Attenuator?

What’s up with this category of products? Back in the day I had an “attenuator cable” for a JVC boombox that was just too dang loud when connected to headphones. But these seem more active.

So is there any use for them? If I haven’t needed any to date, why? Can’t I reduce the amount of volume by not using an amp? I get the feeling I’m missing something here - perhaps in the translation or description of the product.

Or perhaps in a prior life I was a dongle.

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They are more for impedance matching iems to daps, but I’ve never tried it. I’m not an IEM guy. It helps with Earphones like Andromeda which are super finicky with OI.

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I use one with my Andromeda to eliminate hiss… it works and is a thing with sensitive IEMs. If I didn’t have the Andromedas I wouldn’t need it though as I’m also not an IEM guy on the regular. Also most of the IEMs I’ve tried outside of the Andromeda have not had a need for it.

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I found them useful for the Campfire IEMs I’ve tried or when I use a noisy tube amp (EMI noise for example – it helps reduce that)

The other case is if I am using IEMs on a desktop amp and I want more volume control.

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As others have said, it is for impedance matching from your source, particularly for IEMs with high sensitivity. The Andromedas are famous for their hiss when running from most sources and the IEMatch tends to give them a black noise floor from most sources. iFi incorporates their IEMatch into the iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label as well as the Micro but if you’re looking for easy on the go listening straight from your phone the IEMatch is a great solution.

The only drawback with these sorts of things is that they can completely change sound (with the Andromeda being a prime culprit once again).

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I own one pure attenuator, a transformer-based passive device with a volume pot (RCA L/R in & RCA L/R out). It’s sole design objective is to attenuate line-level signal. In my experience, attenuators are less about impedance than voltage: specifically, they reduce voltage. There are 2 scenarios where an attenuator can be helpful:

1 - In a system w/no preamp or DAC/pre having a volume pot, an attenuator’s volume pot can provide that necessary volume adjustment. For example, if you have no preamp but wish to connect a CD player or DAC directly to a trad stereo amplifier (powering speakers), you must insert a volume pot between these devices or the amp would receive full voltage output from the DAC & blow up the speakers.

2 - A more subtle application is where there’s already a volume pot in the system, but still, there’s too much system gain–forcing that volume pot into the low/non-linear range of its operation. I have this issue in one iteration of my desktop audio system. My DAC outputs 2.5 volts, 25% more than the usual/nominal 2.0 volts most single ended DACs output. If I connect this DAC to a headphone amp/preamp with standard volume control & no other gain adjustments, that volume control never gets above 9:00-10:00 AM on the dial, due to the high incoming voltage from the DAC, the result being too little effective range in the pre’s volume pot near its center, the most linear portion. The solution is to put the attenuator in-line between the DAC & the preamp, and use its volume pot to bring the DAC’s gain down by 25%, resulting in a more normal range of motion on the pre’s volume control.

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I have been looking into getting the iEMatch by iFi Audio. Am I correct in thinking that they also do a 2.5mm one for use with Daps etc. Has anyone tried it in this configuration?

They do, indeed, offer a 2.5mm one as well.

I have, and use, both of them if/when the IEMs I am using call for it. Performance and operation is the same for both - the only difference is the size of the plug/socket.

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Yea, I have the 2.5mm IEMatch. It works fine with the XDP-300R. I use it from time to time. It’s a little finicky to use since the housing at the male jack is large, followed by a thing cable and then another large housing holding the female jack, and so it annoying to handle sometimes. I also found that the jack can fall out sometimes too. But other than that, it works great for my purposes. I wish they would come out with a re-design of it at some point to make it more smaller, lighter and more discrete. It’s also pretty pricey for what it is.

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Thank you for your replies @Torq and @antdroid. I guessed as much. I do think it looks a little flimsy but it’s not for on the move use anyhow. It’ll just sit by my side so should be fine. Again thanks.