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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ?
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.