The search for an upgraded planar magnetic headphone from my Hifiman HE560 has taken me all over the place, and for the longest time, I hadn’t found it, at least until now. After using the Fostex T50RP and various mods to it for a while, I upgraded to the Hifiman HE560 a few years ago and fell in love with it. It had a slightly brighter than neutral sound signature, with deep bass extension, and a clean mid and treble range. It had a better than average soundstage width, and good detail and speed, at least for it’s market price at the time – somewhere under $500 (presently $200-300), which is a mighty price drop from its original $899 retail price.
Despite loving the HE560, I’ve always been in a search for the next best thing, without totally breaking the bank. I went through several Monoprice Monolith headphones, a few Audezes (LCD1, LCD2, LCD-X, etc.), and even tried out the Hifiman Sundara, and Ananda, albeit briefly. I finally decided to take a chance on the Hifiman Arya.
The Arya takes the HE1000 series stylings with a teardrop-like shape, and paints it with an all black exterior, and a swivel-based headband that is essentially the same exact design as my beloved HE560. In the latest revision in the Arya I picked up, Hifiman also added reinforcing steel to their sometimes-weak plastic yokes on the headband, amongst a few other small changes to the Arya to improve durability such as carbon fiber internal baffles and moving the pad liners to the cup itself.
When you think ZMF, you tend to think “headphones” – whether that’s Zach Mehrbach’s all-proprietary line of artisanal-quality, wooden-cupped, dynamic-driver masterpieces, like the recent Vérité or Auteur – or their original planar models based on a modified Fostex T50RP platform. But that’s not all that is on offer from ZMF – as in addition to their headphones, upgrade cables and a wide variety of pads (compatible with other headphone brands too), they also have their own dedicated headphone amplifier – the “Pendant”.
The Pendant is a pure-tube implementation featuring a high-power, transformer-coupled design capable of driving almost any headphone that you care to throw at it. It has been developed in collaboration with ampsandsound, a well-regarded designer and manufacturer of tube-based headphone and speaker amplifiers.
I have recently been listening to the LCD-1, and I must say that it has recently thrown me for a loop–and that is a good thing.
It was not too long ago that I reviewed the HiFiMan Sundara and was sincerely impressed with the performance level it achieved; so much so that I declared my personal pick for music listening under $500. The Sundara was an all-around great performer that possessed both a delightful sonic tuning and great technical capabilities. However, now that I have tried the LCD-1, I can say that there is a real contender for my go-to pick in the sub $500 price range.