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!


LATEST ADDITIONS: Oladance OWS Pro wearables | Sennheiser IE 900.

In-Ear Monitors, Earbuds & Wearables

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.
Sennheiser IE 900$1500One of the best single-dynamic IEMs out there. Incredible end-to-end extension. Near-holographic staging and imaging. Exceptional microdynamics. Midrange a bit recessed.
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 Pro$900Class-leading macro and microdynamics. Superb bass and midrange resolution. Upper-treble much improved over the predecessors. 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.
Oladance OWS Pro$230These wearables are a completely new audio experience: supersized soundstage, natural sonic reproduction, excellent note definition. The most comfortable audio device one could get.
Ikko OH10$200Best implemented V tuning until at least 2x its price. Great technicalities. Somewhat dry timbre. Some may find them not too comfortable due to weight.
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.
Sennheiser IE 200$150A wonderfully balanced iem in all respects with a natural timbre. Beats any (more expensive) Sennheiser below the IE 600 sonically, raises the bar of its price class, and elevates Sennheiser above ChiFi.
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.
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

SoftEars Turii Ti$2500Perhaps the best single dynamic driver IEMs available in the market. Not as fast sounding as Dunu Luna or Final A8000, but nails the tuning and has a dense, physical reproduction that’s hard to find in the IEM space. Exceptional layering, separation, staging, and imaging caps off an excellent all-rounder.
Shozy Form 1.4$200An unexpectedly good allrounder. Does everything and is super comfortable.
Fostex TE-02$80Neutral, well resolving single DD with arid bass. Unmodded a bit spiky for some. Waterproof.
Moondrop Aria$80Safe Harman-ish tuning. Punchy, detailed bass despite dark treble.
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”)

Cayin N8ii$3500Best Android DAP out there. Dynamics for days. ROHM DAC has unique staging and imaging. Amp section nearly as good as Cayin C9, though lags behind in raw power and the subtleties. Heavy as a brick.
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.
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 Max$1300Best “value for money” A&K DAP. Colored yet exciting tonality. High output power can drive most loads (apart from certain planars). Better ergonomics than the predecessor. Not the best treble rendition in this range. UI could be better.
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.

Past excellences, now discontinued or superseded

Questyle QP2R$1200Desktop gear level performance in a portable format. Exceptionally resolving, beautifully built. UI is frustrating to navigate. Some hiss with sensitive loads.
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 Fifteen$2500A beefed up CMA-400i. Drives planar magnetic and dynamic driver headphones with supreme authority. Excellent DAC section, very competent amp section. Standout staging, alongside intoxicating midrange.
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.
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.
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.
Qudelix-5K$109Powerful Bluetooth receiver (DAC/amp) that excels by its infinite versatility in terms of functionality and customizability. Comes with comprehensive monitoring and tweaking app. A geek’s paradise at an incredible value.

Past excellences, now discontinued or superseded

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.
EarMen TR-amp$250Slightly off neutral, natural, musical presentation. Drives anything up to 300 Ω  with ease. Also works as DAC and pre-amp.

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. Single ended output only.
Questyle M15
1, 2, 3
$250Powerful, uncoloured, transparent, crisp, and speedy sound without being sterile of analytical….at a moderate current draw (works with iPhone). Great layering and imaging. A new standard. Gives its best on balanced output.
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. Single ended output only.
E1DA 9038SG3$110Incredibly powerful, drives all IEMs bar none (including most demanding planars) and many headphones (only excluding more demanding planars). Extremely clear and clean presentation. Amazing user-friendly app allows for customising timbre, SNR, and filter. Each unit singularly factory tuned to guarantee a level of distortion dampening difficult to find on TOTL mobile sources. A very affordable jewel, a must-have. Balanced ended output only (look for 9038D for similar quality single ended alternative).
ifi Audio GO link$59A good sounding dongle DAC with ifi Audio quality build plus Lightning adapter, and a sort of “easter egg” balanced cabling compatibility for extra quality. Unbeatable at this price.
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.

Past excellences, now discontinued or superseded

EarMen Sparrow$200Best balanced output with the biggest headroom of any dongle tested (with iPhone). Made in Europe.
Superseded by Questyle M15.
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.
Superseded by Questyle M15.


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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