July 24, I wrote an article entitled “DO I NEED AN AMPLIFIER FOR MY HEADPHONES?” , if you are at all interested in good sound, I recommend you read it. In it I explain that most audio devices are built with cheaper built in headphone amplifiers to reduce device cost and I explain the benefits of a headphone amplifier (headphone amp).
The one question is how to connect the headphone amp to your device? This article concentrates on connecting them to iDevices (particularly to an iPhone 4 or 4s). You could always use your devices headphone jack but this goes through that cheap built in headphone amp which will negatively impact sound quality. For iDevices, the best option is a Line Out Dock adaptor which connects using an Apple 30 pin dock connector. These special cables bypass the devices headphone amp and thus they allow you to have a better (cleaner) sound.
One of these cables that I recently tested was the FIIO L3 cable.
My testing setup was with 3 different portable headphone amplifiers and my Ultimate Ears Triple-Fi / Grado 60 headphones. My audio came from an iPhone 4S and all audio files were encoded in Apple Lossless directly from the CDs. My testing consisted of listening to a song while connecting the headphone amp to the iPhone’s headphone jack, then listening to it through the FIIO L3 connection.
I could clearly hear a difference in sound quality. The songs played through the L3+headphone amp sounded much crisper. The sound was more dynamic and details much more vivid. An overall improved listening experience. This isn’t the most high tech LOD but it’s value can’t be beat at its super affordable price.
The cable feels well built with gold platted connectors. It fits nicely into the iPhone’s dock connector and to release it requires that you press 2 little spring loaded buttons on the side of the cable (nice design touch). The cable itself is about 4” which is excellent when using it with a headphone amp but may be problematic if hooking it up to a home or car stereo.
After 3 months of solid use, my little cable is still in excellent condition and performing like new. It is important to note that I took care of it (like most of my equipment). If you through this in your pocket and constantly nock the connector and cable, I can imagine that it will eventually break, this is not a design flaw but a reality of rough use.
When you connect the cable to your iPhone, volume control is no longer possible from the iDevice. This is normal, since you are bypassing the iPhone’s built in headphone amp. Volume control has to be done through your external amp (which is a nice benefit).
What about the other LOD the FIIO L9?
I wasn’t able to get a FIIO L9 for testing but it seems (based on the literature) that the only difference is an angled connection and the L9 does not have the spring loaded connector hooks.
If you use an external headphone amp and want an excellent affordable Line Out Dock connector cable, get the FIIO L3.