What’s a reference?

It’s an excellent question, isn’t it? Glad you agree. So, lemme explain where I’m coming from. What I’m not saying about a reference is that this product is the be-all, end-all of its type or in its class. What I am saying is, rather, that a particular product is familiar and one that I can use as a reliable barometer to judge other products.

My targets for references tend to be high-performers, but I’m under no illusions that they couldn’t be bettered. In some cases, bettered significantly. Just wanted to put that out there.

Some of this stuff is very expensive. I get that. Some of it may be too expensive. I get that too. But this is the stuff I’m most familiar with because, well, this is also my stuff. Yes, I own it all. I think it’s important for a review to own his reference gear.

Note that this is different from my Most Wanted List. There’s stuff on both, to be sure, but if I had the dough, the lists would be closer to “unified”.



Amplifiers/Integrated amplifiers





Rack, Isolation, Platforms, &c





  • Abyss AB-1266: best bass from a headphone, ever. ($5,500)
  • Audeze LCD-3 (Fazored)
  • Sennheiser HD-800: best detail retrieval of any high-end audio system, headphone or not.
  • MrSpeakers Alpha Dog: my default recommendation for reference-quality headphones, and one of the best values in audio’s high-end.
  • Focal Spirit Pro closed-back headphones: my new “affordable” reference headphone for real-world use and listening.
  • Beats by Apple Solo2


  • Astell & Kern AK240 digital audio player: expensive as all hell, but for “portable audio”, it does it all with no extra amp or DAC required.


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