People listen to music for different reasons. Some for the lyrics, others for the melody but for me, I
$2000-ish? $3000-ish? $More-ish?
I'm okay with more-ish.
Would you consider a really high-end headphone setup??
I second the headphone suggestion.
They take up little space, can sound fantastic, are great at both low levels and high levels (as far as what the listener experiences), can induce drooling among friends - especially if there is a cute tube amp involved, do not require room treatment, etc.
Plus when it is time to move, one can easily pack the whole system up in a smallish to mid-size box and off you go.
And, as a final idea, you could get a headphone amp with a set of outputs (like the SinglePower amps) that also allow the connection of a pair of nice small self-powered speakers (like the Audio Engines) for those time when you want decent sound but don't want to sit still. This keeps the system small, but versatile.
By the way, welcome to the forum!
There are women on these forums? Wow! Who would have thought? In any case, I will try to answer your questions to best of my abilities.
Since you can't really play your music due to paper thin walls and neighbors, and since you would like a fairly transportable system, I would venture to say that a headphone based system is the way to go. You will get much more bang for the buck with a headphone system, you won't disturb your neighbors, the system won't weigh a ton and you can have a nice rig for this type of money or less. If this the route you would consider taking, here are my recommendations:
Headphones in order of my preference:
Sennheiser HD-650 - $350
Sennheiser HD-600 - $200
Sennheiser HD-595 - $200
Sennheiser HD-590 - $150 - Gee, could you tell I like Sennheisers?
AKG - 501 - approx $200
Headphone amplifiers in order of preference
Cary CAD-300SEI integrated amp - approx $2,000 used
Cary SLP-88 Preamp - approx $1,000 used
Eddie Current HD25 - approx $400
Rudistor NSX-03 - $900
SinglePower PPX3 6sn7 version - approx $900
Creek OBH-11 - Approx $100 used
Musical Fidelity XCan v3 - $400
Musical Fidelity XCan v2 - approx $150 used
CD Players in order of preference in your price range
Rega Saturn - Approx $1600 used
Arcam CD192 - $1500 new approx $900 used
Rega Planet 2000 - approx $500 used
Musical Fidelity A3.24 - Approx $600 used
Equinox headphone replacement cable for Sennheiser headphones - $320 for 10'
Cardas headphone replacement cable for Sennheiser headphones - approx $200
Moon audio blue dragon headphone replacement cable for Sennheiser headphones - $150
Well heck, if we're not going to wait on a response before suggesting a bunch of headphones, here's my "can't fail" setup:
- AKG K701s (under $300 new)
Upgrade cable to Cardas -- $160
Woo Audio WA6 -- sexy as all get out and only $585 (I'm really a solid state guy, but with the flea watts needed for headphones I go for the sexy single-ended, Class-A set up of the Woo)
Pioneer DV-58AV universal player, under $400 street price
Analysis Plus interconnects (Solo Crystal Oval) $400-ish
This rig is within striking distance of my speaker rig, which cost about 15-times more. I enjoy it a lot and use it several times per week.
I like headphones, too, but most of the times, nothing beats music just working in the room from the speakers. (My headphones of choice is AKG 701s, which you can get from Amazon for ~$250 or something. For headphone amp, dcstep - a forum member here - speaks very highly of his Woo Audio 6 to match with his AKG 701)
I have an alternate proposal for your 1 bedroom. Speakers: FJ Minis. I just heard these suckers, and they're f#*^ing musical & cute as hell. They're tiny but you wouldn't know it from the sound they make. One of the strengths of the tiny size is that they totally disappear into the room. The soundstage & imaging were unbelievable. They cost like $1200 bucks? Awesome bang for the buck for these German speakers. I'm planning to purchase 2nd set of speakers for my basement office for my fairly decent system, and these still tempt me. They sounded REALLY good with matching wooden stands. I thought they were like ~$3K. Again, with the stands, they looked pretty killer.
For source, keep it simple for now. Since you like iPod, you should try the Wadia 170 iTransport, which allows bit-perfect extraction of the music from the iPod into your stereo. Costs $380. Get a decent DAC to run the iPod/Wadia through... something like Channel Islands VDA2/VCA1 combo, which you can purchase new for around $800 or around $500 used on Audiogon.com sometimes: that will take care of all your digital needs, for $1200 max. And it will sound really good.
You need a good integrated amp, which is kind of the nerve center for your system. Now, here's where you'll have to decide if you want tubes or solid state. Solid state will generally be easier to deal with, and will offer you better "grip" on the bass, etc. No hassle. But tubes will kind of give you that romance to the music; the music will gain in textural depth/complexity. They'll be beautiful to look at, too, those glowing tube bottles lighting up the dark room. But usually, they're less powerful than solid state amps, but with FJ Minis, you wouldn't have a problem with a tube amp. But here's my recommendation: Pathos Classic MKIII. It will give you the best of both worlds because it's a hybrid tube/solid statge amp. It has tubes in pre-amp stage, and solid stage power stage. It will sound gorgeous with those FJ Minis & your system won't sound out of place in some chic Manhattan loft. They can usually be had in Audiogon for ~$1700. I almost went for it when I was shopping & I still can't forget what it did musically. Look:
So this is a bit over the budget at around $4K. But it's a system you won't have to apologize for to anyone. And the thing is, it will totally fit your space now, and later, when you move out to a bigger/better place, you don't have to really upgrade. You can cut costs here & there. Instead of Pathos, you can go for other integrateds for around $1K, which will bring your budget down to $3K. And that will sound great, too. But I'm just putting myself in your shoes, and I'd make these my moves if I were you. Although I don't have this system, I wouldn't be surprised if it sounded better than some systems costing twice as much. And it will look fantastic anywhere, a great blend of retro-modern aesthetic (Except the Wadia/Channel Islands combo looks a bit utilitarian...)
Despite being our host, Stephen is a little new to audiophildom and has yet to learn that a serious headphone system is every bit as much a "system" as speakers. That said, he throws out some great ideas for the speaker camp.
BTW, I'm in both camps. Measured by money spent, I'm way more seriously into the speaker camp, but my headphone rig hangs right there close to my speakers. I split my time 90/10 speaker/headphones, but I don't need to worry about neighbors very much (I'm also in an apartment, but I've got 10" concrete floor and ceiling and only one adjoining wall in the kitchen).
The Wadia is a great solution, because it has a true digital output. Which allows upgrading in the future, like a PS audio Digital Link III. The Digital Link III also has a USB so that could be hooked to a computer and work with an iTunes library. I'd pair it with the Stax SRS-4040II Signature Headphones w/ SRM-006tII Driver. If portability isn't important Stax crush ALL other headphones in terms of transparency, micro-dynamics, and flatness of frequency response. A top quality power conditioner also will help to take the headphones to the next level. Since the transducers of the headphones are so much closer to the ear any background noise from the electricity is magnified so it
I owned Stax in the 1980s and they do have really sweet midrange, but all the Stax I've heard really suffer in bass and to a lesser degree in dynamics, as compared to the best dynamic cans. Also, those of us that live in dry climates battle static electricity with our electrostatics. (It's ot fun being zapped in the ears). Anyway, dynamic headphones now rival electrostatics in the mids and do much, much better in the bass and dynamic regions.
Some people really love their electrostatics, but I just wouldn't recommend them for a first plunge into serious headphones.
Okay. I'm not sure how to reply to all of you but you guys totally rock. I am at work right now (oops) so I will try and do some research re. your suggestions tonite. I like the headphone idea more and more, but I have been scared to go in that direction cause I know I am not crazy about crappy buds in my ears cause it just feels like the music is assaulting me but I'm sure it isn't the case with some high quality gear. Didn't know headphones required amps. I have much to learn...
-- Grasshopper V
... Btw, that picture of the hybrid tube/solid amp is sweet. *drools*
I like the headphone idea more and more, but I have been scared to go in that direction cause I know I am not crazy about crappy buds in my ears cause it just feels like the music is assaulting me . . .
An understandable reaction.
Good headphones do not give one that sensation.
Yet, the headphone experience is different than listening to speakers. This is probably why so many have both speakers and headphones.
Headphones need an amp to drive them just as speakers need an amp to power them. Headphone amplifiers are either dedicated units that do nothing else, or the headphone amp can be built into another piece of equipment - such as a home theater receiver.
A dedicated headphone amp is generally better than one built into other equipment as the money has gone into making a good headphone amp rather than the other stuff.
Btw, that picture of the hybrid tube/solid amp is sweet. *drools*
Pathos equipment is all drool worthy. Very pretty, the audiophile equivalent of cute Italian shoes.
Great thread everyone.
I think that almost all serious audiophiles ultimately want full range speakers that can be cranked without restraint. Unfortunately, budgets and living conditions almost always make that impossible, at least for certain periods of your life. Good, high quality headphones bridge that gap. The only sacrifice is the bass pounding against your chest and the wind from the woofers flapping your pants legs. That will come in time.
Yes, you've probably been listening something like Apple Earbuds, which are one step above the throw-aways that Frontier Airlines gives away. Really great cans will blow you away.
I've listened to nearly every current Grado and most current Sennheisers and in my opinion they just don't compare to the Stax. No offense but if you haven't listened to the Stax since the 1980s your opinion on them is a bit out of date, that was twenty years ago! Yes, occasionally a static discharge will zap the user but it doesn't hurt in the least. It is a bit surprising the first time.
The nice thing about the Stax is there is no guess work. The amp is specifically designed to work with the headphones. It eliminates the "fun" of mixing and matching 'phones and amps, if one considers that fun. Stax aren't mentioned enough when headphones are discussed. Everyone that I've ever let listen to my pair was absolutely floored.
I heard Stax Lambda and their top of the line models and I found them to be dry, lifeless and un-involving. There is certain liquidity missing from the entire Stax line. Sennheiser phones are my favorite and if I could get my hands on the Orpheus, I would poop my pants.
Stax lovers should try AKG K701s when looking for dynamic cans. The Grados and Senns are the antithesis of Stax and AKG, IME. Another way to view the amp in a Stax "system" is it's something that's good for nothing else, thus having limited resale opportunity.
Sorry, but Stax will never be mainstream. You just can't get the dynamic range and bass needed to satisfy most music lovers.
Like I said before, they're fine cans and I understand why they have a following, but they're not something to recommend to a newbie, IMHO.
I readily admit to having no experience with AKG headphones. The reason Stax aren't more mainstream is because most people that use headphones are using them for portable applications at least part of the time or they are obsessive tweakers.
There are PLENTY of music lovers that are willing to give up a small amount of bass and some macro-dynamics if they can gain a purer midrange, better micro-dynamics, and superior space. Count me among that group. For me music lives in the midrange, everything else is icing on the cake.
Some of the biggest moments of musical appifiny I've had were when wearing Stax headphones. Don't get me wrong I love Grados but they simply don't compare to Stax. If I were in the market for headphones I might check out the AKG K701 too just out of curiosity because I have heard good things.