This Month’s Thing To Geek On: The Portable Audio Rig

My Portable Music Rig
Sansa Clip (Original, not ‘+’ version) + Fiio E3 amp + Soundmagic PL11 IEM’s

Just last month, it was an unhealthy obsession on CPU cooling. Now its that thing in the middle you see with a red light on the bottom.

Its 500 pesos worth, powered by one AAA battery, and it makes me keep my mp3 player volume halfway.

Now before I geek on, let me share my history of music gear purchases.

I bought a walkman with my first salary, and then it was snatched during a jeepney commute to work along Aurora Boulevard months later. I had discman’s, I even remember getting a generic one that plays vcd’s and mp3s. I’m not that sure anymore what my first mp3 player was, but maybe it was that wallet-busting 4th gen grayscale 40GB iPod, which I bought primarily because I will be working in China. More than a year after that, I misplaced it. Then, as a cheap alternative, I went for a Creative Zen Stone, which I really didn’t mind having, it served its purpose, but it was only 2GB, and pretty idiot-proof, I remember just setting it aside one day and never picked it up again. More than a year or so ago, I had the full intention of making my Nokia E63 handle my music, since it did come with a 3.5mm socket, but found the sound lacking, but it was sufficient for tuning in to the radio. Middle of last year, I got this puny thing which could be mistaken by anyone as something you could get at the nearest CDR King branch, not knowing that the small (portable) audiophile community hold it in very high regard, not because of its features (text-only screen, no app support, but it does have radio), but because of the sound it provides. Yes silly person, it easily pawns the iPod where it matters: the sound department.

Of course, there are the headphones/earphones. I’ve had several Philips units (cheap price and sound), some Sennheiser buds, and two Sennheiser headphones, an HD201 (closed) and the lightweight and collapsible PX100. I guess the general misconception is that those flimsy-looking, barebone’d headphones don’t hold anything to those bulky, closed ones. WRONG. The PX100 is one of the best I’ve ever owned, so much that I bought another one when my first one got wonky. I also got what appeared to be the budget-but-quality choice of recent years, the Creative EP-630, which marked my entry into IEM’s, or in-ear monitors. Now that’s one to debunk that man-on-the-street with neon-colored audio-headgear impression: these tiny little wired things I put in my ear is technically superior-sounding to yours, and I can easily stash on my jeans’ bolsa-de-relo.

My most recent portable audio rig was a pair of hacked (using the Kramer mod, which involved stuffing part of the earphone barrel with foam) JVC Marshmallow IEM’s, and the Sansa Clip. Out of nowhere, I remembered a friend mention something about headphone amps, and since it didn’t involve much money, I found myself at a gaming stall around MRT Ayala getting a Fiio E3, and a pair if Soundmagic PL11 IEM’s, both included in the photo posted above.

Honestly, I didn’t expect this to be another semi-obsessive gadget frothing-in-the-mouth episode again.

My Portable Music Rig
Fiio E3 amp + Soundmagic PL11 IEM’s

Here’s the rub: the Fiio E3 is a headphone amp that is just a bit bigger than the single AAA battery that powers it, and it gives any audio device (mp3 player, some cellphones, your pc-to-pc-speaker connection) that has a 3.5mm jack more volume, but more importantly, a fuller sound. The Soundmagic PL11‘s are budget IEM’s, but despite its generic-sounding name, these are serious performers at its 800 pesos pricepoint. It does justice to electronic and dance music, as well as jazz. As far as rock is concerned, not much luck. I need brighter -audiophile-speak I learned today- earphones for that. Yes, now you can even listen to rock! See, I was using the largest available tips (the PL11 comes with 7 pairs) since it was sensible to think that that would give me the best sound isolation, but I needed to hear rock. I changed what I was using to the ones encircled in red:

Tested on 90s grunge from the Singles soundtrack, and last year’s Krallice record. The guitars and vocals aren’t so drowned as before. Ahh, here’s where you can tell that the little things do count.

But then you must’ve heard about custom earphones which requires an actual impression of your ears, right?

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Now, I’m constantly scouring two portable audiophile forums: http://www.head-fi.org/ and locally-based http://headphiles.org/. The intent? Look for a better headphone amp, without breaking the bank. The situation so far? Still researching, and waiting for the next payday.

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