Wireless earbuds and headphones have been the talk of the town since Apple’s iPhone 7 launched. For many audiophiles who need the best possible sound, you may still prefer to use your wired headphones. That normally means using the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone adapter, however there’s a better option to keep your wired functionality while improving your listening experience on the iPhone. Enter Nexum’s AQUA; the portable, battery-less, headphone amplifier looking to take your audio experience further.

AmazonBasics Nylon Braided Lightning Cable

The AQUA headphone amplifier first started out as a Kickstarter project before becoming available to all. The AQUA headphone amp has a silky-smooth MacBook Pro-like metallic finish providing a premium feel in hand. The built-in playback controls have a distinct and satisfying click reminiscent of the iPhone 4/4S volume buttons.

Even with the impressive external construction, I remained skeptical about how much the AQUA headphone amplifier could improve my iPhone’s sound. I was thinking a battery-less amp wouldn’t pump out amazing sound unless it was driven by an external power source. To my surprise, I was wrong. Starting the test, I began with a pair of original 3.5mm EarPods. The headphones plug into the AQUA’s 3.5mm headphone jack and the amp’s Lightning cable into the bottom of the iPhone.

On first listen, I didn’t recognize anything special. The song I’ve heard hundreds of times before sounded the same as it always did. Then came the song’s breakdown and it all became apparent. The chorus and bass-heavy breakdown rang loud and clear in my EarPods in a way they never did before. The treble range felt louder and sounded clearer and bass came in with a renewed and smooth strength making my music feel ‘fresh.’ Only in the mids could I not hear an audible improvement. I continued testing between my EarPods being plugged in directly to my old iPhone 5s, and then being plugged into the AQUA amp. Every single time I could hear the difference the amp provided.

I eventually moved onto testing the AQUA with the headphones I use whenever I mix music, the TASCAM TH02-B. I’ve been a fan of the TASCAMs primarily because of the low price, and the fact that nearly all music sounds evenly ‘flat.’ With the AQUA amp, the TH02-B felt like overall sound quality was taken up a notch. I was afraid that the amp might throw the EQ for a loop, but it wasn’t an issue. The AQUA amp once again performed well, from in-box earbuds to third-party headphones.

The AQUA headphone amplifier comes in at an affordable price point of $89.99, something I can personally justify with the sharp design and improved audio quality. This is the first portable headphone amplifier I’ve personally tested, especially because the alternative Lightning compatible competitors are in prohibitively high price ranges.

If you’re looking to continue using your favorites headphones with your iPhone 7’s only port, then look no further than the AQUA headphone amplifier. Those who haven’t upgraded to the 7 and 7 Plus just yet, can still use the AQUA on their iPhones and iPads that include a Lightning port.

The AQUA headphone amplifier by Nexus is available in silver for $89.99.


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