Best equipment for audiophiles: headphones, amplifiers, amps, DACs

As far as bookshelf speakers go, my favorite pair is KEF LS50 Wireless II ($2800 per pair). They have the biggest, most detailed sound I’ve ever heard with a pair of speakers of their size. Cheaper KEF LSX ($1250 per pair) The model is great too, as is the wired KEF LS50 Meta ($1600 per pair).

The KEF and iLoud models I just mentioned are powered. They have built-in amplification, and draw their power from a wall socket, so they can be used without a dedicated amplifier. If you already have a subwoofer (or if you’re planning to buy one), the best way to go is a pair of passive subwoofers. These cables plug into your regular speaker cables, and you won’t have to worry about plugging them into the wall.

Some passive bookshelf models that I love are ELAC Debut 2.0 ($280 per pair) And JBL 4309 ($2000 per pair). ELACs are a great entry-level amplifier that will easily take you into audiophile territory with the right amplifier, as the 4309 sounds more or less amazing with just about anything playing it. I’m a fan of the fun and active sound when I’m listening on the speakers, and both models deliver just that, but with enough detail you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing anything.

Moving from bookshelves to passive speakers, I’m going to highlight two very different models. The Monitor Model SE 6000F ($1,000 per pair) A great pair of loudspeakers for those who like things more subtle and subtle – they’re great for classical, jazz and folk, thanks to their stunning detail. Some audiophiles prefer the kind of extreme fidelity you get from speakers like models. The Klipsch Forte IV ($4,998 per pair) more lively. In fact, perfectly tuned, they are mid-century-inspired masterpieces. They come with handcrafted wood cabinets and cool horn woofers, and the 15-inch passive bass radiators on the sealed back of the speakers make them sound deeper and more powerful than a professional boxer. If you are looking for the most fun I have ever had listening to Hendrix at high volume, then speakers like these are the way to go.

Your taste may differ from mine! The best way to find your favorite high-end speakers is to use your ears. Find a local dealer and go and listen to several models before you buy. For reference, other brands that offer excellent amplifiers these days include Yamaha, Bowers & Wilkins, Focal, Bang & Olufsen and Polk Audio, among many others.

You’ll never know what a pair of speakers really sound like in your room until you get it there, so try to test it at home. Most premium merchants allow some sort of this, but larger retailers may not, so check the return policy on anything you buy.

Converters from digital to analog

The Chord Mojo ($500) It is a DAC with a built in headphone amplifier.

Photo: OTR Electronics

Digital-to-analog converters (DACs) take the digital audio signal from your audio files and convert it into an analog audio signal that you can send (over an amplifier) ​​to your headphones and speakers. Every piece of digital technology you own that comes with a headphone jack actually has a DAC chip inside, but it’s usually pretty cheap. If you route your signal through a dedicated DAC — one with better components and a higher build quality than anything found in your phone or computer — you’ll get higher resolutions from your digital files.

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