If you are a keen headphone user, dedicated headphone amplifiers are by far the best way to listen to high quality audio. And if you fall into this category, then you'll be all too aware of the typically inadequate headsets and internal audio circuitry that comes with smartphones. It's really not surprising; these devices are strictly 'consumer' quality. Smartphones are massively important products for the manufacturers. By massively important, I mean they generate billions in revenue.
Apple didn't become the biggest company in the world through making niche products, nor shoddy, inferior ones, but that doesn't stop the laws of manufacturing and "value engineering' from applying. While companies like Apple have economy of scale on their side, the fact that choosing a cheaper component (or accessory supplier) can save them tens of millions of pounds means that they will employ this approach wherever possible.
Which means they will usually spend more on the eye-catching features than those which probably won't be noticed by the majority of buyers – that would be headphones and digital to analogue converters, in this case.
That's a pity, because anyone who knows anything about digital audio understands that the reason it is so good is that it doesn't degrade. You can make digital copies and they will sound as good as the original. Every audio file on a smartphone is a digital copy. Most files have been the victims of data compression, to save space, but it's absolutely possible now to play uncompressed or losslessly compressed files on phones, too.
And that means that the only barrier between you and near-perfect audio is the audio circuitry in your phone.
There's good news and bad news here. It's mostly good.
There's nothing much you can do to improve the audio components in your phone. They're fixed there. At least one phone manufacturer has a modular system where you can upgrade the audio pathway in your phone, but that's just one smartphone in a sea of other, more popular devices. You can easily upgrade your headphones, but the inevitable consequence of doing that is that you will hear the inadequacies in your phone with more clarity. Good headphones can't make a bad phone sound better.
What's really good about virtually all smartphones, tablets and laptops is that they have some form of digital output. As long as you can have access to a digital representation of the digital music files on your device, then you can process the music externally, which puts you in complete control over how this is done.
The ultimate and entirely practical solution to all of this is to use an external DAC and headphone amplifier. The Chord Mojo is a prime example.
Read more at our sister site, RedShark Sound.