iPhone 7 and the Audiophile Case For Lightning Headphones

MacRumors

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Apr 12, 2001
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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.

Last month, MacRumors considered the case for and against Lightning headphones by comparing the audio performance of existing brands at three different price points: the $45 Brightech earphones, the $300 Philips Fidelio M2L headphones, and the $800 Audeze El-8 headphones.

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.

Yesterday, The Verge took a closer look at the brand in our highest price bracket, the Audeze El-8, alongside the company's Sine headphones, and argued its own reasons for why adopting Lightning for audio should be considered a welcome and essential advance for serious listeners.


The review makes the general case that Lightning headphones have the potential to hand crucial audio reproduction tasks back to the headphone maker, relegating the iPhone to the role of simple digital source. For high-end listening enthusiasts, this is said to be a potential game-changer, although the impact on an iPhone 7's battery life obviously remains unclear.

In purely sonic terms, The Verge notes how the Audeze audiophile cans sound "dramatically better when exploiting the all-digital connection with their so-called Cipher Lightning cable", which houses its own digital signal processor, digital-to-analog converter (DAC), and headphone amplifier.

"If all future Lightning headphones are designed as thoughtfully and in the same integrated manner as Audeze's, then we'll have nothing to fear from the future," says The Verge. "These Lightning headphones are the real deal: good enough to make me forget all about the 3.5mm jack."


The review continues in a breakdown of general arguments for using Lightning for serious listening enjoyment, the first being better hi-fi portability. This is based on the idea that the integrated smartphone DACs and amps which traditional 3.5mm jack headphones rely on are inferior to dedicated external components.

Given that the latter are usually bulky and inconvenient in their own right, if Lightning headphones can integrate these components into the connector cable, the trade-off should be far superior sound quality.
Audeze takes care of that by integrating those components within its Cipher cable. From the outside, the Cipher module looks like an enlarged remote control, but on the inside it performs an almost magical transformation.
The second argument for Lightning is more power: the reviewer notes that the iPhone's integrated circuitry is among the best on the market, but it still lacks the power to drive high-end cans to their full potential.
Maximum volume directly from the iPhone is quite mediocre, pushing the EL-8 to no more than 70 percent of their capacity through the standard 3.5mm jack. Swap in the Cipher cable, however, and the EL-8 transforms into a super powerful set of cans. It's loud even before you hit Apple's warnings about continuous playback at high volumes, and it's straight up bad for your hearing at its max.
The article also highlights the fact that the Audeze iOS app gives exceptional control over headphone frequency response, and saves user settings in the firmware housed in the Cipher cable.


With two customizable presets per headphone, that means you only have to make your adjustments on one iOS device, and then your pair of EL-8 or Sine will carry those preferences with them to the next Lightning-connected device.

I love the granularity of Audeze's EQ adjustments -- which span all audio sources, whether your sound is coming from Tidal, YouTube, or the default Music app -- as they can be made in 1dB increments across 10 frequencies.
Finally, The Verge argues that the growing trend towards more digital and less analog "make(s) the classic 3.5mm jack redundant" and positions Lightning alongside wireless protocols as the future drivers of audio innovation.
I can get more convenient audio if I drop the wires, or I can get better audio if I go digital via Lightning. With upgradeable firmware and new sensors being built in, headphones are changing in function just as they're changing in connectivity. If you want to buy the headphones of the future, don't cling on to the connector of the past.

Sure, there'll be an adaptation period where adapters will be necessary, but over time Apple's Lightning and the more universal USB-C standard will take over from the 3.5mm connector. LeEco has already started the trend by eschewing the old jack in its latest phones, and others are sure to follow.
The iPhone 7 is expected to be launched in September, when we should find out just what's in store for audio enthusiasts and regular listeners alike. You can read The Verge's original article here, and be sure to catch MacRumors' video, Lightning Headphones: Are They Better or Just an Inconvenience?

Article Link: iPhone 7 and the Audiophile Case For Lightning Headphones
 

cactus_in_uw_gat

macrumors newbie
Aug 19, 2015
6
6
"Sure, there'll be an adaptation period where adapters will be necessary, but over time Apple's Lightning and the more universal USB-C standard will take over from the 3.5mm connector."
So who is going first? :)
 

Reason077

macrumors 68020
Aug 14, 2007
2,158
654
Lightning or USB-C headphones will be great if they mean better audio quality, but hopefully that doesn't mean the 3.5mm jack is going away just yet.

I think that would make the iPhone 7 unappealing to a lot of people who don't want to throw away their existing headphones, or who want to charge their phones and use headphones at the same time - something I do almost every day!
 

Davmeister

macrumors 6502
May 7, 2009
323
86
London
Yep. This makes perfect sense for the majority of users, right?

Oh wait. Nearly everyone listens at 256kbps or less, from Apple Music streaming, iTunes MP3s or old CD rips.

The convenience lost ≠ the audio quality gained, for average joe.
 

ScottishCaptain

macrumors 6502a
Oct 4, 2008
872
467
Yeah, no thanks.

That connector looks ridiculously fragile with the way it's sticking out. One wrong move and you'll snap off the lightning connector inside the phone, rendering both devices inoperable (or damaged, depending on if anything shorts out).

Of course, I'm sure Apple is banking on this. It's a great way to sell more iPhones and headphones while they're at it.

-SC
 

jdiamond

macrumors 6502a
Dec 17, 2008
503
325
Bluetooth is awful, but why would wireless in general be fundamentally inferior? I routinely see 150 megabits/second over WiFi, enough to stream a 4K movie, and it's 100% digital. Seems like the main advantage of the lightning cable is supplying power to headphones, so they don't need a rechargeable battery. Glad to see one headphone maker is supplying an equalizer app, because this is typically the main issue when you go digital line out - sometimes you can't even adjust the volume locally, let alone equalize it.
 

samcraig

macrumors P6
Jun 22, 2009
16,610
34,941
USA
I'm pretty sure the "complaints" are less about audio fidelity and more about things like not being able to charge the phone while headphones plug in unless there's a dongle. And in that case, extra hardware to carry around/cost?
 

Monkeydude

macrumors member
May 12, 2011
83
80
Hamburg, Germany
Talking about audiophile is just ridiculous. 90% of the iPhone users listen to mp3 with the delivered mediocre (at best) Apple earbuds. iTunes does not sell lossless music (and if they did, you couldn't save more than 3 songs on the 16gb devices). So please do not play the "audiophile" card.
p.s. How many people do you know, who own 800$ headphones (and listen to their music from an iPhone with it)
 

Eithanius

macrumors 65816
Nov 19, 2005
1,419
285
I think that would make the iPhone 7 unappealing to a lot of people who don't want to throw away their existing headphones, or who want to charge their phones and use headphones at the same time - something I do almost every day!
Yup... going Lightning route means I have to search high and low for lightning-based headphones unique to my hearing... ain't easy for me...
 
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joeblow7777

macrumors 603
Sep 7, 2010
5,966
6,755
Here's a thought; current iPhones have a lightning port AND a headphone jack. Is there any reason why Apple can't keep both but pack bluetooth or lightning earbuds with the phone if that's the standard they want to promote? By all means, advance audio technology, but there's no need to make it an all or nothing transition. Legacy ports and backwards compatibility are almost always welcome features in technology. Best of both worlds.
 

jdclifford

macrumors 6502
Jul 26, 2011
426
564
Talking about audiophile is just ridiculous. 90% of the iPhone users listen to mp3 with the delivered mediocre (at best) Apple earbuds. iTunes does not sell lossless music (and if they did, you couldn't save more than 3 songs on the 16gb devices). So please do not play the "audiophile" card.
p.s. How many people do you know, who own 800$ headphones (and listen to their music from an iPhone with it)
Agreed. Silly waste of money and overkill to spend $800 to listen to music on an iPhone while exercising etc. Maybe Apple will promote a "Beats" version for $999?
 

vaxes

macrumors member
Sep 21, 2012
43
207
Whats better

Being able to plug in my £30 headphones and listen to my compressed spotify/apple music audio

or

Forcing me to spend £40 regularly on a adapter lighting to 3.5mm which then means I can't charge while listening to music.

How long is this adapter really going to last being pull out of a pocket multiple times a day?

I know people will say "wait until sept to pass judgement" but this story has happened too many times.

Early in the year "Rumor's of Change"
Later in the year "More analysts say change is coming"
Leaked parts.
Apple denies changes.
September: We've reinvented the iPhone with the major change and call it innovation.

If Apple really want to innovate then how about you start listening to your customers about the things we would really want.
 

Starflyer

macrumors 6502a
Jan 22, 2003
625
653
Yeah, no thanks.

That connector looks ridiculously fragile with the way it's sticking out. One wrong move and you'll snap off the lightning connector inside the phone, rendering both devices inoperable (or damaged, depending on if anything shorts out).

Of course, I'm sure Apple is banking on this. It's a great way to sell more iPhones and headphones while they're at it.

-SC
I do this all the time with my lightning charging cable.

/s
 

argentum47

macrumors regular
Jun 18, 2014
208
480
Delegating DAC/amp job to the headphone, especially considering power delivery from the phone to the amp for proper headphone amplification, is a welcome change (sorry I'm an audiophile), BUT Lightning connector for that purpose? Nope.

Gotta be USB-C or it's going to flop.

Paying Apple tax even for headphones? Expensive headphones ONLY usable on iPhones and nothing else? There will be many other platforms that will be serving digital audio over USB-C in the near future, and these Lightning headphones are going to be very niche, narrowing choices, and unnecessarily expensive. No thanks.
 

Pakaku

macrumors 68020
Aug 29, 2009
2,157
2,128
Here's a thought; current iPhones have a lightning port AND a headphone jack. Is there any reason why Apple can't keep both but pack bluetooth or lightning earbuds with the phone if that's the standard they want to promote? By all means, advance audio technology, but there's no need to make it an all or nothing transition. Legacy ports and backwards compatibility are almost always welcome features in technology. Best of both worlds.
They "can't" do that because they have up-and-coming Lightning headphones to market, and the only way to build artificial hype for them is to strip the up-and-coming iPhone by pretending it's for the sake of "thin-ness".