2015 InnerFidelity Holiday Gift Guide John Grandberg

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Sony NWZ-A17 ($299, pictured above)
Sony's little DAP isn't the most powerful. It doesn't handle DSD, and it doesn't have the best connectivity either. But I love it for the battery life measured in days, not hours; the slick, intuitive user interface; the excellent aptX Bluetooth connectivity; and the compact form factor which—unlike most audiophile devices—is easy to live with on the go. This "practical" solution still manages to make beautiful music with the right headphones (nothing too difficult to drive, please). In a world full of awkward, heavy devices running clunky interfaces, this little Sony could be just the ticket.

Echobox Finder X1 ($199)
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Using titanium housings strong enough to withstand extreme punishment, the new Echobox Finder X1 has a premium feel without a massive price. I particularly like the screw-on filters which come in three flavors: bassy, neutral, or bright. This isn't the first IEM to feature adjustable tuning but it's probably the most successful implementation I've yet encountered. With attractive packaging and a generous selection of tips included, the Finder X1 is a gift worth giving. MRSP is $199 but it early adopters can score a set for less, and Echobox tells me those orders will go out in time for Christmas.

Parasound Zdac v2 ($549)
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Parasound's little wonder makes an excellent solution for DAC, preamp, and headphone amplification duties. It may not have the most up to the minute hi-res and DSD capabilities, but it more than makes up for that with its stout linear power supply, handsome casework, and digital design by high-end Danish firm Holm Acoustics. This all adds up to a compelling experience whether using it with headphones or to drive active monitors in a desktop system. Easy to recommend as a gift, even if it's addressed to yourself.

Core Audio Design twiG headphone stand ($349 and up)
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This headphone stand is completely over the top—which could be just the thing for the crazy headphone enthusiast in your life. Core Audio Designs makes stunning high-end audio furniture, and the twiG is their love letter to headphone aficionados. The bold design is tall enough to easily fit even the largest headphones with room to spare for cable clearance. Choose "basic" woods like cherry, walnut, and maple, or go exotic with zebra, bubinga, sapele or ebony, for an additional charge. As audio art, it doesn't get much more unique than this.

Streaming Music - Rdio or Spotify gift card
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All my prior Gift Guide entries have included music - either a single CD or a boxed set. These days, gifting a CD is becoming more and more like giving someone a VHS movie. A nice thought, but perhaps not so practical. This year I'm recommending the gift of music from either Spotify or Rdio. Spotify has the advantage of being more well known, and physical gift cards are available in stores like Target and Best Buy. Rdio, in my humble opinion, has better sound quality, but requires an email address for the recipient. Either way you'll be opening someone's ears to all manner of excellent music.

COMMENTS
Jim Tavegia's picture

I have the RS-120 Sennheiser's on my night stand and use them just about every night and really like them. A real bargain.

I also have a pair of Koss Porta-Pros and for the money they are excellent, but I tend to use them less than my Grado 80s. Even my kids at school love the $99 Grados and are asking Santa for a pair for Christmas.

Now that my Focal Spirit Pros are broken in I really like them and they are the most expensive cans I own at $350, but my FAVs are still my 2 pair of AKG-K271s which seem to best match my 68 year old ear's reproducing ability. I will mix with the Focal's.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I should have added that for all of $99 the Shure SE-215's are a bargain for IEM. I use them often as well.

tony's picture

I own both and would own better if I could find them. I've tried and tried again many times. ( I've re-tuned my RS120s to sound nearly as good as my wired Sennheisers )

The Etymotics with the best Isolation are easy and obvious additions that can transform horrible environments into Islands of Tranquility, keep a spare pair with the Passport.

A nice collection of Rossini will delight any music lover.

Tony in Michigan

ps. a top level Phonak hearing system properly adjusted is a god send ( the Audiologist tunes them for the persons hearing curves, a bit pricy at $6,000 for one pair )

zobel's picture

I've had my HD600 for 16 years, still like new with replaced pads, and are are excellent in almost all respects, and a good value.

I've had the koss porta pros forever too. They are a great value, sound wonderful at this price point, and are very, very portable.

I also agree, and am happy to see the Sennheiser wireless recommendations. I have the RS175 and find them to be wonderful sounding and solidly built, and very highly performing as wireless cans. Great value too.

Other mentions might include;

AKG K7XX for $200 only at Massdrop.com. Maybe the best sounding AKG K7** series, and a great value. Thanks for the recommendation John Grandberg!

Sennheiser HD 380 PRO. Available for around $170, and a good shorter cable (aftermarket, Amazon) for around $26, for more portability. Very comfortable, closed, very accurate full range sound.
Highly recommended.

Thanks for the reviews Tyll.

John Grandberg's picture

Massdrop is doing some good things right now. K7XX, then Grace Design m9XX, then Fostex TH-X00, all exceptional performers and reasonably priced for what they are.

I'll have to check out the HD380 Pro one of these days.

potterpastor's picture

I used to have the HD380- The pros: Deep bass, WIDE soundstage, especially for a sealed phone, thick coil cable
The cons- Treble is a bit hot, cable not removable, can't remember mids

potterpastor's picture

Con- the 380 pro is a tight fitting, skull gripping phone

zobel's picture

To most ears they are spot on. I wouldn't want any less clamping pressure. The cable is replaceable, and nice after market cables are available in various lengths. Are you sure you are talking about the same cans? The 280 Pro had a tight clamp force, maybe you are thinking of those?

zobel's picture

and I thank you again for the heads-up on those John! I actually prefer them to my old standby HD600s. Better and more bass, and the highs are more forward with the AKGs. They too must be amped, and are a bit less forgiving than the Sen HD600, but good recordings sound more dimensional and dynamic with the K7XX. If I had to choose I would take the AKGs over the Sennheisers in this case. Never thought I would find cans to take their place, especially at such a better price through Massdrop. Thanks again John, this is the biggest upgrade to my headphone listening experience in 15 years!

John Grandberg's picture
I too really enjoy them. Whenever I start to lament the situation of ever-increasing headphone prices, I go back to the K7XX to remind me what kind of quality SHOULD be attainable for $200.
Jim Tavegia's picture

Smooth and effortless and I bought them for $229 off the AKG site 2-3 years ago I guess when WP reviewed them for "StereoPhile".

riker1384's picture

The Beats Solo 2 is being offered in Black Friday sales for almost as cheap as the Noontec, and it's better imho.

Audioaddict's picture

The Flare Audio R2A should have been one of the IEM's listed. Absolutley phenomanal for the price of 279$

ubercore's picture

You may want to change the Rdio/Spotify recommendation, as Rdio has declared bankruptcy: http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/16/9746220/pandora-to-acquire-key-parts-...

John Grandberg's picture
I had already made my list before this news happened. Too bad.... not that I didn't see it coming. Rdio had something of a "MOG" quality to it - too focused on music lovers, maybe not enough on marketing. I bet Spotify is hard to compete against.
zobel's picture

Pandora is buying it. No new subscriptions taken there. NBD if Pandora will incorporate some of the better features.

I'm shocked to see that someone (John G.?) didn't list a cassette player in their list...not. But really, cassettes are making a comeback of sorts. It has even has made the news;

http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/old-school-cassettes-make-comeback-c...

Makes it hard to compare CDs to VHS tapes (John G.), to DVDs, yes.
I still like the hard copy. I read newspapers, buy paper books, and prefer reality to virtual reality. I'm old school, which is understandable, since I'm old. But... may your downloads serve you well, and When you stream, may you do so merrily merrily merrily, because life is "but a dream".

zobel

John Grandberg's picture
I've spent countless hours assembling cassette mix tapes over the years. And shopping for the best sounding blank cassettes... BASF Chrome? Sony UX Pro? TDK or Maxell something or other (can't recall the specifics)? Lots of fun to be had, but alas it's probably been nearly 2 decades since I've touched one.
zobel's picture

I also spent that time making mixes on cassettes, and trying different tapes. I even had a couple wire recorders. Those are all gone now since they didn't age well, and really weren't all that great sounding to begin with. The Tascam four track cassette recorder was fun too. I had a reel to reel at that time too that I played with a lot, and it sounded much better.
I still spend countless hours making compilations on music CDRs. I just enjoy the process, and the sound is soooooo much better than the analog tape, (or the wire recorder) :-)
Can't believe people will want cassettes again after they have left the farm and been to Paris.

logscool's picture

Just curious if Bob has actually tried the DIY DAC project listed? How does it compare to some of your favorite converters?

potterpastor's picture

Does this mean you have changed your mind and now like HD 600 better than HE400S? I change likes from time to time.

poleepkwa's picture

I have to agree with this recommendation. The Sony is under appreciated. It does have limits, but its ease of use and battery life is simply fantastic.It sounds surprisingly good too. I got the RHA T20 with these and have been very pleased.

jonny564's picture

With holiday pricing on amazon the noontech hd II, Momentum on ear, urbanite, and vmoda m-80 are all around the same price. within $10 or so...gift buying is so difficult. Tyll if you read these, if you had to re-review those headphones and they were all the same price which would come out on top.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'd say the build quality of the other three are quite a bit better, but my guess is that only the M-80 may be better sonically. YMMV, this is a guess from memory.
Currawong's picture

I now have 1 vest and 3 jackets. Don't forget the pants too! I remember the look of shock on the face of a Sony engineer when I pulled a long headphone adaptor cable out of the one of the pockets after being asked to audition one of their DAC/amps with my headphones.

audiobill's picture

In your review of the HE400S you say, "I do find its transient response cleaner than the HD 600, thereby delivering slightly better imaging." You also say, "In fact, I found it to be modestly superior to the Sennheiser HD 600/650, delivering a more present mid-range and tighter bass." But then you recommend here the $100 more expensive HD 600. Can you please explain this apparent contradiction?