There has been a lot of hype about the headphone-jack-less iPhone 7 and speculation it is a minimalist trend that will continue to grow, both inside Apple’s ecosystem and in the PC/Android world as well with the proliferation of the USB-C type connector. Samsung has been widely reported to have been working on their own connector type to replace the 3.5mm jack on their smartphones as well.
If this is true, and we’re seeing the beginning of audio connector market fracturing then surely other brands will be forced to jump on the segmentation train and develop cables to keep hoards of smartphone users buying their high-end headsets. This has been the thinking amongst industry analysts and audiophiles over the past few months as the dust settled from the iPhone 7 launch. Surely but slowly, we are beginning to see more and more lightning-cable iPhone 7 headphones dripping into the market..
- Bowers and Wilkins Takes Initiative Amongst Rival Audio Titans
- High Fidelity Headset Companies Remain Tight-Lipped
- Summary and Outlook
Bowers and Wilkins Takes Initiative Amongst Rival Audio Titans
Finally, high-fidelity mainstay Bowers and Wilkins has come out and officially confirmed they are developing a Lightning cable for their top-end P5 Signature headphones (pictured below), which on their own retail for around $900 USD.
Previously, Bowers and Wilkins had been walking a PR tight rope by neither confirming nor denying the development of a Lightning cable for their high end phones. Evidence of this lack of confirmation was evident almost after the iPhone 7’s launch.
Recently however, amongst the PR blitz surrounding the P5 Signature, B&W has confirmed that it will be offering a Lightning connector for their headphones in the beginning of 2017. Andy Kerr, B&W’s Senior Product Manager had this to day about the whole connector topic:
We were waiting to see what Apple did with the headphone socket, and also how good the adaptor it provided was. We felt that while that dongle is fine for what it costs, it’s not really of a quality suitable for these headphones.
The P5 Signatures are already on sale and are available on Amazon. B&W has said they will be shipping the Lightning cable for iPhone 7 users early 2017 free of charge. We’re certainly excited to see what kind of performance a DAC/AMP integrated cable will bring to the B&W product line. Currently there are only two hifi headsets available with built in Lightning cables utilizing built-in DAC/AMPs. Those are the Audeze EL-8, Audeze Sine and Philips Fidelio M2L.
High Fidelity Headset Companies Remain Tight-Lipped
Given the hype surrounding this new flock of Lightning-specific hifi headsets from Audeze, Philips and now B&W, we reached out to a few other big name headphone makers to ask if they had plans for capitalizing on this new Lightning tech. The responses were conservative to say the least, although some were refreshingly optimistic and intriguing to say the least.
Audio Technica Is Exploring Options
Audio Technica is one of the most reputable makers of audio equipment, form entry level all the way up to professional level, they compete directly with Sony in terms of legacy headphone companies as their affordable ATH-M50’s have achieved legendary status amongst the audiophile community.
Audio Technica USA confirmed on Twitter that they were exploring the technology, but remained tight-lipped about actual development and release.
@erikbowitz Hey! We’re currently exploring our options regarding future cable configurations. Thanks for reaching out! – A-T USA
— Audio-Technica USA (@USAudioTechnica) September 26, 2016
Given the huge market share Audio Technica dominates it’s only logical they work on a connector type to be compatible with future Apple products as well as Android products. We are certainly excited to see what they bring to the table!
Beyerdynamic Offers Hifi Insight Into Future of Headphone Connectors.
Beyerdynamic isn’t quite widely known as Audio Technica amongst mainstream music listeners, primarily because they seem to focus on the upper-mid and upper ranges of the high end audio market. They are renowned for their quality nonetheless so one might assume they would also be exploring the capabilities that Lightning connectors bring to the table.
However, when contacted via Twitter they skipped the question and simply stated matter-of-factly that they don’t offer Lightning cable headphones, which, was of course already very well known.
@erikbowitz Hi, sorry, but at the moment we don’t offer any headphones with lightning cable. We will keep you informed.
— beyerdynamic (@beyerdynamicHQ) September 27, 2016
Thankfully, Beyerdynamic was MUCH more responsive via email and actually shared more about their thoughts on Lightning tech in general than any of the other high end manufacturers contacted which was nice. Klaus Hanselmann, Senior Product Manager for Beyerdynamic GmbH & Co was kind enough to offer a few personal insights into both this new connector tech and how Beyerdynamic views the situation. *It should be noted that these insights are not necessarily the views of the company itself.
It turns out that some at Beyerdynamic do indeed understand the significance of the dropping of the 3.5mm audio jack. They have taken an admirably scientific perspective on the development, being neither optimistic nor pessimistic and instead seeing it simply for the “change” that it is.
For a headphone manufacturer this is first and foremost a big change. It’s not only adding a ew connector to a headphone, it means incorporating new plugs, DAC and headphone amp all in small housings.
We are happy to see, that Apple understood, they cannot take this step without adding the cable adapter to the iPhone 7.
We neither see this pessimistic or optimistic only – it’s mostly a challenge.
One opportunity certainly lies in providing a better DAC and amp solution as in Apple’s own adapter cable. This is chance for us, as two our target groups (audiophile and pro) are sensitive to such improvements.
While acknowledging the exciting potential that integrated DAC and amps bring when integrated into a Lightning-connected headset or cable, Beyerdynamic was also quick to point out that you don’t necessarily have to go the cabled route if you want a high quality listening experience. Beyerdynamic offers a on of the only truly hi-res listening experience via Bluetooth available to audiophiles, utilizing new Qualcomm aptX HD audio. This new tech allows for full 24-bit signals to be transmitted wirelessly, the same bit standard transmitted via Lightning cables. This technology is available in Beyerdynamics AK T5P, AK T1P and in-ear Tesla AK T8iE models.
Unfortunately, on the development front, Beyerdynamic remained tight-lipped regarding exact product portfolio strategy. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed for some cool new Lightning tech later on down the road.
Shure Declines Comment
***Update January 2017***
Shure has announced at 2017 CES that they will be selling a Lightning cable for their SE earphones starting in the spring of 2017, much to the excitement of Lightningcans.com and Shure users around the world. Read the full write up for more here.
Shure, most widely known for their high-end IEMs or “In ear monitors” completely declined to comment on Lightning connectors and new wired tech in general. This was a bit disappointing as we’ve already seen one company capitalize wonderfully on the the capabilities offered by a Lightning cable for small earbud type monitors. We are of course talking about JBL and their Reflect Aware earbuds, which are the first Lightning-powered, active noise cancelling earbuds on the market, which is pretty impressive to say the least.
Given how many of Shure’s IEMs utilize detachable cables to connect to devices, we had assumed they’d be one of the more enthusiastic hifi makers to pounce on Lightning cables as it’s imaginably easier to re-engineer a special detachable cable for existing monitor/driver units than re-engineer a headset from scratch with a built-in cable.
Still, mums the word from Shure. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds. In the meantime, we can get our Lightning-cable earbud fix from good ole JBL.
Sennheiser Also Provides Few Hints on Future Development
Sennheiser is another massively well-respected audio component company, creating quality headphones at all price points, but building their brand largely on their high-end audiophile cans. We contacted them through their online customer service portal asking about Lightning-cable equipped Sennheisers and got a very curt but fairly logical response, stating simply:
Offering a cable with a Lightning Connector will depend on whether Apple agrees to Licensing for that.
At this stage the only option would be to use the 3.5mm to Lightning Connector adapter currently offered by Apple.
Given Sennheisers size, and assumedly strong desire to retain the large high-end marketshare they control, we are keeping our fingers crossed for some Lightning-connected Senn’s to be released in the future. We can dream right?
Harman Takes Action Via JBL but Waits on AKG
We contacted AKG, the high-end arm of the international Harman audio group which includes AKG Acoustics, Harman/Kardon, Infinity, JBL, JBL Professional and more. Needless to say the company is pretty massive, but that hasn’t hindered them in being agile and forward-looking in terms of their R&D. Harman released the Lightning-cable Reflect Aware active noise cancelling earbuds through their JBL brand nearly a year BEFORE Apple released the iPhone 7, making them some of the most forward-thinking earbuds currently on the market.
We’ve enamored about our love of the Reflect Aware’s before here on Lightningcans, as active noise cancelling earbuds have been something we’ve been seeking for years. The biggest thing with the Reflect Aware’s is that they provide active noise cancelling without the need to add a bulky battery pack to the cable or earbuds themselves, as they draw their power from the iPhone 7 directly.
Unfortunately, AKG themselves didn’t have much to say in terms of the development of a high-end over-ear Lightning-equipped headset. Philip Schuster, Product Line Manager at Harman highlighted the innovations of the Reflect Aware earbuds, but stayed hush on AKG’s plans, if any, for AKG-lightning-equipped headsets. Philip differentiated Lifestyle products (like the JBL Reflect Aware) and PRO products, which is what the AKG branch specializes in.
AKG Vienna is working on PRO products. In the professional Music industry wireless & lightning is less a topic than in Lifestyle Audio.
Proprietary connectors are always an issue for manufacturers, but it also gives us opportunities on up-sales to user groups that already have an existing product.
AKG is more about enthusiasts, so we’d rather follow a bit later is an need for high end lighting products is established.
The response wasn’t surprising, it makes sense to see which direction the market goes before investing in product R&D, especially on for the high-end and thus expensive audiophile market. Just as with other high-end makers, we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed then.
Summary and Outlook
Overall high fidelity headphone makers seem to be cautious yet logical in their reaction to recent connector developments. Huge companies like Bose, who have a long standing relationship with Apple didn’t get back to us, yet we assume like everyone else, they are probably secretly developing their own Lightning tech behind closed doors and watching to see what the market will dictate.
Given the potential that powered Lightning cables offer, primarily integrating DAC and amps, something that until this point many headset manufacturers relied on third party amp companies to provide, leave a lot to our imagination as audiophiles.
What do you think? Would you like to see your favorite high-end headset maker come out with a Lightning powered option or are you perfectly content sticking with your old fashioned 3.5mm jacks? Let us know!