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Headphone conundrum

21 January 2020

This is the sad state of my favorite Focal Spirit Professional...

I have to level up my knowledge of Fusion 360 to design replacement parts to attach the cups to the headband. While that thought was swirling in my head like a twister, I thought of rewarding myself with a pair of planar type headphones. While I'm familiar with the sound planar headphones make, it will be my first ownership ever, so yes I'm very late in the game.

The plan was to limit the financial exposure to below $400 so I honed in on the Hifiman Sundara and Audeze LCD-1. Alas, both these units are not available from Egghead and ordering from Amazon with shipping via AmazonGlobal is a scary thought due to a previous experience.

I dug deep into my pocket and sigh... Ok I'm willing to gamble with the LCD-2C which is more than double the budget. I've been pestering Wen of Egghead and this time there's one, yes just one LCD-2C, available at the store. So I quickly headed to the shop in Shangri-La Plaza and found out that it is the closed back version of the LCD-2C. My mindset is cast on the open back model so my excitement somewhat entered into cardiac arrest. While trying to recover the feeling of excitement, my eyes started scanning the headphones lined up in front of me and I saw the Hifiman HE5se, I also asked for the in-ear version from Audeze and they offered the LCDi3. I told Wen that I'll have my lunch first while researching about the LCD-2C closed back.

Finding good food in Shangri-La Plaza is even worse than finding good headphones in the $400 range! Anyway, I was able to do a very short research and they all came to the conclusion that the open back LCD-2C is preferred over the closed back.

I returned to Egghead and prepared to listen to the Hifiman HE5se first, which is cheaper than the LCD-2C and is open back. I am looking for an amplifier with less than 1,000mW power as basis for what will be ultimately driving the cans- the Naim Headline-2 at 560mW. I was handed an Astell & Kern SA700 which wasn't able to drive the HE5se. It clips!

Over to the LCD-2C closed back using the same track Bohemian Rhapsody/Underpressure, the SA700 was able to play clean music but consumed nearly all its range at 125 indicated in its digital volume. Without audible clipping I needed to know the power output of the Astell & Kern, but this SA700 do not have published power output in watts.  In fact all Astell & Kern products do not have that data, only output voltage which is not relevant to my cause.

I asked for another DAP and they gave me a FiiO M9 with published power output of 220mW and that is perfect for this test. The M9 didn't clip and the volume is also near the top limit at 120 IIRC which is fine my me as the Headline-2 will have twice that power. The LCD-2C simply is easier to drive compared to the HE5se.

Audeze LCD-i3

With some apprehension I gave Wen the nod to pack the LCD-2C closed back but deep inside I'm not satisfied.  As a last recourse I asked her to bring out the LCDi3 which wasn't even in my plan. Besides, it costs the same as the LCD-2C! Using the 3.5mm auxilliary cable into the FiiO M9, I played the same track and whoa! This is the open sound I'm expecting!

While Wen was inspecting the accessories she told me "sir, there's a Lightning adaptor..." I asked her to connect it into the LCDi3 so I can use my iPhone 7 for listening and I'm hooked! It sounds way better than the LCD-2C closed back. As I continue to drain my iPhone's battery playing Tidal via mConnect app, I handed the payment to Wen.

To be continued...