from People who record music: The world of high-end audio is often filled with nonsense. Precious (often snake oil-like) materials and terms are used to sell products at inflated prices. False science is used to trick you into thinking you need overpriced accessories like 2-inch thick speaker cables.
Once you start spending closer to four-figure gear, it can be hard to tell what sounds good from what just looks good. Never be afraid! I’ve spent thousands of hours listening to music in my acoustically treated home studio through many of the most popular high-end headphones, speakers, and amplifiers on the market. Below you’ll find my favorites and some information about each feature.
Before reading on, be sure to check out our cheap (or free!) tips on how to get the most out of your home audio setup.
Interested in other audio suggestions? Check out tips from our other guides, including the best wireless headphones, best Bluetooth speakers, best turntables, and the best gear for learning music.
Update March 2023: We added Neumann NDH 30, Focal Bathys, Q Acoustics M20 HD, Bowers & Wilkins PX8, Master & Dynamic MW75 and KEF LSX II.
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consider Where you will listen before you decide What You should listen.
The quality of sound you hear in a room is only as good as the room itself. A $250 pair of speakers will sound better in an acoustically treated room than a $10,000 pair with bare floors and walls.
What exactly is “bad” when it comes to room dynamics for high-end listening? Usually this means that the sound wave is bouncing around too much, giving the room what is known as a long reverberation decay time. This is the length of time it takes for sound to die off when bouncing off a wall.
Try this: clap your hands loudly in the middle of the room and listen for the decay – the echo of the clap sound. The best way to reduce decay time is to fill the room with as much soft, porous substance as possible. This controls audio reflections, suppressing them so you hear more of the focused sound waves emanating from the speakers and less of the clutter bouncing around the room. To treat a room, use acoustic panels (usually rock wool insulation wrapped in cheap fabric and hung on the walls or ceiling) to give the space the recommended amount of coverage.
Bouncing and thumping bass frequencies are harder to tame than high frequencies like loud cymbals and screeching guitars, often degrading the audio quality you get in a smaller room. A lot of porous absorption is needed to make a large speaker sound good in a small space like a bedroom. If you like big speakers with a lot of bass, set your stereo up more spacious.
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