HFN Awards – Nathan, Linus, Berkhan and Nano



It’s 2,5 years under my belt with Headfonia, and counting. My second full year with these awesome guys was fantastic. I’m sad to see Nathan go, but we have to keep doing our best to help the people choose what suits best to them. My best moment of 2018 was the CanJam London show though. I had a wonderful time there and I hope I can go there in 2019 as well!

OK never mind my small talk. Here you go with my award selection of 2018:

Best DAC/Amp: iFi Audio xDSD

The xDSD is a wonderful device for portable usage with its great sound and Bluetooth capability. Usually I don’t like BT sound but in this case it’s marvelously high quality. The xDSD’s dimensions and build quality are also the notable factors for portable use.

Review: iFi Audio xDSD – iPocket

Best DAP: Shanling M0

This incredible tiny device can do it all.  I can’t think of an extremely small player like this which has all of these features in one package. And the sound was definitely unexpected from that size. Neutral, true and refined. The M0’s qualities are definitely beyond its price and footprint.

Review: Shanling M0 – Hello Beastie

Best Universal IEM (Value): iBasso IT04

iBasso improved every aspect of the IT03 that you can possibly imagine. There’s better fit, better build and a more premium design. On top of those, there’s an undeniable tuning success and it’s no doubt the best IEM for 500$ in my opinion. Trust me, this IEM is tip top.

Review: iBasso IT04 – A Big Step

Best Universal IEM (Regardless of Price): Lark Studio LSX

It seems that Lark Studio have shocked everybody with their 10BA flagship IEM. Their meticulous and timely approach to tune and design this monitor have paid off perfectly. The sound is just addicting to listen to. Warm, organic, coherent and romantic to some degree, the LSX is definitely one of the best monitors for lush mids and full bass. It was the biggest surprise of the year for me.

Review: Lark Studio LSX – Undisputed

Best Custom IEM (Value): LEAR LCM-Turbo:

When it comes to having custom monitors with affordable price tags, it’s hard to beat Lear Audio. And the Turbo is the exact hard evidence for my claim. Its sound is not for everyone with the warm and dark approach, but it’s simply a great custom monitor for such a tiny price. Not to mention the natural sound reproduction that it provides. Lear will come up with an even cheaper custom IEM in 2019, so stay tuned.

Review: LEAR LCM-Turbo | Double Act

Best Custom IEM (Regardless of Price): PEARS SH-3:

Reference, true and honest with a touch of warmth. That’s what I would say if you ask me to tell how the SH-3 performs in a nutshell. It’s not the most exciting looking CIEM around, but to me that doesn’t mean anything. In its core, this monitor is a marvel. These guys don’t have a huge influence in the audiophile market (yet), but believe me, they know their stuff and the SH-3 is easily one of the best monitors I’ve ever listened in my life. I hope to review their SH-2 next year as well.

Review: PEARS SH-3 – Swiss Precision

Honorable Mention: M-Fidelity SA50. Sheer transparency, vast staging, incredible resolution. This CIEM is almost perfect in terms of technical performance. Hugely recommended if you prefer a flat, neutral type of sound with good amount of brightness.

Best Cable: Effect Audio Eros II

Well this one is easy for me because I reviewed only one cable this year! But make no mistake, this is not the only cable I tested in 2018. The Eros II was still the best among those ones that I’ve tried. Simply because it doesn’t add or take anything from the sound of your IEM. It just boosts the technical abilities and get you a step closer to the core of your music. Usually cables add something and take something out in the process, but the Eros II is an exception.

Review: EA Eros II – The Perspective

That’s it for me. I wanted to keep it short so you can go through the links and check out the full reviews of those above. Of course there were other good gear worth mentioning but since this article is all about the bests, I picked these. I did my best to show you guys the good and bad of those products in 2018, and I will honestly keep doing so in 2019.

I would like to thank the other writers; my friends Lieven, Nathan, Linus and Nano for their awesome work here. Keep your eyes peeled for 2019 as we prepare to introduce you some new awesome stuff.

I wish you all a happy new year with your friends and families.

On the last Page you can find Nano’s 2018 awards. Click HERE

4.8/5 - (10 votes)


Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply December 28, 2018



  • Reply December 31, 2018


    Hi Lieven,

    Thanks for the great recommendations!

    I have a question about double amping. If you use the Burson Play with the Spectra NexDrive as suggested, wouldn’t you be double amping the signal? I asked Spectra if the DAC portion of the NextDrive could be used without the amp and they said no.

    Is double amping such a big deal with the NextDrive? So far I have been using the ALO Continental V5 amp with both the NextDrive and the Sony nw-zx300 (both double amping) and I haven’t noticed any deterioration to the sound.

    I have researched double amping and it seems that most of the negative comments I found about it were from many years ago. Maybe double amping is not a bid problem anymore.

    Thanks and happy holidays!

    • Reply January 2, 2019

      ohm image

      Double amping isn’t a problem if your amps are of high quality and their inputs good. Even if they are bad, often double amping may fix errors. For instance, an original apple iPod shuffle hissed a lot but sounded good otherwise. Attach an external amp to it and that hiss doesn’t get to the headphone signal of a good outboard amp. Double amping has always been a red herring for what essentially is poor understanding of how audio works.

      The NextDrive isn’t a traditional amp. It’s an SoC with a great output section. It has no noise and even if it did, double amping wouldn’t be a problem.

      • Reply January 2, 2019


        Thanks! This makes sense as I have been using the Sony NW-ZX300 and the older NextDrive Spectra with the Continental V5 with great results! I was wondering if I would get much improvement with the NextDrive Spectra X but it seems that the difference between the two would be minimal.


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