- A New Age of Headphones Has Arrived
- The Benefits of Lightning-Connected Earphones
- Pro’s & Con’s
- Top Lightning Headsets Compared
- An In-Depth Look
A New Age of Headphones Has Arrived
Love it or hate it, Apple has finally gone ahead and pushed its iconic iPhone design onto another completely different design, this time not in it’s case/shell but in completely removing the much beloved 3.5mm audio jack.
While it’s coming as a huge surprise to some, those of us who have followed Apple for some time saw this coming way back in 2014 when Apple allowed independent manufacturers to produce lightning headphones via their “Made for iPhone” or MF program.
While change always comes at a price (we love our trusty 3.5mm earbuds as much as the next guy!) we are on the whole pretty excited about this next evolution in audio technology.
You may cling to your old fashioned headsets with their old fashion analog connector types, but just like floppy disks, cassettes, CDs, and VHS tapes you will eventually look to buying a new pair of new tech and when you do, we’re here to help you make the decision all the more pleasant.
The Benefits of Lightning-Connected Earphones
Yes, it is NOT all doom and gloom when it comes to the new lightning headphones. Sure, from the cynics perspective, removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 is just another way for Apple to lock users into it’s ecosystem of expensive aluminum-finished products. This point is completely valid, there’s not doubt Apple sees the benefit in further integrating users to it’s product lineup, especially if we see lightning ports on new Macbook products (since they’re already also on iPads obviously).
Being locked in though has it’s positives. One of the reasons many Apple users love their products so much is precisely BECAUSE everything works together so seamlessly. Standardizing connectors across devices will be painful but growth usually is.
When you can use your high fidelity audio devices across all devices, while said devices continue to get slimmer and sleeker than ever, it will be hard to complain. Here are some of the benefits that this new tech will bring to consumers:
Higher Fidelity Audio Quality
It’s a fact, iPhone audio quality isn’t great. In fact, audio quality for the latest iPhone is far from ideal. The quality of the music you hear from your headphones currently is dependent primarily on the phones DAC, or Digital-to-Analog-Converter. This is a little electronic processor chip inside the phone that turns digital audio files such as the common MP3, into an analog audio signal that can then be transmitted via your 3.5mm jack headphones.
With a lightning connected headset digital music can be piped directly from the internal guts of your phone directly through your headphones and into your ears. With lightning everything is digital. With everything remaining digital there is tons of opportunity to improve the quality itself through all sorts of electronic wizardry.
But don’t just take it from us. Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, an absolute audio maniac, seemed excited about the prospect of losing the headphone jack as early as January this year when he stated on his site:
If you look at the way Apple typically does things when introducing new technologies like this, there is no reason you wouldn’t be all for this new plan. They make it better, not worse.
I would fully expect that if Apple did implement this idea, the audio would sound better through the Lightning connector than the older headphone jack. Not only because Apple can add technology to the chip (noise cancelling, etc.), but because the headphone jack is not very efficient. It’s been around forever and hasn’t really improved how we listen to audio in a long time. A fully digital connection would improve everything.
Essentially, if you care about HOW your music sounds, whether you’re obsessed with classical, electronic or hip-hop, a lightning connected set of headphones will do nothing but improve the overall quality of your listening experience.
More Detailed/Fine Tuning & User Control
Having an all-digital setup allows for more granular EQ adjustments than ever before. Many headphone makers, such as Parrot and Audeze offer stand-alone equalizer apps that allow listeners to adjust the audio they hear through their headphones. This process of adjustment is all done digitally and it would only be logical to assume Apple integrating an even more advanced equalizer function to take full advantage of their new connector technology.
What does this mean for you? Well, can’t get enough of those bass bumps on your favorite SchoolboyQ track? No worries, a digital EQ will allow you to adjust your music to make it sound like you’re riding in a ’67 Deville with two 14″ subwoofers in the back. Likewise an EDM or trance fanatic can adjust their EQ digitally so they hear the highest highs and the lowest lows of their synthetic audio experiences.
The Audeze EL-8 Titanium and Sine models both come with a wicked equalizer app that takes full advantage of the intelligently powered lightning cable. The image below is their Cypher cord and their app. Imagine the possibilities!
Additionally, since the whole stream is digital headphone makers may integrate even more advanced controls on their headsets/cables to allow the user quicker access to adjusting their music. This means going beyond just answering phone calls and adjusting volume.
Theoretically, there is no limit to what a listener could adjust with an all digital setup.
Ultimately, a more detailed tuning experience is the same as going from a microwave that simply does “low”, “medium” and “high” heat levels to a microwave that knows precisely how long to cook any type of food you put in it to perfection.
Overall this makes for a much more rich listening experience, even for the average listener.
Active Sound/Noise Cancellation
Currently, if you want a good pair of headphones that will actively cancel out noise you A.) have to spend quite a bit of money because the headphones have to have their own circuitry and B.) carry around batteries for said headphones or a separate charging unit.
This isn’t an ideal situation and probably a big reason why not many people use active noise cancelling outside of frequent flyers and travelers.
With lightning connected headphones however, your iPhone itself can supply the power to run noise cancelling headphones. These is huge because now you won’t require AA batteries (which let’s admit it, is an antiquated power delivery mechanism) or two chargers. Instead, all you’ll need is your trusty iPhone and your lightning headphones.
Of course, iPhone batteries aren’t perfect but you bring your iPhone charger with you when you travel, have one in the car and at work, so this really isn’t an issue.
Also, one perk of removing the 3.5mm jack is to create extra room in the phone itself for a larger more powerful battery. Thus we have a win-win situation in the iPhone 7; more convenient noise cancelling AND more battery power. Not a bad trade!
As mentioned above, lightning connectors now only have the ability to transmit audio, they can also transmit electrical power! Yeah, try powering up something with your old fashioned 3.5mm headphone cables!
This opens up a whole new world for audiophiles. Previously if you wanted to “amplify” your music to get the most milage out of your high-end headphones you’d need an external amplifier. These usually come in the form of big bulky boxes that run off AA batteries and plug into both your iPhone and your headphones creating a somewhat cumbersome setup.
With lightning connected headphones however power can flow directly through the phone, through the cables and into the headphones. This means an amplifier can be integrated into the cable section or ear sections of the headphones themselves. Talk about streamlining! No longer will we have to walk around with 3 separate units, one of which runs off ACTUAL BATTERIES. Nope, from now on we’ll be able to enjoy audiophile quality music with just our iPhone and headset alone and that is thanks to the power delivery which the lightning cable delivers.
Better Suited for a (near) Cable-less Future
Let’s face it, cables suck. Technological evolution is marching towards a future without cables.. wireless charging, bluetooth, etc are a direct result for our disdain for messy cables. With a lightning connector, we can have one foot in the past/present cable-tethered world, and one foot in the future.
How you ask? Well think about it, if the lightning cable can provide power, whats to stop a company from making headphones that charge when they’re cabled into your iPhone but can also be disconnected to work wirelessly with bluetooth when you’re working out for example!
Think about it, sometimes a cable isn’t a big problem, when you’re sitting on your bed studying, or on the subway commuting to work. Other times however cables are a REAL pain, like when outside doing yard work, playing sports, jogging or working out at the gym.
Currently if you want to enjoy your music to it’s fullest AND have freedom of motion you need two sets of headphones, one cabled for stationary situations and one bluetooth set for highly active situations. With lightning you can make one set of earphones that can be cabled (and thus charging the bluetooth function) and disconnected to work wirelessly when needed.
Just as higher power eliminates the need for batteries in noise cancellation, batteries for a audio amplifier it also eliminates the need to buy two pairs of headphones if you live an active lifestyle. So you see, the benefits of forsaking your beloved analog jack are numerous, but wait there’s more!
Easy Apple Ecosystem Crossover
Apple has continuously marched to a “fewest ports possible” future. There are naturally some growing pains associated with this. Remember lamenting over the lost of your beloved CD-drive? Or what about losing your ethernet port on your Macbook Pro? When a fixture in tech is removed from your device it can feel like the sky is falling.
Yet, as often is the case in life, they sky remains high and in fact things end up looking better and much simpler in not time at all. The lightning connector is one such example
Imagine everything you need could be connected via two ports, USB-c and lightning. Seriously, in the very near future these could pretty much be the only ports Mac enthusiasts need. Of course we’ll always need our dongles to connect to a PC dominant world, but within our own homes we can effortlessly leap from system to system.
Pop out your lightning headphones and use them in your Macbook Pro, iPad or iPhone. Use a multi-functional lightning cable to charge a multitude of devices, like your iPad, and then simply plug it into a audio unit and start playing music.
The truth is undeniable, the lightning connector is a very versatile connector that will integrate Apple devices together as a family better than ever before.
Augmented Reality & Fitness Tracking
Because the lightning cable can supply power, headphones will become far more than just devices used to listen to audio. Using data transfer via the lightning cable you’re headphones could come equipped with motion detectors and sensors. Imagine changing to the next song simply by turning your head right, or going back to the previous song by turning your head left, or pausing your music simply by looking up?! Finally, a truly hands free listening experience!
Additionally smart headphones could be used in gaming and other virtual reality endeavors. No more awkwardly pointing your phone in different directions when using a maps app to find your way, now your earbuds could track your direction and navigate you by audio only, meaning you wouldn’t even need to look at your phone and could instead focus your attention on the world around you.
Imagine Siri assisting you; “Hello Sir, walk forward 200 meters to the McDonalds across the street then take a right”, after making a wrong turn Siri could realize your error via your GPS integrated earbuds and remind you “you just took a left, turn around and proceed to your destination”.
The ability for the new connector to transmit audio, power AND data opens up a whole new universe of possible developments that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of.
More Lightning Vs. More Bluetooth
Bluetooth headphones have been advancing rapidly in recent years as people look for wireless solutions to their audio. These wireless headphones used to lack any real audio quality and thus were ignored by audiophiles and dismissed more as devices of necessity (audio quality isn’t so important when training for a marathon for example) and less devices of refinement.
However, in 2017, with Bluetooth V5, audio quality has increases substantially and the popularity of wireless headphones is on the rise. Still, the audio quality offered via a lightning connector will be superior in terms of quality to Bluetooth, but that’s not such a bad thing in a way.
In the future the same set of headphones may be used for high-fidelity listening via a cable and lower but wireless listening at other times. Look for Apple to capitalize on this flexibility in the near future with earbuds that can be run and charged via a cable but ALSO operate wirelessly when disconnected. This is something traditional headphones with their analog jacks will never be able to do, and thus one more reason why it’s time to say goodbye.
Pro’s & Con’s
Ultimately, there are far more pro’s regarding the switch to lightning connected headphones than their are cons. Still, transitions are difficult, and often expensive, just look at how much it cost you to replace your entire VHS collection with blu-ray discs! Still, we think in the long run it’s worth it, and have listed out the pros and cons of the removal of the headphone jack below:
- Lightning cables can charge the devices they connect to
- Lightning cables can also transmit data digitally
- Removal of the 3.5mm jack frees up space in the iPhone itself
- Versatile cables open a world of VR, fitness tracking and “smart” headphones
- Transitioning can be made easy with a simple adaptor/connector piece
- New cables provide a much higher fidelity audio listening experience
- Your old headphones will require an adaptor (oh noooooooo!)
- New tech usually costs more money up front, i.e buying new headphones, new iPhone itself etc.
- May be useless in 5 years when everything is wireless (but hey, that’s a long time away)
So there you have it, as we see it, the pros greatly outweigh the cons on the new cable/connectors. If you’re still not convinced no problem, there’s always romance in clinging on to old tech even if it is “less efficient”. (We mean it, we’d take a naturally aspirated V8 BMW M3 over the newer turbo straight 6 any day.)
If you are sold then continue reading to see the best lightning connected headphones currently on the market!
Top Lightning Headsets Compared
So you’ve decided you want to get some beastly lightning connected headphones because you love high fidelity audio and you want something you’ll be able to use far into the future when iPads and Macbooks also do away with old fashioned analog connectors. Welcome to the club! We’ve dug into what’s currently available online and will continually update this page to make sure it remains the best review list on the web!
Believe it or not, there are already a bunch of different lightning connector headphones and earbuds on the market. Why? Well it would seem some manufacturers are just future-minded. Also, some are also audiophiles themselves and wanted to make headphones that deliver the highest quality music in the simplest form possible. The great thing is there are types to suit all lifestyles and budgets and we’ve broken them down by level below:
An In-Depth Look
Lightning Headphones for Music Lovers
These are for people who just want something different or slightly better than what comes in the stock box when you buy a new iPhone 7. You don’t care if you can hear a pin drop in a concert piece or if you’ll look the most stylish at your school, you just want something cooler than what everyone else has, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of these headphones and earbuds fall between the $10-$200 price range.
Earbuds: Brightech MFI Approved Pure Lightning Earphones
These were some of the first earbuds on the market to feature a lightning connector offering a true 24-bit digital audio experience.
They also offer a built-in volume control that can amplify bass up to +12dB, far more than the stock Apple earbuds. A tight fit silicone top provides passive noise cancellation that provides a snug fit that can be worn for ours without falling out or becoming uncomfortable.
The cable is made of oxygen-free copper cords so the quality of your digital 24-bit audio remains unaltered when it’s delivered to your eardrums via the aluminum alloy tips. These bad boys come with a full 3 year warranty as well making them a pretty safe purchase, however reviews on Amazon are mixed so you’ll want to read more about them yourself.
On-Ear: Philips Fidelio M2L/27 High Resolution Headphones
For those seeking a more premium audio listening experience should check out the Fidelio’s by Philips. Philips is well known in the electronics industry for producing quality, reliable products at respectable prices (unlike others out there that run thousands of dollars). The Fidelio’s are true to the Philips name in these regards.
Sitting on top of the ear these headphones may not provide the best noise cancellation but they make up for it with stellar audio quality. Why? Well because Philips has been smart enough to put a amplifier in the headphones themselves! Previously amplifiers were big bulky things that required batteries (yes physical batteries) to power up the signal from your iPhone to your headphone drivers. Philips has integrated the DAC to make for a seamlessly wonderful listening experience.
Additionally the Fidelio’s feature solid 40mm neodymium drivers for precise mids and highs and powerful low bass. For all you bass lovers, they also feature a Bass Reflex System (BRS) that delivers exceptionally powerful bass response without over-whelming the other sounds.
The design is all black and sleek. The ear-cups feature memory foam cushions for a comfortable fit that can be worn for hours. The band is covered in real stitched leather for a premium feel and the headphones themselves come with a faux suede carrying bag as well!
At $200 they aren’t the cheapest in the world but with headphones at this price range you really do get what you pay for. Check out the Fidelios on Amazon for more accurate user reviews.
Lightning Headphones for Audiophiles
OK, you’re super passionate about your music, we get it and that’s why we’ve created this section. If you care first and foremost about budget, these brands aren’t for you. However if what you seek is the most pure and unadulterated listening experience imaginable to accompany your beautiful new iPhone 7, then please, pour a glass of wine and read on.
Audeze EL-8 Titanium Review: Audiophile Quality Closed-Back Over-Ear Cans
Audeze isn’t some new company that popped up over night just to satisfy the new demand for lightning headphones don’t worry. They have been making their signature over-ear unit for years, called the EL-8, to critical acclaim, both from a wide variety of genre publications.
For example they were reviewed and very highly praised on metal/rock oriented Metal-Fi. CNET editor Steve Guttenberg was also impressed by the EL-8 stating “The music has been there all along, but you never heard it like this before”. Finally, the EL-8’s have received thus far a near perfect score from the eccentrics at Head-Fi.org as well.
The original closed back EL-8 was launched at CES at the beginning of 2016 and comes with a standard 3.4mm jack and is priced at $699. The Audeze EL-8 Titanium however was JUST released, is designed with and includes an Apple lightning connector and retail for a slightly higher $799.95. Now, before you freak out at that price, there’s a few things you should know about the EL-8 Titaniums.
First, these aren’t just headphones. For your hard-earned $799.95 you get audiophile headphones that were designed from the very beginning to be used with a lightning connector. How so you ask? Well, these bad boys have a digital signal processor, a digital-to-analog converter AND an amplifier all built into it’s unique Cypher cable system.
As any budding audiophile knows, quality headphones regularly run into the thousands of dollars and that’s not even including the converters and amplifiers you have to buy as well to complete your setup.
The EL-8 Titanium’s have everything included.. less mess, less fuss, just one clean package. They also come with an IOS App to allow you to fine-tune your music to just the way you like it via a 10 band equalizer.
The Audeze EL-8’s are truly a unique headphone setup for the new lightning-cable age. With audiophile prices, but every-day features like in-line mic and remote control, the Audeze sure are an investment but isn’t that what you should look for in a pair of quality cans anyways? Oh and they’re hand crafted in southern California, so you’re supporting American jobs as well.
Audeze Sine Review: Affordable High-End On-Ear Lightning Cans
If the above mentioned EL-8 Titaniums are a little too bulk for you, or just out of your price range, or you just prefer on-ear headphones, then the SINE’s by Audeze are the perfect alternative. These light-weight cans are similar to the EL-8’s in that they use the proprietary Audeze CIPHER lightning cable that has an integrated DAC/AMP with DSP. So say good bye to your bulky external amp/converter setup you’ve been lugging around
The SINE’s using a pretty unique planar magnetic technology not found in many other headphones. This produces superb accuracy, a more powerful and quicker response times with less distortion, easier diaphragm driving with less power while eliminating excessive resonance.
The SINE on-ears also have the Audeze IOS app so you can fine-tune your music just the way you like it, and just like the EL-8 Titaniums, they are hand crafted in southern California, so they’re a solid American made product. Overall the SINE are a solid pair of cans from a company on the cutting edge of making the most out of lightning connected and powered headsets. With solid reviews around the web, the SINE from Audeze are a solid option to compliment your new iPhone 7 or iPad.