There is something to be said for universality. The 3.5mm jack plug is fairly universal. Is there something better? Perhaps. I assume that it’s better for me to connect my E17K to my laptop with the USB cable than it is to use a double-ended jack cable plugged into the auxiliary input of the DAC. Is there a noticeable difference in the quality of the sound from using a USB cable? Probably not, although I’m sure there are machines which can produce graphs that show the sound improves. I do have a pair of Logitech USB headphones (H330), but the earpieces don’t produce especially good sound. The signal from the laptop may be better, but if it’s not being played through better kit, it doesn’t matter.
I thought that USB might replace the 3.5mm jack plug, but it never has, being typically confined to the function of supplying power rather than data. In fact, I believe I have more USB lights than pieces of sound equipment.
Bluetooth seems ridiculously overrated beyond very short distances and direct lines of sight between the transmitter and receiver. It gets rid of real cables, but there are still the limits of virtual ones, and the effects of walls which can so easily disrupt the signal. My X300 Bluetooth speaker can pick up the signal from my iPod Touch from the bedroom so long as it’s outside the door to the study, but once it’s in here, the signal either splutters or dies.
The removal of the 3.5mm socket from the iPhone 7 is worrisome if everyone else follows Apple in assuming that the 3.5mm jack plug is passé. As I said at the top of the post, the 3.5mm jack plug is still fairly universal. All three of my DACs use it; every speaker I own (even the three Bluetooth ones) uses it. Such cables can be used across several devices unlike Apple’s lightning cable which is one of those annoy proprietorial connections.
Perhaps the 3.5mm jack plug doesn’t transmit the best sound, but at what point does better sound cross over from reality to marketing to the gullible? My Sony MDR-1aDAC headphones have both 3.5mm and various digital connections, but an unscientific test with my iPod Touch doesn’t have me leaping out of my seat when I switch from analogue to digital. Frankly, it’s all electronic. The musicons (which are music-bearing particles [Really? –ed.]) travel along the metal wire to the metal connector whether you’re using a jack cable or a lightning one. Again, if there’s a difference, I aver that it’s only something a machine could distinguish.
Here’s a question. If digital sound is meant to be so good, why did Sony have digital inputs for the PHA-1a, but a 3.5mm output for it? Is the PHA-1a a better device than the MDR-1aDAC headphones?
Apart from hardware failure, I expect to be using my current range of kit for a long time to come, 3.5mm jack plugs and all.
Cables and connectors.
Recently, sound from the right-hand H5 speaker had been fading away, which necessitated jiggling the splitter to get the sound back. The speaker then started crackling as well. I thought the fault lay with the 3.5mm jack plug not connecting to the DAC properly, perhaps because of the weight of the cables. However, after some experimenting by switching the cables and connectors around, I found that the problem was the right-hand RCA socket on the splitter.
I had a look on line to see whether there were any sorts of splitters which were recommended, and in the course of that, I discovered cables with RCA sockets at one end and a jack plug at the other which, I thought, might be a means of curing the issue that the weight of the H5 cables has always posed to the connector and how the DAC is placed.
Of course this being China, I couldn’t get exactly what I wanted. It had to be a female-to-female cable (RCA sockets to jack plug socket) and yet another male-to-male jack plug cable. I also indulged myself with a supper [sic!] professional hi-fi cable. Now whether a generic cable connected to a better quality cable is to expect the cart to haul the horse along, I don’t know, but the sound quality has improved, and the bookcase now bears the weight of the H5 cables. The balance has also improved.
My RAR P3s have one of those cylindrical connectors at the back where the wire goes into the hole and the “nut” is screwed into place to hold it. There’s also a hole at the back which appears to be a socket, although I had never seen nor knew what sort of plug might go into it. The answer is a banana plug, which is fitted to the end of the cable, which is held in place with a pair of screws. If I wanted to move the P3s, I kept the speakers connected together because the end of the wire got splayed by screwing it into place, but with the banana plugs, I can easily disconnect the cable and move the speakers a good deal more easily.
It may have been my imagination, but the sound balance from the P3s also improved.