Lightning Headphones: Are They Better or Just an Inconvenience?

According to some rumors, Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will not include a headphone jack, requiring headphones to connect to the devices using a Lightning connector. In light of these rumors, we've taken a look at several different pairs of Lightning-connected headphones to explore the benefits and drawbacks of an iPhone with no headphone jack.

In the video below, we compare headphones at three price points: the $45 Brightech earphones, the $300 Philips Fidelio M2L headphones, and the $800 Audeze El-8 headphones to offer some insight into how they sound compared to headphones connecting with a 3.5mm headphone jack.


Apple has perhaps been preparing for the removal of the headphone jack since 2014, when it introduced a Made for iPhone specification to allow third-party manufacturers to create headphones with Lightning connectors instead of 3.5mm headphone jacks.

While Lightning-connected headphones can only be used with iOS devices and prevent the devices from being charged while in use, two obvious negatives, there are also some significant benefits.

Our iPhones today include a 3.5mm headphone jack with a built-in digital to analog converter, or DAC, for playing music, which is then amplified through a built-in amp. Size and cost constraints associated with the 3.5mm headphone jack limit the quality of the DAC and amp, but in Lightning-connected headphones, the DAC and the amp are built into the headphones themselves instead of the iPhone, allowing manufacturers to control sound quality.

In our tests, all of the Lightning-connected headphones, from the $45 pair to the $800 pair, sounded better than comparable headphones connected to an iPhone using the 3.5mm jack, so while many of us may be disappointed with the inconvenience of no headphone jack, at least there's the silver lining of better quality audio when using Lightning-connected headphones.

Note: Philips provided MacRumors with the Philips Fidelio M2L headphones free of charge for the purposes of this hands-on test. Audeze provided MacRumors with a loaner set of the El-8 headphones which were returned at the conclusion of testing and the Britech headphones were purchased by MacRumors. No other compensation was received.

Top Rated Comments

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57 months ago
While Lightning-connected headphones can only be used with iOS devices - that's more than just an inconvenience, it makes them useless for using on anything else but an iPhone
Score: 76 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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57 months ago
As someone who listens to music at work with headphones while charging...no thanks.
Score: 62 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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57 months ago

It's the age of bluetooth headsets now, cut the cords!

Can you find me a pair of bluetooth earbuds that sound better or just as good as corded ?
Score: 43 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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57 months ago
It's the age of bluetooth headsets now, cut the cords!
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
57 months ago
Utter fanboy BS...

Removing the headphone jack doesn't make sense, even when you consider audio quality.

The DAC/AMP in the iPhone is 'meh' because of component cost, space limitations and heat output. Moving the DAC/AMP to the headphone doesn't lessen these constraints significantly. The lightening headphones may have sounded better than the 3.5mm cable, but an external DAC/AMP (portable or desktop) would blow them out of the water. Oh, and what is going to power these new DAC/AMPs? That's yet another limiting constraint, so you can't improve the sound quality without a significant hit to battery performance. Then you have upgrade issues -- what happens if you want to upgrade the DAC/AMP? You have to buy a new set of headphones, and one that only works with iOS devices.

You know what I like about 3.5mm headphones?
- They work with nearly all sources from various manufacturers
- They do not need to be charged, no batteries to replace
- They are capable of greater sound quality by virtue of external DAC/AMP combinations
- They don't need to be replaced should the DAC/AMP become outdated

And the most obvious point... this entire discussion is completely moot when the source file is anything less than Lossless. The vast majority of iPhone users use compressed files, so you can't retrieve detail that isn't there to begin with.

Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
57 months ago

I don't understand what's wrong with the wireless/Bluetooth headphone option?

An additional device with battery you need to keep track of, shorter battery life on the phone itself, doesn't handle interference well, and tends to suffer from distortion when simultaneously using wifi.

The latter two will become more common the more regular BT headsets become.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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