We’ve already reviewed some of the leading headsets currently on the market that come with Lightning cables standard, from cheaper earbud options to high end over-ear audiophile options. As of publication, there are currently FANTASTIC options available from JBL, Audeze, Philips and Sony. We’re also expecting exciting things from Libratone very soon as well.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The benefits of these new Lightning enable devices are HUGE. Honestly, we don’t understand why Apple (and Beats) decided to hype wireless, which is still a low-res, spotty technology at best and one of the reasons we’re not too excited about things like “Airpods”. Lightning cables can transmit data and power simultaneously, making what used to require big bulky battery packs now seamless and much more refined. Furthermore, the quality of audio that can be transmitted through this new cable type is far superior to what was previously offered via old fashioned analog cables.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see more headphone companies come out around Christmas and early 2017 with more Lightning-specific headsets to capitalize on the above mentioned benefits. In the meantime, the field is a little sparse outside of the great companies mentioned at the beginning of this article.
With the new technology has come a huge push by what seem to be Chinese manufacturers to put new Lightning headphones on the market as quick as possible to try to gobble up market share. In rushing however, it would seem things like quality and durability may occasionally be compromised.
So in this article, we found a few of what are considered the WORST lightning-specific headset options. While we’re totally sold on the tech itself, that doesn’t mean buyers should exercise caution when in investing in accessories for their new Apple devices. Below are a few products in particular you may want to avoid if you’re planning on doing some shopping.
HOCO L1 Earbuds
We initially got pretty excited when the HOCO L1’s were first dropped. First, the name sounds pretty cool, and the design was different than any other Lightning-tipped in-ear options on the market.
On the positive, unlike some other sellers on Amazon who seem to lack any real branding (weird names, no company website etc), HOCO seems to be a real registered trademark and they have a real website, www.hococase.com. The good news stops there however, as the domain name indicates, HOCO seems to be first and foremost a case company, and after exploring their site seem to also be mini-camera makers, iPhone stand makers, coffee mug makers, children’s toy makers and bag (yes, like handbags) makers.
Upon further investigation it seems HOCO is a Chinese company based in Shenzhen (the worlds tech manufacturing hub) and just seem to be earnestly developing products across all types of industries, presumably because of quick and easy access to a wide variety of OEM manufacturers in China.
Yes, but what about the HOCO L1’s you ask. Well, on paper they sound pretty cool. We’re talking integrated independent DAC chip, full 48kHz signal at 24bits, utilizing a Sony branded hi-res audio chip. Given regular earbuds (analog, 3.5mm jack types) can only offer 16bit signals we’d expect the HOCO L1’s to sound pretty amazing then right?
Well, unfortunately, HOCO seems to be falling a bit short in terms of quality, as evidenced by the pretty atrocious reviews they’re receiving on retailer sites like Amazon. Users are reporting “hollow”, “tinny” and overall “horrible sound quality”. You can read all of the reviews directly on Amazon for a bigger picture of what’s going on here.
There also seem to be some quality issues with users reporting earbuds breaking quite easily. We recommend, which should be common sense these days, to do your due diligence when purchasing electronics from unknown manufacturers like this.
It’s not the end of the world however, and we don’t mean to get too down on little HOCO, after all the tech is new and they seem to have their heads in the right place, so who knows what future models might bring to the table.
SHARKK Lightning Headphones
SHARKK is another oddly branded Lightning cable earbud company that was one of the “first movers” in the “Lightning space”. Unlike HOCO at least SHARKK seems to specialize in electronics, including headphones, and bluetooth speakers. They also have a transparent site which is cool too.
The SHARKK earbuds sport a cool “fray resistant cable”, built in volume controls and of course, an 8 pin lightning connector tip. They’re also MFi Certified, which means officially approved by Apple themselves.
However, that’s about all there is though. There are no details on the frequency range, the impedance, or even if they transmit in 24bits which is the whole point of making Lightning connected headphones. In our opinion, there is no point in buying Lightning headphones unless they incorporate the greatest qualities of this new connector type, that being offering higher fidelity audio and integrated DAC/Amp functions, neither of which SHARKK offer.
While the clear silicone tips are pretty neat, we have to give these a thumbs down in the end for their lack of high fidelity features, especially at the price point of over $40 on most online retailers.
Random “No-Name” Earphone 2 Pack
Our last entry is probably the most scary simply because it lacks a brand, a face if you will, come in a 2 pack, are super cheap and have horrible reviews around the web.
There’s not much to say here we suppose, the description about the product mostly just iterates how many different devices they work with (anything with a Lightning port obviously) but say noting about the earbuds themselves, outside the fact they have a built in mic and remote.
We can’t find anything out about the manufacturer, “24Hour”, however we have found that both versions of their earbuds (they come in white and pink), have received equally bad reviews.
A major red flag for reviews on any product in any industry is when there are a bunch of horrible reviews sprinkled in with a few stellar reviews. A usual distribution has good, neutral and negative reviews, with a higher spread towards “good” if the product is quality.
There will always be winners and losers with new tech, and it should be remembered that product development is a process. Just because a product isn’t top notch in its first iteration doesn’t mean the company can’t do more research and development and improve the technology. Therefore, none of the above companies should be judged with a final verdict, all we can do is judge the products currently on the market.
The whole point of this article is not to be negative, but to instead illustrate the massive potential for Lightning cable headphone. For the first time we can have power and data transmitted in HD quality directly to our ears.
There are some amazing products out there now capitalizing on this dual functionality, such as the JBL Reflect Aware’s, which are earbuds that sport active noise cancelling, just like you get with big, AAA-battery powered headphones, but in a tiny, battery free earbud form. JBL has set the bar high, and that is what we’ve used to identify the faults in the above three headsets.
Take some time to get to know and discover some truly exciting headphones from the following companies:
- The JBL Reflect Aware active noise cancelling earbuds
- The cord-swappable, super versatile Sony MD1ADAC/B
- The planar-magnetic, Cypher cable equipped audiophile quality cans from Audeze
If we’ve missed anything in the above list, let us know in the comments below!