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A Fire In The Head

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I've been a hi-fi obsessive for more years than I care to remember. Ever since a good friend bought a pair of Tannoy 611 speakers and a load of Arcam gear, I've been able to see the benefit of owning proper kit, and had the luxury of being able to listen to my music on some really good quality equipment.

Since then I have been through a lot of audio equipment. After buying my first sound system - a Sherwood CD player, a Nad 3020i amplifier and a pair of Gale 4 floor-standing speakers - I've been through several thousands of pounds worth of equipment in search of the perfect sound.

I stopped recently, partly through lack of funds, and partly because to signicantly upgrade my current setup I'd be looking at two to three grand for a new pair of speakers - not to mention a similar figure on an amplifier, and the same again on a new source. My family thinks I've got a screw loose now. If I went down that route, they'd probably disown me and have me committed.

So to keep my habit fed for the past couple of years I've been experimenting with other ways of listening. I've built a pair of floor-standing speakers based on a pair of high-end full-range drivers. I've got busy with the soldering iron and built a non-oversampling DAC and plugged that into my computer to turn the digital music in my office into something approaching decent hi-fi sound. For my next project, I'm planning to self-build an old-fashioned valve amp. None of this quite approached the quality of my proper system of course, but it was all good fun and eventually, I surmised, could lead to some properly impressive results.

Then, in search of a decent pair of reference headphones with which to test all of the MP3 players I'm reviewing for TrustedReviews right now, I started to discover what could be achieved with headphones. I considered models from Sennheiser, AKG and Grado before finally settling on a pair of Grado Labs Prestige Series SR325i phones. I'd already listened to a pair of the firm's SR225i headphones in a hi-fi shop and had been very impressed. These were supposed to be better with more bass and, more importantly, had received many glowing reviews in the hi-fi press.

One particular reviewer claimed they were so impressive that you'd have to spend more than £3,000 on a pair of speakers offering equal performance. That swung it for me. Better still, I managed to find a pair for the absolute bargain price of £200 online - over £180 less than the original suggested retail price. That may seem a lot of money, but I reckoned if they even approached what the reviews had been saying, I'd be getting a pretty good deal.

And after testing a few MP3 players with 'audiophile' pretensions, which have been able to play lossless audio formats such as FLAC, I was interested to see how close I could get to proper hi-fi sound with just a pair of decent headphones connected to a humble, sub-£200 source.

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