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The Best Audio Accessories to Make Your Stereo Sound Better in 2024

Not in the market for new components in 2024 but still want to improve the sound quality of what you already have? We have a range of audio accessories that make sense.

VPI Turntable on IsoAcoustics Delos Platform

Whilst not everyone is in the market for a new component right now, they are still looking for affordable methods of improving what they already own. Record cleaning machines, isolation cones/platforms, affordable cables, turntable mats, and inexpensive DACs/headphone amplifiers are all the rage.

The key thing is that some accessories offer incremental improvements, whilst others like room correction software can be game changers that make you jump off the gear fetishism train — and enjoy what you have. That’s the point.

Spending $1,000 on a power cord is not a wise investment; it will not transform your music listening experience.

Neither will $1,000 audiophile network switchers.

So what has worked for us? Let’s take a walk.

Best for Vinyl Listening

Record Doctor VI 20th Anniversary Edition Record Cleaning Machine

Record Doctor VI 20th Anniversary Edition Record Cleaning Machine

The resurgence of vinyl was not only a boon for turntable and cartridge manufacturers but for the vinyl accessories market as well. Record cleaning machines never really vanished with brands like VPI and Nitty Gritty keeping the market well supplied but the rebirth of the record created an opening for other brands already in the analog playback space to offer their own cleaning machines. 

Consumers can spend anywhere from $80 to $6,000 for a record cleaning machine and there is some merit to the expense if your record collection continues to grow and you really care about preserving your collection and the lifespan of your cartridge. 

Clean records sound better and that means more playback hours for your cartridge if you take the time to clean and store your vinyl properly. The VPI HW 16.5 has to be considered the go-to unit if you have a large record collection and want something that will last a very long time. It’s also loud and not the prettiest piece of industrial design but it does the job well every single time. 

We know people who still use 20 year-old units on a daily basis and will buy nothing else. 

The issue, however, for most people getting into vinyl is the price of a record cleaning machine; the VPI HW 16.5 ($1,045 at Audio Advice) costs more than most people have spent on their table/cartridge and it’s almost hard to believe that the VPI has gone up by over $400 over the past 6 years. 

For those with much smaller budgets, the Record Doctor VI is a better option. 

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The Record Doctor VI utilizes a high-performance vacuum motor to remove all of the cleaning fluid and dirt from the surface of your records while you manually turn the record with the included injection-molded turner that also covers the entire record label to prevent damage.

The unit comes with a deep-cleaning applicator brush which you use to scrub clean the grooves with a record cleaning solution; the manufacturer sells their own cleaning solution, but we had good success with both VPI and Mobile Fidelity cleaning solutions as well. 

For $300, the Record Doctor VI does the job and without a lot of fuss. Like any record cleaning machine with a vacuum, there is a noise factor to contend with and this unit is only slightly quieter than other units that we have used. 

For more information: Record Doctor VI

Where to buy$299.95 at Crutchfield


Goldring E4

Goldring E4 Phono Cartridge Front Under

Some cartridges fly under the radar because the brand doesn’t get them into the hands of enough members of the press or because the price doesn’t create enough buzz in comparison to rivals. Goldring have been in business almost as long as Danish rival, Ortofon, and that puts them in rather elite company. 

The Goldring E Series are natural rivals to anything Audio-Technica and Ortofon have to offer below $300 and the E4 might best them all. I’ve been listening for the past month (the E4 replaced both the Ortofon 2M Red and Golding E3 on my NAD table) and it’s not even close. 

The Goldring E4 is designed to be compatible with all medium-to-high-mass tonearms of the type found on the majority of budget to midrange turntables.

What’s different about the new E4?

The super-elliptical nude diamond stylus features lower effective tip mass, and improved rigidity, which should result in better high frequency detail retrieval than ‘bonded’ elliptical alternatives. 

The E4 features a ‘nude’ super-elliptical stylus of just 7.6 x 18 microns (0.3 x 0.7 mil), which is cut and polished from a single homogeneous piece of diamond.

To complement its low tip-mass stylus, the E4 now features a hollow aluminum cantilever tube. 

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The Goldring E4 delivers a more open and neutral sounding presentation with a wider soundstage. It is also easier to sculpt into a very specific type of sound which will appeal to those who use vintage receivers or amplifiers, or entry-level integrated amplifiers below $1,000 than often veer to the darker side. 

Combine all of that with excellent speed, timing, and resolution and you have one of the best sounding entry-level phono cartridges available below $300.

For more information: Read our Goldring E4 Review.

Where to buy: $299 at Amazon


IsoAcoustics zaZen Isolation Platform

IsoAcoustics zaZen I & II Isolation Platforms

The zaZen is an isolation platform designed for turntables, tube amps, and other sensitive audio equipment. The combination of the platform mass and the integrated IsoAcoustics isolation technology allows audio gear to reveal greater acoustic clarity and detail. The zaZen is available in two sizes: zaZen I with a weight capacity of 25 lbs (11.3kg) and the zaZen II with a weight capacity of 40 lbs (18.1kg). The zaZen features a medium gloss black finish over a dense fiber construction. 

Isolation products come in many different shapes and sizes and while they certainly have an impact on the sound – the results are not always what you expected. Improvements in one area of sound reproduction are offset by a negative change elsewhere. 

We took delivery of a zaZen II platform and experimented with three turntables; a Thorens TD-145, NAD C 588, and Thorens TD-160 Super. The NAD C 588 weighs substantially less than either one of my restored Thorens tables and benefitted the most from the zaZen which lowered its noise floor, tightened up the bass response, and improved the overall transparency of the sound. The presentation moved slightly forward with the zaZen installed which was a benefit with the Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers in my system.

Placed underneath both a Croft RIAA phono pre-amplifier and Cambridge Audio Evo 150 (see review) had a very positive impact on the sound; the Croft which suffers from a tiny degree of hum was quieter than usual (I’ve always suspected that its thin metal chassis was the cause), and the Evo’s midrange was more transparent sounding.

The impact under the two Thorens tables was different because of their suspension; both tables are susceptible to foot falls and the platform placed on top of a media credenza did isolate them better in my den which has very bouncy floors.

Is the zaZen more effective underneath lighter equipment that is more susceptible to vibration or footfalls (in the case of a turntable)? Unquestionably so.

For more information: IsoAcoustics zaZen Isolation Platform

Where to buy: $199 / $229 at Amazon

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Grado Labs Timbre Opus3

Grado Timbre Opus3 Phono Cartridge

Grado does offer some rather expensive phono cartridges but the vast majority of its sales are below $300 and products like the Opus3 make one question why you need to spend a lot more; I have always believed that it makes more sense to buy a better table and use an overachieving cartridge like the Grado Labs Opus3, Denon DL-103Nagaoka MP-110, or Ortofon 2M Bronze instead.

The Opus3 is nestled inside a Maple housing (8 grams) and I discovered that it sounded the best on my vintage Yamaha YP-701 and the replacement Ortofon LH-2000 Headshell that I ordered during the pandemic for another cartridge.

The cantilever is made from aluminum and the Opus3 uses an elliptical diamond stylus; mounting the cartridge was quite easy and I settled on a tracking force of 1.8 grams which was within the range but closer to the very top. 

Grado offers multiple versions of the Opus3 including the high output (4mV) version supplied, a low output model (1.0mV), and a mono version as well.

The Grado does vocals about as well as any $200 – $300 phono cartridge on the market and it doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Amy Winehouse, Sarah Vaughan, Alison Moyet, Orville Peck, or Jason Isbell.

Presence, tone, texture, and detail have to be present or it’s just some flat rendition of something that doesn’t engage you at all. The Grado Labs Opus3 succeeds in every way with the kind of vocals that I enjoy listening to and that makes it a keeper. 

If your budget ceiling is $300, the Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 is definitely a high-output cartridge to seriously consider. 

Where to buy$300 at Amazon


Analog Restorations Turntable Mats

Analog Restorations Platter Mat

The Garden State definitely loves its live music, rock stars, and record stores. We gave the world Bruce, Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Lauryn Hill, Donald Fagen, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and Count Basie. It’s also the home of VPI turntables and Analog Restorations.

Have you ever wondered where people on Instagram are getting those fantastic custom cork platter mats? 

There’s a company in New Jersey that makes them and we’re huge fans. 

The cork platter mats start at $26 and you can have it customized. The record cleaning wipes are more expensive but they work really well on dirty records that you might pick up at a used record store.

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For more information: 10 Questions for Analog Restorations

Where to buy$16 – $35 at analogrestorations.com


IsoAcoustics Delos Isolation Platform

IsoAcoustics Delos Isolation Platform

Isolating components from vibration is a worthwhile exercise but it has always been a bit of a crapshoot with all of the various options available. Some products eliminate one problem and then create another; enhanced transparency at the expense of midrange warmth. I’ve heard it with cones, discs, and multi-layered platforms that all seem to work but never without some form of change that I dislike long-term. 

Turntables are probably the most difficult component to isolate but the rewards can be very worthwhile. Suspended turntables (Thorens & Linn) are more susceptible to footfalls or other forms of vibration and benefit tremendously from proper isolation.

The Delos combines a substantial butcher block with IsoAcoustics’ patented isolation technology. The design consists of a top isolator, bottom isolator and a connector. The isolation is a result of the way the 3 parts work together, so there is not a single path connecting the live equipment to the supporting surface.

The Delos is designed to work with turntables, tube amplifiers, and other source components and proved its worth almost immediately when placed underneath my restored Thorens TD-160 Super turntable; footfalls were eliminated and there was an immediate increase in soundstage depth, along with a reduction in the background noise. The Delos isn’t inexpensive but there is no question that it works. 

For more information: IsoAcoustics Delos Isolation Platform

Where to buy: $399 – $699 at Amazon


Best for Headphone Listening

Schiit Audio Magni DAC/Headphone Amplifier

Schiit Magni DAC Headphone Amplifier

$189 for a discrete audiophile-grade DAC and headphone amplifier made in America. That isn’t a typo on my part but the reality in 2024 thanks to the clever folks at Schiit Audio who are based in California.

The Magni is designed for your desktop; it fits easily in the palm of your hand and there is nothing little about the sonic presentation with even demanding planar magnetic headphones.

The Magni can output between 1.5 – 3.0 watts per channel (50 ohms to 16 ohms) which represents a lot of power for a pair of headphones.

How is it for IEMs? With a -10dB negative gain setting, you’re totally set. 

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The internal DAC features an ESS 9018 DAC chip, OPA1656 op-amps, and optimized filtering using film capacitors and precision thin-film resistors.  

16-bit/44.1kHz to 24-bit/192kHz PCM via USB Type-C; no MQA or DSD.

It offers very low levels of distortion and a presentation that is free of background noise. Is it the quietest headphone amplifier I’ve ever tried? No – but it sounds bloody good and it is rather versatile with a wide range of IEMs and headphones.

The Magni does well in the boogie department and offers a level of transparency with your headphones that will make you question why you didn’t splurge on this before. This isn’t cheap audio but affordable audio that sounds way better than it should for the price. 

Where to buy: $189 at schiit.com


Questyle M15

Questyle M15 Mobile Lossless DAC with Headphone Amplifier Front and Back

A Dongle DAC is a small adapter that connects between a wireless device and wired headphones. Its purpose is to improve the digital audio quality of your smartphone or tablet and give users a higher quality headphone amplifier in the same package.

It accomplishes this by bypassing the DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) circuitry built into phones which are generally low quality. By offloading D/A processing, Dongle DACs offer a step-up in sonic performance and can also breathe new life into older devices.

Questyle has a long track record of success in the DAP and desktop amplifier categories and the M15 offers some interesting trickle down technology from its lineup. High-end Dongle DACs are starting to offer sonic performance that rivals many of the DAPs currently available; the issue is these rather powerful options also come with heat and battery issues, and not every smartphone will work with them.

The Apogee Groove ($249) is a fantastic option but only for Android users. Apple iPhone owners won’t have much success with it.

Similarly, the Cayin RU6 is a superb ladder DAC but it also suffers from some heat build-up and signal cut-out issues with Apple iPhones. If you use a Samsung smartphone — this could be your audio nirvana when streaming.

The best universal audiophile high-end Dongle DAC is the Questyle M15; which is the big brother to the M12 and offers both balanced and single-ended outputs, excellent industrial design with its clear top exposing the internals, and it works equally well with both Android and Apple devices (a huge plus).

File format support includes 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD, and MQA-encoded files. Like its little brother, the M15 uses current mode amplification and adjusts to the headphones or earphones being used. The M15 offers a very low noise floor, a high level of resolution, detail, and can drive a wide range of headphones and IEMs.

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The $249 USD asking price makes it more expensive than the aforementioned Cayin and Apogee Dongle DACs but we think the sound and build quality, along with its ability to work with Apple and Android devices makes it the clear choice.

Pros: Good power, balanced output is able to drive most headphones, format support, build quality, sound quality

Cons: Higher battery drain than some, some heat build-up, price

Where to buy: $249 at Amazon


Best Affordable Cables

Expensive audiophile cables are a hard sell for a lot of people and we totally get it after almost 3 decades of wasting far too much money on cables that really didn’t offer the performance and value for the money that we expected. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should not consider better quality audiophile cables. Just don’t blow your entire budget on a very expensive power cord thinking it is going to dramatically transform the overall sound quality of your system. 

$3,000 power cords are a waste of money. You have probably noticed that every review of such a product is a rave. Nothing can touch its magic touch. The system took on mind-blowing levels of resolution.

Do you honestly believe that the reviewer is going to write anything negative about that product? Do you think the manufacturer would ever send said reviewer another cable to review if the review isn’t a raging river of praise?

Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY Cables

Chord Company ShawlineX Aray Audio Cables

Having taken the plunge over the past decade with QED and Analysis Plus, I feel confident telling you that products like the Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY will also get you 90% of the way there and that you are better off investing in a better pair of loudspeakers or amplifier than mega-priced cables.

The ShawlineX are so good at what they do for a reasonable amount of money that they give me a modicum of hope that some manufacturers understand that there needs to be greater emphasis on more affordable products and that consumers who are new to high-end audio will turnaround and explore something else if the industry pushes the “audiophile” cables schtick on them.

The Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY offer solid build quality, excellent sound quality with a wide array of components and loudspeakers, and deliver tremendous value in a category filled with overpriced products that don’t deliver enough of an uptick in performance to justify their prices.

Read our review here

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For more information: chord.co.uk


QED Golden Anniversary XT Loudspeaker Cables

QED Golden Anniversary XT speaker cable

Loudspeaker cables are a hot topic for audiophiles and after 24 years of listening to dozens of different brands, I’m ready to just pick something from my toy trunk (which my 16 year-old son felt he was too old for) in the basement office and be done with it. 

Synergy is real and I’ve certainly had a few experiences over the years where $3,000 cables sounded terrible with specific loudspeakers or amplifiers. That sounds ridiculous, but substituting a $100 pair of loudspeaker cables for the more expensive one actually worked better.

I already own sets of the QED XT25, Reference XT40i, and Signature Revelation loudspeaker cables; which are all very affordable, well made, and very good options for someone who has to review a lot of different loudspeakers and amplifiers.

These new QED Golden Anniversary XT cables are even less expensive than the XT25 that ran me $130 for a 6-foot pair.

The QED Golden Anniversary XT Loudspeaker Cables are a fantastic bargain for their asking price; the build quality, termination, and overall sound quality are very hard to fault. 

However, that doesn’t make them the “perfect” solution for every scenario.

MSRP: £27 / €35 / $40 per meter | QED Dealer Locator

Related Reading: QED Audio Cables: Proof You Don’t Have to Go Nuts


QED Reference High Resolution USB Cable

QED Reference High Resolution USB Cable

USB cables are a necessary evil for digital audio if using your laptop or a network streamer and there is no shortage of opinions in regard to the wide range of prices from $15 for a generic one from Staples or Monoprice and the very esoteric ones from some audiophile cable brands that retail for more than the components they are connected to.

Having tried some very expensive USB cables with reference level digital playback gear, I’m convinced that there is some merit to pricier models that offer better construction quality and superior RFI shielding. Where I go off the reservation is when the price exceeds about $150 for a 6-foot cable — which I know sounds like an insane amount of money for a digital cable. Because it is!

QED has a long track record of building affordable loudspeaker cables and interconnects that sound excellent and are built to last. Their loudspeaker cable is cheap by audiophile standards and has never been the weak link in any system I have tried it with.

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I’m a lot more skeptical when it comes to USB cables. The QED Reference High Resolution USB cable uses a 24 AWG, 99.999% oxygen-free copper twisted-pair featuring low-permittivity, and foamed-polyethylene dielectrics, which are bound by an aluminium/mylar wrap. It is a flexible design that is easy to route behind a crowded equipment rack and the connection is solid on both ends. 

From a sonic perspective, it is most certainly on the neutral side. It adds no additional warmth to the sound and offered a very transparent presentation across the frequency spectrum. Detail is easy to discern and there is solidity in the bass. If your DAC adds some color to the presentation, the Reference High Resolution USB cable won’t alter that in any way.

Compared to the entry-level cables from Staples and Monoprice, the QED offers superior build quality and a more transparent sounding presentation; vocals are more forward sounding while maintaining whatever flesh on the bones exists on the recording. 

Where to buy: $129.95 at qedcable.com


Best for Speakers

IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands

IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands

Vibration is the enemy; both in the recording studio and in your home when it comes to sound quality. Put your hand on your loudspeaker while listening to music and you’ll immediately feel how the energy produced by the drivers causes the cabinet to resonate. That level of resonance affects how your loudspeaker sounds. External vibration from your room, equipment stand, or loudspeaker stands impacts how your loudspeakers sound as well. 

The Aperta with an overall size of (W x D x H) 6.1” x 7.5” x 3” or 15.5 cm x 19 cm x 7 cm isn’t just one size fits all either. Specifically designed for use with bookshelf, desktop or floor standing speakers, they are available in different models to fit specific sizes and weights of medium-sized speakers. Sculpted from aluminum frames, the Aperta creates a parallelogram structure with isolators in the top and bottom sections to provide a high level of separation of sound. Build quality on the Aperta is superb. 

Tip: IsoAcoustics Iso-Puck Acoustic Isolators can work instead for heavier speakers or subwoofers. Just be sure to match the weight to each speaker and purchase 4 for each speaker.

The Aperta offer a range of tilt which makes it extremely useful if you place your loudspeakers on a bookshelf or desktop and want to angle the tweeter at your ears and not at your chest. The impact on the sound is not subtle; the clarity of the sound improves dramatically, bass tightens up, and everything sounds more focused.

One thing I did notice with warmer sounding bookshelf loudspeakers like the Q Acoustics 3030i, and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s was a reduction in midrange coloration that some might find takes away from the impact of the presentation. Bass tightened up significantly but also lost some of its visceral impact. Vocals were rock solid in the soundstage and the presentation took a step forward as well. 

For more information: IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands

Where to buy: $199 at Amazon


4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Chris Snyder

    August 24, 2021 at 5:51 pm

    High Resolution USB Cable…LOL

    • Ian White

      August 24, 2021 at 6:02 pm

      I agree that the marketing terminology is weird and somewhat laughable.

      That being said…and I hate expensive cables, it’s a really good cable. I’ve tried it with 13 DACs and network amplifiers and I wouldn’t want to swap it out.

      Ian

    • Drexel Lake

      December 26, 2022 at 4:11 pm

      The better the quality of components, the better quality signal. If you’re into the audio hobby you’ll want to try different things to see how they work for you and your system. In my experiences over 40 years most so called snake oil works in many cases. But if you prefer to get your info off audio forums, you’ll never know.

      • Ian White

        December 26, 2022 at 5:28 pm

        Depends on your definition of “snake oil.”

        The IsoAcoustics products are effective at isolating loudspeakers but also change the sound; I’ve used the stands with over 30 pairs of bookshelf loudspeakers and they all sound more neutral or cooler when used compared to being placed on the top shelf of my media unit.

        Cables are form of tone control and having tried everything from $0.40/foot stuff from Home Depot and $2,000/foot speaker cables and power cords — there is some serious BS going on in terms of the claims companies make.

        Spending a few hundred dollars on speaker cables makes sense in the context of a $10,000 system. Spending $1,000 on a single Ethernet cable is stupidity.

        Power conditioners can make a system sound worse. I’ve tried 4-5 over the years and they all ended up in my HT system with source devices and my OLED TV.

        Cable lifters? Tennis ball cut in half can do the same thing.

        Bamboo cutting boards from IKEA work under components rather well.

        Ian White

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