Full disclosure: EarMen sent me a sample of the Sparrow in exchange for my honest opinions. I have no financial interest in EarMen, nor have I been paid to write this review, and as such the views expressed are entirely my own.
I recently made the switch from desktop audio to portable audio permanent – as in, sold all of my desktop gear bar one headphone, and switched my listening from sitting at a desk connected to boxes to sitting anywhere with a DAP and IEMs. Best of all, I did it without compromising on the most important thing in this audiophile hobby: sound quality.
But there’s portable and there’s ultra-portable, which brings me, belatedly, to the subject of today’s review: the EarMen Sparrow, a diminutive dongle half the size of a stick of gum that takes the concept of high-end audio-on-the-go to a new extreme.
I’ve been around this hobby long enough to know that audio dongles are a quick and convenient way of upgrading the sound from your phone or laptop without adding much bulk, often incorporating far more advanced DACs and improved amplification for that specific purpose. More recently, dongles have also been used to compensate for the lack of a headphone jack in most modern smartphones (no thanks to Apple for that one), since anyone who’s serious about sound quality knows the best quality comes from wired headphones, despite the freedom of wireless.
All that said, dongles have never pretended to offer the same level of sound quality as more expensive digital audio players or, for that matter, full-size desktop gear. Moreover, dongles are increasingly being used to improve on the wireless quality of phones and other devices, bridging the gap between wired and wireless headphones on the go.
The EarMen Sparrow does not do wireless. It’s also smaller than most other ‘proper’ dongles (unless you consider Apple’s or Samsung’s headphone adapters proper dongles). So what makes this tiny device so enticing to make you pick it over the many other options available at or around its $199 price point?
Jump the page to find out…