Need to build a headphone system

I'm looking for advice.  I need a headphone system for an apartment.  I am  overwhelmed both by the variety of headphones and amps out there and the difficulty of auditioning them.  My budget is about 8.5K for amp and cans.  I listen to lots of chamber music, solo instrumental and other small group stuff, so I appreciate detail and responsiveness.  But I shy away from analytic - my main system amp has beautiful glowing tubes.  Although I stream a lot, I also listen to a lot of vinyl.  I wear oticon behind the ear hearing aids.  Music sounds noticeably darker and less detailed when I take them out.  So certainly not in-ear!  Any expertise on listening with aids is greatly appreciated.  


Sony has a "Signature" system of a matched headphone amp/headphones/audio player that is banging. It isn't cheap but certainly not crazy either. It is a system you can listen to without fatigue and has a ton of features. I would get the amp and the over ear headphones. Whether or not you want to get the player depends on what you have now. I use the headphone amp as a DAC as well, it is fantastic in this role and much less $$ then other flagship dacs that don't have all of the additional features.Here is a link to the Sony Signature Series review on youtube:

The selection of components is intimidating. I put my headphone system together over the last twenty years. I have owned a lot of headphones, amps, DACs and streamers… in many ways going back to the early 1980’s.

My desire is to have really musical, natural, and dynamic sound with great detail. I have owned electrostatic, and another dozen headphones. Amps from all over. For amps… Woo WA5 is so much better than anything I have ever owned or heard. This 300b design has enormous current and natural sound. It can grab any headphone and make it perform without a bit of analytical edge to it. While, I give so much credit to my Focal Utopia… turns out I listen to my Sennheiser 800s all the time over the top notch Focal, Audez, UltraSonde, Denon, and others. If all you need is the headphones and amp (not a top notch streamer and DAC)… then I highly recommend the Woo WA5… with a pair of Takatski 300B tubes… with Sennheiser HD800 headphones. This combo sounded so incredibly good to me it caused a $70K upgrade in my main system because my headphone system sounded sooo much better.


Given what you’re looking for I’d highly recommend the Hifiman HE1000 SE and the Quicksilver tube headphone amp.  The HE1000 SE rivals their $6000 Susvara headphones but are MUCH easier to drive and can be had for only $2799 ($700 discount) from their open box section on their site (I bought both my ‘phones from there and couldn’t tell them from brand new).  The Quicksilver amp can be had for only $1198 and is a huge value and would be a great pairing with the HE1000 SEs. So for $4000 you could have an awesome HeadFi system that rivals the best.  Here are a couple reviews FWIW…

Best of luck

If you want to think outside the box, literally, I could recommend the RAAL SR-1b earspeakers (nearfield ear monitors) with the Ti-1b transformer interface box.  You would need a headphone amp with a 4-pin XLR output that delivers a minimum of 2 wpc into either 16 or 32 ohms, so a pretty powerful headphone amp.  But there is nothing like the SR-1b in terms of spaciousness, speed, detail, and transparency with the RAAL ribbon drivers, and they should fit with your hearing aids since they have a pad that goes behind the ears.  Maybe not.  And the system should be within your budget.  The only downside is bass quality instead of quantity so some folks who like gobs of fat bass probably won't like the SR-1b.  Check out the RAAL Requisite website for more details.

Go for the RAAL SR1b, at least on a home trial.

You could try out the SR1b with a $300 Schitt Jotunheim R RAAL amp (if you can still find one). Use the Star8 cable with the JR.

If you want to spend a bit more, the best amp for the RAAL is the VM-1a. It is a $7K tube headphone amp and really is the perfect match for both the RAAL SR1b and CA-1a phones. The SR1b sounds more like 2-channel and the CA-1a is more like headphones. With the VM-1a amp the CA-1a is incredibly dynamic. I think even bass heads would like it.


Word is starting to get out on the 2-channel community.


Oh, dear, the CA-1a is again something else! The HD-650 was already a bit of a revelation, but the RAAL quite simply steps up the game to an entirely different level. The increase in resolution is unbelievable, as is the further increased transparency. It’s that I know I just put on a headphone, but honestly, this had nothing to do with headphone listening in any way that I had experienced before. Jeroen is a more seasoned headphone listener than I am but he was as amazed as I was

In many ways, the CA-1a reminds me of Magnepan ribbon speakers, only with no crossovers and no room issues. Interestingly, that comparison also extends to the bass where the CA-1a is extremely fast and sublimely accurate, but not particularly robust or full. In fact, the entire frequency range is abundantly free from coloration and thickness, and the bass was simply no exception.

SAEQ Hyperion Ge and RAAL Requisite CA-1a | HFA - The Independent Source for Audio Equipment Reviews | Page 3 (

The CA-1a is not even the best RAAL phone and the one that 2-channel folks should hear, that would be the SR1b.


Greetings, and welcome to the headphone community. I dove into head-fi in 2015 when I moved to Japan. I too, have listened to many headphones on the market.

The previous two suggestions, the Woo WA5 with Sennhieser HD800S is a very good suggestion along with RAAL SR1B. I have listened to both many times. Both come from two opposite sides of the spectrum to reach what you are looking for. I would definitely do your research and listen to the RAAL system prior to purchasing. This is not a HP you buy unseen. As far as the HD800, yes I truly believe paired with Woo products decreases the brightness and provides a very good listening experience. Personally, I would not purchase the HD800S unless you pair it with a warm sounding tube headphone amp like the Woo. I believe both HPs will work fine with hearing aids specially the RAAL since you can adjust the wings.  

Now, let me throw in a 3rd suggestions, which will provide you yet another polar spectrum close to your price range. A electrostat system consisting with the Blue Hawaii SE (BHSE) and electrostat HP of choice. I am currently a proud owner of the BHSE with the Audeze CRBN. This system will run you 10K, but you can shop for a HP within your price range such as the Stax 007 Mk2. Now, electrostat system naturally is notorious for being analytical specially pairing with Stax, hence why I own the Audeze CRBN. Although, with the BHSE you can swap out tubes as needed to reach your desired listening pleasure.

The HeadAmp website will provide you info on the HD800S, RAAL and the BHSE with electrostat HPs. Not sure you location of residence, but I would recommend visiting in Torrance CA. This is one of the few places where you can listen to all three suggested systems. Spent many hours in that place.

Good luck, and again welcome to head-fi.


P.S. If you ever come to the decision to purchase the BHSE/CRBN combo, speak to me and I may cut loose my personal system for your price.

Thank you all!  This is is all really helpful.  I'm in New York.  Does anyone have experience with Audio46?  Although I expect there will be lots of home trials, a good store would be helpful.  (And FWIW if I find what I want in a store, I'll buy it in a store - it's hard enough being in business without being a showroom for the internet.)  I am partial to tubes, so I'll be checking out Woo and the VM-1A for sure.  This is going to be fun! 

I’ve been to Audio46.  It’s pretty small — not surprising being in NYC — but they have good stuff and the people are nice and accommodating if you wanna listen to stuff.  And their prices are competitive if u wanna buy.  Great HeadFi resource to have and you should definitely go.  Just make sure they have something you’d like to listen to available to demo if there’s something specific you’re looking for.  Of course street parking is a challenge so be prepared to pay for garage parking.  

I visited JS Audio in Bethesda, MD and they had a RAAL system. I live in the Washington DC area. I have not explored elsewhere. To bad you did not go to CanJam NY couple months back.

After my posting last night, I believe the RAAL system may be what you are looking for. It’s basically putting 2 ribbon monitors on your head. Coming from a 2 channel environment its an easy transition. Keep us posted.

I bought some Kennerton headphones a couple of years ago from Audio 46 and the transaction went well with no issues.  They do have a pretty impressive list of headphones from modest offerings to some of the most expensive, so it might be a good place to try some on your target list.

Sennheiser HD800S headphone comes to mind for that particular music you like but also because of the fairly light weight and large earcups that would accommodate hearing aids better than most other headphones. Also the Hifiman HE1000SE previously mentioned may have large enough earcups and is very detailed sounding as well.

For amps you may consider Cayin HA-6A tube amp for its detailed sound with some tube warmth. It has a variety of outputs and settings to tailor the music. For something more lush maybe the Woo Audio WA22 tube amp.


Thanks for everyone's help.  I'll be at Audio46 on Friday, then seeing what else I need to listen to and where I can find it.Reporting back soon, I hope!

Bring your own music and headphone amp/DAC if you can as it’ll help you get the most out of your visit.  Definitely listen to the Hifiman HE1000SE or at least the HE1000v2 if they’re available.  I own the Arya Stealths and I’d recommend listening to them too, but by all accounts they aren’t at the level of the HE1000 models although I’m quite happy with them driven by a Singxer SA-1 amp and Musician Pegasus R2R NOS DAC.  FWIW…

BTW, I’d recommend using one of these parking services to secure a spot in a parking garage as it’s highly unlikely you’ll find street parking in that area.  Check both as they cover different parking venues so one might get you closer or give a better price.  Have fun!


For chamber music, small ensemble, and solo instrument, Sennheiser HD600 or its upper series with DHT SET (singled-ended design as opposed to push-pull) amp will be fantastic. 

I build my own tube amps as a hobby and use DHTs such as 71A, 45 with excellent result with these types of music over headphones. Not sure what is available commercially, but want to mention that tube amps have different designs. Singled ended design with DHT tubes sounds best to my ears.

I would like to recommend what I have , for headphones I would go for Sennheiser 800 and for head amp the Luxman P - 750u which is an absolutely stonking setup. It is so clean and clear that nothing gets between you and the music. Yes I know it doesn't have little glowing bottles but it blew away every lit up box that I auditioned.

Simply noticed no mention of Manley Labs.  I've owned and enjoyed several of their pieces, not this one.  Not a headphone guy, but admire their approach and versatility of concept.



I am going to sell the BEST headphone amp for the RAAL SR1a and CA-1a, the VM-1a amp. I am going to use a CODA #16 2-channel amp with these phones instead. It is not as good as the RAAL VM-1a but close enough and I want to raise funds for a second 2-channel amp for my new speakers.

I read this thread and my intuition is all the advices are very good...

My own choice is for an underestimated headphone alas! i cannot recommend it to most people...

The AKG K340 ( cost used ridiculous) top of the world in 1978...

The internal set of 5 tuned resonators inside coupled with the hybrid of electrostatic and dynamic cells give a complete natural 3-D soundfield..

Because Dr. Gorike a physicist founder of AKG figured out how to create a dual acoustic chamber inside the shell ( he patented it) using then the difference in timing between direct wave and indirect one making the brain able to create holography impression and outside of the head sound in spite of the lack of crosstalk as with speakers, it is  this crosstalk between the speakers and their differential incoming waves around the head with timing differentials which  make localization natural and possible, which is way more difficult with two isolate driver on the ears... ...Bass of the K340  are natural et to die for in extension and depth no boominess at all as in my 9 others headphones when there was bass.. ...Highs not fatiguing rival my 2 basic Stax and win...

This is the positive...

The negative to reach this results the K340 is so hard to understand and figure out and drive it takes me 6 months of listening experiments... This is why i dare not to recommend it to people not used to experiment...

But this headphone especially considering the ratio high S. Q. / low price is IMPOSSIBLE To beat by anything , even my past room tuned acoustic with speakers...Because to beat the K340 it takes a speakers set able to give celestial Highs and the deep bass under 30 hertz and an acoustic room for the speakers to shine spatially ... Forget speakers in a living room...

My Sansui alpha AU 607- i the top of Sansui in 1978 is able to drive this headphone more difficult to drive and pickier than any other ... Because it is not only hungry but ask for a supply of potential current the highest possible, his two drivers are picky and way more than just hungry...But anyway it does not ask for costly dedicated tube or electrostatic amplifier as Stax , just regular good one powerful but with very low noise floor because the drivers will reflect the noise as defect imediately... I tried my super loved Sansui AU 7700 and i must changed it for a low noise Sansui alpha with a more refined S. S. design ..

But consider that the price paid 300 bucks for the Sansui and 100 bucks for the K340...I cannot say anything negative AFTER my optimization.. BUt without optimization if you read reviews on the net you will read some which contains negative or reservations  ... They dont reflect the headphone limit but the reviewer ignorance about how to optimize this headphone... I know because i perceived  all these  negative aspects  the first day... All was cured after optimization... Think about that :  even Kennerton headphone said to me that making an hybrid like that is too costly and too complex and they let go of their project and will not go back ... Now you know why it is the only real hybrid ever made...

i know that anything cannot  really beat it...Not on all acoustic counts... How many headphone in the top scale own internal acoustic resonators and hybrid cells ?

Most are single driver attached to an empty shell...His soundfield impressions crush all my other 9 headphone which i could not ever listen again at all...



Checkout the HiFiman Shanghai-la JR it 8k msrp . It’s an electrostatic set up with amp(tube) and headphones. Sound like a match for what you like.


Also check out STAX.

Thanks for all the suggestions.  I've listened to a number of headphones so far.  I have not been able to hear the RAAL's, so I guess I will contact them directly.  Focal's don't play well with my hearing aids.  Sennheisers do.  Audio46 was not much help.  Bus have been a low point in their stocking cycle, and they are not going to open boxes of hi-end cams just for a listen (which I understand).

@label19 - do you use behind-the-ear hearing aids for headphone listening? I have Oticon behind-the-ear ones for listening to my 2-channel system, but I've got in-ear hearing aids for headphone listening. Otherwise, the sound is not being directed at the hearing aids' mics.... 

Audio46 was not much help.  Bus have been a low point in their stocking cycle, and they are not going to open boxes of hi-end cams just for a listen (which I understand).

I don’t understand.  What does this mean?  If brick n mortar stores are failing to meet your needs, the hell with them and just start buying ‘phones you’re interested in online with generous trial/return periods, whether it’s Amazon or direct from the manufacturers, and just do that.  That should be doable.  I’m sorry Audio46 was a fail.

@larsman I too have oticon behind-the-ear aids.  I see your point about in-ear aids.  That's going to be expensive.  My oticons are 6K.  What are you using for in-ear?  It might be worth the investment for me because the headphone system will be my main system in one of my two residences.  (My wife and I have been commuting for dogs years.)

@soix agreed.  That's what I'm going to do.  It's a little complicated since it's a headphone/amp pair I need.  I'm on the road a lot, so this is becoming a slow and frustrating process.

@label19 - Hi - yeah, that's what my Oticons cost as well when I got them about 6 years ago. For in-ear, I've got Widex Moment 440's, and those cost about the same, but I'd never get Widex again. The app for use with the hearing aids looks like something a computer student would do for their first project, though not as useful as the student project; it's really insulting to somebody spending thousands on their product. I'll keep these for a few more years and then replace them... 

It was well worth it to me using in-ear hearing aids with headphones; for a long time, I used cans without them, and then figured I'd see if this would work without feeding back. They worked fine after plenty of fine tuning with the audiologist for different programs, and it's like removing a cloth from over my ears listening to those compared to without them. 

Given your music preferences. IMO I would look into the HiFiman Shangri-La JR. This is and electrostatic tube system. At 8k it includes the Headphones. E-stats are perfect many say for the music you like. I think and audition of this system would be helpful to you. There are video reviews on You Tube where you can get more info. I also like its a straight forward one purchase system. Researching individual components is time consuming and making sure you get a good system match is import. This addresses both those issues.