  I would like to know if anyone has experience with the Rogue Audio RH 5 headphone amp?  I would use the dac from the Cambridge and possibly buy the Dac magic 200 by Cambridge Audio as dedicated dac.  I would like to know if anyone has experience with this particular dac too.  Do you think I should wait on a higher end dac and just go with the universal disc players dac?  Headphone wise I am looking at Sennheiser HD 820. Please advise if you think this amp is a bad idea.  I’m open to suggestions and appreciate your thoughts and advice.  Happy holidays.

Merry Christmas Paul. I am not sure I remember all your requirements. I don’t think your choice of The Rouge is wrong or bad in any way. But given some of your requirements you might look at the Woo WA22. Woo amps have a real natural, organic and detailed tone that it sounds like you are looking for. Although the Rougue would probably be OK.

I’m now looking at an amp advertised here.  It’s the Simaudio Moon Neo 430 HAD with built in dac.  Headphonewise the Focal Stellias would be a good combo.  Not having to buy a separate dac would open up room for the Stellias. Otherwise I really like the Woo Wa 22 2nd edition.  A dac would be necessary for this.  I would have to buy s used one here which I don’t mind at all.  Sennheiser 820’s look good for the tube amplifier .  I know I’m comparing a tube amp with solid state yet the Simaudio really caught my attention. Otherwise I’m going Woo/tubes.  I feel the Sennheiser’s would complement the tube amp and the Focal’s would only be affordable with the used Simaudio.  I do like the Focals.  Any comments would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks.

I have owned a number of headphone amps and stopped at the Simaudio 430HA.  Mine doesn't have the DAC, so I can't speak to the DAC.  The 430HA has a ton of clean power and will drive almost any headphones.  It's very neutral and detailed.  It has three inputs (including one balanced one), which is nice.  It allows me to listen to either my analog or digital source.  It has fixed and variable outputs, so you can use it as a preamp.  The volume control is one of the best things about it, it has 530 steps and allows you to precisely control the volume.  It also has high/low gain settings which are helpful for harder to drive cans. 

I have Focal Elex, Sennheiser HD 800, and Audeze LCD 4 headphones to name a few.  All very different, but the 430HA lets each of their strengths shine through and has more than enough power for any of them.  There's always something better, but once you get here, you're approaching the realm of diminishing returns.

Thanks Greg.  I’m seriously considering this amp.  It’s supposed to be on the slightly warm side of neutral?  This is important because I do not want a bright amp.  You mentioned neutral and detailed.  This is what I’m looking for also along with hopefully being on the warm side.  I know headphones make a difference too.  You also mentioned using the Focal eligia with this amp.  I’m looking into pairing this amp with the focal stellias.  I am stuck with closed back headphones with my living arrangements.  I’m used to closed back from my youth anyways.  I had the pioneer sx 680 receiver as my first stereo back in the days of my youth. I saved money from a newspaper route and cutting lawns as a 12 year old for this stereo.  I had the hpm 60 speakers. Anyhow, the headphone stage was half decent.  Nothing like a dedicated yet back then it sounded good.  My father had a set of acoustic research headphones and I had old Sonys.  They sounded great too.  I was just reminiscing about this system as I came across vintage systems online.  Off topic yet fun to think and talk about. This was the vinyl days.  I’ve been missing that warm analog sound vinyl produces.  Kind of expensive though.  One more question Greg.  What dac do you use with this amp?  Thanks again.