HFN Awards – Nathan, Linus, Berkhan and Nano


As the rookie of the band, I’m closing the 2018 Headfonia Awards. I really had a blast testing all this gear and above all, comparing them with previous models from the past years. This year has been very intense on a personal level but I have to thank the whole Headfonia team for their support. They are great people, on and offline, and I think that translates in their reviews.

Ok, let’s stop the melodramatic stuff and let’s get to the awards !

Best DAC/Amp: FiiO Q5

If you need only one DAC/AMP I’m pretty sure the FiiO Q5 could be the one. It can be connected with basically anything (coax/opt/line/usb/bluetooth) and with separate line-out/phone-out/balanced-out you have all the tools to drive any portable headphone. The design is good even if a bit bulky, the swappable amp module offers many options – even 4.4mm – and most of all : it sounds great.

Review: FiiO Q5 – The Step-Up

Best DAP (price wise): FiiO M9

FiiO ? Again ? Yes… but please bear with me for a minute : this is one of the best players that came out this year. The design doesn’t look as good as the FiiO M7’s but it sounds way better and offers all options a 2018 player should have : balanced output, full streaming support, double AKM DAC and LDAC/apt-X HD. All for less than 300€, bargain of the year.

Review: FiiO M9 – Wizard of the East

Best DAP : A&Ultima SP1000M

It’s basically an A&Ultima SP1000 but cheaper and smaller. Soundwise it’s one of the best TOTL player out there, the SE100 is a more sensible choice but if price is no limit, get the SP1000M. Build quality is exquisite, performance is amazing, it now supports streaming and the blue version looks marvelous. An audio-jewel for distinctive audiophiles.

Picture Sunday – Astell&Kern SP1000M

DAP honorable Mention: iBasso DX150

I always had a soft spot for iBasso, their players always gave a punchy presentation even if they are a bit hissy. The iBasso DX150 gives you a near DX200 experience for a fraction of the price and it feels snappier too. It’s powerful enough to drive big cans, dynamics are great but it doesn’t offer as much price/sound perks than the M9 does. Still, you should consider it if the FiiO signature doesn’t match your style. A great player overall, even if a bit bulky.

Review: iBasso DX150 – The Comeback

Best Headphone (price is no option) : Meze Empyrean

This was a simple choice, I only have my Empyrean for weeks now but I can assure you this : it’s the best headphone I had for the last five years. I’ve always been faithful to my old Audeze LCD-X, until the Meze arrived. Soundstage is wide, details are overwhelming, bass is perfect… it goes on and on and on but I think you heard enough good things from Lieven. Just remember one thing, everything you read is true.

Review: Meze Empyrean – Hail the King

Best Universal IEM (price wise) : KZ ZS5

Okay, if you should get one IEM this year or offer one, this is it : the KZ ZS5. It looks like a Campfire IEM, it feels like a Campfire IEM but it’s twenty times cheaper, and well, better. It’s a miracle to hear something this cheap that sounds this good. Get one, or two, or more and spread the love, maybe one day your friends and family will understand (y)our passion for music, and this would be thanks to the KZ ZS5.

Review: KZ ZS5 – The Great Pretender

Honorable mention : Hidizs X NF-Audio NF3U

Of all the IEMs I tried this year, this one was the most impressive in terms of precision. I liked the feeling of the acrylic in my ears, the copper nozzle and above all the sound signature. If you don’t like clinically accurate highs, stay away of this IEM, but for the others this is amazing. Also, it looks really nice and doesn’t cost more than 400€, even more reason to try it, no ?

Review: Hidizs X NF-Audio NF-3U – High and Dry

In 2019, I’ll begin to review CIEMs and desktop DAC/AMPs, I have an IFI Audio IDSD Pro waiting on my desk and that could be a great way to enter the new year.

I wish you and your families all the best for the new year coming and hope to see you again in 2019.


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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