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Most Commonly Recommended Audio Products Guide  

This thread is designed to list out the most commonly recommended audio products OCN typically gives for those seeking certain performance for a certain price. It will involve headphones and sound cards mostly. I will throw in 2 headsets as a "MUST HAVE HEADSET" recommendation, but by no means recommend these "headsets" over alternatives (headphones+stand alone mic).

Just scroll through the thread and look for your particular needs in the bold titles and see which item meets your needs. Chances are rather than making a new thread, you should simply go with the recommendations here because you'll just get the same recommendations in a new thread.

Most of these recommendations are either a collective thought here on OCN or (speaking about the DACs) are some of which I have personally researched and found to be very good for their price. This does not mean there aren't other alternatives in the price range and each person will want something different for whatever reason. Again, this is mostly "most recommended."

A few tips when trying to save money: Don't be afraid to buy refurbished if it's from a solid dealer. They will RMA any faulty products and you're virtually safe from a bad product. At worst you'll spend a few weeks shipping the card back and forth, but you'll save money. Also, many times refurbished products are practically BRAND NEW, someone just decided to return the item for whatever reason and now they have to sell it as "Open Box" or "Refurbished."

I personally recommend buying 2nd hand or refurbished as often as possible because as soon as you use it the value on it drops immediately since it's no longer used. Let the other sucker that bought it new take the hit on the New price. For audio equipment, other than buying new ear pads or something, the sound will only get better over time if it changes at all.

To make your budget stretch out further, check out the following sites: Head-Fi, Audigon, eBay and Amazon.

Also, make sure that you choose a sound card that fits your needs. Check to see if you have either a PCI or PCI-E slot open as you cannot put one in the other's slot.

The same goes for headphones: If you don't have an amp to properly drive higher impedance headphones, you're better off going lower impedance to have it driven to their full potential unless you plan on upgrading your amp soon.

Also remember, if you're using an optical/coaxial connection there's really not much need for a sound card. Just plug it into your motherboard. Using a sound card instead of your motherboard will allow you to use any features the sound card has and results in slightly less jitter.
exclamation.gifINFORMATION TO GIVE WHEN MAKING A POST exclamation.gif

I don't know how many times I've seen people make threads not giving any information, but expecting a great answer. The following are a list of pieces of information we NEED in order to assist you. Make sure you list ALL of these pieces of information when making a thread asking for a recommendation for headphones, a sound card etc.

1) State your budget! (Set an absolute maximum or give a relative maximum with + x amount if it will be amazingly better).

2) State your music tastes.

3) State what perks are highly desirable (low impedance, heavy bass, excellent for gaming etc..)

4) State what products you already have and are planning on using with your recommended item (state whether you have an amp if you're looking for headphones with high impedance).

5) State where you live and offer some sites that are known for having good prices so we can help recommend you products in your country's currency (like Amazon or ebay).

Any more information you could possibly give us to offer you the best recommendation would be helpful, but AT LEAST give us these pieces of information.

Internal Sounds Cards & External Audio Interfaces

Sound cards, I argue, make the largest difference for positional cues in game, MORESO than good headphones. I believe. You can buy the most expensive headphones, but unless you have a good DAC/AMP to truly drive those headphones to their full potential, then you just have a mediocre pair of headphones.

To see the difference between on-board and a sound card read my other thread here.

THE ULTIMATE GAMER
70%+ Gaming 30% Music/Movies/Other.

You're totally into gaming. FPS is your life. Nice sound in music is cool, but let's be honest, you're wanting total positioning advantage so you can kill noobs and tea-bag their dead corpses inciting rage in 12 year olds.

You should be looking into Auzentech and Creative cards for the most part.

But which should you look at?

$30 Price Range:
For under 30 dollars you should be looking at grabbing a Creative XtremeGamer/Music. Often times you can find this card for 30 bucks or less on ebay.

$80 Price Range:
For under 100 you should be looking at grabbing a Creative Titanium from Best Buy for 80 dollars. There is never a reason to get the Titanium FATAL1TY. There's virtually no difference between this and the normal Titanium except for USELESS X-ram. Plus, the FATAL1TY is normally ALWAYS more expensive since it attracts ignorant gamers who think they'll get a huge advantage boost cuz it's gaming oriented or whatever.

$130 Price Range:
You'll begin to see the Creative Titanium HD at around this price point and it's a good price for the card. It's perhaps the best if not one of the best gaming cards on the market at this point. It does well in terms of music, but since you're a hardcore gamer, this is the card you ultimately want.


THE I WANT IT ALL-ER
50% Music 50% Gaming

This person wants their sound card to do everything and do everything well. Not all sound cards are made to do everything well, but we'll try to accommodate those people as well.

$30 Price Range:
At this price point you're looking at either the Creative XtremeMusic or the Asus Xonar DG. The Xonar DG has a built in amplifier that's okay for some low impedance headphones(under 150 ohm) and will give them a little nicer sound. Perhaps the hugest thing going for this sound card is it's $30 price tag brand new though. It also has Dolby Headphone which makes it a worthy card at this price point. The Xtreme Music does music all right and is capable for gaming. If you have to make a choice between the two, go Asus for more music/movie sound quality and Creative for more gaming oriented usage.

$82 Price Range:
You're looking at the Asus Xonar DX for the most part. I'd recommend this card for both gaming and music in which it will totally rock out for music and perform well in certain games. BEWARE: Do not expect exceptional BC2 sound from the Xonar DX. If you at all play BC2 on a regular basis, you should avoid this card as it won't give you the positional cues you're looking for. If you're playing virtually ANY OTHER GAME besides BC2 you'll love this card. It's excellent for Call of Duty. It's excellent for RPGs and Racers. In fact, it'll do RPGs and racers better than the Creative cards. Music DOES sound better on the DX than pretty much every creative card on the market.

If you absolutely must play BC2, again, you're looking at the Creative Titanium unless you can somehow score a Forte in this price range.

$130 Price Range:
Try to find the Titanium HD at this price point. Does gaming very well and it's formidable in music as well. You can also find REFURBISHED Essence ST/STXs in this price range and I highly recommend those as well for the price. Keep in mind though: You'll want to upgrade the opamps on the ST/X. You'll also want to use this card with headphones that can make use of the built in headphone amplifier; otherwise, you're not making full use of the card. It supports headphones up to 600 ohms, but won't drive headphones to their full capability. Yes, you can use Sennheiser HD650s on the STX, but don't expect them to perform to their fullest with this card/amp.

$200 Price Range:
You have the Asus Essence ST/X at new price at this point, but I don't feel it's quite worth the 200 dollars. I would much prefer to get it refurbished, but you may feel differently. It's a really nice card and with upgraded opamps, can be the best buy for your headphones for the dollars.

What's the difference between Asus ST and STX?
Ultimately the ST has a better clock circuit which results in lower jitter, but otherwise they're virtually the same card in every aspect except the ST is a PCI card while the STX is a PCI-E card. Also, the ST has the ability to add an H6 daughter board onto it to give you 5.1 capability. This is a $50 add on.

Another card to look into at this price point would be the HT Omega Claro Halo, unfortunately I'm not sure I could recommend it over the Asus ST because the ST has a TI amplifier compared to the Omega Claro's AK amp. The headphone amplifier on the ST will be superior to that of the HT Omega's. Still, if you're not making use of the headphone amplifier then it won't really matter to you, so don't buy these cards if you don't have headphones that will make use of them.

If you're into 5.1 sound as opposed to headphones, take a look at the HT Omega Claro Plus+. It's a nice sound card that supports 5.1 and can sometimes be found for under 150, so look into it.


THE MUSIC LOVER
Music 70%+ Gaming/Movies/Other 30%-

You're going to pretty much want Asus Products across the board.

$30 Price Range:
You have two choices. The cheaper, but still nice Asus Xonar DG at $30 or the slightly more expensive Asus Xonar DS. The Xonar DS has swappable opamps to change it's tonal sound and more features than the DG. The DS also uses the CM8788 chip (found in the Xonar DX) compared to the DG's 8786.

Choice is ultimately up to you to decide. The DS is typically 20 dollars more expensive.

$82 Price Range:
Asus Xonar DX, 'nuff said. This card will take you all the way to the 200 dollar mark. It's 5.1 capable and has an excellent DAC for the price. This is the PCI-E version and requires a molex power connector from your PSU.
The PCI version is the Xonar D1. It does not require a molex power connector for your PSU.

There's also the HT Omega Striker, but I wouldn't exactly recommend this card over the DX. To make it clear, the HT Omega Striker on paper looks better than the DX, but in actuality, unless you're going to be using the DTS encoding the Striker gives you, then you're actually going to be shooting yourself in the foot. The Xonar DX is better for gaming. I can't tell you why that is, and I don't think it's because the Striker only has EAX 2.0 while the DX has 5.0 emulation and from what I can tell poor emulation compared to Creative cards. The games I play don't even use EAX, so I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the circuitry or drivers. HT Omega has significantly less support than Asus cards. The drivers on both are almost never updated, but there are a few 3rd party supporters of Asus cards. There's also the fact that many here at OCN do not have much experience with the HT Omega cards and do with Asus and Creative. It's very easy to go with what you know than to try something you don't know much about. All in all, I believe the Striker FOR MUSIC AND MOVIES is actually SLIGHTLY superior to the DX, but all in all, I would still take the DX over it. As for other HT Omega cards, I think that while they give Asus a run for their money, you'll typically be happier with the Asus products.

$150 Price Range:
Find a refurbished Asus Essence ST/STX

$200 Price Range:
New Asus Essence ST/X

Once again, when buying the ST/X make sure you have headphones that can USE the headphone amp. Otherwise you're really just wasting your money.

$250+ Price Range:
You're looking at the Auzentech Home Theater HD. This card will give you TRUE-HD quality sound. It's a bit pricey IMO, but someone will find a need for it.


THE AUDIOPHILE
90%+ Music 10% Other

You'll follow the Music Lover's guideline until you hit $100 mark. From there on out you'll ignore internal sound cards and move onto External USB DACs.

Also, keep in mind that if you are a very Do-it-yourself kind of person, then there are MANY DIY options available to you that'll make your USB DAC considerably cheaper than an already assembled package. Check out head-fi and other DIY threads/communities for more information.

That said, quick overview:
$30 Price Range:
Asus Xonar DG

$50 Price Range:
Asus Xonar DS

$70 Price Range:
HT Omega Striker For music alone, the HT Omega Striker, I believe, is superior to the Xonar DX. Keep in mind this is for audiophiles with no care for gaming or anything like that. If you just want the best music card, I think this is the card to take over the DX. It has DTS encoding as well for movies.

$100 Price Range:
At this point you should be looking at an external USB DAC. You can find many used/2nd hand DACs at Head-Fi's for sale section for good prices. I've seen Zero DACs sell for $106 dollars and with upgradable opamps this is a very nice starting point for audiophiles.

$120-125 Price Range:
Musiland Monitor 02 DAC. This is a very well respected USB DAC and beats out an opamp upgraded ST/X in terms of quality. While it doesn't have quite as power a headphone amp, it should power 300 ohm headphones fine and actually does a better job amplifying headphones that are lower impedance than the ST/X does. The only benefit an ST/X has over the 02 is the ability to "support" higher ohm headphones.

$140-150 Price Range:
HIFIDIY Aune Mini MK2
Many say this is a step up from the Musiland Monitor 02. It sounds better than the Zero DAC with upgraded opamps and also has higher quality components. Look for your own reviews on this product to confirm. It also has a built in amplifier.

If you're not looking for headphone use, but just want the best USB DAC for your 2.1 set up, there are great reviews going around head-fi about the HRT Music Streamer II going for $150 on ebay.

$180 Price Range:
Audinst MX-1. Many say this is a great entry level DAC, especially for the price. Look up reviews on this much applauded DAC/AMP combo.

$235 Shipped Price Range:
Yulong u100.

$250 Shipped Price Range:
Audio-GD NFB12. Check out the super reviews over at head-fi about this DAC. It's really something to look into.

If you're looking to spend more than this, you should definitely be trolling Head-fi for more information. Audio-GD is a solid company though and checking out their website will definitely give you some incite into great products and pricing.
Headsets

On OCN, we generally DO NOT RECOMMEND HEADSETS because of their typically very poor value for what you're getting, not because they all just suck. That said they DO SUCK compared to what you can get for the price.

Here are some quick tips to help you take away headsets from your mind:
1) If it's USB only junk it. It will not work with your sound card and it will most definitely have poor quality sound.

2) If it says FATAL1TY on it, junk it. It's trash.

3) For the most part, if it says Turtle Beach, it's trash.

4) For the most part, if it says Logitech, we do not recommend, although I do believe that these if anything are of higher quality than all those below. Sadly, you're also paying the price tag and that makes it ultimately NOT AT ALL worth the price. Still the quality isn't that great. The mic on it, on the other hand, is of very nice quality for a headset.

Now that I've listed very basic DO NOT WANTs, let's move onto the only 2 headsets I WILL recommend (if you absolutely MUST have a headset that is).

I've found the Sennheiser PC350 for as low as 120 dollars and at that price, it definitely starts to sound interesting. It has nice build quality and the sound is very good for a headset. It also deliver more bass than typical headphones geared towards gaming will give. The PC360s are also a good choice and you should look into both of these to figure out which one meets your needs more if you MUST HAVE a headset.

The only other headset I will recommend at this point in time are the Beyerdynamic MMX300s. These are basically Beyerdynamic DT770 32 ohm with an attached microphone. Sadly, the lowest I've ever seen these go is like 270 dollars. While the DT770s are great for gaming, once again, the price is astounding. They're basically charging you 100 dollars for a low quality mic and I mean low quality. One of the largest complaints about the MMX300 is the mic quality. That said, it's an amazing gaming headset otherwise.
Headphones

For almost all of these recommendations, for a mic, you're suggested a Zalman Clip on Mic or a desktop mic. Whichever you choose is up to you. The Zalman clip on mic can be found for 4-10 dollars depending on where you live and sales.
The Poor Man's Solution

If you absolutely cannot spend a lot of money and just want the best headphones you can afford (say you're a poor 14 year old or something), Sennheiser HD201s will suffice for 14 dollars. In no way pay more than 21 dollars for them though. That will make me cry.

If you want the best sound and don't care about the looks or bass response much, then look no further than Koss KSC-75s. Very good for their price.

The Ultimate Gamer

Here, you'll find headphones geared towards those wanting the best gaming experience rather than music. These people typically care the most about sound stage and highs to get the most out of their positional cuing.

That said, remember that you NEED a sound card to REALLY get the best positional cues. I won't recommend headsets/headphones less than 30-35 dollars. If you can't cough up at least that much it most likely isn't worth it. Save up until you can at least afford the bare minimum. If you don't at all care about quality and just need a headset just grab some Plantronics 367s or whatever.

$33 Price Range:
For this price range, the JVC RX700s are the most recommended headphones. You can even modify them to sound even better. Here is a thread that shows you how to go about modifying them.

A slightly cheaper solution, one worth mentioning, but perhaps not better than the RX700s is the Superlux HD681 which can be found for 30 dollars or less.

$43 Price Range:
Samson RH600s are great for gaming and highly recommended by Superlux/Samson fans. These should be considered over the bassier SR850s in terms of gaming.

$60 Price Range:
The Superlux 668B is a solid competitor and I've heard that it can go for cheaper, but for the life of me I cannot find it shipped for less than 60 dollars in the United States. If someone can find me a link to it cheaper, I will quickly change the price range of these headphones, but til then these are 60 dollar headphones to me. They're great headphones all around and are highly recommended. Check out Head-fi reviews for more information.

$85 Price Range:
Sennheiser HD555s are very highly recommended here on OCN. It has a nice sound stage, but are different from the AD700s. The Sennheiser HD555s have a smaller sound stage..or perhaps narrower is the term. Basically, you will hear footsteps and other sounds in gaming to be much closer than they would on AD700s. This can be both good and bad so you'll have to decide which is better for you. The HD555s imo are super neutral and boring. Some people like that super neutral sound though and that's fine. They get my thumbs up either way and have tons of modifications to make them better. They're open headphones, so they'll leak like anything, so they're not recommended for use outside. Very little bass presence.

$92 Price Range:
Audio Technica AD700s are the most recommended headphones here on OCN for gaming. They have one of the largest sound stages ever. They reasonably priced. They're extremely comfortable. They're really large though and the cups are purple so that might shy some away from them. These are by no means meant to be listened to in public though. They're completely open and hearing things in the outside world is very easy with them on. They leak like heck. These are brighter headphones as opposed to the HD555s more neutral sound. These have higher mids and highs which is excellent for female voices, classical music and hearing footsteps. Like the HD555s they're EXTREMELY bass light. The bass almost has no presence.

From here on out, the following headphones will need amplification. If you do not plan on getting a headphone amp of some fashion, I do not recommend you proceed further. The AD700s will be more than enough for you really.

$142 Price Range:
Ultrasone Pro 550
I added these just recently to the ultimate gamer section, not because they're amazing gaming headphones, but mostly because they're very respectable and do fill in for a price gap that's missing in the market. These have a nice sound stage, but what really sells most people on these is the awesome bass they have.

$175 Price Range:
The Beyerdynamic DT770s are a great next step up from the AD700s. You could honestly be happy with the AD700s, but if you're looking for more, check these headphones out. They'll give you more bass than the AD700s, that's for sure. I'd recommend having an amplification meth of some sort with these. Even the 32 ohm version could benefit from an amp.

$200 Price Range:
Slightly better than the AD700s are their next step ups, the Audio Technica AD900. Still very bass light, but in all ways superior. Sadly, it's very difficult to justify the doubled price tag.

$140-320 Price Range:
The Beyerdynamic DT990s are the last recommended headphone I'll offer. It has many "problems" such as sibilance issues and harshness in the highs as well as recessed mids, but these headphones offer a very wide sound stage and have a lot of bass. They're very "fun" headphones. The reason the price range is so extravagant here is because you can find these headphones for all sorts of prices used, refurbished or simply a different ohm rating. I've seen them as low as 140 and as high as 320.

The Beyerdynamic DT880s have a smaller soundstage, but their imaging is quite good. Also another to look into. They're much less compromising than the DT990s in every way and are very natural balanced headphones.

The Compromising Gamer

$33 dollar price range:
The JVC RX700s still remain here. They're pretty good bass-wise, the sound stage isn't amazing, but will do for 33 dollars. The build quality for these headphones is amazing. They are very sturdy, they are solid. They don't feel cheap. The mids are weak, the highs are harsh. Modification helps the mids a bit and can dramatically increase bass. Again, 33 dollars, I'll forgive any headphone this cheap.

$40 Price Range:
The Samson SR850s offer good bass, good mids (after burn in of 200-300 hours), and good enough highs along with an actual sound stage to make these recommendable if you're looking for a bassy gaming solution. These are very comparable to AT M50s, but without the harshness many complain about the M50s as well as having a much larger sound stage than the M50s (which have virtually no soundstage).

$117 Price Range:
The slightly bassier/closed version of the AD700s, the Audio Technica A700s offer slightly more bass than the AD700s while still retaining most of the soundstage the AD700s had to offer. Still highly recommended here at OCN.

$150 Price Range:
The Ultrasone Pro 550s are also a great choice for those looking for bassy headphones that are good for gaming. The S-Logic technology on the Pro series seems to really help out. The true selling point for these headphones; however, is the fact that they deliver awesome bass.

The Shure SRH-840s are a good recommendation if you want both bass and good enough headphones for gaming. While they do benefit from amping, they can get by just fine without it. Not personally something I would buy, but there's always a person out there looking for these.

$175 Price Range:
Beyerdynamic DT770s 80 ohm version is recommended here for those wanting gaming headphones with a lot of bass. The 80 ohm version is the one you want for bass. You can sometimes find them for less. Check head-fi and ebay every now and then. Remember, these require amplification.

$200 Price Range:
The Audio Technica A900s are the bassier brother to the AD900s mentioned above. They're an improvement to the A700s in all ways, particularly bass and isolation. They retain most of the soundstage and are a good recommendation not often given because of the high price tag. Still, if you don't have amplification and want some headphones in this price range, they're the ones to go for.

Bassier Headphones - Dubstep/Electronica/Bass-Heads.

$40 Price Range:
I would recommend the Samson SR850s. Very comparable to the AT-M50s. They don't suffer from the harshness in treble many complain about on the M50s. They also don't quite offer the same amount of bass, but for the price, they're undeniably good.

Another recommendation around 40 dollars would be the Sony XB500. XB basically stands for X-tra Bass. These are one of the BASSIEST headphones ever created. If you JUST want dubstep headphones, check these out at the 42 dollar price.

$70 Price Range:
The Sony XB700s take up the spot at 70 dollars. These have increased clarity over the XB500s, but are still very bassy in their own right. XB500 lovers will be disappointed to find that the XB700 has less bass than the 500, but there's also increased clarity for vocals and other instruments. Not all bassy music is about boom boom, people.

$106 Price Range:
You should be able to find a pair of Audio Technica M50s at this price on ebay every now and then. In recent months; however, they have become more expensive, jumping up to 160 dollars or more. I would personally buy this pair of headphones at 106 and not much more. I think at 106 they're fairly priced, but at 160 would be rather silly.

$100/$142 Price Range
You can find Ultrasone 580s or Alienware Ozma 5's which are rebadged Ultrasone HFI 550s (or 580s, I don't even know anymore) for $100. The Ultrasone Pro 550s are $142.

$170 Price Range:
The Beyerdynamic DT770 are really bassy if you modify them and the 80 ohm Pro version is even more so bassy. Great quality all around, definitely look into buying these over other solutions around this price range.

$200 Price Range:
The Sennheiser HD25-1 II are a great pair of DJ headphones. They have amazing isolation, great bass without the typical flaws of other bassy headphones (recessed mids). Just make sure to NOT buy the SP version.

$240 Price Range:
The Ultrasone Pro 750s take up the spot at $240. These are really good headphones with a lot of praise and fandom. Check out Head-fi for further details on this headphone. I'd say it's worth the upgrade from the 550s.

At this point you'll want a nice amp because now you get into high end equipment.

Greater than $250
You should be looking for a deal on Denon D2000s. They're amazing headphones and are often found on sale under $300.

The Beyerdynamic DT990s are very bassy headphones that most people consider "fun."

While the Beyerdynamic DT880s are more neutral and have a better SQ, the DT990s blow your head with lots of bass. It takes a really good amp to control the bass on the 990s though, otherwise it can sound like a fart cannon. They're Semi-Open, so they will leak, but they do have a great sound stage. Sadly, they suffer from recessed mids and harshness in highs.

At this point, you should also be checking out head-fi for other recommendations or making a personal thread so we can further direct your needs.

Rock/Metal Headphones

Excellent Rock/Metal headphones are from Grado Labs. These simply take the cake in terms of excellent rock so most of these will be from Grado.

Grado is a brand that I recommend you try out before you buy. It's not really something you can buy blindly. You'll either hate the sound or love it.

$35 Price Range:
The JVC RX700s again have a spot here. While they're not made with rock in mind, they do play the genre well enough to be listed here and at this price point you'll be strapped to find better. Another reason why these headphones are so popular.

$60 Price Range:
You're looking for the Grado SR60is. These are entry level Grados, but have TONS of modifications to help make them better. They have no sound stage, so don't consider them for gaming. They're amazing for rock/metal and actually do have SOME bass. You can modify them to have even more.

$75 Price Range:
The Fostex T50RPs are brought up again because of their excellent mids and highs. These are great for rock. Their detail and clarity might scare some away from metal due to typically poorly recorded metal in recent years, but other than that a great addition for only $75. Modify them for sure when you buy them and they're worth 5x their price.

$80 Price Range:
The Grado SR80is take the spot here at 80 dollars. Again, tons of modifications can be done to make them sound better.

$100 Price Range:
The Alessandro MS-1s are the king at 100 dollars. They're modified Grados and boy do they shine for Rock and Metal. Is it worth buying these when you can modify Grados yourself? Yes. These are no exception, you can modify these as well.

$200 Price Range:
You're looking at the Grado SR225i. These are different from the previous Grados which all had a distinct sound to them. These are more balanced and MANY people prefer them to the more expensive 325is. Mods galore and a huge following, it's not hard to see why these are so great.

$300 Price Range:
Grado 325is, these have a similar sound signature to the Grado SR60i, 80i and 125is. Another prized gem for Rock and Metal. Many prefer the cheaper 225i's to them though. It's all a matter of sound and you'll have to personally try each.

You also have the Alessandro MS-2s which are very popular if you can afford them. Much more recommended than the 325is.

If you want to spend more, check out head-fi for a more in detail analysis and recommendation.

Hidden Gem Headphones

$30 Price Range:
The Panasonic HTF600 can easily be found for 30 dollars online if you look in the right places. These are exceptional headphones for the price. They compare easily to headphones up to 150 dollars. With some modifications, they are even preferred to high end headphones. That's not to say the perform better than higher end headphones, but they simply deliver sound that puts more of a smile on your face than higher end headphones will.

$75 Price Range:
The Fostex T50RPs are a hidden gem easily worth 5x+ their price when modified. These headphones have excellent mids, great highs, are bass light-to-moderate before modification, but are great headphones. Check out reviews on head-fi for more information and check out the modifications list on head-fi if you go and buy them. They're better than Sennheiser HD650s when modified. Just a warning, these headphones typically require amplification if you really want to use their to their full potential. They can run on an ipod, but an amp is strongly recommended.

Speakers

Typically you'll want to go for a 2.1 setup unless you have MAJOR money as the 2.1 set up will be of higher quality for your dollar than a 5.1 set up.

We typically shy away from Logitech speakers as they're often not worth the money. If you REALL REALLY want a 5.1 set up but don't have the money, I would recommend the Logitech X540s for 45 dollars and not a penny more. They can often be found refurbished for 35-45 dollars. Don't be a sucker and buy them for full retail.

That said, for 5.1 you'll want a pretty specific set up speakers, so you're better off making a thread about it. For a quick barebones set up, look at Polk Audio and a BIC America Subwoofer. That should do you a "nice" 5.1 set up for around $500.

$120 Price Range:
Swan M10s are the most recommended speakers at this price point. They sound really great for the money, but keep in mind they're still very much entry level. The Subwoofer many complain is just not powerful and for many they opt to save up and move to a better set.

$150 Price Range:
The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 is a solid pair of computer speakers with a very powerful subwoofer. Many people buy these and in fact, if you look on craigslist, you'll often find them for sale for SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper. Just make sure they work.

If you live in the UK, you might be able to find a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 9.1's for under 150 used. Sadly, if you live in America these speakers are significantly more expensive.

$180 Price Range:
You're looking at the Swan D1080MkII08 at this price. While they lack a subwoofer, for speakers alone, these are a SOLID pair of speakers, especially if just used as computer speakers to fill a small room.

$200 Price Range:
At 200 dollars you should start looking at the Audioengine A2s. These are very capable speakers and are highly recommended on OCN if you have the money. They don't come with a subwoofer, but it has a built in subwoofer that's pretty good. Still, if you like bass you're gonna' want a separate woofer.

$280 Price Range:
You're gonna go for either the Swan M50W or the Swan M200MKII. The M200MKII will sound better, but won't have a subwoofer. The M50W will have a subwoofer and of course you see the trade off. Up to your preference which you will choose. You can always add a subwoofer later with the M200MKIIs.

$325 Price Range:
You're going to want the Audioengine A5s. These are one of the most highly recommended speakers at this price. They're great speakers and like the A2s can handle the lows well enough for you to hold out on a subwoofer for a while.

If you're planning on spending anymore than the A5s you should do personal research on speakers, have a receiver/DAC and create a separate thread to be catered to personally.

Here's another thread on speakers to look at by soloz2.

I do not recommend the Corsair SP2500 While they are impressive computer speakers, they cost way too much money. IMO, they should be worth no more than 150 dollars. They should be an alternative to Klipsch ProMedia 2.1s. They are NOT worth the extra 100 dollars.
IEMs

I had a whole write up on IEMs, but I figured there's really no point in typing it all when this thread has it in so much more detail than I CBA'd to write.

You can also look at this very expansive thread by another poster on IEMs.

Some IEMs that stood out as exceptional value wise were: Head-Direct RE0s, Monster Turbine Copper, Ultimate Ears TF10/11, Fischer Audio Aeterna, SoundMAGIC PL-50, Maximo iMetal M-590s, Future Sonics Atrio M5, Sleek Audio SA6, MEElectronics M9, HifiMAN RE252, Phonak Audeo PFE 121, Phiaton P210, Brainwavz M2, Fischer Audio DBA-02, and so much more.

Again, read the thread for more info, price, choices etc.

Do-It-Yourself Amplifiers

Check out http://diyforums.org/ for more information on how to make your own headphone amplifier. The Millet Hybrids are excellent value for the money if you have the know-how and skill to make your own headphone amplifier. They will power 600 ohm headphones on the cheap.
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