Every story starts somewhere, and for my reviewing career, that was actually with EDC (everyday carry) hobby. The heart of the EDC paradigm is one of preparation and being able to control - to some small extent - our unpredictable lives. There's some measure of this sentiment that goes into my usual setup when I'm attending audio conventions and meetups too. My recent trip to Singapore, for example, forced me to re-evaluate my usual setup, cut it down to the essentials, and pack efficiently. In this post, I'll be sharing a closer look at the main audio gear that I carry when attending these events and the rationale behind where they sit in my workflow.
The gear list for my usual setup is as follows:
- IEC-711 Coupler
- TWS IEM
- Wired IEMs
- iPhone 13 Mini
- Miscellaneous Items
No setup would be complete without a vehicle of transport, for which mine is the GoRuck GR1 Slick. Having previously used a standard GR1 in the wolf grey colorway before opting for a more low-key version in the form of the GR1 Slick, I've become a staunch proponent of this bag. Of course, it's worth noting that this bag won't be for everyone. The GR1 Slick's layout - as its name might imply - is exceedingly simple and it does not have the litany of pockets or bells and whistles that some might be accustomed to with modern tech backpacks. On the bright side, this means that the end-user is able to dictate how the bag is customized to some degree. The real selling point of GoRuck's bags, though, are their rugged construction. They're overbuilt far more than any average user (myself included) could throw at the bag. For me - again, as someone who hails from the EDC hobby - owning the GR1 is mostly predicated on this notion of reliability.
The GR1 Slick does have a couple nifty features, though, one of which is its laptop compartment where I store my M1 Macbook Air. This compartment unzips from a clever back panel (which has an additional frame sheet for stability) at the back of the pack. Stack on the tough 1000D Cordura fabric of the backpack, plus a false bottom to prevent shock when setting the backpack down, and you have nothing less than a laptop stronghold.
The main purpose of my Macbook Air at these audio events is, of course, to take frequency response measurements. This requires use of an IEC-711 coupler and the accompanying adapters. I store this equipment in a standard Pelican 1010 case. The case is the perfect size and it's a tried-and-true case touted for its durability. This usually just gets dumped in the main compartment of the bag, alongside my water bottle and a sweatshirt to afford some margin of padding.
Moving to the other compartments of the bag, at the top is where I store my IEMs.
My default IEMs when I'm on the go are usually a combination of the Apple AirPods Pro, 64Audio A4s, or Moondrop Variations. They each have earned a spot in my rotation - even the APP, which might surprise some readers given that TWS and audiophile don't usually mix. That in mind, from the perspective of pure sound quality, I'd attest that the APPs are perfectly competent as a daily driver. They have a neutral-warm signature that, at the very least, doesn't offend - which I can't say for the vast majority of even standard IEMs I've heard. But of course, the real selling point of the APP lies in their convenience. They're just so easy to pop into my ears and they pair seamlessly with my iPhone 13 Mini.
Speaking of which, I obviously use the GOAT (aka the Apple Dongle) with my wired IEMs. The A4s is usually my first choice when comfort and bass are a priority. They're custom IEMs, so they conform perfectly to my ears' anatomy, and I can easily wear them for 5+ hours without an issue. On the other hand, the Moondrop Variations is usually my choice of IEM for running A/B comparisons. The rationale behind this decision is pretty simple. It's tuned to the Harman in-ear target very closely, and it has no egregious peaks or valleys to its frequency response. It happens that 1) I'm very familiar with this type of sound signature, and 2) this makes it easy to discern for differences in frequency response compared to other IEMs. I almost like to think of it as a palate cleanser between sets, especially when I've just listened to a very colored one.
Admittedly, I don't listen using my DAP very often. Let's face it: DAPs are niche devices, and it doesn't help that the DX300 - my choice of DAP - is difficult to pocket due to its not-so-subtle 162mm x 77mm x 17mm dimensions. The main reason why I even own one is because I'm a reviewer and it's convenient having access to every common termination on the go. This is especially useful at shows when I never know what cable termination's going to be on a given IEM. The DX300's also one of the snappier DAPs on the market thanks to its Snapdragon 660 processor (which is several years behind the market, but pretty good by DAP standards). You might see there's something of an ironic dichotomy here. DAPs aren't practical, but the DX300 is as practical as it gets for my use cases! Anyways, I won't comment too much on sound quality, which is very subjective, but I do enjoy the perceived airer, more open nature of the DX300's presentation. Normally I throw my DX300 in the main compartment or in the outer slash pocket of the GR1.
Outside of the "main" gear, there are some small odds and ends that I like to carry around with me. First is a plastic battery case that I've repurposed for storing ear tips. It's always best practice to use your own ear tips where possible for hygiene reasons (especially at shows where tips exchange so many ears!). I also carry a case for my glasses just in case, as I've realized that wearing contacts at shows and meetups is usually the way to roll. Especially due to COVID, wearing a mask has become the norm. Glasses + mask + IEMs tends not to be very comfortable. It's a similar scenario with headphones; furthermore, achieving a proper seal is usually more difficult while wearing glasses.
The Bottom Line
You might be wondering why I haven't talked about the knife, the watch, and the flashlight which make up the other components of my on-person EDC. The answer to that is because they're not really audio related. To me, they're more a segue from the closure of one hobby and into the start of another; in this respect, my on-person EDC has not changed much the last few years. After years prior rotating through gear weekly and constantly chasing the dragon, at some point, I just found satisfaction. I know, it's hard to believe! But I'm still not done chasing that dragon in audio and, for now, the work setup I've described above is what'll be carrying me through that journey.