Note: This article is based upon the video "$2,700 Complete Audiophile System Build!" made by Joshua Valour on his YouTube channel and is printed here in partnership with Joshua Valour. The review was originally posted on March 1st, 2021. Edits have been made for clarity and length.
Over on his YouTube channel, Joshua Valour broke down how to get a complete high-end audiophile setup for $2,700. Keep scrolling for the itemized breakdown, the video, and our lightly edited transcription.
$2,700 Audiophile System
Hey! What’s up, guys? Today we’re going to be doing a system build of a system that I actually personally use all the time. Now, this system clocks in at $2,710.
In this build there are some areas where I have some major suggestions for cost savings on how to get really good sound with a system that sounds relatively similar to this, but that’s substantially cheaper. We just happen to be using this today.
Now, this build--similar to every build in this series--is mainly just an option of what you could do--not necessarily supposed to give you the best sound for the money. It’s just going over some options and some areas where you might be able to save some costs and get really good sound.
Now, this is a system that I’m very experienced with, especially with the headphone, which is the HiFiMAN Arya. This is a headphone that I’ve run through every single amplifier that has come in for like the past year--maybe even two years at this point.
It’s been a while, so I’m very familiar with the ins and outs of this headphone, what systems it sounds good on, what systems it does not sound good on. And I have a few suggestions for this headphone, specifically on what you should and shouldn’t do.
Now, the breakdown of price on this:
The HiFiMAN Arya is $1,600. It rarely goes on sale, but you can get a couple hundred bucks off if you buy open box. Now, I’d personally suggest getting this new. That way you definitely qualify for a warranty. I haven’t heard too many issues about HiFiMAN Aryas, but there are some other HiFiMANs that have had issues, so it’s--I think--in my opinion worth the extra couple hundred bucks just for peace of mind.
We also have an XLR balanced Periapt cable, which is an extra $60.
Then we have the amplification and the DAC: a Gustard H16 balanced amplifier, which comes out at $400, and a TOPPING D70s DAC, which comes in at about $650. Sometimes it’s $700, but right now it’s $650.
So, all together, it’s about $2,710. So definitely a premium, expensive system for sure.
Okay, let’s talk about the headphones. So I know I’m gonna get a lot of questions about the looks of them.
So, HiFiMAN did a revision, where they switched from sort of a mesh to more of a fabric on the inside and outside, and it hid the drivers, but I also think it changed the characteristic a little bit.
It’s still a very good headphone, but I tried an earlier revision--that was actually the one I reviewed way back in the day--and I thought that that sounded better than the newer revision--not by a lot, but just a small amount.
And since this one is mine, and I didn’t plan on selling it ever, I took the fabric out of the back of the front. But taking this off is definitely not something I would advise. This is more of a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ situation.
Okay, one thing that I see a lot with this headphone: when people get this, they’re sometimes unhappy with the way that this headphone sounds.
And I can tell you from personal experience that this headphone has a wide variety of potential sound signatures, depending on the amplification.
So when I have seen people complain about this, if I’m able to delve deeper, it’s almost always because they’re using either cheap or not very powerful amplification.
This is a headphone that basically requires [a powerful headphone amp] in order to sound at its best. And that’s where something like the H16 comes in, which--around the impedance of this--creates about four watts, which is definitely more than enough to run this and the vast majority of other headphones.
Now, this headphone at the price is also not the most resolving headphone. I think both the Focal Clear and the HD800S have better resolution capability than this.
So if you have an amplifier that has a lot of glare in it--like the early Magnis--this system is not going to play great on that.
So I’m not trying to gatekeep or anything, but if you are going to get this I would highly advise spending some extra cash on a really good amplifier to run this.
Otherwise, you’re going to get a subpar experience, and if you do power this properly you can really get some insane results from this thing. It’s really quite impressive.
Gustard H16 & TOPPING D70s
So, speaking of amplification, we’re using a Gustard H16 and a D70s DAC. Why? Well, the D70s is actually one of the best DACs that are available on that market today.
I have no problem pairing this thing with something like a Schiit Modius. I think that system sounds awesome, too, but this DAC is MQA/DSD compatible. It’s also got 4494 DAC chips, which are very high-end AKM chips.
This thing, from a spec and measurement perspective, is insane. But it also has some nice creature comforts like remote control support and Bluetooth, for when I do want to use Bluetooth with my phone or laptop.
It’s also a fully-balanced stack. Going into a fully balanced amplifier--being the H16. Now, the H16 is really nice. Actually, I really like this thing a lot.
This is one of those well-measuring amplifiers that definitely competes with something like the 789s.
I do have a TOPPING A90, but it’s actually on loan to a friend. That system I would have no problem interchanging for this, and that would be about a hundred dollars more. That amplifier is probably a little bit better suited for this system, and it’s a better technical amplifier.
[The H16], to me, sounds like it has a very minor warm shift to it and a little bit stronger bass response than I’m used to on a standard solid state like the A90.
Now, the A90 is a little bit more impressive from a technical and neutrality perspective. It’s a little bit more pure, I would say, but I really, really enjoy the way that the H16 sounds, and I do like the features set on it, as well as also being able to be controlled via a remote.
It also has the stepladder volume control, so that’s pretty fun, too.
Compared to Cheaper Schiit Modius/Magnus System
Okay, so I have some immediate suggestions on what you could do here.
The Arya needs power. It needs resolution, but it doesn’t need the highest end stuff on the market, to be completely honest.
You can actually get away with--and I think it sounds great with--just like a Schiit Modius and a Schiit Magnus.
That’s $400 total for a system that, including your balanced cable, that’s going to drop you down from $2,710 to about $2,060. $400 for the amp and DAC, $1,600 for the headphone, and $60 for the cable.
Now, the question is: does it sound as good as the more expensive system? I would say it’s like 98%, 99%.
It’s really close and really competitive, and those [Schiit products] are really good value propositions. And this [D70s-H16 system], as a value proposition, compared to that....it doesn’t really compete.
You know, an extra $700 for an extra one or two percent better performance--and that’s almost even in the subjective realm.So why would one go with the more expensive system over the cheaper system?
I personally think that the only reason for this particular case would be if you were running multiple headphones.
So if you had a few other pairs, like a Clear or an HD800S, or even something more-high or even a number of $500 to $2,000 headphones--I would certainly recommend a system like this.
For this particular case, if you just have an Arya, I would probably stick with something a little bit cheaper just because it’s going to sound great coming out of that system.
And the benefits once you go higher in price are a lot lower. And the simple fact here is that I think the headphone basically has a point where it can sound not that great or it can sound great, but it definitely hits a ceiling where some of the other components in the system make a difference up to a point and then no longer make any difference at all.
So the good news is that you know this system, compared to something even drastically more expensive--you know, even in the, you know, $5,000 to $10,000 range for your combined amplifier and DAC price doesn’t sound any better to me.
It may sound a little bit different, especially if you’re throwing like high-end tube amplifiers or something at this.
Like, I listened to a WA-33 on this, and it sounds awesome, it sounds great, but subjectively I don’t necessarily think it sounds any better so much as just different.
What Does the $2,700 System Do?
Okay, so what does this system provide? What can it do? The dynamic range is excellent. That’s where a lot of your control from the amplifier is needed is the dynamic range to push--specficially the bass response--of this palaner magnetic driver.
Now the driver in here is actually kind of cool. The way that they have this magnet set up is that the magnets are actually asymmetrical, so they use thicker bar magnets on the outside and thinner bar magnets on the inside.
And this is not a very common practice. And HiFiMAN has a couple of headphones that do this. But it’s definitely not something that I see with--I don’t think I’ve ever seen this on any other headphone brand now that I think of it.
There probably is some, I just can’t think of them right now, but this headphone, to me, is actually one of my favorite headphones.
I keep going back and forth between this and the Diana V2 for favorite headphone. But it’s top two, for sure.
This thing sounds incredibly unique. It’s got some things that are not as technically good as some other headphones in this price tag.
Like, I already talked about the resolution capability being not as good as a Clear or an 800s, and the bass response is not as good as something like an Audeze2C, for example.
But the staging capability, the scale of the sound, which just has this massive sound stage scale. It has this huge feeling.
That’s why I love this headphone. This, in my opinion, has the best vocals from HiFiMAN that I’ve heard, even with its problems. Okay, so that’s what you get.
Can you get this sound for substantially cheaper?
Can you get this sound for substantially cheaper? There are really good HiFiMANs that are a lot cheaper, like the Sundara, specifically, and the HE400i.
Those don’t really sound like the Arya though, and that’s kind of the biggest downside. They sound great, but they don’t sound like the Arya.
The Sundara is $350 and it’s probably my second most-recommended headphone from HiFiMAN. So it first is the Arya and then it’s the Sundara.
Then it’s probably the 400i, then the HC1000sc. Then the Susvara. The Susvara is really, really good. It’s just extremely expensive and also incredibly difficult to drive. So there’s that.
If you go with the cheaper system, how close do you get to this system?
So let’s assume $400 for the Magnius and Modius and $350--plus the balanced cable--for the Sundara...coming in at a total of $800. It’s very good. Very very good.
But it doesn’t compete with [the H16-D70s system]. It competes at a very good level for the price, and at $800 it’s one of the better systems that you can honestly buy. But [the H16-D70s] is a better.
It’s notably better with things like staging scale, bass performance, and even treble resolution.
So you definitely get some benefits from going to the upper system, but I think the $800 system is also very noteworthy and probably worth paying attention to, as well.
Okay, I think that’s going to be it for this build. Considering that you save almost 30% of your entire budget by cheaping out on your amp and DAC, I think the system is 100% worth checking out.
This is one of my favorite builds that I’ve done, and this is a system that I personally use all the time.
Now, disclaimers. This sound signature isn’t for everybody.
If you like really strong bass performance, for example...this has excellent bass, but if you like strong bass performance I would probably switch this headphone out for maybe an LCDX or LCD2C, and you’re going to be getting better bass response though it’s not going to be as clear or as analytical in the top end as the Arya is.
This headphone also has amazing sound stage, but it’s also not the best at soundstage at this price. I would probably stick with the HD800S, and I’ve done a build for that one coming in about $2,000, so about $700 cheaper than this system.
And you get the best sound staging for probably any headphone ever. I’ll leave a link in the description down below for that one.
Okay, that’s gonna wrap it up finally. Thank you very much for watching. Until the next video, my name is Josh. Signing off. Peace.