Hello friends, today I'd like to talk about an aspect of our glorious systems that get overlooked a lot: our audio experience on our battlestations. Thanks to paoper
for formatting. Again disclaimer that I am an idiot, so take this post with a grain of salt. Better info and more accurate info from people way more knowledgeable than I am is readily available from /audiophile /budgetaudiophile
, this is just a start-up guide for the beginner.
NOTE: The monster I gave birth to has become too long. I felt that instead of a short list of things to order, I needed to give context as high fidelity is really all about what sound is like in your
experience. Also a fun read if you are interested. Feel free to skip to the actual list (ctrl+f active speakers, passive speakers, headphones, subwoofer, amplifier)!
I have limited the price range of the products, because this is after all just food for thought and not even a proper guide; real audio purchases will require elbow-grease and research from your end to see if the product's sound signature will match your preferences in music and sound. If your product is not here, do not worry. I have put in products that I have had experience with and those that were recommended by multiple reviewers I hold in high regard (with the exception of a 2.1 system you will see later), and I had to consider the endless number of headphones/speakers vs the ones that are worth your hard-earned cash (and products vs how they compare to my current setup which includes both "high-end" and budget options).
I've been building systems for myself and others since I randomly took a buildapc course in middle school (currently 28) and enjoy music very much (I grew up on linkin park, dre, biggie smalls, 3 6 mafia, tupac, ac/dc, red hot chilli peppers am fond of electro and dubstep and various genres of music). I have 2 decades of experience playing saxophone, clarinet, and the electric guitar, and have performed in jazz bands, rock bands, and an orchestra. My ear is highly trained from raw musical performance and not just listening to speakers from home, as well as having the nuance to differentiate between good speakers. I have owned many many forms of audio gear (instruments, speakers, headphones, studio monitors).
So wtf is this?
So occasionally while answering questions on this subreddit (mainly on why new builder's systems aren't posting, or what components they should get, or just mourning with fellow builders for systems that have passed on as well as celebrating the birth of new systems and fellow pc builders who take their rite of passage of building their own system with their own two hands) I would come across the occasional "what speakers/headphones are best under $xx" and with the state of pc products being "gaming rgb ultimate series XLR" or w/e, it's hard to discern what audio products are actually worth your money. Note that if you are using just "good enough" cheap speakers, any of the speakers/headphones on this list will blow your mind away. Get ready to enter a new world of audio.
Why should I bother getting better speakers/headphones?
I have owned $20 logitech speakers, I currently own $1500 speakers. I have owned varying levels of headphones. The first half-decent (to my standards) speakers I had was a hand me down stereo set from an uncle. This thing was massive, but this thing was good. It's difficult to explain to you the sensation of music enveloping you with great speakers. Speakers are meant to reproduce sound, as in the sound of the instruments in the song. So great speakers and headphones can literally make you FEEL the music like at a rave or a concert or performance in the comfort of your home. This is why Home Theaters were so popular in the 80s/90s.
Upgrading will GREATLY enhance your music, netflix and gaming experience. In fact with passive bookshelf speakers, you can not only use them for your desktop setup, but also chuck them together with a tv and you've got a fine starter home theater system in your hands. You can even upgrade down the line incrementally, one speaker at a time, to a 2.1, 3.1, 5.1, 5.2, 7.2 Dolby Atmos Home Theater Setup where your movies make you feel like your in SPARTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
I currently live in a small apartment with my TV right next to my battlestation, and when i want to sit down on my couch and watch TV, I simply move 1 speaker from my desk to next to my TV, turn my AVR on and I have an easy 5.1 home theater in my tiny apartment. Move the speaker, revert back to 2.1 (or 5.1 if i choose to but i dont because of badspeaker placement when I'm sitting at my desk) amazingness at my battlestation. Consider this an investment into massively improving your experience
of playing video games, watching netflix, or listening to music. You think those 4k graphics and ULTRAWIDE monitor is giving you more immersion in your game? Shit...having great speakers or headphones can make you feel like you're IN NORMANDY BEACH DURING THE FUCKING LANDINGS
General considerations (or feel free to just skip ahead to the list)
Now, I totally understand using simple logitech speakers due to budget/space/easy-access from best buy or not knowing about the wider audio world. So I am here today to give you a perspective on what audio components are TRULY worth your hard-earned cash. I have owned $20 logitech speakers in college, I have owned guitar amps as well as studio monitors/other speakers ranging from $100-$1500. Do know that all of this information is readily available in /BudgetAudiophile /audiophile
. I am merely condensing all of it into a single list, and attempt to sort of explain it to the pc builders, or just an idiot rambling.
If you would like more information on specific speakers, I would check out reviewers on youtube like zerofidelity, steve guttenberg, nextbigthing (nbt) studios, and thomas and stereo. For headphones, metal751, innerfidelity, Ishca's written reviews, DMS.
Z reviews is okay and he reviews everything from amps and dacs to speakers and headphones, but he gives 90% of his products good reviews, and has affiliate links to every single product he reviews....so you see where my dislike of him as a reviewer comes from. He is still an expert audiophile
, he just chooses to not use his knowledge and ramble on in his videos, plus the shilling. Great place to start for audiophiles, as he is still a professional. I just think many move on to other reviewers.
Also with speakers, speaker placement is extremely important. Get those speakers off your desk and the woofers/tweeters to your ear level NO MATTER THE COST. Stack boxes/books, buy speaker stands/isolation pads from amazon, at worst buy yoga blocks from amazon. Put your speakers on them, get ready for even better audio.
General rule of thumb: dont buy HiFi at msrp. There are ALWAYS deals on speakers/headphones to take advantage of at any given time (massdrop for headphones, parts-express, accessories4less, crutchfield, adorama, Sweetwater, guitar center, etc). Speakers will get cheaper over time as manufacturers have to make room for new products/refreshes of the same models just as with headphones. If theres a particular headphone model you want, check to see if massdrop has it (website where users of the website decide what niche products the website will mass order, and both the website and you the users get reduced pricing).
Now this list is just simple guide. Obviously for $150 budget, theres probably like 10 different speakers to choose from. You will catch me repeat this many many times but sound is subjective, I don't know what genres of music you enjoy and what sound signatures in headphones/speakers you would prefer (warm sounds? bright? aggressively forward? laid back sound signature? importance of clarity vs bass?) So consider this list with a grain of salt, as this is after all, the ramblings of an idiot on reddit.
So I will be splitting this list into 4 categories:
- active speakers,
- passive speakers,
And before I start, bass depth and low end does not fucking equal bad boomy bass. I absolutely detest low quality boomy bass like in Beats headphones and general "gaming speakers" or w/e. Also the budetaudiophile starter package is the dayton audio b652 + mini amp combo from parts-express. All the speakers that were considered were basically compared to the b652 before making it on here (and whether they justified the price bump over the b652)
Active vs. Passive (crude explanation)
So when a speaker plays music from your pc, the audio is processed by the audio card on your motherboard, which is then sent to the amplifier where the signal is amplified, and then finally is sent to be played on your speakers. Active speakers like logitech speakers that have a power cable running from the speakers directly to the wall socket have built-in amplifiers to power the speakers, whereas passive speakers require a separate amplifier to amplify the audio signal and feed the speakers power. Active vs passive, no real difference as both types of speakers will have good audio quality depending on how they are made and which ones you buy, but in the ultra budget section of speakers (under $300) actives tend to be cheaper than their passive counter parts. This is due to the manufacturer cutting corners elsewhere.
Take for instance the Micca MB42X passive speakers($90) which also have a brother, the Micca PB42X ($120) powered speakers. Same exact speaker, but built in amp vs the amp you buy. Obviously the mb42x will sound marginally better purely from the virtue that the amplifier is not inside the goddamn box. But the mb42x + amp + speaker wire will probably cost you anywhere from basic $130 to $200 with difference in amplifier and whether you use bare speaker wire or banana plugs/cables. Cabling aesthetics and management will be greatly affected, with sound quality affected to a lesser degree, or more (but at what cost?). Amp choice to be explained later.
Now generally speakers should be recommended based on your music/audio preferences and tastes as speakers and in a larger part, speaker brands will have their own unique sound signatures that some will love and others will hate as sound is such a subjective experience. But since this is meant to cater to a wide audience, note that my list is not the ALL inclusive, and again is only the ramblings of an idiot.
If you want to add bluetooth capabilities to your wires active or passive speakers, simply buy the esinkin W29 wireless bluetooth module, plug your speakers in, connect to your bluetooth on pc/phone/w/e, enjoy.
Simply connect to your PC or TV via 3.5mm (or the occasional usb).
Note: you may experience a hissing with active speakers that may annoy you to no end even up to the $400 mark. This is a result of the amplifier being built in to the speaker in close proximity, as well as sometimes the manufacturer cutting corners elsewhere. Passive speakers do not have this unless you buy a really shitty amp. Note that while bigger woofer size does not necessarily indicate better quality/bass, this does more often than not seem to be the case as manufacturers put bigger woofers on the higher stepup model.
Note that while I have included 2.1 systems here, I would always recommend you get good bookshelves first, save up money and buy a subwoofer separate.
- Cyber Acoustics CA-3602FFP 2.1 $40. This is the I'm broke af but I need speakers route. 2.1 setup for 40 bucks. We do not have the luxury of options here. Enough said. Amazon
- Okay, for under $100 for good quality active speakers, there really is no other choice here besides Edifier speakers on amazon. In fact, their entire lineup is pretty solid all around ranging from the 980T for $70 to the S350DB which is a 2.1 system with 2 bookshelves and a sub for $300. Differences in the models are basically bigger woofers/tweeters as you go up in price, resulting in better bass performance and clarity (again crude explanation). If you don't want to research much and want simplicity, any of the edifiers are the way to go, with the 1700BT being the goto 2.0, or the 1850db which as a sub-out so you can add in a subwoofer into your setup later.
- Micca PB42X: $120- The active version of the popular MB42X passive speakers. Very good performance for price.
- Mackie CR3/4 $90/$140- Now normally I don't recommend these, but they are okay/meh speakers and have that razer aesthetic going on, and aesthetics are big part of speaker choice, so if you like the black/green color scheme, I guess these are passable.
- Klipsch Pro Media 2.1: $150- the only 2.1 system I'd recommend under $200. The thing about adding in a subwoofer to a 2.1 system under $200 means they have to cut corners elsewhere. This is the main difference of 2.1 systems vs bookshelves. While the subwoofer will allow your music to hit the lower notes in frequency resulting in deeper and more bass, this will usually come at a cost of audio quality in the mid and upper ranges in the music. If you are a BASSHEAD then yeah you probably want a subwoofer, though bookshelves under $200 also have decent bass. Note, ALWAYS BETTER TO BUY BOOKSHELVES AND SUBWOOFER SEPARATELY, but this will be pricier. Klipsch Website Direct or amazon.
- Fluance ai40/ai60: $200/$300- nice looking speakers that come in white and walnut and black that also have good clarity and quality. Their bass is surprisingly okay as they are rated to go a little bit below in the lower frequencies than speakers in similar price. I have listened to these before shortly for 2 hours, and would recommend. IIRC the ai60 has a subwoofer out. Mind the size of the 60s, quite big. Fluance direct or amazon.
- Kanto YU4: $270 Direct competitor to fluance ai series. Comes in white as well.
- Audioengine A2+/A5+ :$270/$400. I have no experience with this lineup, but lots of love/hate dynamic with this brand over on budgetaudiophile. Good and bad thing.
- JBL 305P: $300 - maybe the endgame speakers of this list. These are very famous and respected studio monitors that music artists and producers use often. They are sold $150 per speaker, and you will need to get 2. Hooking them up requires separate cables, as these are standalone speakers with it's own volume control on each speaker. Simplest way is to buy a 3.5mm to dual TS Cable. Set both speakers to same physical volume level via knob, and adjust volume using windows settings (having a volume knob on your keyboard helps immensely here). Or buy a separate in line volume control from amazon ($20 bucks or under) and connect via 3.5mm to rca. Being studio monitors, these are meant to reproduce sound neutrally (they will have no external flavoring like how Beats adds muddy boomy bass to its headphones to use as a bad example) and may not sound alive or bright or to your tastes. They can be demo-ed/tested out at guitar center if you have access to one in this pandemic.
- Logitech G560 RGB Gaming Speakers: $200 (yes, you read that right): Okay, now normally I'd be crucified for recommending a logitech speaker in the other audio forums. But I have used these speakers briefly for about 3 months when I got them cheap from a friend. The sound quality of these satellite speakers are....surprisingly not bad? Might I dare to say that these are even....decent for it's price? Now these are $200 speakers for a 2.1 system. This means that it's either this or Klipsch 2.1. Honestly my vote here goes to the logitechs. I owned the Klipsch promedia 2.1 for about half a year. I can definitely say I prefer the clarity of the logitechs vs the boomy bass of the Klipsch. The subwoofer on the 560 does NOT have its own control knob, so you would need to adjust bass settings through logitech eq. Note, these speakers will not sound good out of the box. You will need to go into the eq settings via logitech software, and change the settings to match your tastes. Honestly the fact that you have to tweak the eq through shitty logitech software to make these sound good is pretty bullshit. Note that I am not recommending the z623/625. Don't get those. I used these in college in my apt in brooklyn, and while boomy bass, I'd definitely go with the B652 + mini amp, klipsch 2.1, or the g560 over the z623/625 FOR SURE.
- Second-hand market: okay, let's say you are determined to get quality speakers but you do not have the budget. Look around on the second hand market for stuff from KRK, Emotiva, Ascend, HSU. Make sure to demo them out for as long as you can until the seller gets pissed (please don't), so that you can test to see if you like the sound.
These speakers will require you to buy a separate amplifier, as well as separate cables. But the passive route allows you to have a modular audio system that allows you to upgrade parts as you go along in your life (yes I said life for once you dip your toes into high fidelity, you will get hooked onto a great lifelong journey searching for the perfect setup), or even just add parts in altogether (like having a miniamp on your desk for your passive speakers, having a separate dac or bluetooth module for your speakers so you can connect the passive speakers via USB or bluetooth wirelessly, stacked on top of a headphone dac/amp combo, stacked on top of a preamp, etc). Amplifier list to follow later.
Passive speaker specs to pay attention to will be their impedance (measured in ohms) and their sensitivity (measured in xx db/1w/1m). Speaker ratings in wattage are measurements of how much power can be driven to them (higher watts, higher volume...once again crude explanation). A 20 watt x 2 channel amp (measured in 4 ohms) is enough to power 4 and 6 ohm speakers rated at 100 watts to moderate/decently loud listening levels on your desktop. Now the sensitivity thing. A speaker with a rating of 85db/1m/1w means it will produce 85 decibels of noise at 1 meter with 1 watt of power. Now this not linear....to make the same speaker go up to 90 decibels may require 10 or 15 watts of power depending on other variables. Depending on how loudly you play your music and what impedance/sensitivity your speakers have will result in your choice of amplifiers. More on this later.
The thing about passive bookshelf speakers are that you can use them in your desktop setup, AND with your TV as a legitimate starter 2.1 home theater setup (which you can upgrade to 3.1, and then 5.1/5.2, just buy a used receiver from craigslist for 50 bucks, ez)
What you will need for passive setup:
Note that passive speakers and amp require you to purchase speaker wire
separately (fairly cheap) and strip them (youtube video will guide you, very easy). Or if you like clean cable management and easy setups, banana plug cables
from amazon will set you straight, and while these banana plugs and cable are nice and PURELY OPTIONAL, they will add up in cost as your buy more of them for frankenstein 2.1 cabling. Also a 3.5mm to rca cable
will be required. The connection will be your pc -> 3.5mm->rca->amp->speaker wire-> speaker wire->speaker. (replace speaker wire with banana plug if going that route). Subwoofer connection will be explained in subwoofer section.
- Dayton audio b652+ mini amp combo on parts-express for $60/70. Two combos, two separate mini amps, one from lepai (china) and one from dayton. Same shit. It LITERALLY does not get better than this for under $100, maybe even $150. CHIEF THIS IS IT, i cannot stress this enough. This is the budgetaudiophile 101 starter pack. I'd recommend these over the active Mackies, Edifiers (up to the 1700), and any and all logitech/creative pebble/cyber w/e EVERYTHING systems (except for the g560). These are very BIG speakers and hence will deliver good sound and good bass due to its big woofers. If you have less than $100 to spend on the ENTIRE audio setup, go get these and speaker wire/banana plugs no questions asked. gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
- Dayton Audio B652 AIR $70- The difference between the AIR and the normal 652 is in the tweeter. The AIR tweeter on this speaker costs as much as the entire b652 speaker. This tweeter upgrade gives even more clarity and quality in the treble range (middle upper sound frequency). The next best thing for under $100, though doesn't come with the mini amp combo.
- Sony SSCS5 Bookshelf Speakers. $150 msrp, $120 on amazon/bestbuy until recently, and sometimes goes on sale for $75. These are 3 way speakers with woofer, tweeter and supertweeter. The strength of these speakers lie in its unmatched clarity in the highs and upper mids. I still have these in my collection, and VERY WORTH though my opinion of these is skewed as I got them for $75/pair. If you appreciate bass, you will need to add a subwoofer with these (or generally any speaker below $500....some people would say you cant listen to music on bookshelves without subwoofer) as they sound a bit thin compare to the b652s (a bit less bass because smaller woofer) but better sound quality (though this is just my SUBJECTIVE thought after listening to the cs5s and b652s). These have 5 in woofers and have okayish small form factor.
- Micca MB42X $90- the passive version of the powered PB42X in the active list. The difference is between the amplifier built into the PB42X vs the one you're going to buy separately to power the MB42X. Obv the MB42X route is going to be better because the amplifier in the PB42X will be shit compared to the one you're going to buy ($30/50/75/150 options to follow later)
- Micca RB42X $150 - Amazing small size speakers. For under $200, either this or the cs5s. The rb42s have a bit more bass.
- Elac Debut 5.2/6.2 ON SALE NOW FOR $230/250. GET EM WHILE IT LASTS. Normally $280/350. These are speakers highly acclaimed by many of the speaker reviewers I consider the best (imo zerofidelity, steve guttenberg, nextbigthing (nbt) studio, thomas and stereo). Great bass, warm sound signature. Just go, what are you waiting for. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
- Q Acoustics 3020/3030i $230/400. Highly acclaimed by reviewers, look VERY NICE in white, and have a warm sound signature with lots of bass clarity and bass depth. These speakers are big, which is why they have great bass. Check the dimensions. Their size is the only downside to these fantastic speakers.
- PSB Alpha P5 $400: Great speakers for nearfield listening, aka at your desk, excels in this department more so than the other speakers (better at low volume, etc). Just all around amazing. Get these if the Q Acoustics ones are too big.
- Triangle BR02/03 $450/550. Coming from across the atlantic, these french speakers made a splash last year destroying its competition in the below $1000 range. Highly acclaimed to the point where some see them as overrated (too much hype out of nowhere in such little time). If you have the space in your setup as well as in your wallet for these, they are the way to go. Comes in black, walnut, white.
- Obligatory Klipsch R15/R51/RP600 post: you've heard of klipsch. They're widely available audiophile speakers, and so sometimes get the "overrated" hyped up treatment. They are good speakers but their have their own unique aggressively forward sound signature with the horn style tweeter. These were designed to make you feel like you're at the rock concert direct, may not be for everyone (much so not for me).
Okay here is where we need to get into specific numbers. Active speakers have built-in amplifiers so they are exempt. But passive speakers will require separate amps and so you will need to pay attention to certain specs. In speakers you will need to pay attention to their impedance (measured in ohms) and their sensitivity (measured in xx db/1m/1w). The typical mini amplifier will be class D (small form factor amps for desktop use) and their wattage per channel will be usually expressed in 4ohms. Take for instance the popular SMSL SA50. This is an amp that delivers 50 watts to its 2 channels, rated at 4 ohms. Speakers will have impedance of 4, 6, or 8 ohms usually. 50 watts at 4 ohms can be 25 watts at 8 ohms, but is probably more like 20 watts at 8 ohms, refer to product specs for specific wattage ratings at specific ohms. Speakers with high sensitivity (85-95 db/1w/1m) that have 6 ohm impedance are easier to drive with lower wattage.
But here's the thing, an the smsl sa50 will not deliver 50 CLEAN watts. Somewhere in the 30-40w range distortion will start to appear. But for reference, 30 clean watts is enough to drive sony cs5s to uncomfortably loud levels in an apartment (the whole apt, not just your room) so listening on your desktop, you only really need 10-15 clean watts (only after turning up your preamp input to maximum volume, which in this case is your youtube/windows10 volume level). Do note that if you have the space, a used $60 AV Receiver that will just shit out watts and have 5.1 surround will be the best, but these things are massive.
- Lepai 2020ti (LEPAI and not Lepy be wary) $25. 20 watts in 2 channels. Budget
- SMSL SA36 $62: SMSL's 2x20w.
- SMSL SA50 $72: The most bang for buck amp that's also decent. 2x50watts.
- Topping MX3 $130: Speaker amp, headphone amp, dac rolled into one. Allows for your speakers and headphones to be connected via USB and Bluetooth.
- SMSL AD18 $150: SMSL's answer to the MX3. This one is probably the goto. It's got 2x80w at 4ohms, has USB connection, has subwoofer out, has bluetooth connection, headphone amp, coaxial and optical connection.
If you need more watts than the AD18, you're gonna need to get a class a/b amp that just shits out watts for cheap, or get a used av receiver. If you want a new one, the best budget option is the DENON AVR-S540BT 5.2 channel AVR from accessories4less.
Good subwoofers are expensive, and cheap subwoofers will hurt your listening experience rather than improve it (muddy boomy shitty bass). Your best bet may be to simply find a used subwoofer from craigslist or offerup, just dont get the polk audio PSW10
, this is a very common sub you see on the 2nd hand market, because it is a shitty sub and so people get rid of it. Now as to whether you need a subwoofer. If you are in a dorm, don't get a subwoofer. Because.... if you live in a dorm, do not get a fucking subwoofer
. Now if you live in a small apartment, fear not, proper subwoofer management will save you noise complaints. A good subwoofer will produce good quality low end you can hear and feel without having to turn up the volume. You want to look at the subwoofer's lowest frequency it can go to. That will show you how "tight" the bass will be. Now, low volume levels on a good sub will produce that bass for you without vibrating your walls (though subwoofer and speaker isolation as well as PLACEMENT (refer to the sub-crawl) will do more for getting the most sound out of your speakers without having to turn up the volume....and just turn off the sub after a reasonable time)
Now as to how to add a subwoofer to your system will depend on what setup you have and the available connections. If your speakers or amplifier has a subwoofer output, simply connect that to your subwoofer, set the crossover freuency (the frequency at which the subwoofer will start making sound) to 80hz, or lower depending on how low of a frequency our bookshelves can go down to.
If your speakers/amp do not have a subwoofer out, you will need to find a subwoofer that has high level speaker inputs
. You will need to connect your bookshelves to the speaker outputs on the subwoofer via speaker wire/banana plugs, and then run speaker wire/banana plugs from the subwoofer input to your amplifier, ending with rca to 3.5mm connection to your pc.
- Dayton Audio SUB-800 $100: The cheapest one, don't go any cheaper. Enough said. Get from parts-express. If you need cheaper, 2nd hand market.
- Dayton Sub-1000 $120: The bigger brother. This thing is 10 inches, be prepared for a BIG box sitting in your room.
- Bic Acoustech PL-200 $300: Has good bass, goes down to 22hz. Very good bang for buck "good" subwoofer. A BIG step up from the daytons.
- SVS SB-1000 $500: Bassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.
Okay, I keep saying headphones and not headsets right. But you ask, Kilroy, you're an idiot. You're posting on buildapc for PC gamers and builders but you're talking headphones and not headsets. How idiotic are you? Pretty big, but friends hear me out. Now I used to live in South Korea, where PC Bangs (internet cafes) set the nation's standards for computers. All the places had to get the best bang for the buck pc gear to stay in business and remain competitive (all 100 computers at these places had like i5-6600k and gtx 1080 in 2015 or something I don't remember, along with mechanical BLUE SWITCH FUCCCCCCKKKKKKKK (imagine 100 blue switch keyboards being smashed on in a small underground area in Seoul) keyboards and decent headsets.
So I have tried MANY MANY different headsets, here is my conclusion. Just get proper headphones and get either get an antlion modmic, or V-MODA Boompro mic both available on amazon. (short list of mics later) or get proper headphones and usb mic. Okay, I have seen the headphone recommendation list, and the only one I would give any (if at all) weight to in the usual pc websites that our subreddit goes to, is the list from rtings. These guys mainly measure monitors and tvs (very well might i add) but the writer for their audio section is lacking it seems.
Please dont get Astro AXX headphones or corsair rgb xxxxxx w/e. Please for the love of god, take your good hard earned cash and get yourself a NICE pair of cans my fellow PC users. The mic part is secondary as GOOD headphones will forever change your PC using and music listening experience FOREVER
The TWO EXCEPTIONS that I have observed to this rule are the Hyperx Clouds and Cooler Master mh751/752.
- Hyperx Cloud CORE/1/2/ALPHA (please find prices on amazon). So these headphones are a rare instance of when a gaming branded pair of headphones was actually a good no bullshit product. These are hyperx reskins of OEM Takstar Pro 80, a pretty damn good pair of cans from china for under $50 (no longer available on aliexpress but Seoul had a SHIT load of these) with a mic attached to it. Chief, this is it. Reasonably good audio quality from headphone drivers for their price, and you get a mic for discord needs.
- Coolermaster MH751/752 $90/110. Now beware, on amazon there are the mh630/650/670 series headphones that are in the same...product "selection" styling part of the product page. Do NOT GET THESE, these are the typical bullshit gaming branding and are pretty bad. Now, the mh751 and 752s are coolermaster's copycat of the hyperx clouds. They are coolermaster reskins of the Takstar pro 82, another good pair of headphones. I cannot comment on this one, as I have not used either the takstar variant nor the cm variant. But the pro 82s are just as good as the 80s. If i had to guess, different styling (headband) and maybe slightly different sound signature. Difference between the 2 is the dac (the block thing in between your headphones and the wires to your pc). The dac the mh752 is most likely inferior to the dac on your mobo's build-in soundcard. Get the 751, unless you have a laptop, then the 752's dac may be better.
- Audio-Technica ath-m40x $80: You may have heard of the ath-m50/x. Now these headphones are looked down on, on the headphone forums or reddit. The m40/x is the bass reduced, aka the neutral version of the m50x for cheaper too. Great headphones for under $100. Now, I have owned the m50 waay back, and I think if you enjoy bass, then go for it. After all, they are YOUR fuckin pair of headphones and ears, who are others to say shit?
- Sony MDR7506 $100: I remember these were $75, but I guess everything changed when the coronavirus attacked. Anyway, these are the venerated mdr7506, the industry standard for headphones in the professional audio/music industry. Great quality, cheap price. They just, dont have anything going on in the looks department. These are it for pure price/performance.
- BeyerDynamic DT770 (32, 90, 250 ohms) $150: Amazing pair of cans, very comfortable. 32 ohm version if simply plugging into your motherboard. The higher ohm versions may require separate headphone amp. Generally more amps=better audio quality, but differences are NEGLIGIBLE to nonexistent with low output amps (this is like the difference in sound of the same 100w speaker powered by a $30 smsl amp vs a $5000 Mcintosh amp at the same volume levels, very subtle and small but it's there)
- HiFiMAN HE4XX $160: Simply amazing. Open back planar headphones.
- Sennheiser 650/6xx from massdrop/660 $220-$400. The legendary series of headphones from sennheiser. Highly venerated.
- HifiMAN DEVA with Bluemini Receiver $300: Interesting set of open-back planar headphones that came out recently that also allow for usb connection, as well as 3.5mm, but the bluetooth function is a separate module (with a built-in mic) that you connect to the side of the headphones. So it's actually a wired set of planar headphones, but the separate bluetooth module also allows for wireless connection. The module only has enough battery for 5ish hours, so while that is charging you will have to use the wired connection. This is a usb dac/amp/bluetooth module rolled into one. Very stylish and interesting design.
- Audeze Mobius $400: "Gaming" wireless headphones from Audeze, a high end audiophile grade planar magnetic headphone manufacturer. If those words don't mean anything to you, these are wireless headphones with a detachable mic made by an extremely respected audiophile headphone manufacturer. If you want wireless headphones, I would also suggest these or the hifiman deva. These are closed-back headphones vs Hifiman's open back. These headphones also have an onboard dac for usb/3.5mm/bluetooth connection.
Now obviously, there's other choices. A metric fuck load of them. But I had to account for how much you should be paying (price range) for upgrades in sound quality and performance.
Example options (Wireless headsets)
Okay. Wireless headsets, now let's think why do you need a wireless headset? Do you want to walk around your house while on discord? Maybe you want to keep the headset on while having to afk real quick for a smoke break or whatnot.
- TaoTronics 5.0 Bluetooth transmitter+receiver unit $30. It's a small device that can either A: give your non-bt PC bluetooth capabilities by acting as a receiver, or give your wired headphones wireless connectivity to your pc by acting as a transmitter. This thing is battery powered (like a wireless gaming headset) up to 10 hours. You just plug your wired headphones in, put the thing in your pocket and leave your pc.
- See Hifiman Deva above.
- Still here? Fine then. Steelseries artis 7. I put this....thing on this list mainly for true wireless headset inclusion. Still would recommend other headphones.
- Other wireless recommendations: Sennheiser pxc 550 and Sony wh1000xm2 and Bose QC35.
HEADPHONE AMP/DAC (digital to analogue converter)
My knowledge/experience with headphone amps and dacs are...extremely lacking, I'm more of a speaker guy. But, here is a list for you guys.
- Fiio E5/6 $15/25- portable, tiny, budget headphone amp.
- Fiio E10 $55- bang for buck
- SMSL M3 $85 - has usb and spdif connections and line out rca. good starter dac/amp combo.
- Schiit Magni $99- probably the most popular one here. This will drive anything but the most power hungry of headphones. The Schiit stack with the Magni and the Modi is the goto stack for small form factor amp+dac.
- Micca Origen G2 $110 - DAC/amp combo that has usb and fibre, and has a switchable pre-out for powered speakers. Accepts 3.5mm and 1/4''
- V-MODA BoomPRO $30: this is a mic with a 3.5mm that plugs in to your headphones that have a removable cable, simple.
- Antlion modmic $50: yes the modmic. You've probably heard of this.
- Fifine K669B condensor mic $46: simple mic on a stand that plugs in via usb. Imo has better recording quality than Blue snowball.
- Blue Snowball $57: Yes, you've most definitely heard of this.
Other mics? Yes, but are they worth the extra $$ for marginally better audio recording? You decide.
Cool. Stay safe in these dark times brothers. Have a glorious day.
In honor of Summer Solstice for the northern hemisphere, I've made an updated list of popular lights. Today is a couple days after (sorry!) the day you're least
likely to need a flashlight north of the equator, but it increases every day after so it's a good time to buy a flashlight.
Because a definitive buyer's guide is too hard, I've made an arbitrary list of popular lights you should consider if you're shopping for a light. There is no best flashlight, so this is not the last word in what's good, but a list of lights that are often bought or recommended here with a touch of my own opinion thrown in. Exclusion from this list doesn't mean a light isn't good. To search more lights by their attributes, try http://flashlights.parametrek.com/index.html
Where possible, official manufacturer URLs are linked here. Sometimes the manufacturer offers good deals through direct orders, sometimes vendors have the best prices. There are coupon codes available
that apply to many of the lights listed. I'm hosting a version of this list
on my own site with affiliate links because a few people have asked for a way to give me a kickback.
Shipping/availability may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, items shipped from China are often taking 2 months to arrive. Supply chains and warehouse stock also appear to be disrupted as well, so you may have to be more patient than usual if you want certain flashlights, chargers, and batteries.
For those in a hurry
If you don't want to learn much, just get one of these.
All of the lights in this section come with a rechargeable battery and have a charger built in to the light. The battery will be a standard size you can buy online from third parties, and the charger will use USB as its power source, though some options do use a special cable. Aside from the Catapult, all have very good color quality compared to the average LED flashlight, improving your ability to see details.
- Wurkkos FC11 - a general-use light for $30. USB-C charging, but it needs to use an A-to-C cable. There's a strong magnet in the tailcap, and a pocket clip for carry. A 25mm (1 inch) diameter and 120mm (4.7 inches) long is suitable for larger pants pockets. 18650 battery.
- Skilhunt M150 with high-CRI LH351D LED option - a smaller light with many characteristics similar to the FC11, but a smaller (14500 size) battery and magnetic charging connector. This light can also use AA batteries, both rechargeable and disposable, but the built-in charger only works with a 14500. $40, and sometimes available on Amazon, but not always with the right LED, which is important since the color and beam quality of the other options is poor. 21mm (0.82") at its widest point and 84mm (3.3") long.
- Armytek Wizard Pro Nichia 144A - a combination handheld flashlight, headlamp, and magnetic work light with high output and excellent color quality. An 18650 battery is included, and it uses USB/magnetic charging, which is a bit slow, but convenient otherwise. It's $90, but try coupon code "reddit" for a discount. I've linked Killzone Flashlights here rather than the manufacturer because the manufacturer's customer service is rather poor, and Killzone's is good. European buyers should consider Nkon and coupon code "AT25%off".
- Acebeam EC35 II, Killzone special edition with SST-20. I swear I'm not trying to favor Killzone here, but this one is a dealer exclusive. If you're thinking of a handheld light to accompany a pistol, this is a great option because the tailswitch is high-only with other functions on the sideswitch. If you think you want a single-mode light, you probably want this instead. USB-C charging (A-to-C again), and it's a USB powerbank (C-to-C works for this). $77 with bundled 18650 battery, $67 if you bring your own battery.
- Sofirn SP36 (Anduril/LH351D version) - with three 18650 batteries and a $71 price tag, this is a larger, more powerful, and longer-running light than the others in this section. It has USB-C (A-to-C only) charging. If you need to light up a room for a long time, or light up a field, this is up to the task.
- Thrunite Catapult V6 in neutral white - for seeing far away. You can spot large objects with this at 750m, and see in reasonable detail at half that. The color quality here is only average, but neutral white will look a little more natural, and have less visible backscatter than cool white. MicroUSB charging and a 26650 battery is included. $75, but coupon code "20%" does exactly what you think.
These are at the top of the list not because they're the best
in some objective sense, but because they're easy to own and use, and easy to buy. They score well on most measure flashlight nerds care about while also being suitable for non-enthusiasts.
About specs and considerations
Moved to the wiki due to character limit
Everyday Carry Lights
These are selected for pocketability first and performance second, but most of the larger options are perfectly adequate for house/cacamping/etc... uses. This section excludes right-angle designs that double as headlamps, but many people do use those for pocket carry, so see that section as well.
- Nitecore Tube - a brighter, variable output, USB-charging replacement for button-cell keychain lights with shortcuts to high and low modes from off. $10
- Rovyvon Aurora A3x (Nichia 219C version) - neutral tint, 90 CRI, 450 lumens (briefly), USB charging, under 20g weight. Non-removable battery, so this will eventually wear out. Other Nichia Rovyvons are similar, offering different body materials, sizes, and sometimes colored LEDs on the sides. $33
- Lumintop IYP07 - a 1xAAA tailswitch option with three modes (5, 40, 130 lumens), three colors (black, silver, pink), and two LED options, of which only the neutral white, high-CRI Nichia 219C is worth considering. $22
- Lumintop IYP365 Nichia 219C - 2xAAA, 90+ CRI (Nichia version only) and neutral white. This is a longer IYP07. Not as bright as a Ti4, but light quality is often more important for being able to see clearly. $19
- Fenix LD02 2.0 (warm white version) - 1xAAA, tailswitch, warm white, high-CRI, and a UV secondary. 1 lumen low, 70 lumens high. $30
- Fenix LD05 2.0 (warm white version) - 2xAAA, 100lm max, and the same features as the above. $40
- Thrunite Ti4 - 2xAAA - Neutral white available. Titanium sometimes available. High output for this form factor. $20
- Nitecore MT06MD - 2xAAA, 90+ CRI, neutral white, and still shipping with the Nichia 219B as far as I know. Similar to the IYP365 on paper, but many people prefer the tint of the 219B over the 219C. $32
- Skilhunt M150 with high-CRI LH351D - this is the AA/14500 version of the M200, without the mode customization feature. It's only offered bundled with a 14500. The onboard charging works with any 14500, but won't charge NiMH AA inside the light. There's low-voltage protection for both battery types, so unprotected 14500s are OK. $40
- Thrunite T10 II - a side-switch light supporting both AA and 14500 Li-ion batteries with shortcuts from off to high and low and a magnetic tailcap. Neutral white available and recommended. $20
- Zebralight SC53c - 90+ CRI, warm-neutral white, e-switch with shortcuts to low, medium and high with several sub-levels for each. $57
- Thrunite Archer 1A - a dual-switch 1xAA light that can also use 14500. 200 lumens with AA, about 450 with 14500. $28
- Sofirn SP10S - 1xAA/1x14500, 90+ CRI with a Samsung LH351D LED and black, blue, or red body color. Slightly awkward UI with a long-press to turn off, but it may be worth it for the low price and high color quality. $16
- Lumintop Tool AA 219C - 1xAA/1x14500 and a 90 CRI Nichia 219C. There's a Cree XP-L version of this that isn't so compelling, so I've linked Illumn rather than the manufacturer, but it may be available elsewhere. 22
- Acebeam TK16 (SST-20 version only) - 95+ CRI, neutral white, tail e-switch with shortcuts to lowest, highest, and last-used, plus two mode groups so you can choose between sensible runtimes and impressing your friends with the 1250 lumen peak output. 0.5 lumen moonlight. Battery included, but you'll need a separate charger. If you were considering the Olight S1 line, get this instead. Also available in copper. $55
- Wowtac W1 - a basic light using a 16340 (CR123A won't work well, if at all) and USB charging. It only seems to come in cool white at the moment. Why is it here? Because it costs $20 on US Amazon and should have Wowtac's usual solid built quality and accurate specs.
- Thrunite T1 (neutral white suggested) - 1x18350 (included), MicroUSB charging, magnetic tailcap, 1500 lumen max mode with a ramping UI for medium levels. $40, usually
This category is so popular it gets subcategories. If you're looking for a lot of power and runtime that's still possible to carry in most pants pockets, this is your battery.
A tailswitch controls power, a sideswitch changes brightness. The ease of explaning the UI makes these perfect to hand out to others.
- Eagletac DX30LC2 - slimmer than most 18650 lights, with a unique take on the dual-switch interface: it always starts on high, unless the mode switch is held, in which case it starts on low. Longer throw than most, neutral white available from some dealers. $75
- Thrunite TC12 - essentially a TN12 with USB charging, a thermal sensor to limit temperature, low-voltage protection and a battery included. $56
- Sofirn SP31 v2.0 - efficient driver and XP-L HI emitter for more throw than most lights in this class. Cool white only, unfortunately, but a good value with the features of the Fenix PD32 at half the price. $37 with battery and charger on US Amazon. $21 without accessories on Sofirn's own site, but shipping from China is likely to take more than a month.
- Acebeam EC35 II (Killzone special edition) This has a bit different UI than the others here. The tailswitch is alawys high, with half-press for momentary. The side siwtch is an electronic switch with shortcuts from off to low, last-used, and high. This offers versatility in combination with dead-simple reliability under stress. USB-C charging (note: requires A-to-C cable; does not charge from C-to-C), optional battery, and it's a USB powerbank (powerbank function does work with C-to-C). The Nichia 219C is a bit cooler with a fairly balanced beam profile, and the SST-20 is warmer with some more throw. $67 by itself, or $77 with a battery. $10 less for the 219C.
Electronic switches enable shortcuts from off to useful modes - usually lowest, highest, and last-used.
- Zebralight SC64c LE - the SC6x series has long been an EDC favorite for their compact size, high efficiency, great low modes, and a user interface that was well ahead of the competition when it came out. Now, many would prefer ToyKeeper's Anduril firmware as used on the FW3A and D4v2, but Zebralight has added some configuration options that should keep most users happy. The 828 lumen max output sounds low next to today's hot-rods, but lights this size can't sustain more than that for longer than 5 minutes without burning the user's hand. $80
- Zebraligh SC64w HI - the above, trading some color quality for more output and throw. $80
- Thrunite TC15 - like the Neutron in form, but trades battery flexibility for 2300 lumens turn-on output and replaces the ramping UI with fixed modes. $56
- Skilhunt M200 (high-CRI LH351D option recommended) - Were you considering the Olight S2R? Consider this instead. Magnetic charging, but with a standard 18650. Optional high-CRI neutral white LH351D. Magnetic tailcap. Magnetic charging. The linked version even has configurable mode groups, and you can decide whether to pay extra to get it with a battery. Pending due to lack of reviews, but Skilhunt stuff is usually solid. $43 without a battery, $51 with.
- Wurkkos FC11 - 18650 EDC light, high-CRI Samsung LH351D, battery included, magnetic tailcap, USB-C charging, e-switch with the option of fixed modes or ramping. Wurkkos is affiliated with Sofirn, and this seems very much like some SP36S parts found their way into an SC31. Early versions had some UI wierdness, but the UI has been revised and is now very good. The tint could stand to be better, but the color rendering is very good, and it's $30
Other by use case
Right-angle lights and headlamps
If I could have only one portable light, it would be a right-angle light that functions as both an everyday carry light and a headlamp. Some lights in this form factor also offer a magnetic tailcap, allowing them to act as mountable area lights.
- Zebralight H53c - All the Zebralight goodness described above for the SC64c LE, but in a right-angle, 1xAA form factor. The Cree XP-L2 may make a less attractive beam than the Samsung LH351D, but most people report Zebralight's optics smooth it out well. H53Fc for a frosted lens for a very even beam. This one even comes with a pocket clip, and the headband does not have the top strap the 18650 versions do. $59
- Thrunite TH20 - 1xAA headlamp available in neutral white with infinite ramping and shortcuts from off to low/high. $30
- Acebeam H40 with 95 CRI Luminus SST-20. This is very similar to the TH20, but trades having a good sub-lumen low for high CRI. It would be nice to have both in the same light, but for that, you'll need a soldering iron. $35
- Fenix HL10 - a 1xAAA headlamp that weighs 40 grams with a lithium battery. It's here so /ultralight doesn't feel left out, as I would recommend something with a larger battery for a primary headlamp. This would make a good backup. Two is one. $30
- Nitecore NU25 - the other ultralight option. Sealed Li-ion pouch cell, so no carrying spares, and it's effectively disposable when the battery wears out. The primary emitter is cool white and low-CRI, but there's a high-CRI secondary. Some sacrifices must be made for a weight of 28g. $36
- Thrunite TH01 - 1x18350 battery dedicated headlamp, 1500 lumens burst (450 stable). This is a USB-charged option without going to the larger 18650 battery. $40
All of these use one 18650 battery.
- Skilhunt H04 - the popular version has a honeycomb TIR optic for a diffuse beam pattern. A reflector for more throw and a version with a reflector and a flip-out diffuser are sometimes available. Uses a timed stepdown. Available in neutral white. Magnetic tailcap. $40, roughly
- Wowtac A2/A2S - another budget option, this time with a reflector. Both come with an 18650 that has a USB charge port right on the battery, but can be used with any 18650. The A2S also offers neutral white, which I recommend. $20/$30
- Zebralight H600w IV - very compact, neutral white, great efficiency, well-regarded user interface, boost driver. What's not to love? The pocket clip isn't so good. $89
- Zebralight H600Fd IV - the above with 90+ CRI, a frosted lens for a more diffuse beam and a slightly cooler neutral tint that's a close match for the midday sun. $89
- Zebralight H600Fc IV - the H600Fd, but with warmer tint, like the late afternoon sun. $89
- Zebralight H604d - the H600Fd with no reflector and a clear lens for a very floody, perfectly even beam. $89
- Zebralight H604c - if you've read the above, this needs no explanation. $89
- YLP Panda 2M CRI - 1x18650 dedicated headlamp, with high-CRI neutral white LH351Ds. Not the most efficient, but the light quality is great and with an 18650 battery, most people won't mind. $38
- Thrunite TH10 V2 - over 300m throw in a right-angle light for those who need it. USB charging, and battery included. A bit more bulky than most. $60
- Armytek Wizard Pro Nichia 144A - this light was my idea. After reviewing the Wizard Pro XHP50, I convinced them to put a 90 CRI, 4500K Nichia 144A in it. It took a couple years, but they did, and it is glorious. The Wizard Pro is the most versatile light I own, and the one I'd keep if I could only keep one. The first batch of these had some battery safety issues (broken low-voltage protection), but that's fixed now. I suggest buying from a dealer like Killzone or Nkon, and checking for coupon codes for those dealers because Armytek's customer service and shipping are questionable. $90
- Acebeam H30 - 21700 battery (also compatible with 18650), USB-C charging, powerbank function, 4000 lumen main output with optional neutral white, red secondary, choice between a green secondary, UV secondary, or a high-CRI Nichia 219C secondary. Boost driver for stable output when the battery is low or cold. Many people would consider this too heavy for a headlamp, but it weighs a lot less than a motorcycle helmet. Noncompliant USB-C behavior requires charging with an A-to-C cable. $120
- Fenix HP30R - 2x18650 batteries in a remote holder that can be worn under a jacket. This is probably the most reliable battery option for extreme cold environments as the batteries can be kept warm. The battery case features USB charging and can be used as a USB powerbank. There are flood and spot emitters, which make 750 and 1000 lumens respectively, and can be used together for 1750 lumens. This is the heaviest headlamp on the list by far, but much of the weight is in the battery pack. $130
These are suitable for first responders and possibly members of the military in combat roles. The focus is on simple operation, reliability and a good way to make sure the light starts on high.
- Acebeam L30 - 4000 lumens from a single 18650 or 21700 (included). Neutral white available and recommended. High-CRI secondary emitter optional. Not the prettiest light, but there's a lot of it, and enough thermal mass to sustain it for a few minutes. Stable output without overheating is 2000 lumens. Forward-clicky tailswith is always max output, but the side switch has shortcuts to low and last-used. USB charging. $110
- Eagletac GX30L2 Pro - for those who want a better Streamlight Stinger. 2x18650. Neutral white with XHP35 HI recommended for more natural color and throw distance. Onboard charging. Neutral white optional. The included battery pack is just two 18650s in series. It says not to charge standard 18650s, but there's no technical reason for that, and it is reported to work. Protected cells recommended. $155
- Skylumen M2Rvn - about that neutral white... and it gains over 100m of throw in the process by switching to the XHP35 HI. This is a modified Olight M2R with different warranty terms from the original, so read those carefully. $120
- Eagletac T25V - a 21700-powered duty light with USB-C charging and battery included. Twist the head for output selection between three configurable levels with the light on or off, so it can be left locked in high. 2600 lumens and 214m throw with the XHP70.2, or 1640 lumens and about 400m throw with the XHP35 HI. The latter emitter in neutral white does the most to make this light stand out from its peers, if you can find it that way. This is a good alternative if the Olight M2R Pro looks appealing or you missed out on the Acebeam T36.$96
Most lights on the list are easy to carry, with performance constrained by size and thermal mass as a result. After all, the best light is the one you have. Here are lights to bring when you know
you'll be using them.
Turn night into day, but not necessarily very far away
- Thrunite TC20 - 1x26650, 1xXHP70.2. This is still small enough for a jacket pocket, but has a bigger battery than most EDC lights, and a spectacular 180 lm/W efficiency on medium. USB charging. Ugly tint, even when neutral. 3800 lumen max, and more efficient than most competitors in all modes. $72 with standing "20%" coupon code
- Acebeam X45 - 4x18650, not pretty even in neutral white, but it makes 18,000 lumens. $180
- Sofirn SP36 BLF edition - 3x18650, 4xLH351D, Anduril firmware, USB-C charging. Be careful, there's another version of this light with Cree XP-L2 emitters, which are ugly. There's currently a bundle with Sofirn batteries on US Amazon for a very small additional cost, but these usually don't come with batteries. 90+ CRI, 5500+ lumens, 350m FL1 throw. This replaces the BLF Q8 in the list due to the LEDs offered and USB-C charging, though the Q8 is easier to disassemble for those interested in modifications. $50
What's that over there? WAY
over there? The hotspots of these lights tend to be too focused for comfortable use up close, though using a diffuser is an option. These tend to be most useful for search and rescue, boating, and the like.
FL1 throw is the distance at which large objects can be detected in clear air. At half that distance, there's usually enough illumination to see clearly, though with more extreme throwers, the distances may be so great as to require binoculars to see clearly even during the day. Throwers have visible backscatter from the atmosphere even in clear air, which may obstruct the user's view of the target. Warmer color temperatures tend to have less.
- Wowtac A4v2 - 1x26650, MicroUSB charging, 1982 lumens and 564m throw according to zeroair. The A4v2 isn't quite a pure thrower; it's more versatile than that. Boost driver for near-full output even when the battery is low and better performance in the cold - that's rare to see in the A4's price/performance category. $50, but check for coupons
- Thrunite Catapult V6 - 1x26650, MicroUSB charging. This is the Wowtac A4, but with a more expensive shell and a bigger reflector for more throw. $60 with a coupon code
- Acebeam T27 - 1x21700/18650. This is like a thrower version of the L30 duty light above, though its charging is USB-C, and oddly, it can act as a USB powerbank. Boost driver for full output on a low battery. 5000K recommended. 1180m FL1 throw. Noncompliant USB-C behavior requires charging with an A-to-C cable. $140
- Acebeam T28 - it's a T27 with a bigger head and even more throw. There's not much more to say about it than that. $160
- Thrunite TN42 - 4x18650, 1550m FL1 throw advertised, 1700m observed by reviewers. $160
Some throw, some flood... probably a lot
- Acebeam K30GT - a hybrid, but leaning toward the throw side of things with 1km. 5500 lumens, but not for long due to heat. 3x18650. $160
- Acebeam K65 - probably the original dedomed XHP70.2 version. 1km and 6200lm, but much bigger than the K30GT with 4x18650 batteries, giving it the ability to say bright longer without overheating. $195
- Imalent MS18 - proprietary battery pack, 18xXHP70.2. Heat pipes. Fan cooling. 100,000 lumens. 1350m FL1 throw. This thing weighs 5 pounds, isn't waterproof, sounds like a jet engine, and I trust Imalent's build quality about as far as I can throw an MS18, not to mention the price. It makes no sense for nearly any practical purpose, but it's the brightest flashlight you can buy, so it goes on the list. $500
Stuff that doesn't fit somewhere else goes here.
- Pelican 3315 CC - 3xAA, 130 lumens, intrinsically safe. The only reason to get this is because an intrinsically safe or explosion proof light is required. This is the least bad option with a warm color temperature and high CRI. $55
- Viltrox L116T - a 95 CRI, adjustable color temperature LED panel intended to be used as a camera light with adjustable output from about 200 lumens to 1000 lumens. Also works great as fixed lighting with a DC power supply, or a portable area light with a Sony NP-F camera battery. A battery holder and a bit of soldering will allow it to run on 2x18650. $34
- Viltrox VL200T - The 2500 lumen version of the L116T. DC power supply included. Radio-based remote control. $65
- Litufoto F12 (AKA Viltrox FA-D10) - A smartphone-sized LED panel with 96+ CRI, adjustable color temperature, USB-C power (note: noncompliant, A-to-C only), and sealed Li-ion battery. 800 lumens on high with 80 minute runtime, 70 lumens lowest, adjusts in 5% increments. 65% output available continuously without draining the battery while plugged in. This would even be viable as floody EDC flashlight if it wasn't for the obnoxiously long press for on/off. $48 on US Amazon
Enthusiast lights can be subject to a bit of a flavor of the month phenomenon, and this section isn't necessarily going to try to include them all. What you'll find here are enthusiast lights with some staying power. There will probably be an Emisar D4 of some description this time next year, but not necessarily the latest new FW variant or whatever's currently trendy from Nightwatch.
- Lumintop FW3A - this light was designed by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. It's unusual in having a tail e-switch, while most others position it on the side. It has an open source firmware with continuous brightness adjustment and lots of options. 2800 lumen max (briefly), about 800 lumens relatively sustainable (thermally regulated). There are currently five LED options, and I would recommend most people go with one of the high-CRI options. Luminus SST-20 for more throw and less heat, but the Nichia 219C may have more pleasant tint. Caution: this light requires an unprotected, 10A rated battery and can set things that get too close to its lens on fire. This has fairly inefficient electronics, but the large capacity of the 18650 battery makes that a minor issue for a lot of use cases. There are titanium, copper, etc... versions for more money. Build quality and reliability may be a bit questionable, but these pack in a lot of features for the money. Several larger versions with higher output exist, but the original still makes the most sense to this list's maintainer. $40
- Lumintop FW1A - an FW3A with fewer emitters (one) and more reflector (again, one, in place of the FW3A's TIR optic). Less output, more throw, less demanding on the battery. $40
- Emisar D4v2 - every flashlight geek's favorite way to burn a hole in their pocket has been upgraded. It now comes with colored aux LEDs that can serve as a decoration, locator, and battery status indicator. Some versions of this light can exceed 4000 output at power-on, though efficiency is not one of its goals, even at lower levels. Not to be outdone by the FW3A, there are eight LED options, from which I'd suggest the 4000K, 95+ CRI SST-20 to most people. Optional extras include a tailcap magnet, steel bezel, pocket clip, 18350 and 18500 battery tubes, and different optics. There are exposed programming headers on the battery side of the driver for those who want to modify the firmware, or just keep it up to date with ToyKeeper's latest revisions. That's right, it's 2019 and you can get software updates for your flashlight. $45 or a bit more from the US warehouse for those wanting faster shipping.
- Noctigon KR4 - This is almost a tail-e-switch D4, but it uses a variable linear driver that provides a bit better efficiency and more stable output as the battery drains as well as allowing brightness adjustment without PWM and enabling the use of ultra-low-voltage LEDs like the Nichia E21A. If you were thinking about the Lumintop FW4A, this is likely a better option. SST-20 4000K would probably still be my pick here because the E21A doesn't seem to play all that well with the Carclo quad optics. $55, and often stocked in the US warehouse.
- Convoy S2+/219C - Popular light for DIY and modification. Many parts are available from the manufacturer and Mountain Electronics. S2+ linked. S3 is similar, but with a removable steel bezel. S6 has a deeper reflector for a narrower spill and longer throw. Recently updated with the high-CRI Nichia 219C and Luminus SST-20 LEDs, which are strongly recommended over the prior options. 219C 4000K will probably make the largest number of people happy. "Body color" is actually drive current. More 7135 chips means more power, which means more output, shorter battery life, and more heat. x6 is a reasonable choice that should never get too hot to hold. x3 or x4 for giving to people who will waste the battery. x8 for max output. Convoy will assemble other combinations of compatible parts not listed in their store - just contact them and ask. $15
Jacket pocket, maybe
- Noctigon KR1 - Do you miss the Emisar D1? This is a jacket pocket light can reach nearly 700m FL1 throw with certain emitter options. It's the only light I've ever seen offer a high-CRI Cree XP-L HI, which in this case is an incandescent-like 2850K. $50
- Convoy C8 SST-20 - 1x18650. 4000K and 7135x8 will produce the best results for most users. Over 4000K is low-CRI for the SST-20, and yes, CRI still matters in a semi-thrower like the C8. This isn't in the performance class of the other high-output lights, but it's over 500m FL1 throw that fits in a jacket pocket for $20. Note that there are a lot of C8s on the market from different companies, but this C8 is the one most people should get. $20
- Haikelite SC04 - 1x26650/2x26650, 4xSST-20. The neutral white option is 95+ CRI and about 3000 lumens with 500+ meters FL1 throw. Side e-switch with a ramping UI and shortcuts. 2x26650 configuration is probably suitable for thumping someone on the head for those who miss that aspect of the classic Maglite. Boost driver for stable output when the batteries are low. This replaces the Convoy L6 on the list due to its LED choice and switch position. $60
- Emisar D4Sv2 - 1x26650, four emitters, lots of options. This is very similar to the D4v2 from the EDC section, but with a bigger battery, more thermal mass, and more throw. 3000-5000 lumens, 280-480m FL1 throw. SST-20 4000K recommended for most users. $50 US buyers should check the US warehouse for faster shipping
- Emisar D18 - 3x18650, 18xSST-20 (XP-L HI by request). 4000K recommended for 10,000 lumens of 95+ CRI light (thermally limited). Efficiency is not a goal with this model's FET driver, but the battery capacity will make up for it for a lot of use cases. Uses ToyKeeper's excellent open source Anduril firmware. $100 - again, check the US warehouse
- Astrolux FT03 SST-40 FET driver, SST-40, big reflector, 26650/21700/18650 and USB-C (probably only A-to-C) charging. 955m throw and 2313 lumens according to zeroair. There's also an XHP50.2 version that trades some of the throw for output. 5000K suggested. $34
- Noctigon K1 - 1x21700, USB-C charging (including C-to-C!), and probably the most throw of any single-cell LED flashlight (LEPs are impressive, but not quite ready for prime time). 1600m FL1 throw with the Osram White Flat 1, 4500 lumens and nearly as much throw (briefly) from the Luminus SBT-90.2. A balanced beam and stable output from the boost-driver equipped Cree XHP35 HI. Several other emitters are available, though some are not listed and can only be had by request - email and ask if there's a combination you want. $90 and up depending on emitter.
- Astrolux MF01 Mini - 1x26650/21700/18650, 7 Luminus SST-20s (4000K, 95 CRI available), USB-C, Anduril firmware, FET driver, aux LEDs. Like a bigger D4v2 with more emitters and a USB port. $65, but check for active discounts
- BLF GT - 8x18650, over 2000m FL1 throw. 4000K neutral white available and recommended. Do you want to win a display of machismo against a lighthouse? This is your flashlight. $180 (on Banggood at the time of this writing)
* BLF GT90 - the GT with a Luminus SBT-90.2 for over 7000 lumens and 2700m throw claimed, but that's going to be limited by heat and power. For sustainable performance, the original may have the advantage. For short bursts, this will be most impressive. 360, but look for discounts Edit 20200624
: added Tool AA, NU25, KR4, KR1
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