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

big-ted Avatar
62 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)
levitynyc Avatar
62 months ago
As someone who listens to music at work with headphones while charging...no thanks.
Score: 62 Votes (Like | Disagree)
big-ted Avatar
62 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)
hybroid Avatar
62 months ago
It's the age of bluetooth headsets now, cut the cords!
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nope7308 Avatar
62 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)
Exhale Avatar
62 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)

Top Stories

lg wing

LG Considering Exit From Smartphone Business, Halts LCD Production for iPhone

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:38 am PST by
LG is considering exiting the smartphone business entirely amid declining shipments and accrued losses of $4.5 billion over the past five years (via The Korea Herald). LG CEO Kwon Bong-Seok cautioned staff earlier today that the company is re-evaluating its presence in the smartphone industry: Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about...
google maps detailed street level e1611052089473

Google Maps Gains Enhanced Street-Level Detail in Four Major Cities

Tuesday January 19, 2021 2:34 am PST by
Google Maps has quietly been updated to include significantly more detailed street-level information in a handful of key cities around the world. Upon zooming in, Google's maps for Central London, Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York now benefit from shapes and widths that match the scale of roads more accurately. Meanwhile, enhanced graphical representations of sidewalks, crosswalks,...
2019 mac pro side and front

Tim Cook Gifted Donald Trump 'First' 2019 Mac Pro

Wednesday January 20, 2021 5:45 pm PST by
Apple CEO Tim Cook gifted former United States President Donald Trump with the first 2019 Mac Pro that came off of the assembly line in Austin, Texas, according to a financial disclosure report that was released today (via The Verge). "Mac Pro Computer, the first created at the Flex Factory in Austin, Texas," reads the entry, which values the machine at $5,999, the base price for a Mac Pro....
airpods max sim ejector

AirPods Max Headband Removable With Just a SIM Ejector Tool, Hinting at Interchangeable Headbands

Tuesday January 19, 2021 8:25 am PST by
It is possible to remove the headband of AirPods Max with just a standard SIM card ejector tool, hinting at the possibility of interchanging headbands to achieve a different colorway. Image via Prelook In December, MacRumors revealed the large variety of AirPods Max ear cushion color combinations when it became clear that they were magnetically attatched and available for sale separately....
iphone 5s black slate

Images of Unreleased iPhone 5s in Black and Slate Shared Online

Sunday January 17, 2021 9:47 am PST by
Twitter user @DongleBookPro has today shared images of a prototype iPhone 5s in an unreleased Black and Slate color. The iPhone 5s was launched in September 2013. The device featured Touch ID, a 64-bit processor, and a True Tone LED flash for the first time. Other new features included a five-element lens with an f/2.2 aperture, a 15 percent larger camera sensor, Burst Mode, and Slo-Mo...
iphone 12 vs iphone 12 mini

Apple Shifting Some Production From iPhone 12 mini to iPhone 12 Pro to Meet Demand

Wednesday January 20, 2021 8:12 am PST by
Apple has reportedly cut production of the iPhone 12 mini by two million units to create more manufacturing capacity for the iPhone 12 Pro, according to a new Morgan Stanley investment note seen by PED30. Apple is believed to have made the switch for the first quarter of 2021 in an effort to combat continuing lead times for the more popular iPhone 12 Pro. iPhone 12 Pro lead times remain ...
Apple VR Feature

Bloomberg: Apple's First AR/VR Headset 'Pricey, Niche Precursor' to More Ambitious AR Glasses and Could Launch Next Year

Thursday January 21, 2021 3:27 am PST by
Apple's first virtual reality headset will be a "pricey, niche precursor" to a more ambitious augmented reality product, according to a new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view...
shot on iphone 12 apple

Apple Highlights Photos Shot by iPhone 12 Users: Portraits, Cityscapes, and More

Tuesday January 19, 2021 6:05 am PST by
Apple today shared a gallery of photos shot by customers using the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max, with scenes including cityscapes, landscapes, portraits of people, and more at day and night. Shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by "NKCHU" in China (top) and shot on iPhone 12 Pro Max by Rohit Vohra in India (bottom) iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 models have a dual camera ...
Apple and Hyundai feature

Apple Car Production Again Linked to Kia Motor's US Plant in Georgia

Tuesday January 19, 2021 4:19 am PST by
Hyundai intends to transition the company's Apple Car involvement to its Kia brand as part of an internal arrangement that could see production move to the U.S., according to a new report today. On Sunday, Korea IT News reported that Apple and Hyundai are seeking a partnership agreement for the upcoming Apple Car by March, and that the electric vehicles could be made at a Georgia factory...
iPhone 13 Notch Feature

iPhone 13 Rumored to Feature Smaller Notch, Pro Model Cameras to Use Larger Image Sensor

Thursday January 21, 2021 1:38 am PST by
Apple's iPhone 13 series will feature a redesigned Face ID system that will allow for a smaller notch at the top of the screen, according to a new report today. The rumor comes via hit-and-miss Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes, whose supply chain sources also claim that the ultra wide-angle lens in Apple's next-generation iPhones is due for an upgrade. The next-generation iPhones'...