As much as we enjoy trying all of the wireless and Bluetooth headphones available right now, there is always this nagging feeling that we should be fumbling through our pockets for a Dongle DAC that can deliver better sound quality from our smartphones, tablets, DAPs, and laptops. We love the convenience of wireless earphones but we want the best possible sound quality from our headphones and that requires cables — and we’re very aware that you never seem to have the exact one that you need with a certain type of device. Headphone accessories are a huge market right now and these are some of our favorites.
Inevitably when you have more than a few pieces of gear, you always seem to be missing the cable needed to connect them; you have a 2.5mm jack and a 4.4mm port, or the reverse, you need cases to store all this stuff in, and it never fails that about the time you have it all organized and figured out, another new item arrives that forces you to start over again.
Let’s focus on all of those little things that typically get ignored in headphone or personal audio reviews but help complete the kit for anyone trying to use portable audio gear.
Consumers spend billions of dollars annually on new smartphones and to a lesser extent, DAPs and other personal audio electronics. There is a definite need to protect your iPhone 12 or Astell & Kern DAP and while phone cases can be picked up rather inexpensively in any CVS, Wal-Mart, or Five Below — they are far more difficult to find for Digital Audio Players.
Some manufacturers have latched onto the idea that they need to provide some type of screen protector with their DAPs, or even a basic carrying case — but most still fail to provide any protective equipment at all with their electronics.
When one considers how expensive DAPs can be in 2021, these seems rather foolhardy on the part of manufacturers; especially when headphone companies now supply rather sturdy carrying cases with their headphones along with a myriad of accessories that can be neatly stowed away along with the earphones or full-size headphones.
It’s understandable that there are hundreds of screen protection options for iPhones and Android smartphones because brands like Apple, Samsung, LG, and Google sell tens of millions of new devices every year; it’s the single biggest category in consumer electronics.
But when a brand sells less than 5,000 units in a single year, there isn’t the same market for those same accessories manufacturers to get invested in. Fortunately, there are companies now that make cut-to-order protectors for DAPs.
I’ve had great success with two products that I’ve used with my players and neither one was more than $15 shipped.
Portable audio gear has gone up significantly in price over the past 5 years so it definitely makes sense to invest in a proper case. Cases can be expensive but if you want to protect your DACs or portable headphone amplifiers from dings and bumps that come from taking your audio on the road with you, it’s a worthwhile investment. Accidents are a part of life and equipment gets knocked off tables, dumped out of bags, and often dropped. If you spend any amount of time commuting, you are painfully aware that people are often buried in their phones and not paying attention to their surroundings.
If you’re familiar with LaCie and their rubberized external hard drives, you understand where I’m going with this in terms of accidents on your desk at work or at home with kids running around while you try to work remotely.
Three manufacturers come to mind when looking for DAP cases; Dignis, Miter, and DDHifi.
Dignis and Miter offer a full range of cases and are often bundled with premium DAPs (Cayin and Astell & Kern both offer Dignis cases).
Miter cases are offered through Moon Audio who also offer a superb range of headphones, DAPs, and portable audio accessories.
Miter tends to be more affordable but doesn’t offer the same range of products that Dignis does at this point.
If you’re looking for a case for a specific DAP like the Cayin N6i, FiiO BTR3, or FiiO M15, DDHifi offers leather cases that are both really nice and not expensive considering the quality. They add new DAPs to the list quite frequently so it makes sense to check back to see if they make one for your specific player.
If you’re looking for something larger than can handle a DAP, portable headphone amplifier, headphones, cables, and accessories; something that can be rather useful if you want to carry everything in a backpack or laptop bag — DDHifi really has some great options here.
Their C-2020 case is available in two sizes and the larger version has pockets on both sides. One side has a myriad of pockets for small gear while the other side has movable padded dividers and can accommodate multiple players at the same time.
I’ve had a Shanling M5s, Cayin N3ii and a Dethonray DTR1 in mine for some time now so that gives you an idea of how much space there is. The smaller C-2021 is single-sided and has adjustable dividers as well. I use mine to carry my Kann and a pair of earphones to work with me every single day.
If you need something even larger, Miter offers a monster of a box that will fit the Cayin C8 and C9 side-by-side and has room for earphones and accessories left over. It also has adjustable dividers so that you can configure it for your specific equipment. My only gripe is the magnetic closure that is not as secure as it should be; I actually added a large rubber band to it and it’s fine on long trips.
Now that we have our headphones, DAPs, and portable headphone amplifiers protected, let’s take a deeper dive into the frustrating world of cables and adapters.
Cables & Adapters
Have you ever wondered why DAPs and high-end headphones come with a huge assortment of accessories? The newbie purchasing their first really good pair of headphones or a DAP probably didn’t think about this but there is no real standard across every brand when it comes to cables and connectors. It would be great if there was one type of connector but that’s not the case.
One of the most versatile products are the modular cables for IEMs that offer the ability to swap connections between 3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm without requiring an adapter that adds additional weight and pressure at the jack. I’m a big fan of the Dunu system because of its versatility and cost.
When I do use adapters, I prefer the right angle variety like the type that comes with the Mee Audio Universal Cable Kit or that style of adapter which is also available as a stand alone option from DDHifi.
These limit the amount of stress placed on the connection and don’t act as a lever to break the connectors loose from the board if something does go wrong. I own several of the DDhifi DJ44aG adapters for 2.5mm to 4.4mm that I use regularly as DAPs and portable headphone amplifiers now ship with 4.4mm pentaconn connectors and a lot of legacy gear has 2.5mm jacks.
Once in awhile you need more than just an adapter for a headphone or earphone to work properly due to an impedance mismatch. iFi Audio make some of the best portable headphone amplifiers and DACs and they also offer a number of impedance matching devices called the iEMatch and Ear Buddy.
The Ear Buddy is a fairly simple device that attenuates the sound a bit and allows for a more usable volume range reducing hiss in the process. The iEMatch is offered in both single ended and balanced models and offer two levels of impedance matching making it more flexible than the Ear Buddy.
I use the iEMatch with hyper-sensitive earphones when testing high-powered sources. Once we establish that the source does have a high enough noise floor to produce hiss, why live with it when listening to music?
The other thing I always seem to need more of are USB interconnects. It used to be micro-USB, but these days the USB Type-C interconnect is becoming the most popular. While the Type A to Type C and 3-foot Type C to C connectors are easy to find, the shorty cables are harder and OTG cables can be harder yet.
DDHifi makes a very good 4-inch OTG cable that I use a lot and Fiio makes a very wide variety of line out options and are always one of the first places I look for such things. If you require Lightning to USB connectors, both companies also offer interconnects that bridge the divide. Just remember that not all USB to Lightning adapters will work without a camera connection kit, so these are not a cure all but getting better all of the time.