COMMON AUDIOPHILE EQUIPMENT & HARDWARE EXPLAINED
There is a lot of equipment in high-end audio and if you are not familiar with the terms it can get a little confusing. Once you get the essential audiophile lingo down though everything becomes a breeze so here are some explanations of the terms you might see popping up in our reviews. If you are looking for the terminology of what different audiophile terms mean make sure you check out this list.
A piece of hardware found either within a system or as a standalone unit who’s a job it is to amplify the signal strength coming from the DAC (see below). An amplifier, ideally, should not add any coloration to the sound, rather just amplify the wave signal to enable the adequate drive to Loudspeakers, Headphones, and Earphones.
When referring to amplifiers you will find they come in many forms. You have stack units for HiFi equipment, Desktop amps for use with full-size headphones, or portable stand-alone units for use with IEM’s.
A cable is used to transfer the signal to the earphones/headphones unless of course, your headphones are wireless.
Don’t buy into the “audiophile” myths surrounding cables as they make absolutely no difference in sound quality. Some people claim copper or silver sounds best but the basis for this is very much anecdotal in our opinion. We have tested hundreds of cables with some of the best earphones on the planet but unless it somehow changes the impedance then I have never noticed a difference.
A poorly designed cable or a damaged/defective cable will, however, have an adverse effect on sound reproduction.
Custom cables can add desirable aesthetic qualities and a well-designed one will have a low microphonic level (cable noise from movement). Additionally, there are some useful developments in the cable world like the Dunu Hulk cable which will allow you to switch the type of input without the need to purchase a new piece of hardware.
Wire Guage and Strands
The gauge is usually referred to as the thickness of cables. Sometimes this is just one piece over a certain thickness core material such as copper. In other cases, a headphone cable can be made up of a braid of multiple cables.
Strand is simply the thin metal wires that make up the cable.
A cable cinch is a piece around a cable that can be slid up and down to improve the fit of a headphone/earphone and reduce microphonics.
It is located after the cable splitter where the cable is split into left and right channels. Not all headphones have a cinch but you can easily make a DIY cable cinch by using a small cable tie to tie around the left and right channel wires tight enough to grip them but still loose enough to slide back and forth. Remove excess Zip tie.
Located on your headphones these sit on your ears and houses the drivers within and are one of the three points of contact with your body (2 earcups and the headband).
An earcup can be referred to as circum-aural (sits around the ear) or on-ear (sits in contact with your outer ear)
DAP (Digital Audio Player) –
A DAP is a device used to produce the output of a musical signal. DAPs can be mobile phones, mp3 players tablets, etc. The criteria for audiophiles is usually something that is able to carry a library of music and reproduce it through playback functions with integrated DAC and Amplifier functions. Desirable features are High-resolution format support, low noise, and powerful clean amp section.
Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) –
It can be internal or external (standalone) and is used to convert a digital signal (ie MP3’s/CDs) to analog signals. Usually, the signal coming out of a DAC is then passed through an amplifier before being output through a headphone/earphone/loudspeaker. Click here to read our article on what a DAC does.
Further reading on headphone DAC’s:
Drivers are located inside an earphone or headphone and are essentially the moving part that generates sound waves.
There are multiple different driver types and each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses
Common headphone and driver types and configurations include:
Dynamic – Traditional bone style drivers operated by a magnet. These drivers can have different coatings such as beryllium or ceramics to increase hardness or can just be a paper filter or resin. The material usually has a strong effect on the final sound of an earphone.
Balanced Armature) / BA / Moving iron – These types of drivers are an extremely small piston that sits in a chamber and fires back and forth very fast to create sound. In high-end audiophile headphones, you are likely to see such driver types with multiple BA units in each earpiece or in a hybrid fashion in combination with other driver styles on this list.
Hybrid – When multiple driver types are used in one headphone. This is usually done to cherry-pick the strengths of each driver type. For example, Dynamic drivers usually have great lows and BA units great highs. Manufacturers will tune the drivers to handle the frequencies they are best suited to reproducing.
Earbuds and Earphones –
An in-ear but not in canal listening device is really what an earbud is (think of the original earpods). However, in most online review sights and in popular culture the term earbud can be used internationally to refer to either in-canal or outer canal devices.
Further reading on earphones:
Audiophile on a list of best audiophile earphones.
A headphone is an over or on-ear output device, you know what a headphone is… Variances in design can be on-ear, over-ear, and around the ear. These factors have and affect on style, suitability for purpose, and comfort.
Further reading on Audiophile headphones:
The part of a headphone that goes over the top or behind your head depending on the design.
IEM (In Ear Monitor)/ Earphone –
The Most common of portable listening devices and it usually sits inside the ear canal forming a seal that increases bass and blocks out surrounding sound. It can be worn with cable over the ear or straight down depending on the design and user preference.
A cable used to connect 2 pieces of equipment together – usually a 3.5-3.5 jack.
A jack is most commonly found in 3.5mm form and is the piece that you physically plug into your DAP/Amp. Other less common sizes are 2.5mm (some phones) and 1/4inch(HI-FI), there is no difference sonically to the different jacks but larger ones tend to be more robust over the long term.
A cable designed to access a source line out. Especially popular in Ipod based rigs with a LOD cable leading to an external amplifier.
The pads that sit on the ear cups and make direct contact with your head. Especially important when considering a headphone’s comfort.
The point where the headphone/earphone cable splits into 2 separate wires heading to the left and right channels. You want a good quality splitter so as to provide long term durability to a product.
The part of an earphone that you stick inside your ear canal. Creating a tight seal is essential to getting the most out of your IEM’s.
True Wireless (TWS) –
True wireless earphones, often referred to as TWS earphones are exactly what you expect. They are Bluetooth earphones with no cables to either your source device or between each other. These are especially popular now that fewer and fewer smartphones are including a headphone jack. They have the convenience of full mobility and zero cables.
Resources: Audiophile On True Wireless Earbuds Buyers Guide