Welcome to the biggest (as far as I’m aware) flagship headphones comparison in years. Having all these Summit-Fi headphones here at Ear Fidelity HQ made me wonder – what if, apart from the reviews, I’ll compare them all in one big article? How to approach this? How to do the rating? What’s the best anyway?
This one is by far the most challenging and time-consuming article in my entire career as a reviewer. It took me quite a while to decide on the form of this article, and I must have tamed my ambitions by some margin. At the end of the day, I want this comparison to be easy to read, clean, and not overly complicated. I decided that splitting it into 10 different categories containing 10 points each will probably be the most fair and simple to navigate.
I’m hugely thankful that I actually got to do it. Ever since launching Ear Fidelity I’ve been given a chance to audition, test, and own a lot of products that would be hard for me to reach without being a reviewer. I want this comparison to be my way of saying thank you to all of you who are supporting and constantly visiting our website.
Deciding which high-end headphones to buy can be really tough, especially nowadays with so much choice on the market. I hope this comparison will help you make a decision, or at least give you a good direction regarding which headphones to audition.
Let me give you a quick story of my audiophile journey to help you evaluate my ratings. I’ve been into headphones for about ten years now. I’ve been reviewing, working in sales, marketing, distribution, and production for years. I owned hundreds of different audio devices and auditioned thousands. Over the years I have found my perfect “tune” and things that I like about sound the most, but I always try to somewhat keep it out of my head while reviewing. However, it is impossible to do it completely, so please remember, every reviewer is subjective to some extent, and this comparison is no different.
This article comes with a few disclaimers that are very important, basically essential for anyone interesting in reading the rest of it. I’ll try to make things clear and straightforward.
1. Everything stated in this comparison is my opinion and I wasn’t influenced by anybody. None of the manufacturers got to see the article before publishing it, none of them knew any of the results and none of them gave me any financial benefits. It is worth noting that Ear Fidelity cooperates with a lot of manufacturers in the audio market and that we get free samples, including some of the headphones used in this article. However, the point of this comparison is to make it easier for YOU to decide which flagship headphones might be the best for you. Also, this has been just fun! This is NOT a sponsored post to praise manufacturers that are cooperating with Ear Fidelity, I’m being as honest as I can.
2. This comparison is my subjective take. There will be no measurements (not that I don’t believe they are relevant), and I’m not a “universal truth-teller”. Audio is a highly subjective hobby so even though I believe something is great, doesn’t mean that you’re going to love it, nor that it is objectively “great”. I’m not going to argue which approach is correct, there are simply two ways to do audio reviews and I believe both are correct. This is my way of doing this and I hope you’ll respect it.
3. This article has been in the works for about a year, which is A LOT. Listening to all these headphones on dozens of systems, different cables, different music, and different moods helped me in evaluating their final score. I believe it was essential for me to get to know all of the models included in the comparison well enough to be able to rate them in a fair way.
4. I will be posting a list of equipment that has been used throughout the whole comparison listening, but I won’t be explaining this part too much. See, over the past year, I’ve heard some of these headphones on so many different devices, that this section alone would have been complete chaos. Everything I’m going to write about ANY of the headphones included is a summary of everything I’ve tested them with. Getting a “one system to rule them all” for this comparison wasn’t the way I wanted to do it. Different headphones work best with different DACs, different AMPs, cables, music genres, etc. The correct way for me was to get to know these headphones on many different devices to see the big picture about their sound quality.
5. This comparison IS and WILL BE a work in progress. I will be including new entries in the future, so I want this article to be as modular as possible. There will be updates to it including new headphones that are going to be released or the ones that I will get to stay here in the Ear Fidelity HQ.
6. All the ratings are given without the retail price in mind. This is meant to give an ultimate 0-10 score, with no value involved in any single category, as there is a separate category regarding the value of each headphone. If a headphone gets 10 points in a specific category, it means that it’s simply perfect in it, not “perfect for its price”.
7. All headphones are rated at their “stock” version. No aftermarket pads, cables, and NO EQ.
8. The most important disclaimer of them all – just have fun. This is a subjective take of a person on the internet. If your favorite model didn’t score too good, don’t be mad about it, we might have different tastes or we just simply disagree with each other. It’s not a reason to go into comments and start a WW III about it.
As I stated before, I’ve used A LOT of different audio devices throughout this whole process. I’m not going to go into details too much as this section alone could have been 5000 words. I’ll try to list all of the devices that I’ve used and that are important for the results. There’s probably been more of it, I just can’t remember everything.
JDS Labs : Atom DAC, Atom DAC+
Topping : E30, E50, DX3Pro, DX3Pro+, D90, D90se,
SMSL : SU-9,
Schiit : Modi 3+
Musician : Pegasus, Aquarius,
Earmen : Tradutto, Colibri
iFi : iDSD Pro, iDSD Pro Signature, iDSD NEO
Cayin : iDAC-6 mk2
Chord : Cutest, Hugo2, Dave
Fiio : M11 Plus ESS, M11 Plus LTD, M17
Cayin : N3Pro, N6ii (R01, E01), N8, N8ii
Lotoo : Paw 6000, Paw Gold Touch
Astell&Kern : SP2000T
Shanling : M8, M6 Pro 2021
Turntables and CD players
Pro-Ject : Debut Pro + Hana EL
Transrotor : Alto TMD + Phasemation PP-200 and ZYX Ultimate Omega, ZET3 + Phasemation PP-200
Thorens : TD160 + Nagaoka MP-110
Accuphase : DP-570, DP-750
Ayon : CD-35 II High Fidelity Edition
Topping : L30, L50, A50s, A90
SMSL : SH-9
XIAudio : Broadway S
Ayon : HA-3 MK II
Octave : V16 Single Ended
Cayin : C8, HA-300, HA-6A, IHA-6
Accuphase : E800, A75 (both from speaker outputs)
LittleDot : MK III SE
xDuoo : TA-26
Ferrum : OOR
Siltech : 680i, 880i, Princess, Double Crown, Triple Crown
Acrolink : A2070 Leggenda, 9900 Mexcel
Tellurium Q : Black II, Silver, Silver Diamond, Statement
Cross Lambda : Apollo GB
Forza Audioworks : Noir HPC, Claire
I can’t even state how many different songs and albums have been used during the whole process of creating this comparison. I tried to use as many different genres as possible to get a full picture. Even though I’m unable to give you the full list, below I’m attaching a Spotify playlist that might give you some idea.
Of course, I haven’t used Spotify much during this comparison, that would be absurd with all these high-end headphones. I’m using Spotify here to share some of the music used, keep that in mind.
Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Contenders
Page 3: Presentation
Page 4: Build Quality & Comfort
Page 5: Tone
Page 6: Detail
Page 7: Soundstage
Page 8: Bass
Page 9: Midrange
Page 10: Treble
Page 11: Musicality
Page 12: Value
Page 13: Results
Woww….What an amazing comparison.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much Ruff! 🙂 Enjoy the content!
Great review! Pitty so many are missing – LCD-5, CRBN, DCA Stealth, Staxxes, Utopia, T+A Solitaire…
Yeah, but I’ll get all of them eventually and will constantly update this 😀
Thank you again and enjoy your time here.
Great idea, well executed, but one small item please. Why not use the real Sennheiser HD800S as it is a headphone that many folks in the headphone community know and love (or hate) but at least it is a widely known data point. The Drop is comparatively unknown and had a lot of poor reviews due to the many variations in tuning. This has ruined your hard work and effort, sorry.
Thank you very much for your comment, I really appreciate all the feedback 🙂
While I definitely wouldn’t call that it “ruined” the hard work, I might get the 800S eventually to include it in the comparison as well. The more, the better. The 8XX is a rather fresh release and I’ve got it here, so it was natural for me to include it and see how it scores.
Thank you for your feedback and hopefully I’ll be able to get the 800S in the future. Enjoy your time here 🙂
This is one hell of a comparison of top and upermost earphones around. Keep up the highest mountines of our ears Pawel!
Thank you Kris, I’m glad you like it! I’ve mentioned this article so many times to you that there was quite an expectation I believe haha 😀
It was a refreshing read of a comparison. I was in the market to see if I wanted to get one of the headphones you compared here and your article just made the decision for me! Keep up the great work and looking forward to future updates on this summit-fi shootout!
Thank you very much Kelvin, this really means a lot to me!
I’m glad it helped you with your decision. What headphone did you choose in the end?
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