Mis à jour le 10 March 2023.
The iFi Audio EarBuddy audio optimizer can be used in between any audio source and pair of headphones or in-ear monitors. The manufacturer promises an effective attenuation of background noise so that you can enjoy true silence with classical music and jazz. It also promises an improved dynamic range for a richer and more lively sound. Sold for only €20, is the iFi Audio EarBuddy as powerful and useful as the brand suggests? We tested it to find out.
Who is iFi Audio?
Created in 2012, iFi Audio has a catalog of over 50 references, including headphone amplifiers, portable headphone amplifiers, USB audio DACs and portable DACs, power adapters and signal filters. Many iFi Audio devices have received awards from the international press, notably the iFi Audio Zen DAC V2, the iFi Audio xDSD portable headphone amp and the iFi Audio ZEN CAN headphone amp.
iFi Audio has made the fight against jitter, noise, distortion and hiss its primary mission in order to improve sound quality as much as possible. Whether you listen to music with hi-fi headphones or wired IEMs, with a DAP or a DAC.
iFi Audio EarBuddy: packaging & accessories
The iFi Audio EarBuddy audio optimizer comes in a small white and orange box alongside several accessories. The latter include a zipper case and an airplane adapter (double mono). The manufacturer also includes a pair of memory foam ear plugs that provide an isolation of -37 dB, which are handy when you want to block out background noise on a train or plane without listening to music. They are also perfect for concerts and anywhere where it isn’t possible to wear a pair of noise cancelling headphones.
iFi Audio EarBuddy: presentation
The EarBuddy is designed to optimize the listening experience with headphones or wired in-ear monitors. It is particularly useful with hi-fi headphones or earphones that have a high sensitivity. Firstly, it eliminates the hiss generated by ground loops and electronic noise. Secondly, it improves the dynamic range for sources that have a digital volume control. This is the case with smartphones, tablets and computers.
The EarBuddy takes the form of a short cable with an angled 3.5mm male mini-jack connector and a straight 3.5mm female jack connector. The build quality is good and both the connectors and the cable seem to be robust. However, the flat cable is less flexible than a cylindrical model.
It uses passive components that have two roles. First, they filter the signal to eliminate background noise. The latter can be heard as a hiss or humming sound in between two tracks and during the release of notes.
The iFi Audio EarBuddy is therefore perfect for the headphone output of a computer, as the many internal components and the power supply tend to create a lot of background noise. It also lets you eradicate audible noise with very sensitive headphones or in-ear monitors that are connected to a powerful headphone amp. The more sensitive the headphones or earphones are, the more they pick up any background noise. The latter can sometimes mask the faintest sounds in the audio recording. The iFi Audio EarBuddy is therefore a valuable accessory when listening to music at moderate volume on the headphone jack of your computer. Or when you want to enjoy a headphone amp with very sensitive headphones or IEMs (100 dB or more).
The second function of the iFi Audio EarBuddy is to apply a high impedance to the source to which it is connected. This increases the impedance load on the amplifier by about 18 ohms. As a result, when transmitted to headphones or earphones, the sound intensity is lower. This means that the volume of the source has to be increased.
Why is this useful? Because of the digital volume control found on computers and smartphones. The latter attenuates the dynamic range at the lowest volume levels. Generally, this occurs below 40% or 50% of the maximum volume. Interposed between the source and the headphones or in-ear monitors, the iFi Audio EarBuddy solves this problem. It obliges you to significantly increase the volume to obtain a satisfactory listening level, allowing you to recover the full dynamic range of the original signal.
Moreover, this increase in impedance is also very useful when using a headphone amplifier and highly sensitive headphones. Without it, you can quickly reach a high sound level with a low volume setting on the amp. By inserting the EarBuddy between the amp and the headphones, the volume can be adjusted more gradually.
iFi Audio EarBuddy: key specifications
- 6N oxygen-free copper
- Gold plated connectors
- MELF resistors
- Male 3.5mm mini-jack input, female 3.5mm jack output
- Input signal noise attenuation
- Input impedance: > 16 ohms
- Output impedance: < 2.7 ohms
- Amplifier loading: ~18 ohms
- Length: 11.6cm
- Weight: 6g
iFi Audio EarBuddy: listening conditions
For our review of the iFi Audio EarBuddy, we used two digital sources: an Android smartphone and a laptop. We also tested it with two headphone amplifiers: one with tubes, and one with transistors. With each source, we used the Focal Elegia headphones then a pair of Meze in-ear monitors. We mostly listened to our music on Qobuz, via the Android app on the smartphone and from Audirvana on the computer.
iFi Audio EarBuddy: our impressions
We didn’t need to try this function with our smartphone, as its headphone output doesn’t generate any audible noise. But with the computer and our two powerful headphone amps, the iFi Audio EarBuddy was incredibly effective! There was no more white noise or hiss with either the IEMs or the headphones. Silence was instantly restored. The sound was calmer, purer, but also more detailed. It seemed to have more punch, something we enjoyed during string instrument attacks on the album Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons. The overall musical message was more balanced, which limited auditory fatigue during long listening sessions.
This accessory is therefore a must for any source with a headphone output that generates unwanted background noise. It will be even more useful with highly sensitive headphones or in-ear monitors.
Dynamic range improvement
With both the smartphone and the computer, the iFi Audio EarBuddy provided a richer and more harmonious sound. It was difficult to quantify, but it was definitely audible. In particular, there was more extension and pronounced impact in the bass. The high frequencies also seemed to flow better and gained both clarity and smoothness.
With the two headphone amplifiers, the improvement wasn’t striking. However, the iFi Audio EarBuddy was ideal for pairing very sensitive headphones or earphones with a powerful headphone amp. It allowed us to enjoy a more progressive volume control with both headphone amplifiers.
Moreover, the EarBuddy unexpectedly resolved another problem. Our tube headphone amplifier has a slight channel imbalance, only at low volume. With the iFi Audio EarBuddy, this is a thing of the past! Because the volume on the amp has to be increased more than usual to achieve a satisfactory sound level, the channel imbalance zone is quickly exceeded. The stereo balance is therefore optimal without having to turn the volume up too high.
iFi Audio EarBuddy: compared to…
This audiophile version of the EarBuddy has many improvements, notably an entirely balanced design with a 4.4mm Penaconn connector. In addition, the conductors are silver plated, the casing is made of an aircraft-grade aluminum-magnesium alloy and the gold plated circuit board features only audiophile-grade components. Lastly, the iFi Audio iEMatch 4.4mm has a gain setting with two positions. These advantages give it the edge over the iFi Audio EarBuddy, but at a much higher price (€69).
iFi Audio EarBuddy: who is it for?
The iFi Audio EarBuddy is primarily designed for people looking to eliminate background noise when listening to music with headphones or IEMs and a smartphone, tablet or computer. With this device they’ll benefit from a wider dynamic range and a purer, more precise sound.
The iFi Audio EarBuddy accessory will also appeal to those who want to pair high sensitivity in-ear monitors or headphones with a powerful amplifier. It will provide a greater range of volume control and a richer, more detailed listening experience.
iFi Audio EarBuddy: conclusion
The iFi Audio EarBuddy keeps its promise to optimize the headphone/IEM listening experience from any audio source. It is all the more essential as the majority of today’s headphones and in-ear monitors have a low impedance and a very high sensitivity. Don’t miss out on this little accessory: at this price, it’s a must!
- The very effective noise reduction
- The versatility and ease of use
- The included case that can hold your IEMs
- The price!
We would have liked
- To have discovered it sooner!