V-MODA SpeakEasy Lightning DAC Cable review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Dec 7, 2018 at 1:56 PM.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    When I read about the V-MODA SpeakEasy Lightning DAC Cable recently, I ordered it without hesitation. I already have several DACs, but only two other examples of an Apple-Lightning DAC cable - the FiiO i1 and the Apple dongle, both of which have a headphone jack input and Lightning plug output. The difference with the SpeakEasy Lightning (SE hereafter) cable is instead of a 3.5mm headphone jack input, it has a 3.5mm headphone plug on the other end. That 3.5mm plug goes into a headphone earcup that supports a detachable headphone cable. There are two distinct physical advantages to the SE cable: Compared to the FiiO i1, which is a 3 ft. long thin cable that adds onto the headphone's default cable, the SE cable is one single fabric-covered 5 ft. long cable. Apple's dongle adds an extremely thin 1.5 inch cable to the headphone's default cable - just as bad as the FiiO design but shorter and thinner.

    I decided to go for the gold and compare the SE cable directly to my DragonFly Red DAC (my DragonFly Black has departed), and although the DF Red is twice the price, the v-moda cable held up very well in the comparison. For testing I used two iPads, one with the DF+camera adapter+standard M100 cable plugged in, and the other with the SE cable plugged in, so all I had to do was swap the 3.5mm plugs going into the headphone earcup. I decided to not compare the SE cable to the FiiO cable, since the Apple dongle (more on that below) equaled or exceeded the FiiO's sound quality in previous tests. All of my test tracks were in 16/44 WAV format.

    I listened for bass impact and detail - they were slightly different, but neither stood out as distinctly better. Some tracks favored the DF and some the SE cable. I have a few reliable tests for midrange tonality, and both DACs were right on the mark. The treble seemed slightly darker on the SE cable, but in my tests for extreme treble (mixed bells, triangles, glockenspiel, etc.) the DF Red was too intense with less-than-ideal separation, whereas the SE cable sounded clearer. Logic would suggest that those treble-test tracks were either too intense for playback on my small portable DACs, or the headphone treble had issues, but I've used those tracks for a few years and they've been pretty reliable in other tests. In any case, the upper treble extension is fine with both DACs.

    One difference I found that will be of interest to acutely aware audiophiles was the soundstage. The DF was larger and more spacious - something along that line, but the difference will be subtle for most users. There is a possibility that a longer burn-in time might open up the sound even more, but I'm already quite satisfied. When I did have the DF Black (same price as the SE cable), I felt that the sound was too grainy, and I didn't get any of that graininess with the SE cable. So this SE cable was a no-brainer purchase for me, and it'll get a lot of use in on-the-go situations where I can be in a quiet place for a time, and enjoy a more serious listen than using Bluetooth only.

    When I finished with the DF Red, I compared the SE cable to Apple's little dongle attached to the M100 cable. Apple's dongle came up short but was close overall - about half as much difference as the previous comparison to the DF Red. The Apple dongle probably uses the same DAC as the older phones and iPods. What was interesting here was the David Chesky/Wonjung Kim recording of Girl From Guatemala - the extreme treble starting at 3:00 sounded more similar between the SE cable and the Apple dongle than the more pronounced difference to the DF Red. Even so, the SE cable was obviously cleaner and clearer. The Apple dongle did compare pretty well with deep bass though.

    In conclusion, I highly recommend the SE cable for those who - like me - want to carry one small durable cable with them for high fidelity listening, with Bluetooth headphones and wired headphones that have detachable cables. At this point in time, a music player/phone/tablet has to have an Apple Lightning input jack to use this cable.

    NOTE: If the SE cable doesn't fit into a headphone's 3.5mm input jack in the earcup, it might be because the jack is too narrow. There are several adapters available on amazon and elsewhere that can resolve this issue. I have three such adapters, and I recommend the Monster adapter that's 3.6 inches long, and the Griffin adapter that's 4 inches long.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018 at 9:52 PM
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