Massdrop "x" (Audiophile)



I can compare it to the SPL Phonitor X and iFi Pro iCAN directly, as well as the LCX and MCTH etc.

I have a review pending of both the Jotunheim and the Lyr 3 as well, but I returned those loan units so any comparisons to those will be based on my listening notes rather than direct back-to-back comparisons.

Don’t have the Gilmore Lite Mk2.

As for subjective vs. objective …

If people want to buy solely based on measurements, that’s up to them. Same with those that want to buy purely based on subjective criteria. What I take issue with is when fights break out between those two factions as they try and “convert” each other. I would be hard pressed to name something I cared less about than what other people spend their time or money on - and I just don’t understand the mentality of those that do.

Beyond which, those arguing passionately in favor of measurements always seem to do so with the perspective that everyone buying audio gear has the same goal. In their world that would generally be “most accurate reproduction for the least cost”. I can tell you that, for me, that’s not the goal AT ALL in my personal audio purchases.

What I seek is the most enjoyable listening experience possible. Which may, or may not, coincide with the best objective performance (regardless of price).

And that changes over time for people. Even if you, say, like a neutral presentation, what is audibly neutral to an individual changes as one’s hearing deteriorates (naturally). A 50 year old who wants “audibly neutral” is likely to favor components that are brighter in signature than a 25 year old. Though personally I find EQ is an easier, and more reliable, way to deal with that (especially when armed with knowledge of one’s actual hearing profile - something easy to get and that 99% of “audiophiles” and “objectivists” I’ve met have never even consider).

So, while my purchase choices are personal and to suit my needs, desires and preferences - reviews I handle differently (and wherever possible include blind comparisons, rather than being purely sighted).


I totally agree with this statement:

The end goal should be to ENJOY MUSIC right? That’s why I find it really weird to even compare a tube amp’s measurements to a solid-state. I didnt buy a tube amp to get perfect measurements. I got it to change my sound signature to something more friendly to enjoy my music with. But I still have something with great measurements to mix things up. It’s good to have both if you can afford it, but at the end of the day, whatever pleases you, no matter who “you” are, the best is what matters.

As an engineer and music-lover, I can see how both matter and that’s why finding a good balanced middle ground matters. If perfect measurements, make it sound better, that’s great. If an inaudibly distortion measurement sounds great, well thats great too!


Amen (I’m not religious but this is an appropriate word to these statements) to both @Torq, and @antdroid. I fully agree with both your statements!


@antdroid | @Torq | @Cariad | @DarthPool

Following my professional background in research, development, and product testing, I have a pretty cynical view on what’s going on with vendors. However, my experience is with software and websites.

Users are segmented in various groups (aka ‘personas’) by development and marketing teams. I’m making up the details right now, but the categories below are consistent with my experience. Hypothetically, manufacturers design products with the following groups in mind:

  1. Mainstream: most influenced by exposure and a paid-for reputation, to include advertising, mall presence, length of corporate history, etc. Bose, Sony, Sennheiser.
  2. Fashionable/naive: most influenced by style with little quality perspective or concern. Beats, Skullcandy, Master & Dynamic. Often under age 30. Bright colors are pretty!
  3. Engineers, technicians, & wannabes: most influenced by newness and charts and measurements, but often self-taught or DIY so they are often less knowledgeable or perceptive than they think they are. [Likely the category with most hardcore objectivists]
  4. Classic audiophiles: far more sophisticated than the fashion market but have a poor ability to distinguish between audio quality, the full sensory experience, and the cost of equipment. It’s better simply because the whole experience is better and required more effort! [Likely many firm subjectivists.]
  5. Enthusiasts: the bulk of the serious hobbyists, with enough experience, passion, and focus to actually spot differences and know the market. They range from low-budget students who buy $100 Grados or $200 6XXs on up to the Stax market. They are far too well educated and self-aware to fall purely into #1 through #4, but can tend in one direction or another based on budget and personality.

Now building on these fundamental orientations, the engineers and human testing teams come up with something feed the priorities of each group. And though extensive testing these groups become generally predictable. They may think they are objective or subjective, but are often just exploited and manipulated. Some methods have held up over decades: little girls buy purple, pink, yellow, and white. Little boys buy red, blue, green, and black. There have been canned ‘boy bands’ in every generation since the 1960s (Beatles early work). Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.


But, but… I love purple…no joke…but outliers exist in everything, diversity is the spice of life! Good post, and yes, I know a couple of marketing folks…and your post is more prevelant in our world then people realize most of the time. Also almost everyone (if not everyone)is susceptible to it. We all have favorite something, or such and such. Being aware of these things helps, but at the end of the day the human race is a very consumer based society.


Well said couldn’t agree more. Everybody’s path in audio is different and forcing your own views on anyone is wrong. Though I tend to find in some forums it tends to be the more immature ones that do this. I don’t understand the aggressive stance some people take when putting their points across. Subjective or objective it’s a mute point in the end audio is after all, to be enjoyed. That’s why we do it. I too like the gear as well but it’s the music that is the end goal, always.


Yea in this new world of cheaper and cheaper products, engineers need to make the best possible product that makes sense too because… costs. We set minimum target requirements. If you exceed it, that’s great, but you may be doing it at the expense of costs. That’s not good from a business stand point or to the consumer.

So you have to do what’s best. While I don’t understand audio, hearing, and things as well as I do with my segment, I do know that there is a level of SNR that is inaudible and that should be the minimum target. If you exceed that then, that’s great. But is it worth it?

And… going back on target, this is why Massdrop has been really good for the headphone/audio market because they are finding ways to reduce costs at the expense of making things good enough. They are reducing costs in things that are probably well beyond the real requirement needs like premium cables and accessories, or fancy packaging, or just sheer marketing costs.


Yes Massdrop has been instrumental in letting the masses acquire decent audio gear at a reasonable price. Well maybe masses is taking it a bit literally but you get my point. I do know though that you only get what you pay for in the end. And sadly a lot of the high end gear, especially the very good Amps and Dac’s are very expensive unless you have plenty of disposable income. This can I suppose lead to a two tier system where some can afford the best money can buy and then those that buy value products. Though I do think that over the last 4 or 5 years the gap is closing with regards to the bang per buck that you can get now so to speak.

It does seem though that manufacturers are moving the goal posts again with higher and higher prices on headphones for example.


Yes, “the most enjoyable listening experience possible” is also my objective, which is why I very much enjoyed reading Bob Katz’s article, “Adventures in Distortion.” If you are interested:

One of the problems I have, considering that there is almost always a compromise, is prioritising what qualities and characteristics render the most enjoyable experience. For example, is it possible for notes to be well defined, crisp and fast as the bow crosses the strings on a cello, as well as have weight, breadth and substance? Characteristics some might associate with the opposing sonic profiles of cold/lean/dry vs warm/sweet/round. As you mentioned, EQ is a great way of playing with tone but I also find appealing Bob Katz’s idea of, “an amplifier whose personality can be controlled” by adding in precisely controlled increments an amount of second harmonic distortion.

For those of us who are limited by finances, space or spouse and can not have more than one setup, as suggested by @antdroid, a distortion processor with controls as either built-in to an amp or as a separate would be interesting, especially with an amp that is purportedly as linear as the Massdrop THX AAA 789. But as Katz mentions in his piece, this might undermine the marketing strategy of brand identity as described by @generic.

Btw, in the comments at the end of Katz’s article there are a few objectivist objections. “Adding distortion”; apostasy!!


Following my professional background in research, development, and product testing, I have a pretty cynical view on what’s going on with vendors.

My experience is service products where those services constitute advice by accredited professionals; in both industries I’ve worked in, bad advice kills people so there’s a lot of regulation and oversight around the advice.

It probably makes me a bit more offended when someone gives advice (as settled fact) on a product they are completely unqualified to provide. For example, someone who’s not an experienced digital signals processing scientist stating an opinion as if it’s settled science - the worst part is, those people are likely trying to help, believing they’re saving others from grift, when in fact they’re spreading misinformation. In short, they’re not yet wise enough to know what they don’t know.

(Because every good engineer knows the now famous Rumsfeld Quadruple: there are the known knowns, the known unknowns, the unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns. When your advice can kill people, you really really really think about that last one before you open your mouth … but people not experienced with that last one usually mistake it for actual knowledge which is terrifying but true.)

Massdrop is using a clever way to limit risk on product development by generating the demand for a specific product with specific features and trade-offs before they make the investment (in theory) - this means they can make tailored products to each of those specific groups for a lower cost than a competitor. The special thing about this is, it grows the overall market which lifts the sales for all companies with products in a specific niche … and also up the chain!

Massdrop acts like audio-crack, hooking us with cheap gateway audio, graduating us up the audiophile chain chasing after that elusive perfect experience. I wonder how many Utopia buyers had a massdrop xx prior?


I feel like I’m not too far away from Utopia after experiencing Elex, which paved the way for me to get the Elegia. So yea, it works.


Audio crack is a great way to describe Massdrop🙂.


Here are a few postulates on development and marketing:

  1. Marketing professionals are often not subject matter experts and not the sort who will ever gain the respect of engineers, scientists, and intellectuals. However, they are really good at making social/cultural connections with certain groups (who are often much like themselves). E.g., it’s helpful to have a jock sell to jocks, a musician sell to musicians, and a soccer mom sell to soccer moms. The same applies to politicians!
  2. In the commercial world, don’t let (a) engineers or (b) users be designers. Engineers tend to generate detailed but wildly overly complex interfaces. Average non-experts get overwhelmed, make mistakes, and avoid the system. This costs lives with bad car dashboards and goofy airplane control systems. In contrast, users tend to want everything to be the same way it was in the past and have little imagination. Without the aggressive exploration and risk taking of Xerox PARC (and later Apple Computer), we’d never have windowed operating systems. Without aggression we’d never have the iPhone and all modern smartphones. There is a bit of necessary arrogance and fact-blurring in good design.
  3. Marketing is a human version of nature red in tooth and claw. It’s high-speed evolutionary competition in action. The cheery folks listed in #1 above are only there to get you to pay $$$. They are not your friends. They have no concern for the facts. Qualifications and character surely don’t affect marketing much. A classic example of how people compartmentalize: Michael Jordan of a billion dollars earned from basketball and Nike Air Jordan shoes is often regarded as a psychopath.

Massdrop is first and foremost a business, and needs to sell products to keep the doors open. It’s crucial to distinguish between their original/general model and their self-branded merchandise.

The general business is about deals and discounts, with the notion of group buying to save money for everyone. This puts the buyers on the ‘inside’ and part of the ‘team.’ However, some of the products can be easily obtained from outside vendors at the same price, while other products are bad/closeouts in disguise. But, for those who don’t research further, Massdrop is still the good guy and buddy.

They rely heavily on artificial supply limits, limited time availability, and limited numbers of units. This is pulled directly from TV direct marketing “call now, limit two per customer” and the Ferrari sales playbook. These are simple tricks and call for a critical eye (as I once spent $900 on impulse for a Massdrop DJI Mavic Pro drone offer!!! But, I saved $100! So weak…)

The Massdrop X Audiophile business seems to have stumbled upon the enthusiast market following the Sennheiser 6XX collaboration. The initial “limited offer” sold out immediately and only then did they realize they’d found a large untapped market (i.e., mainstream but cost-conscious audio aficionados). Now, the 6XX has sold close to 60,000 units and led to an explosion of similar offers.

Note that I explicitly avoided the term ‘audiophile’ here, and think it’s misleading about the market segment and cultural shift it’s causing in the audio marketplace. Massdrop’s buyers are looking for better quality, a broader experience, and looking to do it on a budget. In fact, they accidentally revealed their status as a marketing front with the Airist R-2R DAC – as ultimately outsourced to a sub-contractor who based the product on the Sosolar Hibiki DAC.

I’m not sure if Massdrop will ultimately prove to be a gateway to the high end for most users, or be the cause of broad price declines, mainstreaming, and put many small (mediocre but pricey) audio companies out of business. This is a generational transformation in audio, and the mature market may look a lot different on the other end.


I’m enjoying this conversation! It is very informative and interesting to read thank you @generic, @GrussGott, and others for contributing to this thread with your insights.

I have definitely fallen for Massdrops marketing tactics, even though I knew what they were doing lol. I think they are pushing audio gear to the “masses” in ways that are creating younger audio quality seekers.

Should be interesting watching the industry adapt and change…or listen to it change lol


In the 50’s through 70’s, one of the advertising mantras to sell to women was “Shrink and Pink”. Take an appointment book for men. Black, 8.5 x 11 inches. For women, 8 x 10, Pink.

You can name many many products that followed this rule.


Perhaps you are painting with a broad brush here. There are engineers with strong backgrounds in human interface design. You can point to some Volkswagen and Mercedes models, or Inside Macintosh with it’s careful attention to design details.

Or perhaps the round Honeywell thermostat.


OK, it’s not an X. But I see the newest Etymolic ER4SR and ER4XR now at Massdrop. I seem to have misplaced my ER-6s from years ago. I always found them a bit light on the bass end. A big bit light on the bass end. Like I don’t think they went much below Middle C.

I wonder if the ER6’s are worth the money. Thoughts?


No broad brush. My background is in empirical testing. Everyone is guilty until their product is proven usable by real people. Newbies must come in and try it, and they often perform more Stupid Human Tricks than you might imagine.

Now some engineers do have design skills, and they should maintain their work in portfolios.


That thermostat. Have known two of them that lasted well over 50 years. The originals used a mercury switch and a bimetal coil. Very intuitive. It took probably 30 years of ubiquitous use for people to realize how insanely great the design was.


In the commercial world, don’t let (a) engineers or (b) users be designers.

One thing is for certain here in smokey silicon valley - that ain’t true! Engineers are 100% the designers even at fruity companies that “market” otherwise, or users are defining the product via a/b :slight_smile:

As for massdrop, I was more referring to their collaborations and mid-fi-for-cheap gear and its impact on the audio world, which I think has been significant. There seems no audiophile forum or product category where massdrop isn’t in the conversation … and their products certainly seem to be in everyone’s consideration set … yet near as I can tell, no manufacturers consider them competition - it seems to be the exact opposite given the collaborations!

and whatever their marketing strategy is, I’d venture that for most enthusiasts it still comes down to reviews and auditions - it did for me!