More Audiophile iPad Play!

What's new?
The new iPad is generally an incremental upgrade over the iPad 2. Key benefits include a higher resolution display, faster processing and graphics performance, an improved camera, 4G connectivity, and a built in voice to text dictation feature. None of that has any impact on the ways an audiophile might use the device, though the text to speech function might help Tyll get his reviews written more easily. [Ed. Note: It isn't the typing that's slowing my brain down, it runs slow all by itself. I might give it a go though. Thanks] In my view the most significant change brought by the new iPad is the driving down of prices for the iPad 2. If you look carefully enough on the Apple website you will see the 16GB iPad 2 selling for $399. That's $100 less than it was a few months ago, and low enough where it might deserve consideration for use in your audio setup. Whether using the new iPad, the iPad 2, or even the "ancient" original model, the experience should be similar for our purposes.

As I covered in my original iPad article, there are tons of great things to do with the device. The Camera Connection Kit as well as the digital docks from various companies allow the iPad to interface with outboard DACs, thus becoming a very functional digital transport. The plethora of available remote control apps allow the user to command practically any other device from a distance. One can stream decent quality music from services like MOG and Spotify. A portable headphone amp combined with a Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solo makes for a truly high quality transportable system. And the iPad placed in a speaker dock can bring decent enough sound to rooms in your house that might otherwise remain quiet. All of these functions are still applicable with the new iPad.

Starting Out
If you are new to the Apple device, the very first essential item I suggest is a Line-Out Dock. These connectors allow you to bypass the headphone amp circuitry of the unit, instead pulling a clean line level signal straight from the internal DAC. This will allow optimal pairing with external amps. They come in many shapes and sizes: searching eBay will show dozens of options, many of which are $10 or less. Yet there are also plenty of models available for hundreds of dollars. This really comes down your philosophy on cables and whether or not they influence the sound quality. There are also corresponding differences such as build quality, termination, length, and plain old good looks.

I've shown two extremes in the picture above: the small white cable was a free pack-in that came with a portable amp. It's thin, feels cheap, has a roughly 5 inch cable length, and terminates with a mini-jack connector---obviously intended for use on the go. The big fancy cable is a model from the Cablepro Freedom series. It is 3 feet long and terminated with RCA plugs for use with home equipment like a desktop amp. Durability and aesthetics are miles ahead of the cheap option and many folks would say it sounds better due to the much higher quality materials used. It certainly inspires confidence that it won't be the weak link in the chain. I don't intend to open that can of worms here, but I do think that both of these cables have some usefulness. I wouldn't regularly use the cheap cable to connect my iPad to a $1,500 amp and $1,200 headphones, but it is useful to carry around to work or a friend's house, and I wouldn't be sad if I lost it---not the case with the Cablepro option. The right tool for the right job I always say.

br777's picture

Obviously not all audiophiles are musicians, or vise-verse, but one more major music related reason to buy an ipad is the fact that there are an enormous amount of professional audio creation apps available.

John Grandberg's picture
It's not something I use my iPad for, but there are quite a few apps and things related to music production. I imagine most home studio situations would get a lot of use out of the device that way. Thanks for bringing it up!
Willakan's picture

I'm all for paying a little extra for cable durability, but $120 before shipping seems a little excessive!

John Grandberg's picture
It all comes down to your philosophy on the matter. I'm sure we can find some audiophiles out there who would scoff at "merely" paying $120. Do what works best for you.
mward's picture

John, great, detailed writeup, but I take issue with your assessment of the new iPad as an incremental update. Admittedly, the new iPad is all about the new display, but in a product that is defined by its display, such a drastic improvement should not be written off as incremental. The iPad 2 had a display with the pixel count of a monitor from a decade ago; the new iPad has a display that has more pixels than a 1080p HDTV.

I've found the difference remarkable. If that doesn't count as something more than an incremental improvement, I'd be interested to know what Apple needs to add to go beyond an incremental update.

Although personally I'd love to see the USB port have enough power to drive a headphone amp/DAC :-)

Justin@HeadAmp's picture

The iPad will power the Pico DAC/Amp w/ the camera connection kit :)

John Grandberg's picture
I guess I was expecting the quad core CPU that was rumored to be coming with the new model. A display update is great.... Yet at the same time I never felt the iPad 2 display lacking. So it's one of those things. At this point I admit that it will be exceedingly difficult for Apple to EVER come up with something that is really game changing, revolutionary instead of just evolutionary. And if they do there is a risk that half the people won't even like it,since the old way is so ingrained. In any case I appreciate your perspective.
PredatorZ's picture

I really like the Ipads for what they are, but see the small memory as a major drawback, 16 to 64 Gigs( and the premium apple charges for memory and no SD slots is a crime, IMHO) is a tiny fraction of my lossless files and I wouldn't use it for serious listening for that reason alone, I love my Ipod classic and 160 Gigs of storage, sure it wont do the fancy EQ, but I enjoy my music as is, sure some recordings have messed up production and might benefit from some EQ. For me if I get to caught up in the gadgets I tend to loose the connection to the music, I love to get lost in the listening for hours, sometimes ignorance is bliss. For travel and when I need video access, I use an MSI Netbook with 500 Gig Drive, sure it isnt as slick as the apple gadgets, but really gets the job done, and with Win7 on all my devices, homegroup makes moving files around a breeze.

John Grandberg's picture

I wouldn't recommend buying an iPad with the intent of strictly using it as a dedicated music server only. You're right - simply not enough built-in space for that. A netbook, or a Squeezebox Touch, or any number of other devices are better suited. Yet there are ways around this - Home Sharing and UPnP are two methods of storing your library elsewhere and accessing through the iPad.

My point is merely this - plenty of people have an iPad already. Why not learn to make the most of it?

PredatorZ's picture

No Truer words have ever been spoken, surely part of the fun is squeezing everything you can out of your devices potential,

Cheers :)

SeanNY's picture


I agree with all of your points, especially on getting the most out of a device many of us already own.

My iPad is basically the world's-best remote control, for a Mac mini connected (via asychronous USB) to my home stereo. I use "Remote" to control iTunes on my Mini, and a 1.5TB drive connected to the Mini ensures I never run short of space for my uncompressed music.

If I want to listen to music on MOG or Pandora, I use Splashtop remote to control those programs, which are located on the Mini. the advantage of this is that my Mini is ethernet connected to Fios, so I don't get the dropouts I was sometimes getting when I streamed the music from the iPad. Also, MOG is cheaper on a desktop than on a mobile device.

I also put an Airport Express behind my stereo, which is connected by toslink cable. Whenever I watch a video on my iPad, I switch the stereo DAC input from USB to TOS and listen to the video through my stereo.


Considering the quality of the DAC inside the iPad, can you really hear the difference between, say 320kbps files and lossless, or high resolution? I can hear the difference on my stereo, but not on the iPad using the headphone output. Can you hear it with the Line-Out cables?

Put another way, at what point does the sound quality of the iPad DAC become the weak link in the chain?

John Grandberg's picture

Great comment! I really like Splashtop as well. I hadn't used it much until recently so I didn't include it in the article. Now that I've got more experience with it, I highly recommend it.

Good point about getting the cheaper $5/month version of MOG by using that method.

As for your question:

Opinions about SQ will obviously differ from person to person. In my view, the iPad DAC sounds pretty stinking good. They use a Cirrus Logic embedded solution (CS42L63 to be exact) which is surely better than what you'll find in the average soundcard, CD, or DVD player. Is it audiophile grade? Depends on your definition I guess. But if you Google "iPad RMAA" you can see some real world examples of how well it performs.

In my case, I've honestly never sat down and done a specific test of 320k, FLAC, and hi-res material on the iPad. I mostly use the FLAC playback apps because that's the format I store my library in, so it saves me a conversion. It's worth noting that hi-res material will generally be recorded and mixed exceedingly well, often superior to their redbook siblings. So even if the iPad is a bottleneck for hearing the improvement based on sample rate, it will likely still sound better for that reason.

The Federalist's picture

John, I've been using the CCK with my ipad for a few months and rip all my cd's to Apple lossless format but dont think i am making the best use of itunes for some reason... are there other places you can buy higher quality music that can be stored in an itunes... that actually has a decent library of modern music... i.e. not HD Tracks? also when you buy an AAC file from itunes is there any point to converting it to lossless format

es347's picture

I just downloaded Capriccio and can't figure out how to have it access all the FLAC files that are on my iPad presently being played by FLAC Player.  How do you get Capriccio to shake hands with all those files?  Thanks.

Further does FLAC Player play 24/96 files?

Alberto Martinez's picture

Hi, I got my DraglonFly Works with ipad and CCK. I only see FLAC Player App and AmpliFLAC are able to use external USB DAC as magenta color show 96kHz. Is there other FLAC Apps do the SAME¿

Kalzang's picture

Hi Please let me know how to connect Dragon fly to iPad via lightning bolt Apple connection. Dragon Fly has USB 2.0 male port, works extremely well with Apple mac.

Alberto Martinez's picture

HI KALZANG, between the lightning cable and DragonFly you need powered USB hub.
I am using this one and it works perfectly>