IEMs have become the go-to listening devices for enthusiasts and professionals in recent years. They have a small form factor that is easy to carry around, but they have a large and detailed sound that can compete with full-sized headphones.
If you are coming from our “Best IEMs” articles or if you are just wondering what additional accessories you can buy to improve the overall experience, then you have come to the right place. In this list, we have accessories that help improve the overall IEM experience as well as accessories that help protect your IEMs.
We have four recommended accessories. These accessories are ear tips, carrying cases, upgrade cables, and USB Dongle DAC/Amps. We will also be recommending top models and top brands of each accessory, so keep on scrolling to learn more.
If you haven’t checked out our other articles, or if you are looking to shop for some IEMs, then we have dedicated articles for different price ranges. We have The Best IEMs Under 50 USD for Beginners, Best IEMS Under 200 USD for more advanced users, and Best IEMs Under 300 USD for more serious listeners. Make sure to check those articles out.
Third-Party Ear Tips
An essential IEM accessory on this list is ear tips. This accessory directly interacts with your ear whenever you use an IEM. Therefore you must acquire ear tips that provide maximum comfort and isolation.
In this section, we will be tackling why establishing a proper fit is important, as well as how ear tips influence the sound of an IEM. We will also briefly tackle the types of ear tips and our recommended brands.
(This is only a summary of the topic. For a more in-depth look at ear tips, head over to our dedicated Ear Tips FAQ).
Why a Proper Fit is Important
Having a proper seal is extremely important. Without a proper seal, you will not be able to enjoy the sound quality of the IEM fully. Several aspects of the IEM may be lacking, particularly the low frequencies. This applies to all universal IEMs regardless of the price and brand.
Note: If you are having difficulties with finding the right IEM ear tips, you can also opt for a Custom IEM.
Ear Tips Influence the Sound of the IEM
Just like earpads for headphones, ear tips can alter several characteristics of the sound of the IEM. These slight changes can even be observed in frequency response graphs. Some tips can slightly tame the high-end while some tips can make the low end more prominent.
Even IEM companies are labeling the stock tips that come with their IEM depending on how they alter the sound. BGVP Audio and Fiio are some of the companies that are known for doing this (particularly in the DM series and FH series).
Types of Eartips
Silicone ear tips are the most common IEM ear tips. They are almost always included in mainstream universal IEMs. They come in several sizes to address different ear shapes.
Since these tips are meant to be a universal option, people with odd ear shapes may find it challenging to find the right ear tip size. Also, due to their material, silicone ear tips are easier to clean and are safe to wear for long periods.
Foam tips are another type of ear tips commonly included with IEMs. They are also available via third-party manufacturers. The main advantage of foam tips over silicone tips is their flexibility.
Foam tips also come with different sizes. However, unlike silicone tips, foam tips mold into the shape of your ear. This increases isolation and comfort, giving you an experience close to a Custom IEM experience.
However, there is a downside with foam tips. Foam tips are harder to clean, and they break easily. There is no getting around this. If you enjoy the experience that foam tips give, then you have to make sure that you have plenty of extras.
Hybrid ear tips combine the best attributes of foam and silicone ear tips. The outer covering is made of silicone while the inside is made of foam. This design allows the ear tips to be easily cleaned without sacrificing the flexibility of the foam underneath. These ear tips will also last longer compared to foam ear tips.
The downside with hybrid tips is that they are not always easy to find. Well established manufacturers like Spinfit do not manufacture hybrid ear tips. Some companies make hybrid ear tips such as Symbio, but the selection is generally smaller compared to silicone ear tips.
Spinfit – Most Recommended Silicone Ear Tips
Spinfit produces some of the best quality silicone ear tips. They are a significant upgrade over stock ear tips found on most IEMs. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. If you prefer silicone ear tips, then you will find something that fits your personal preferences and your IEMs with Spinfits.
Comply – Most Recommended Foam Ear Tips
Comply is the most well-known manufacturer of foam tips. They offer a wide range of foam tips that are compatible with most IEM models. Their foam tips are also significantly more durable compared to other competing brands.
Dekoni is primarily known for its high-quality earpad replacements for popular brands like Sennheiser. They are replicating their success by creating high-quality foam tips for IEMs and TWS earbuds such as the Apple AirPods Pro. Their selection is smaller, but their ear tips are comparable to leading brands such as Comply.
Final Audio is primarily known for its class-leading IEMs and headphones. They have one of the most comfortable and high-quality stock silicone ear tips. These ear tips rival even some of the best brands like Spinfit. Luckily, these ear tips are also available for purchase. Check on eBay
JVC Spiral Dots
Spiral Dots is another popular choice for silicone ear tips. They have an alternate feel over Spinfits. Some users are claiming that these have a better fit but less isolation compared to Spinfits. The quality of the materials is high-quality and is comparable to Spinfits.
Symbio – Best Hybrid Ear Tips
Hybrid ear tips are not as popular as silicone or foam ear tips, which means they are harder to find. Luckily, there are still reputable brands such as Symbio who are delivering consistent and high-quality ear tips. Check out Symbio if you want to get the best attributes of silicone and foam tips. Check on eBay
Hard Case/Soft Case
Most IEMs are well built. They can take a reasonable amount of abuse and will typically survive the harsh environments of daily commutes. However, the best way to protect your investment is by placing your IEMs in a protective case.
Having a protective case allows you to separate your gears from the rest of the things you carry around in your bag. Not only will it prevent scratches on the faceplates, but it will also prevent your cables from getting tangled or damaged.
Brands like Campfire Audio, QDC, and Fiio, already include an excellent carry case with their IEMs. However, if you carry lots of additional accessories such as spare ear tips, DAPs, or extra IEMs, then you may want to opt for larger cases.
If you are dealing with more premium IEMs such as the ones in the 400 USD and up, you may want to invest in a hard case. Hard cases from brands such as Pelican can provide more protection compared to soft cases. They will more likely protect your IEMs from accidental drops and water damage.
Pelican is one of the most well-known brands when it comes to professional cases. They make cases for different kinds of accessories, such as professional audio equipment. Their smallest case can fit IEMs, DAPs, and other accessories. If you want the most protection for your gear, check Pelican Cases out.
DD Audio C-2019, C-2020
DD Audio is a newcomer when it comes to IEM accessories. However, their products are proving to be high quality and competent. Their cases are large and have enough compartments to store different accessories such as IEMs, cables, and DAPs. If you need a soft case that can carry multiple accessories, then check out DD Audio’s cases.
Tin Hifi Leather Case
If you prefer a more lightweight carrying case, then Tin Hifi is offering a luxurious feeling compact leather case. Tin Hifi is primarily known for making great bang for the buck products. Their included carry cases are high-quality, so you can expect that their leather cases and other third-party cases to be even better.
The very first thing that usually breaks in headphones and earphones is the cable. Thankfully, most modern IEMs feature a detachable cable, which makes cable replacement easier. And since most IEMs have adapted to this kind of design, manufacturers have also started making upgrade cables.
Upgrade cables provide lots of benefits to IEMs. However, there are lots of controversies surrounding upgrade cables. We will be tackling all of those in this section, and we will help you decide whether or not you need to upgrade cables.
(For a more in-depth look at ear tips, head over to our dedicated IEM Cables FAQ).
Why Buy Upgrade Cables
Upgrade cables are arguably built better compared to most stock cables. Some IEMs, even high-end ones, tend to have a lackluster cable. This is because most manufacturers are investing more in the drivers and the overall form factor of the IEM.
Cable manufacturers, on the other hand, have more freedom in terms of the materials that they want to use for their cables. Therefore, in most cases, they can build a superior feeling cable with higher-quality components.
One of the more controversial benefits of an upgrade cable is that it makes your IEMs sound better. There is no concrete evidence to support this claim, so we highly suggest that you refrain from buying cables to improve the sound quality of your IEMs.
Balanced connectivity, on the other hand, has more noticeable results. The balanced output on most DAP and DAC/Amps usually has more power and has a slightly different sound compared to the 3.5mm unbalanced output. Manufacturers utilize a different termination for balanced amplification to prevent damage when accidentally using unbalanced cables. If you want to achieve a different sound by swapping out cables, then make sure to switch to a balanced cable.
Common Types of IEM sockets
There are different types of sockets used by different companies. Each of these sockets has its pros and cons. However, all of these sockets are used by different manufacturers and are proven to be reliable connectors. Take note of which socket your IEM uses before you buy an upgrade cable.
Micro-Mini Coaxial (MMCX) was the preferred socket for earlier IEM designs. It was commonly seen in Shure and Westone universal IEMs. Several companies, such as Campfire Audio, still utilize the MMCX socket since it is more secure than 2-Pin.
One of the problems of the MMCX connection is that the socket may eventually wear out. This will result in dropouts in sound whenever the socket can’t establish a firm connection. Another problem is that MMCX is generally harder to remove compared to 2-pin.
The 2-Pin socket is commonly preferred in modern Chi-Fi IEMs and in Custom IEMs. The reason for this is because the 2-Pin socket is easier to remove and does not move around like MMCX. 2-Pin also does not encounter the wearing out issue that is seen on older MMCX IEMs.
However, the 2-Pin socket is considered to be more fragile than MMCX. Make sure that you are careful when removing the cable since there is a possibility to bend or break the pins.
QDC Reverse 2-Pin
QDC has attempted to address the 2-Pin socket’s durability issues by making their customized version. The result is the QDC Reverse 2-Pin socket. This socket is found in all QDC IEMs and CIEMs. However, some companies such as TRN have started to incorporate this design into their IEMs. If this socket is proven to be more effective, then it is likely that more companies will adopt this socket.
If you want to purchase a cable with a different socket from your IEM, then you can simply buy adapters. Make sure to purchase high-quality adapters to prevent any damages in the cable or any dropouts in the signal.
Types of Termination
Unbalanced cables terminate via 3.5mm. This is the most common type of termination and is usually utilized by most IEM stock cables. Unlike balanced terminations, 3.5mm cannot be converted to 2.5mm or 4.4mm. Attempting to do so may cause permanent damage to your device.
Balanced 2.5 mm
The 2.5mm balanced connection is currently the standard balanced connection that is found in most DAPs, DAC/Amps, and headphone amplifiers. High-end DAPs such as Astell & Kern’s offerings typically support this connection. The balanced 2.5mm termination can be converted to 4.4mm in order to be used with devices that only have a 4.4mm balanced output (Sony’s DAPs, for example, only have a 4.4mm balanced output).
Balanced 4.4 mm
The 4.4mm balanced connection or pentaconn connection is a newer type of termination developed by Sony. It is primarily designed to be an alternative to the 2.5mm connection. It is sturdier and does not break as easily as the 2.5mm termination.
4.4mm can be seen in Sony amplifiers and DAPs such as the ZX502 and WM1A. However, companies such as Fiio are adapting the 4.4mm balanced connection with the M11, M11 Pro, and M15.
Just like the 2.5mm balanced termination, 4.4mm can be converted to 3.5mm unbalanced. It can also be converted to 2.5mm balanced.
When Not to Buy Upgrade Cables
We do not recommend buying upgrade cables if you have budget IEMs (typically those that retail for less than 200 USD). As mentioned earlier, there is no concrete evidence that proves that upgrade cables improve the sound of IEMs. Therefore, budget IEMs will not sound better even if they are equipped with top-tier budget cables.
If you need to replace the cable of your budget IEMs due to a faulty or damaged stock cable, then make sure that the upgrade cables that you will buy will not be as expensive or more expensive than your budget IEMs.
Effect Audio – Best High-End
Effect Audio is the most well-known manufacturer of third party cables. Their cables are known for their quality build and high-end components. They are also known to be one of the most expensive third-party cable brands. If you have a high-end IEM, then Effect Audio is one of the best cables to pair them with.
OE Audio – Best Budget
OE Audio is a new company that is primarily focusing on upgrade cables. Their cables are significantly less expensive compared to ALO Audio and Effect Audio’s offerings. However, with the high-quality build and materials used on their cables, they are proving to be a competent newcomer in the upgrade cable market.
ALO Audio is one of Campfire Audio’s partners. They make some of the best cables and are competent with brands such as Effect Audio. These cables are best paired with Campfire Audio IEMs.
USB Type-C/Lightning DAC/Amp
The final accessory on this list is USB Type-C/Lightning DAC/Amps. Most IEM users utilize their smartphone for music playback. However, smartphones are not optimized for high fidelity music playback.
Aside from not having a headphone jack, most smartphones also do not have a high-quality DAC (some phones such as the LG V Series are an exception). One of the most common ways to address this is by purchasing a Digital Audio Player (DAP) or by purchasing a portable DAC/Amp. However, those devices have their downsides that may detract from the overall listening experience. (You can learn more in our Smartphone vs. DAC/Amp article).
The perfect middle ground between DAPs and portable DAC/Amps are USB Type-C and Lightning DAC/Amps. They are significantly smaller than portable DAC/Amps like the Chord Mojo but still allows you to utilize your smartphone’s interface, which is faster than most DAPs.
Lotoo Paw S1
Lotoo is a company that is primarily known for high-end DAPs such as the Lotoo Paw Gold Touch. They are translating their success and expertise in the DAP market into the portable DAC/Amp market. With its premium components and premium materials, the Lotoo Paw S1 is shaping up to be the best sounding product in this section.
Audirect Atom Pro
The Audirect Atom Pro is a new addition in Audirect’s line of portable DAC/Amps. The Atom Pro is one of the smallest options on this list. Despite its smaller size, it has enough power for even more demanding headphones. If you want the most convenient option without sacrificing audio quality, then the Audirect Atom Pro is one of the best products on this list.
Like Lotoo, Ibasso is another DAP manufacturer that is trying out their hand in the USB DAC dongle market. With the DC01, they are attempting to bring the sound quality of their DAPs to smartphones. It is bulkier than other options, but both the materials and sound quality are more premium. Also, if you are looking for a balanced option, Ibasso also offers the DC02, which has a 2.5mm balanced connection instead of 3.5mm.
Hidizs is one of the early adopters of the USB DAC smartphone dongle. They have refreshed their lineup and are ready to compete with the newer models. Compared to the older Hidizs Sonata, the Hidizs S3 has a better DAC chip and more driving power for high impedance headphones. If you are looking for a premium sounding option without breaking the bank, then the Hidizs S3 is a great option.
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s