Wall Of Excellence

The Wall of Excellence serves the purpose of showcasing audio devices that have proven to be outstanding in every respect over time to us. It consolidates the informed opinions of seven reviewers (info on them appended below).

A device gets attached to this Wall of Excellence when based on our private and of course subjective experience it performs so well within its technical and price category as to even discourage considering homologous alternatives.

If it ain’t here, WE don’t want it!

Please note that our WoE will not be limited to devices we actually published a review of. Nonetheless, all WoE devices have for long time been or still are part of our operative gear.

We start small and plan to expand our wall according to merit.

This Site is being consistently updated…please bookmark it and keep checking back!


In-Ear Monitors

VisionEars Elysium$3000Sugar midrange, sweet, sweet treble. Falls only short by its fleeting BA bass.
qdc Anole VX$2000Resolution monster. BA timbre and BA bass the only downsides. Murders poor mastering.
64Audio U12t$2000Inoffensive tuning, best BA-bass around. Very resolving. High level of comfort and isolation. Slightly mushy transients and lacks the dynamics of a DD.
Sony IER-Z1R$1700Class-leading bass response. Underrated treble that’s timbrally correct. Fit can be problematic.
UM MEST mk.2$1500Great all-rounder with no specific weakness. One of the safest recommendations in the TOTL range. Spectacular imaging, staging, and class-leading resolution.
Dunu ZEN$700Class-leading macro and microdynamics. Superb bass and midrange resolution. Limited upper-treble air. Tip-dependent sound.
Dunu SA6$550Brilliant tuning and nearly as resolving as certain kilobuck IEMs. More coherent than Moondrop B2/B2 Dusk.
Final E5000$250Thick, lushy timbre. Supreme bass, vocal, and staging performance. High end IEM amp strictly required, or tonality goes too dark and detail is lost.
Etymotic ER4SR$250Industrial standard, reference-level IN-EAR monitor at a reasonable price. Best-in-class in isolation.
JVC HA-FDX1$250Cheapest premium single DD. Fantastic tonal balance and tonal accuracy with a bit of midrange glare. Comes with 3 tuning filters.
Tanchjim Oxygen $250Clean acoustic timbre. Almost purely neutral tonality with a slight bright accent. Very good technicalities. Arguably best rec for jazz and other acoustic genres until 2X its price at least.
Ikko OH10$200Best implemented V tuning until at least 2x it’s price. Great technicalities. Somewhat dry timbre. Some may find them not much comfortable due to weight.
Shozy Form 1.4$200An unexpectedly good allrounder. Does everything and is super comfortable.
Penon Sphere$160Greatly refined warm-balanced tonality. Elegant “satin” timbre in a 1BA with stunning bass extension and refined mids and vocals. High-quality IEM amp required.
Final A3000$130Clear timbre, neutral/midpushed W presentation. Phenomenal technicalities, stunning organic bilaterally full extended rendering in a biiiiig 3D stage. Acoustic / unplugged music champ until a few times its price.
Moondrop Aria$80Safe Harman-ish tuning. Punchy, detailed bass despite dark treble.
Final E3000$50Warm balanced tonality, great dynamics (macro and micro) when properly biased. Good IEM amp required. Top rec as a general allrounder up to 4 times its price.
Final E1000/E500$27/25E1000: bright-neutral tonality, very good tuning and technicalities for a minuscule price. Top rec for jazz and other acoustic genres up to 5 times its price.

E500: recommended for binaural musical recordings and games. More sub-bass than E1000.
Blon BL-03$26With sound this good and price this reasonable, there is nothing much to fault except for slow bass and a slight mid-bass bleed…and poor fit for some.

Past excellences, now discontinued or superseded

Fostex TE-02$80Neutral, well resolving single DD with arid bass. Unmodded a bit spiky for some. Waterproof.
Tin Hifi T2$50Uniquely flat tuned budget iem. A classic.
Moondrop Crescent$30Harman Target tuned single DD. Premium iem in hiding, marred by somewhat sloppy technicalities.
Sony MH750/755$10TBA


Hifiman Susvara$6000Open back. Supremely natural timbre. No discernible weaknesses. The true upgrade to the Sennheiser HD600/650. Perhaps the best tuned headphone in the summit-fi range. Requires a high quality speaker amp to perform at its best.
Final D8000$3800Open back. Class-leading bass response with immense physicality and slam. Superb resolution across the range. Immersive staging. Metalhead endgame. Can feel a bit heavy after a while.
HEDDAudio HEDDPHONE V2$1900Open back. Technical prowess similar to headphones at twice the price. Great tuning with no noticeable flaws. Class leading treble. Heavy, headband may cause discomfort.
Shure SRH1540$500Over ear. Closed back. Organic timbre, warm-balanced tonality. Spectacular dynamics and layering, great technicalities. Requires high quality amping.
Sennheiser HD 600 series$200-$400Over ear, open back.

HD 650: Eternal classic since 2003, slightly warmer tuning than the HD600 with more elevated mid-bass and generally better extension. The most organic midrange. Lacks staging/imaging prowess.

HD 600: Unparalleled natural organic midrange and sweet treble. A classic since 1997. The closest out there to a Reference signature.
Final Sonorous-III/Sonorous-II$360/320Over ear. Closed back.

Sonorous III: organic acoustic timbre, warm-centric tonality. Beyond spectacular mids and highmids, agile punchy bass, nice detailed trebles. Arguably the best sub-$400 close-back allrounder. Easy to amp, a good DAC mandatory. Sound changes significantly with pad rolling.

Sonorous II: clear timbre, bright-neutral tonality. Extended, flat, fast, articulated bass. Vivid, detailed and engaging highmids and trebles. Great layering and separation. Spectacular performer for acoustic instrumental music. Easy to amp, a good DAC mandatory. Sound changes significantly with pad rolling.
Sennheiser HD 25$150On ear, closed back. Punchy, energetic sound with decently balanced tonality. Owing to their fantastic isolation and indestructibility, they have been (not only) a DJ favourite since 1988.
Philips SHP 9500/9600$70-$100The Philips duo are staples in the <$100 segment. Heck, once EQ’ed, they sound better than most headphones under $200. Supreme comfort, though earpads may feel scratchy. SHP9600 brings minute improvements over the OG model (less glare in the mids, less spiky lower treble), though with EQ they are about on par.
Koss Porta Pro/KPH30i$40/$30Both feature the same driver (with different coatings).

Porta Pro: On ear, open back. A standard staple since the Walkman era. Warm, smooth, detailed, organic sound. Surprisingly wide soundstage. Tendency to catch on long hairs.

KPH30i: On ear, open back. Organic timbre, balanced tonality. Multiple customization options via 3rd party pad rolling. Stunning sound quality for a minuscle price. Sadly, a bit fragile.

Digital Audio Players (“DAPs”)

Lotoo PAW Gold Touch$2800Beyond fantastic separation, layering, macro and microdynamics thanks to summit-fi dac and amp implementation. Zero hiss. A significant upgrade from LP6000, although still unfit for power-hungry loads.
Questyle QPM$1500End. Game. If you can live with the non-touch, archaic UI and scrolling method. Some hiss with sensitive loads.
Cayin N6ii (E01)$1500Superb mids, intoxicating sound signature. Excellent dynamics. Zero hiss. Slow CPU can be a bottleneck in an otherwise excellent all-rounder. Replaceable motherboards a bonus.
Lotoo Paw 6000$1200Class-leading resolution with a neutral tonality. Superb bass texture and control. Separation and layering rivaling desk setups. Highly resolving treble without any grain or edginess. Zero hiss. Can’t drive power-hungry loads, however.
Sony WM1A$1200Becomes a near-identical WM1Z with MrWalkman firmware. Class-leading layering and vocals. Some hiss with ultra-sensitive loads. Display is unusable in bright sunlight.
A&K Kann Alpha$1000Best “value for money” A&K DAP. Colored yet exciting tonality. High output power can drive most loads (apart from certain planars). Bulky and heavy build makes it a challenge to carry around. Not the best treble rendition in this range.
Cowon Plenue R2$550Superb dynamics (macro and micro). Warm-neutral tonality works with every type of IEM. Zero hiss. Week-long battery life. Low output power for power hungry cans.
Sony NW-A55$180“The” DAP until 3X its price in terms of DAC quality and amping performance, with the added bonus of Sony DSP. Arguably the absolute best UI/UX at any price. Great power/battery management. MrWalkman firmware required. Hisses with sensitive loads.

Desktop Amplifiers

Benchmark HPA-4$3100If you want a truly neutral amp with a plethora of pro-level options: this is it, this is the endgame. Unfortunately, neutral sound signature can get somewhat sterile and lifeless.
Cayin HA-6A$2500One of the best tube-amps out there. Impedance matching makes it hiss-free even with sensitive loads. Exceptional dynamics. Superb analog-sounding mids and treble. Quite forgiving with poor mastering while providing the nuances of well-mastered tracks. Very large, needs considerable desk space with good ventilation.
Sony TA-ZH1ES$2200Intoxicating, analogue sound signature. Works excellently with IEMs and moderately power hungry headphones. Supreme craftsmanship. Not for very demanding planars, unfortunately.
Headamp GSX-Mini$1800Class-leading build quality. Highly resolving, transparent signature. Can be unforgiving to poor recordings. Drives everything thrown at it with supreme authority.
Cayin iHA-6$900Excellent transparency and dynamics. 7W @ 32 ohms make it an absolute powerhouse. Powers anything and everything well. Needs considerable desk-space though. Hissy with sensitive IEMs. High output impedance on single-ended out (balanced only preferred in most cases).
iFi Zen Can$190Perfect for power demanding headphones, pairs excellently with high impedance Senns/Beyers. Highly recommended to change the stock PSU to iPower/iPower X. Also, change the stock RCA interconnect while you’re at it (or go balanced from DAC line-out).

Desktop DACs

Holo Audio May L3$4800-5600Endgame DAC for many. No discernible weakness. Comes with a separate PSU that handles power-conditioning. Price-tag the biggest issue.
Schiit Yggdrasil$2200-$2500Superbly engaging, class-leading microdynamics. Not a hint of glare or harshness. Pleasing while being resolving.
Denafrips Ares II$800Smooth, engaging, though not as resolving as similarly priced Delta-Sigma DACs. The best sounding budget R2R DAC out there.
iFi Zen DAC V2 $159An extremely versatile DAC/Amp combination unit with true balanced inputs and outputs. The most fun part is users can tweak the sound with different firmwares.

Desktop Integrated Headphone DAC/AMPs

iFi Pro iDSD$2500Perhaps the best DAC/Amp combo out there. Analogue-ish tone with great resolving capability. Drives every headphone with authority. Gobs of sound tuning options. Price can be too much though as one can build a “stack” at this point.
Questyle CMA-Twelve$1500A beefed up CMA-400i. Drives planar magnetic and dynamic driver headphones with supreme authority. Excellent DAC section, very competent amp section. Can’t be used as an amp alone, again.
RME ADI-2-DAC-FS$800Calling it versatile is an understatement. A dream machine for those who love to tweak and EQ. Plethora of input/output options. Zero hiss from IEM output. Sadly, a bit too clinical sounding at times. Not the best drive in terms of power hungry planars.
Questyle CMA-400i$800Very versatile, great DAC section. Current-mode amp section drives planars with authority (apart from the most demanding ones). Superb imaging and dynamics. Sadly, can’t be used as an amp only.
YULONG Canary II$220Really nice amp section, though DAC section may be improved upon. Pairs excellently with high-impedance dynamic drivers.

Portable Headphone Amplifiers

Cayin C9$2000Endgame of portable amps. Makes even TOTL DAPs sound “tame” in comparison. Timbre selection works excellently. Heavy for a portable device, however, and gets warm after a while in class-A mode.
Romi Audio BX2 Plus~$900“How much power do you need?”
– “Yes”

6W @ 32ohms. Perhaps the most powerful portable amp out there. Dynamic sound with great layering and separation. Falls short of the top-dog Cayin C9 in terms of absolute transparency and midrange rendition. Gets warm, can exhibit noise in sensitive loads.
iBasso T3$89Minuscle sized featherweight wonder. Slightly lean presentation, superb staging rendering and noise control, good power due to 4 selectable gains, up to to 30h continuous play.

Portable Integrated Headphone DAC/AMPs

Dethonray Honey$800Supreme dynamics and layering. Powerful enough to drive some pesky planars and high impedance headphones.
iFi Micro iDSD Signature$650Top class DAC performance rivalling higher end desktop devices. Well implemented MQA full decoding. Very clean AMP section; powerful enough to support planars, it supersedes usual IEM overpowering shortcomings by means of a built-in down-powering switch, and IEMatch circuitry. Still reasonably portable. Different firmwares allow for some degree of reconstruction tuning selection.
Chord Mojo$500Cheapest Chord DAC/Amp. A love/hate thing, and highly dependent on source. Unique Chord staging. Controls are fiddly, gets hot.
xDuoo XD-05 Plus$280Gobs of output power, can drive the likes of Sennheiser HD650 without much fuss. Nice DAC tuning. Can be a bit bulky if stacking with a phone.
EarMen TR-amp$250Slightly off neutral, natural, musical presentation. Drives anything up to 300 Ω  with ease. Also works as DAC and pre-amp.
iFi hip-dac2
(1, 2)
$189Budget awesomeness. Warm, inviting tonality and great dynamics. Staging and imaging lacks finesse like the higher tier offerings. MQA Full Decoder for outstanding Tidal Master reconstruction. Evolution of the previous hip-dac model, already listed on this Wall. Biggest miss: a line-out.

Headphone DAC/AMP “Dongles”

Dongles are little DAC/amps without battery that are powered by their source device.

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt$300From Gordon Rankin, the father of USB dongle DACs. DragonFly Cobalt is the tonally most pleasing dongle we heard that will work well with the iPhone. Won’t drive planar headphones.
L&P W2$300Superior to almost every dongle below it on almost all aspects (apart from Groove which drives single-dynamic drivers better). Natural, engaging tonality with great dynamics. Won’t drive planars that well either, but that’s about the only weakness. Renders most DAPs under $1000 pointless in terms of sound. Does not work well with iPhone.
Apogee Groove$200Stunning DAC performance competing on higher class and/or desktop products. Special competence on spatial reconstruction, bass control and general dynamics. Beefy amping quality and power. High host power demand. Not recommended for most demanding planars and multidriver IEMs. Does not work with iPhone.
EarMen Sparrow$200Best balanced output with the biggest headroom of any dongle tested (with iPhone). Made in Europe.
Apple Audio Adapter$9The most consistent and reliable dac reconstruction at this minuscle price. Neutral-warmish sound signature with good midrange bite. Worldwide immediate availability a solid plus. By far the most energy-efficient dongle.


CEMA Electro Acousti Cables$40-$500Cables are a divisive topic, but even if you get them for aesthetic reasons – CEMA cables have been superb over time. Great customer service, they can customize stuff for every headphone/earphone out there, and they are transparent about material/construction used. Worth the premium for many.
DeoxIT Gold G100L Condition Solution$21Audio world’s equivalent of WD40. Helps prevent contact oxidation, tarnish, reduces wear and abrasion. To be used on earphones, cables, amps…on any electrical contact.
Final Audio MMCX Assist$10Saves you from broken MMCX connectors and fingernails. A MUST if you roll cables, especially MMCX ones.
ddHiFi Audio Adapters$20-$40A few audio brands have similar accessories but the design of DD Audio adapters are unique, very compact and well-made. A few people noticed that they do add sound colouration.
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  • Wall Of Excellence 1

    Head-Fier since 2016. He has been known as “Otto Motor” to Head-Fiers, as “Dr. Schweinsgruber” to audiobudget.com users and Youtubers, and as “Brause” to Super Best Audio Friends and the Headphone Community. - For the purpose of confusion, he decided to pose under his real name Jürgen Kraus (“JK”) from now on. - This is a hobby. In “real” life, Jürgen is a professional geologist operating his own petroleum-exploration consulting company Franconia Geoscience Ltd. (see ad in the footer) based in Calgary, Canada. He holds German and Canadian passports. Jürgen had a classical music education from childhood through high school in Germany and he has been following popular music developments since the late 1970s. His understanding of arts and crafts was influenced by Bauhaus pragmatism: “less is more” and “form follows function”.

  • Wall Of Excellence 2

    Head-Fier “Hooga” since 2020. Alberto is a part-time music and audio lover. He’s got limited time to concede himself to listening to music, and that’s why his primary focus is min-maxing his audio enjoyment sessions. To make things further complicated, due to family compromises he stays away from airing music on room speakers and dedicates himself exclusively to in- or over-ear drivers. A technology enthusiast since he was a kid, Alberto is not overly attracted by novelties for the sake of themselves, he’s indeed not a compulsive gear roller, and is interested in understanding why and how a given piece of equipment produces better or worse results. His articles are about sharing his experience with the hope that it may be useful to others on the same quest. In real life he is Italian, in his mid fifties, works as a sales&marketing executive, and his other main technical competence is IT.

  • Wall Of Excellence 3

    Munich, Germany. Head-Fier since 2019. Mostly lurking around r/headphones as u/kmmbd and a very active member in local head-fi community since 2015. Got into head-fi in mid-2019 under the username kmmbd, and has been reviewing audio gears sporadically on his personal Medium blog since 2018. His introduction to portable audio was through a Walkman cassette-player in his pre-teens, and music has been his getaway ever since.He harbors a minor OCD regarding the tagging and organization of his music library (which is all digital on a local NAS). Also, spends too much time custom-theming his desktop Music Player for no apparent reason.In real life, he’s a Bangladeshi living in Munich and currently doing his MS in Computer Science, majoring in Computational Biology. He’s a penchant for the academia and research, though life is strange so he’s still unsure how things will turn out in the long run.

  • Wall Of Excellence 4

    Head-Fier since 2018. “Who is KopiOkaya?” that is the first question many audiophiles and earphone enthusiasts ask when stumbled upon his coffee cup avatar… “I am just a nobody…” – that is his usual answer. This “nobody” has his audio roots stretch until the mid-1970s when his father hauled back a set of Sansui-Luxman-Coral combo from “a friend’s place” (so that mom believed it was a given set). He fell in love with the sound instantly, and the rest is history. Previously taught in a public school, now a full-time tutor and an “ad-hoc” multimedia producer, Kopi wants to divert his attention from his teaching job and focus on something he truly loves – hifi audio. Throughout the years, Kopi owned many “nice” equipment and accessories… until the year 2009 when he discovered Chi-Fi or Chinese Hifi. An euraka moment, it was the sound he had been looking for all these years despite spending thousands and thousands of dollars on branded, highly-reviewed equipment. He sold everything (except a few good cables) and downgraded to pretty much bare minimal.Back to the very first question… What is “KopiOkaya” then… In Singapore, where Kopi is based in, kopi O simply refers to thick black coffee and kaya is a type of toast spread made of brown sugar, coconut milk, eggs and pandan leaves, commonly served as breakfast in Southeast Asia regions.

  • Wall Of Excellence 5

    Head-Fier since 2007. From an early age Durwood liked to tear apart perfectly good working things to see what was inside, always an urge to understand what made it tick. His love of music started at the local roller rink and as a result grew up with pop, electronic music (think Freestyle, Trinere), and early hiphop from the 80’s. Hit the grunge era and Chicago house in his teens when B96 had their street mixes with Bad Boy Bill, Bobby D, Julian Jumpin Perez. Became a DJ at the local now defunct roller rink because why not? A sucker for catchy TV/movie themes (Thank you John Williams). Car audio was his first audio passion, but now with a family his audio time is spent listening to headphones. The nickname is not self-proclaimed, bestowed to him multiple times and fits his experiences in life. Collector of technology and music- a maximizer trying real hard to be a satisficer. Simplicity is the goal, but the maximizer fights every step of the way.

  • Wall Of Excellence 6

    Head-Fier since 2014. Based in Chicago, Loomis T. Johnson is a practicing attorney, failed musician, and lifelong music fanatic and record collector. He has frequently contributed to such review sites as Headfi, Sound Advocate, and Asian Provocative Ear (as well as many other far less interesting non-musical periodicals). A former two-channel and vintage gear obsessive, he has sheepishly succumbed to current trends in home theater and portable audio. He’s a firm believer that the equipment should serve the music and that good sound is attainable at any budget level.

  • Wall Of Excellence 7

    Head-Fier since 2019. Baskingshark is also based in Singapore. He contributes on Head-Fi occasionally. He has played the piano and guitar in a band for the last 15 years.Baskingshark previously had to almost sell a kidney to fund IEMs for stage monitoring, so he is always on the lookout for gear with good price to performance ratio. As such, with the rise of Chi-Fi in the last few years, he has never been happier with his audio hobby. Though the wife has never been more unhappy with the increasing number of IEMs and earbuds in the mail.

  • Wall Of Excellence 8

    Super Best Audio Friend since 2016. Biodegraded is a learner-driver at Super Best Audio Friends. He likes listening to different equipment, but hasn’t heard much; likes measuring things, but only vaguely knows what he’s doing; and likes modding things to sound better, but he’s clumsy and often breaks them. Biodegraded is a retired geologist living in Vancouver. Blog owner Jürgen has had the pleasure and privilege of knowing him since the early 90s.