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Lightning Headphones: Are They Better or Just an Inconvenience?
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.