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The battle of the Lightning dongles


For context, I was looking for a DAC/Amp for my iPhone XR in order to see if there’s something better than Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter. I was also curious to see how dongles compare to a TOTL DAP such as A&K’s SP1000M.

I will approach this comparison from the following two angles: “money no object” and “best value” with the conclusion taking into account the latter angle. The DAC/Amps compared are the following which all met the single criteria I had, i.e. a direct Lightning termination:

· Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter / USD $9

· Ikko Zerda ITM03 / USD $99

· Cozoy TAKT C102 / USD $155

SOURCE

Source: iPhone XR / iOS 13.3.1 / VOX Music Player 2.4.3

Headphones & IEMs

A&K T5p, 2nd Gen. with Dekoni Audio Elite Sheepskin pads and 3.5mm, single-ended, stock cable

Campfire Audio Andromeda Special Edition: Gold (silicone tips, medium) with 3.5mm, single-ended, stock cable

Jomo Audio Haka (silicone tips, medium) with Effect Audio Grandioso 3.5mm, single-ended, cable

SONGS

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Never Going Back Again / Quality: 24-Bit 96.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Iron Maiden, Fear Of The Dark, Fear Of The Dark / Quality: 24-Bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Joni Mitchell, Blue, California / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Nina Simone, Pastel Blues, Sinnerman (Live In New York/1965) / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here, Wish You Were Here / Quality: DSD / SACD

Plüm, You’re the one, You’re the one / Quality: 16 bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds Of Silence, Anji / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Stevie Wonder, Talking Book, Superstition (Album Version) / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

Various Artists, Atlantic Jazz: Soul, Comin’ Home Baby (LP Version) / Quality: 16 bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC

BURN-IN

None

Best value

For the price, Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter is unbeatable, period. It’s intimate with a dark / warm signature with matching bass, mids, highs and soundstage.

Everything gets better with Ikko’s Zerda ITM03 compared to Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter. It preserves its darkish / warmish signature while improving on detail, transparency and soundstage. Even the volume increments/steps are an improvement.

Compared to Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter, Cozoy’s TAKT C102 is better yet is no match compared to Ikko’s Zerda ITM03. The TAKT C102 is a bit like the Zerda without the soundstage, perhaps a little less dark / warm though not by a significant margin. Its volume increments/steps are also too big.

Money no object

If money is no object, get a TOTL DAP get the Zerda and invest in the piece of equipment with which you’ll instantly hear the biggest difference: headphones or IEMs. There’s seriously not much difference in-between mid-range DAPs and something like the Zerda if your headphones or IEMs do not require too much power and have 3.5mm, single-ended, terminations. Yes, a TOTL DAP like A&K’s SP1000M is better than anything else I ever tried but is it worth its price in sound? Absolutely not. In this price category, however, money shouldn’t be a factor or it’ll be the beginning of your financial end — you’ve been warned 🙈 🙉 🙊

CONCLUSION

On a tight budget? Stick to Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter for USD $9. If you have a little to spend, get Ikko’s Zerda ITM03 for USD $99.

With that said, if you already have quality music files and/or access to a quality streaming service, again, invest in the piece of equipment with which you’ll instantly hear the biggest difference: headphones or IEMs.

Ikko Zerda ITM03

5/5

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter

4/5

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cozoy TAKT C102

3/5

Rating: 3 out of 5.