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Amp: Wells Audio Headtrip – $7,000.00

Source: Chord Hugo with stock USB cable – $2,495.00

Cables: Kimber Silver Streak Interconnects RCA – $257.00

Power Conditioner: Panamax M5400-PM – $729.99


  • Abyss AB-1266 – $5,495 (Deluxe)
  • Sennheiser HD 800 – $1,599.95
  • HiFiMan HE-1000 – $2,999
  • Audeze LCD-3 – $1,945
  • Audeze LCD-X – $1,699

I’ve spent at least 50 hours with each headphone (tooks days off of work…yes, it’s that bad). For some of these songs I found it more accurate to listen to snippets of songs for these types of comparisons. I wrote these notes down as I’m listening to keep it as honest and unbiased as possible. As with all subjective reviews, take it with a block of salt. At the time of review I owned the Audeze LCD-3F and the Sennheiser HD 800. I’ve since sold the LCD-3 and purchased the Abyss. The rest of the cans and Headtrip were borrowed from the awesome guys at The Cable Company. Ethan was a pleasure to work with and I highly recommend their headphone/amp/DAC/cable loaning services.

I’ve tried to cover as many genres as possible. Let’s begin.


Mediterranean Sundance – Friday Night In San Francisco (24/176), 4:25 – 5:05

  • Abyss
    • Not as in your face, very crisp. Lots of space between the two actors
    • Weight of the guitars are felt through your ears
    • Imaging sounds like a live performance
  • HD 800
    • Plucking isn’t as crisp as the Abyss
    • Soundstage is wide…maybe too wide?
    • Sounds like a piece of paper was placed in the front compared to the Abyss
    • Doesn’t delineate the two guitarist as well
    • Strumming doesn’t have that organic weight to it
    • Not as refined and instruments don’t sound accurate compared to the Abyss
    • Imaging is a bit fuzzy compared to the Abyss
  • HEK
    • Sounds good, imaging is better than HD 800 and I would say on par with the Abyss
    • Excels in live performances. Great atmospheric dynamics
    • More musical than HD 800
    • Warmer undertone compared with both the HD 800 and Abyss
    • Not as dynamic as the Abyss
    • Sounds thinner, not as sweet as LCD-3, you hear more of the performance
  • LCD-3
    • A lot more impact and musical (to my ears) than the HEK
    • More engaging
    • Reverb of guitar is felt
    • More forward sounding
    • Sounds like you’re on stage with them
    • You don’t get the crispiness but smooth and sweet
    • More body, more weighty
    • For this track, I like this more than the HEK
    • Doesn’t really sound live performance…but nevertheless still enjoyable
  • LCD-X
    • Precise, clean guitars…but a bit grainy
    • Not as dynamic, warmth and delineation/separation isn’t quite there
    • The bass isn’t as accurately placed and a bit bloaty
    • Imaging is not as good, not as transparent, guitar players are almost on the same plane. Flat
    • Not as engaging, but not bad, still fun
    • Sounds like a medicore/homemade recording of a live performance
    • Can’t delineate the rifts as much

Foc – Rodrigo & Gabriela (Live in Japan) – 0:00 – 1:10

  • Abyss
    • Sounds like they’re there, you could picture them jamming
    • Crystal clear, black background, transparent
  • HD 800
    • Extremely detailed with strumming, crazy dynamics
    • Overall tone sounds more accurate
    • Soundstage, wow, a lot more true the recording
    • Balanced presentation (from the performers, to the audience, to the stage)
    • Very factual…if that’s the word for it.
    • The PRaT is a lot better than the rest of the headphones outside of the Abyss
    • Wish there were more low-end response but quite stunning and enjoyable to listen to
  • HEK
    • More rumble, more engaging, more deeper atmosphere
    • The warmth really helps with musicality, almost like what the LCD-3 does for its listeners
    • Micro-details are not as apparent
    • Guitars sound sweeter
    • Imaging not as good Abyss
    • Texturing not as detail, but still super musical
  • LCD-3
    • Surprisingly still very detailed
    • Crowd clapping, more head bobbing, toe-tapping, it’s what the LCD-3 does!
    • Just enough detail and sparkle to please your ears and artists intention
    • Not as transparent and doesn’t really have the organics of the other headphones but ample amounts of euphony.
  • LCD-X
    • The strumming just doesn’t sound right
    • The reverb off the guitar doesn’t sound right
    • Crowd sounds better than the rest of the cast o_O
    • Not as impactful…not as much authority
    • Imaging not as great
    • Lots of low-end rumble but not a lot of texture or definition
    • Missing details in the plucking of the guitars…more holistic
    • Not much depth
    • Not transparent
    • No sense of atmosphere, just facts
    • Bass not controlled


Neil Young – Heart of Gold – 0:00 – 1:24

  • Abyss
    • Sounds wider than HD 800
    • Highs are well-controlled
    • Bass is also controlled
    • Dynamics of the song are more apparently
    • The voice has more blood in it, can’t imagine it being more realistic
    • It sounds like the HD 800 but with the bass and rounded up in the right places
  • HD 800
    • Lots of detail
    • Drums sound great
    • Imaging is better than HEK (harmonica)
    • The highs interfere with the vocal presentation at times
    • Voice a bit on the brighter end
  • HEK
    • Guitar and harmonica sound so crazy beautiful
    • More balanced than LCD-3
    • Sparkle and pretty good imaging
    • Sounds more like a live performance than LCD-3 by a long shot
  • LCD-3
    • Love this headphone because it picks up the right details and presents it in the best way
    • Solid
    • Musical
    • Don’t hear micro-details in the instruments as clearly
    • Imaging isn’t that great…smeared
  • LCD-X
    • Sounds muffled compared to the other headphones
    • No impact on drums
    • Harmonica sounds like it’s going to break apart and die
    • Still musical
    • Vocals actually sound very natural, but lacks a little bit of granularity


Alice in Chains – Brother (Unplugged), Entire track

  • Abyss
    • Audience sounds way in the back, recessed
    • Guitar sounds more similar to HEK than HD800
    • Super wide soundstage
    • The only headphone sounds like it’s a live performance with speakers in front of you
    • Balanced tonality
    • Not as boring as the HD 800…some may prefer the sweeter sound of the HEK
  • HD 800
    • Bass isn’t as accurate as HEK
    • Guitars aren’t as organic as the HEK
    • I think it lacks body compared to the HEK
    • Not euphonic
    • Accurate but not fun
  • HEK
    • Crowd is a lot more realistic
    • Super accurate bass extension, way better than the LCD-3
    • Instruments more presence and sparkle
    • More impact, prefer this over the LCD-3
  • LCD-3
    • Sounds so much better than the LCD-X, it’s stupid
    • Delineates the voices clearly
    • Imaging is better than the LCD-X
    • Voice still lifelike. So delicious.
    • Instruments sound good but lack a little bit of the finer details
  • LCD-X
    • Sounds mostly messy with random slams here and there
    • Bass is loose as hell
    • I’m really not giving much love to these cans…especially compared to the others but you have to keep in mind they blow the other cans below this tier away. We’re at summit-fi guys.


Yo-Yo Ma – Quarter Chicken Dark, Entire track

  • Abyss
    • Cello sound so realistic with unlimited amount of air…beautiful
    • The Perfect Headphone <3
  • HD 800
    • Super clean rumble, sounds like a cello, IMO better than HEK
    • Sounds beautiful
    • Goes so high but not as much body as the Abyss
    • Sound fantastic!
  • HEK
    • More rumble, sounds a bit boxy compared to the Abyss/HD 800
    • Violin doesn’t have as much sparkle
    • Bassy undertone…not a black background
    • Separation is better on Abyss
    • Imaging is very good
    • More intimate sounding and still very enjoyable
  • LCD-3
    • Not as focused as HEK
    • Not as refined as HEK
    • More bass impact than the rest of the cast
    • Really doesn’t shine…because it’s so dark
    • No shimmer on violin at all, no air, sounds suffocated
    • Not a good headphone for this type of music…for damn sure
  • LCD-X
    • Cello doesn’t sound like a Cello…
    • Violin sounds flat
    • Imaging isn’t bad, surprisingly better than the LCD-3 in this case
    • Actually sounds kinda fun, doesn’t extend that far high or low but has cozy middle
    • Better than the LCD-3, more sparkle


Emeili Sande – Next to Me, Entire track

  • Abyss
    • Piano sounds more organic than the HD 800
    • Bass is so much better, doesn’t sound like the others. Very controlled and precise. 
    • Super wide soundstage
    • Although I don’t think it’s as fun as the HEK, probably depicts the artist’s artistic intent better
    • More laid back
    • Amazing sub-bass response. None of the other headphones could produce this awesomeness I’m hearing. They’re subwoofers in your ears.
  • HD 800
    • Piano sounds more clean than HEK
    • Vocals are more forward than HEK
    • Sounds really good
    • Not as dynamic as HEK
    • Peaky at times
    • Great grip and control on dynamics
    • Low-end response is lacking so in turn not a fun headphone for this song
  • HEK
    • Piano sounds more realistic than the LCD-3/X
    • The vocals are very clean and realistic
    • Amazing separation
    • All the moving parts of the song are well constructed and cohesive
    • A lot more musical and fun
  • LCD-3
    • Much more quantity of bass than LCD-X
    • Much more refined compared to the LCD-X
    • A bit too dark for this song
  • LCD-X
    • No delineation of the shaker to piano…
    • decent separation otherwise, but a bit smeared
    • Lacks dynamics of the rest of the cast


Steve Turre – Funky “T” – 6:50 – 7:20

  • Abyss
    • It just…tickles your ears…can’t help but smile.
  • HD 800
    • Lacks that low-end again but sounds great otherwise
  • HEK
    • Overall just a sweeter sound over the Abyss
    • Not as much detail or air around the instruments
    • I would guess most would prefer these cans for this type of recording
  • LCD-3
    • Horns are not as resolute
    • More bleeding, not as good imaging as HD 800
    • Cozy, intimate sound
    • Narrow space, boxy
    • It’s just a warmer/darker headphone
  • LCD-X
    • Not as engaging as as far as detail reproduction than the other headphones
    • Sounds really fun if you’re doing other stuff
    • IMO the LCD-X is more fun to listen to than the LCD-3 and the HD 800 for this specific track


Eva Cassidy – Fields of Gold (Live at Blues) – 3:30 – 3:55

  • Abyss
    • Perfect…brought tears to my eyes and it isn’t even an Orpheus
  • HD 800
    • Great vocals, micro-details when she drops her voice
    • Sonically a close 2nd to Abyss
  • HEK
    • Voice is warmer, sweeter, less detailed
    • Peak in her voice is not apparent, not as emotive as HD 800, soft
    • Voice is more prominent, drowns the instrumentals sometimes
  • LCD-3
    • Organic
    • Granularity in her voice is apparent
    • Her emotion is not lost
    • Her voice probably sounded the most beautiful with these…but lacks a touch of accuracy
    • Not sibilant
  • LCD-X
    • Almost no depth, flat
    • Narrower soundstage
    • Voice isn’t as smooth, grainy


Massive Drop – Inertia Creeps, 0:00 – 2:00

  • Abyss
    • So much detail in the beginning not heard on the other cans…
    • Super wide soundstage
    • Clean, resolving bass, doesn’t sound boomy like the rest
    • Sounds more like a slap on a drum, there’s reverb, very taut
  • HD 800
    • Like the Abyss..hear details on the build-up
    • Not as textured as the Abyss
    • The sub-bass isn’t that great compared to the others
    • You hear more the high end of it, not fun for this song
    • A bit sibilant
  • HEK
    • Still very detailed but not as much as the HD 800 or Abyss
    • Bass doesn’t hit hard as LCD-3, but well-defined
    • More laid back compared to LCD-3
    • Slam doesn’t wow you like it does with the LCD-3 but it’s very punchy and accurate
  • LCD-3
    • Much better than LCD-X
    • Not as detailed as the HD 800/HEK/Abyss
    • Bass is bigger and better controlled than the LCD-X
    • Narrower soundstage than LCD-X
  • LCD-X
    • Muffled and smearing everywhere
    • Sounds grainy but bassy


Eminem – Stan, Entire track

  • Abyss
    • Sounds like you’re in a bedroom, watching the rain from the window
    • There’s a lot of detail resolved from the storm in the background
    • Best separation of Dido’s voice from background, nice and crispy
    • I like the vocal on the LCD-3s more for this track
  • HD 800
    • Rain is sounds like rice krispies
    • Thunder isn’t realistic
    • Harsh
    • The scribbling is a bit harsh as well
  • HEK
    • Imaging and clarity better than HD 800,
    • Rain and Dido’s voice sound more realistic
    • Very well controlled and balanced tonality
    • Rain sounds more realistic
    • more balanced than HD 800
  • LCD-3
    • Sounds like you’re listening to the song in a darker room
    • Prefer the bass response over the HEK
    • Vocals sound better than the entire cast outside of the HEK
  • LCD-X
    • Brighter than LCD-3, sounds like bigger room than LCD-3
    • Thunder is great, seismic force
    • Dam good bass, but not as good as LCD-3
    • Dido’s voice bleeds in with the background sounds
    • His voice a bit rough and shifts towards the brighter end

Female Vocals

Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner, Entire track

  • Abyss
    • The complete black background helps keep focus on her beautiful voice 
    • Sounds perfect to my ears
  • HD 800
    • Voice is not as refine as the Abyss, but close
  • HEK
    • Sounds like a smaller room, sweeter voice, you don’t hear the dips in pitch as much as the Abyss
  • LCD-3
    • Completely silent, sounds like a bigger room than the HEK, bedroom voice, dips are better resolved than the HEK
  • LCD-X
    • Voice is missing body, no dips, and actually misses some of the lower-midrange


Santana – Oye Como Va – 0:00 – 1:50

  • Abyss
    • Effortless, fun, and involving
    • Sounds more like speakers
  • HD 800
    • As far as imaging, sounds a lot like the Abyss without resolution and detail in the bass area
    • Not as euphonic or engaging
  • HEK
    • Sounds really good, I prefer it over the Abyss
    • Comforting and intimate sound. It’s just so musical
  • LCD-3
    • Much more controlled than LCD-X
    • More bass impact, but doesn’t sound as refined as the HEK
    • HEK gives this song more air, much appreciated spaciousness
    • Guitars are just more sheen, rich, and musical on HEK
  • LCD-X
    • More fun than the Abyss or HD 800
    • I can’t get over the crowded upper-midrange…it sounds loose when too many things are happening
    • Bass build up doesn’t have impact, almost sounds rolled-off
    • Lacks resolution across the entire spectrum compared to the rest of the cast



With this rig, the Abyss blew the other headphones out of the water. It had enormous dynamics, visceral and physical bass response, amazing clarity, precise imaging, larger and more realistic soundstage (even compared to the unmodified Sennheiser HD 800).

During this quest I’ve learned a little bit about each headphone. Here are my rankings:

#1 – Abyss AB-1266

  • After this shootout was over, all I could think was “The Abyss is in a league of its own.”
  • Scales well with the equipment it’s given. It even sounds great directly out of the Chord Hugo’s amp, although not as wide/deep a soundstage, instruments are a tiny bit more restrained, and it’s a tad bit brighter and less refined…it does an amazing job considering the difference in cost. However, when paired with my Pathos Aurium, it sounded a bit hazy and less refined. The Headtrip amp was supposedly built for this headphone in mind and it shows. Overall, I think what a high-end amp does for a headphone like this is more texture and control over the entire spectrum. It gives it that “effortless” sound…where power (and at times money) is no object.
  • The pairing and synergy with this amp is astounding. It was the closest I’ve gotten to a $200,000 Kharma speaker setup with headphones. The HE-1000 is a much better all-rounder (especially with the Headtrip) but the Abyss has the ability to teleport you to the place the recording took place in. It may not be as fun for some genres but because of it’s “physical” capabilities and holographic presentation, I would place this as my top pick. I’m sure to the surprise of many, I also found these headphones comfortable after hours upon hours of listening compared to even the HEK. When properly fitted (in my experience, a little looser towards the back of the ear) the bass response is powerful and unmatched. Best headphone listening experience I’ve had thus far.

#2 – HiFiMan HE-1000

  • I’ve heard the prototypes of these back in CanJam 2015 and from memory…I liked them better then. It were a bit brighter and airy. Like some listeners out there, I found these to be a bit too soft to be enjoyable some of the time.
  • From my experience, they don’t scale well with cheaper components. Listening off my Aurender Flow or Chord Hugo is a completely difference experience from listening to it on the Headtrip. IMO, the HEK requires a decent amp to let it shine. It sounds incredible on the Headtrip but too laid-back and lifeless with the portables. I preferred the LCD-X off the portable DAC/amps.
  • Compared to the LCD-3, it’s definitely the better headphone. Imaging is pinpoint accurate, enormous amount of detail, and great extension on both ends.
  • They’re very light and comfortable but sometimes slides up/down my face so I have to readjust every so often.
  • I had a few music lovers over and 90% of them enjoyed the HEK over the rest of the bunch.
  • Compared to the Abyss, the sound is more closed in a cozy space. Brings more of an intimate atmosphere while the Abyss is grand and expansive with a much blacker background.
  • A fantastic all-rounder IMO
  • At times a bit too soft for my taste but technically accurate and enjoyable. It is by far the best all-rounded but requires a decent amp to sound its best. I just wish it had more shimmer up top and a blacker background. If it had those two things, I would prefer it over the Abyss. Although, the warmer undertone gives it that sweet and groovy presentation.

#3 – Audeze LCD-3 (Fazored)

  • These are my personal pair of cans and man, they really provide some musical enjoyment. They do lack all the technicalities of the other cans but it picks out all the good parts of a song and melts it in your ears. Bass slam (albeit boomy at times) is fantastic and the mid-range is something most yearn to listen to on lonely Christmas nights.
  • These give you more bass than you need but it helps with certain genres. They’re not technically accurate but are very detailed and intimate. Outside of classical, most music sounds amazing out of these cans. It’s really hard to not like these cans for strictly musical enjoyment. They’re not really transparent and they have poor imaging…but oh man have you heard the silky, lush, buttery mid-range on these things? Heaven.

#4 – Sennheiser HD 800 (unmodified)

  • These were my first set of high-end cans…and I never really liked them. Possibly due to poor amp selection and such but they always seemed too bright and strident…almost unbearable. There wasn’t enough low-end response for my tastes and overall it just wasn’t engaging. However, I could see how a sound engineer would appreciate them (and one actually did during the shootout). A month after this session was conducted, I modified the HD 800 and it sounds like a different headphone. Great low-end response, upper treble areas were smooth but didn’t lose its shimmer. I really…really enjoyed them. I’m sure they’ve would’ve ranked higher had they been modified. As far as value, the modified HD 800 is as good as it gets and would get my top recommendation for those wanting to dive into summit-fi sound.
  • The imaging is undeniably accurate and the soundstage unmatched in width (though unrealistic IMO). Surprisingly, I felt the Abyss had more depth and was more accurate as far as reproduction of both width and depth.
  • These were technically and sonically superior to most of the cast but were a bit too lifeless and analytical for me. As mentioned, the modified version is whole another story. For this shootout, the HD 800 performed quite well but my musical preferences require a bit more from the low-end and possibly more of a colored sound. Some love the unrealistically wide soundstage but from this session…the imaging from the HEK and Abyss were more pinpoint accurate with defined boundaries while the HD 800 was slightly fuzzy around the edges. The mod actually seems to fix most of these problems but I didn’t have them available during this review.

#5 – Audeze LCD-X

  • Just to note, these did hit the noise floor of the Headtrip. They sounded great off the portables and the Headtrip but the performance was somewhat inferior to the rest of the cans in this comparison. It just sounded a bit aggressive, a bit loose, boomy, unfocused, a little grainy, and unnatural. Compared to the headphone above it, the LCD-3, it just sounded unorganized and messy.
  • One the other hand, these are great because I can power them up through my phone at the office. They still sound more spacious/enjoyable than my custom JH Audio Angie in-ears and are fun to listen to if you’re multi-tasking and listening to more mainstream Pop/Hip-Hop/Rock. I could see these being quite enjoyable but it really lacks the refinement I look for in a high-end headphone. It’s just not as smooth or resolving as the other headphones in the bunch.