One man, two ears, and $50K worth of headphones

Some guys collect baseball cards, old Corvettes, or guns, Wayne McManus collects headphones.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The AKG K1000, one of McManus' favorite set of headphones AKG

I've known my share of audiophiles who own lots of speakers, amplifiers, etc., but Wayne McManus has 40 high-end headphones. He's slowed adding to the collection, and now mostly concentrates on out-of-production classics--Sennheiser HE90 electrostatics, Sony MDR R-10, Sony Qualia 010, AKG-K1000, Audio Technica L3000, Grado HP-2--because each one has its own distinctive character and feel. McManus thinks speaker-only audiophiles are missing that aspect of the hobby; they're stuck with one sound. For the price of a pair of high-end speakers you can buy a healthy selection of the world's very best headphones. McManus has invested around $50,000 to date.

McManus bought a motor home three years ago, and now spends every April through August exploring the U.S. and Canada. He's semiretired and takes a small selection of headphones with him on the road.

At home he uses a very impressive hi-fi outfitted with MBL 101E speakers, MBL electronics, and a VPI turntable, but headphones have superior detailing. He put it this way: "You may have heard the same album a hundred times over speakers, but you pick up on new stuff over headphones, and when you move up to IEMs [in-ear monitor headphones] you hear even more of that microscopic effect. But you lose the sense of being at a live concert."

So I was hardly surprised to hear that McManus owns a Smyth Realiser A8 processor that makes headphones sound like speakers. He thinks the Realiser A8 makes it almost impossible to distinguish between the sound coming from headphones and speakers. It improves the stereo localization of all of his headphones.

For in-ear headphones McManus uses Jerry Harvey Audio JH-13 and Ultimate Ears UE10, along with some Shures and Monster Turbines. As for amplifiers, McManus uses an Italian Angstrom Research prototype headphone amp that never made it into production.

He's long past the fantasy of finding one perfect headphone; McManus loves variety, and can get any sound he wants by plugging in another set of 'phones, or another headphone amplifier.

A peek at the McManus headphone collection Wayne McManus

Regarding the $50,000 he's invested in headphones, some of them are actually worth considerably more now (he paid $2,600 for the Sony MDR R-10, which now regularly sells for $4,000 to $5,000 in the used market). So if he ever needed to sell off the entire collection he'd probably break even or make a little money. But meanwhile he's enjoying the greatest headphones ever made. He doesn't really consider the headphones investments; he just loves music and has a lot of fun.

McManus joined Head-Fi, an Internet headphone club, in 2002, and was surprised when it reached 3,000 members; it now has more than 120,000 members. The club regularly schedules "meets" in cities all over the U.S., where the members can hear each other's gear, including the members' hand-built amplifiers. I've attended a few meets here in NYC, and thoroughly enjoyed myself (meets are open to nonmembers). McManus is also a member of a more hard-core headphone group, Head Case.

How many headphones do you have? Hit the comments and let us know.