Starting with the iPhone

What are the best ways to optimise an iPhone based system?
Over the last year I have used a variety of IEMs and headphones directly from the horrible little iPhone dongle. I am told by better informed friends that the dongle is a miracle of miniature engineering . It is also a pain in the neck and an additional expense if you have to buy a new one for every headphone. I know you could use one for all but who does?
Anyway having adapted reluctantly to the dongle it does make it more acceptable to use other things between the phones and the iPhone,
One route uses the so called camera adaptor which connects the lightning socket to a USB socket which enables the use of anything which connects by USB, for example the Audioquest Dragon Fly into which the headphone plugs. By now there is a trail of connectors hanging from the phone but simpler solutions , for example Access, substitute for the dongle with a better DAC and beefier amplifier.
There is no doubt all these devices improve at least the volume from the iPhone and maybe the general quality in frequency range and depth.
However once a train of extras are introduced, a proper portable amplifier (perhaps with a DAC ) is worth considering.
Personally I have got the best results from the RSA Emmeline Blackbird which takes a line connection from the infamous dongle and drives any headphone you can think of.
It is clearly a whole category better than a direct output from the phone/dongle or from any of the miniature solutions mentioned above. The Blackbird has discrete modules for each channel and can thus accept a balanced input (irrelevant in this context) or give a balanced output which I have found to be another level of improvement with balanced phones, eg Sennheiser HD800S which comes with a balanced cable but needs an adaptor for the Blackbird miniature output plug.
Of course interestingcand enjoyable as this may be the iPhone is still capable of surprisingly good results with relatively sensitive IEMs (eg SE846) or phones ( never as good as IEMs).
But for a wholly superior experience a good portable amplifier is the way to go!

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Very good question, to which there seems to be no really happy solution. Personally, have both the camera adapters, and connect to the Dragonfly Black and Jitterbug. This may go into a headphone amp for hard to drive phones. I use the new Camera Adapter when I think I might need to use a power supply, and the old one when I’m sure the battery will be fine.

This is not a pretty solution. But it’s better than any current Bluetooth option. If I’m listening to talk radio, I just use Bluetooth and my Sennheiser MM-450X.

Some external DACs like the Topping NX4 (the old one, not the NX4s) don’t need a CCK, they can connect directly to the lightning interface. That saves a little bulk anyway.

Honestly though, for IEMs the headphone out (or lightning dongle) is pretty darned good. Maybe just look at using an app like Equalizer to let you fine-tune the sound with EQ?

I’m still on an iPhone 6+, and may stay with it a while. Had a screen problem 6 months ago, and Apple replaced the whole phone for price of a screen, so it has a fresh battery, etc. The headphone out isn’t bad, but the CCK/Dragonfly is better. And even with headphone out, bass sounds cleaner if I run that through any portable headphone amp (I still have the rechargeable electric-avenues).

I tend not to use EQ, although I know it’s gotten a good deal better. If I play out through Neutron, then I sometimes use the EQ in that app. Normally, I prefer not to do more playing with the sound than necessary. I don’t have the patience to set up a proper EQ and measurements for different combinations.

Giving this thread a bump, I just got an iPhone X and really don’t like the sound out of the dongle compared to my previous iPhone 6 so I started comparing it and the iPhone SE, my iPod Classic 6, iPad Air 2 and Mac all sound better…

Looking at the Dragonfly Black or Red to see if that would improve things. Anybody using anything they like?

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I’m using iPhone Bluetooth to the FiiO Q5 for remote processing ( – the Q5 has dual AK4490EN DAC chips, a substantial battery, and balanced out. However, it has the bulk of a DAP.

EarStudio (ES100 Mk2) and FiiO (BTR3; BTR5) make smaller units.


I would also highly recommend going Bluetooth with. BTR5 or similar. Better power, lower noise, EQ, convenience, better DAC, better amp, and more. Plus overall the experience is quite seamless.


The new iphone (also most higher Android devices, like my Samsungs Galaxy S8+ and S10) can be wireless charged while connected to a DAC / Amp via the standard
camera connector

We use ifi xDSD, Earstudio ES100 and Fiio BTR3
As Backup we have a Fiio Q1 II

My RME ADI 2 DAC takes via the ifi OTG dongle signals like a Pro - so for sure makes no problems with an iOS device

With the SMSL SU -8 dac, there was a weak signal via the same connection

So you still have to try it with your equipment and compare the sound.

With the poor Apple AAC Bluetooth codec vs most Android phones supporting not only AAC- they are capable of Aptx, Aptx low latency, Aptx HD, LDAC and HWA- I would suggest everybody to consider a Android device, if wireless music playback is a thought.

For example:
LG V20 for sub 200 with an ok internal DAC and Amp and a headphone jack.

The best Android app is USB Audio Player Pro. Connected via OTG cable to a external DAC/Amp, you can surpass the Android OS sound and let the external DAC do it’s job.

You can run qobuz, Google music and Tidal within the app. So you get qobuz in a darker look, if you want :wink:
You can unfold mqa, run online radio stations like radioparadise, shoutcast-radio, use your network drives or UPnP/DLNA server.
Parametric EQ, EQ and even crossfeed is supported.
Of course you can setup Playlists of your own physically stored music, as also in your streaming services of choice.

I know this thread is called “starting with the iPhone”
One could stay open and maybe try something new - just my 2cents.


Wow, that FiiO Q5 looks nice, and a lot like the Oppo that you can’t get anymore. It’s funny, I have a cheesy little FiiO E5 and even that makes the iPhone sound better.

I hadn’t considered messing around with Bluetooth but seems like most have had success with it.

Looks like I’ll be trying some FiiO gear and maybe an Earstudio too!

Thanks @generic @Xgatt and @MartinTransporter !!

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Oh, and going bluetooth makes the “forgot my dongle” problem go away…

and opens pandoras box on Apple devices
AAC bluetooth codec is not that bad, however far away from optimal or possible.

Apple does not support Dual Bluetooth at the moment.
As the iphone 11 was released, they promised an firmware update coming soon.

Dual Bluetooth is supported on my 3 year old Samsung S8+ from start, since I bought it back in the day.
With Dual Bluetooth you can connect 2 recieving devices and set volume on both independantly :wink:

This is no Apple bashing. We have both in our household.
Just want to inform members, who maybe are not aware of possibilities in these times


Haha! That explains the Earstudio video ad of two people dancing. I’m looking at it saying “yeah, my iPhone doesn’t do that”

But that’s also one of those things that I think is fantastically cool and then would never use it because nobody in my family wants to listen to my music :man_shrugging:

While not fantastic it seems like a decent BT receiver will be an upgrade, I remembered I had a cheapo $20 bluetooth dongle and that sounds better than the $9 apple 3.5 dongle…

If I had to choose at the moment- would go for the Fiio BTR5 over the ES100
For sound

We use Dual BT by the way also for audiobooks, podcasts, netflix, youtube, etc… and not exclusive for music

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Dual BT for a movie on a flight, that would be an amazing thing…

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I use the iFi xDSD with iPhone and bluetooth, it’s not bad, and does use AAC, even though it does not “appear” as AAC but incorrectly as AptX when you look at the connection.

However you will get nicer sound with Apple Camera Adapters and a Dragonfly. I have both the Black with Jitterbug and the Cobalt. If you don’t need power, the Black is fine.


The second Bluetooth is involved, I’m exclusively looking at true-wireless headphone/IEM options.

If I need a cable anywhere in the mix, I’ll do things properly.


Yes the xDSD and xCAN both have the same Bluetooth “device name”

so one could think it is aptx codec on apple
You can rename it, if you want

Been very happy with camera adapter and ifi xdsd.

When I did my review of the xDSD, I contacted iFi and verified that even though it says (aptX) on iPhone, it is in fact, AAC.

From Monty Python’s Flying Circus
“I’d like to have these pants cleaned. I’ll be back in one hour.”
–That will be three days
“But the sign on the shop says ‘One Hour Cleaners’”
–That’s just the name of the shop, it’ll be three days


Thanks, I don’t use power hungry cans so the black could do it for me, do you notice the difference with the Jitterbug? I’ve had plenty of PCs that could sorely use that kind of thing but I’ve never had trouble with a media player.