Digital Music format,

Digital Media

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recommendations for hardware to get good output

  • If you absolutely don't have room for a receiver/amp, then M-Audio Studiophile and Audioengine series are the way to go. I normally don't like anything rated under 30 watts, but for those with an open cube space at work, the 20 watt Studiophile AV 40 should do nicely, or even the 15 watt AV 30 ($98). These are professional studio nearfield monitors created in partnership between Avid and Digidesign. They offer many other models, but be aware that the BX Deluxe and DSM models only have balanced (XLR) and TRS inputs. Even the AV series will sound ten times better than your typical Soundsticks and Altec Lansings.
  • Head Phone-s - go with full-sized/sealed: AKG (K81), Sennheiser (HD 518), Beyerdynamic (DT 235), Sony (MDR-7506), and Grado (SR 60i) all make good headphones that can be found for under $100. You can browse most of them at Head Room. Most of these are sealed so the sound doesn't leak and annoy people around you, and keep out a fair amount of ambient noise. They sound better than any noise cancelling headphone, which I would recommend only if you use in the noisest of train rides/planes with screaming babies. My top recommendations would be for the Denon AH-D1001 and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (MSRP $160). Unfortunately the AH-D1001 is discontinued. For a while, you could get these $150 headphones for under $80 at Amazon. They are the most comfortable headphone I've ever worn. I keep them on on my nightstand and listen at night. They're so comfortable I've dozed off in them if only briefly (be careful, you do not want to leave headphones on all night!). They have been replaced by the larger and pricier AH-D1100 (MSRP $200). They're probably just as comfortable, with a deeper range. Click on the B-Stock link at Head Room and you'll often find an open-box deal for $95. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 are heavier and sturdier than the Denon, thus slightly less comfortable for extended periods. I use them at work and on vacation. They're extremely popular and highly rated because their sound quality is probably the best you can get at this price point, though at $160, that argument would be fiercely debated at the Head-Fi forums. While I got mine for under $100, demand has increased the past couple years, and the best price right now is around $118, which is I still think without a doubt the best headphone you can get at that price.

Someone likes the $20 x-mini speaker. I bought something similar (different brand) which was worthless.

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