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Now you're all screwed. That's how legend has it G.I. Gurdjieff put it to disciples on his death bed. Ron Lee's email reminded me. "I recently purchased a second-hand HifiMan HE6 and am stunned by the speed and transparency of these cans. I wish I had speakers with similar qualities! I like(d) my Gallos 3.5 a lot before I bought these headphones. I'm not really thinking of changing the 3.5 but I do wonder whether perhaps you know speakers which paired with the right amp would get closer to the HE6 like Magnepans and Quads. I think the Gallos and other speakers I know are much closer to conventional dynamic cans such as Beyerdynamic or Grado."

Ron had discovered what I've said for ages. Purely on sound quality and disregarding physical impact and scale, standard speaker systems have a very hard time approaching what a well-matched headfi rig can deliver. Expecting today's budget contender to mix it up at the very top and with the bear-to-drive HE6 is of course unrealistic.

But the usual x 10 math should still hold. You'd need to spend ten times what a headphone system costs to create equivalent performance from speakers. What I told Ron was that whilst Magnepans and Quads would do the HE6 thing he fancied, he'd either need a smaller room, sit closer or counter large cubic air volumes with raw panel size to keep up with his new headphones' dynamics and bass extension.

Back on compact and cost-effective, today's contender is surprisingly small. A CD atop will actually protrude on both sides. Sliding out the board from the tidy extrusion reveals a two-storey affair. With the smaller upper board unplugged, these are the guts laid out.

This brown digital board sports the popular XMOS USB transceiver chip with asynchronous firmware in the center and...

... Burr Brown's matching DIX9211 S/PDIF receiver.

Here is an Atmel Mega328P picoPower 8-bit AVR RISC-based micro controller with 32KBisp flash memory, 1024B eeprom, 2KB SRAM and various registers.