Love my X, but ready to return it over the lightning adapter audio quality.

Discussion in 'iPhone' started by tuxmelvin, Nov 9, 2017.

  1. tuxmelvin macrumors member

    Sep 26, 2014
    I upgraded from a 5S, so almost everything about the X is a huge upgrade... except one major downgrade, and that's audio quality using the lightning adapter with my headphones. I'm currently using a pair of Audio-Technica MSR7NC headphones, but with the adapter music sounds less dynamic with a diminished soundstage, and I'm so disappointed with the audio quality I am contemplating returning it and purchasing a SE or 6S. PLEASE STOP ME! What can I do to regain the sound I got from my old 5S, without spending $200+ on a DAC/AMP on top of the $1159+199+tax I've spent on the X?
  2. 1096bimu macrumors 6502


    Nov 7, 2017
    Love those audiophile sneak oil ********.
    Sound stage is a type of distortion, if it is somehow altered after the recording of the audio.

    Also Samsung has terrible sound quality. At least if you want to feel like an audiophile, get the V30. Not that it will make any audible difference, but at least you get the street cred.
  3. Harthag macrumors 6502a

    Jun 20, 2009
    Honest question / not insulting you- have you ever tried the V30 or an older HTC 10 that had a proper headphone jack and DAC? The sound is night and day different, even with lossy 320kb MP3/AAC. And I'm not an audiophile. The LG V30 is an absolute beast and much more than street cred.

    OP, here's a lightning DAC on Amazon for $40. Have not tried it myself.

    And another one for $60:
  4. camhabib macrumors regular

    May 29, 2008
    A great solution that wouldn't cost you much is just getting over it. 90% of the "perceivable difference" is the placebo effect from the cool-aid, and if the 10% that isn't is worth you going back to a 4+ year old device than you should probably take some time to consider your position and priorities in life.
  5. tuxmelvin thread starter macrumors member

    Sep 26, 2014
    I'm not sure what Samsung has to do with this conversation. I'm not going to buy an Android phone... I have too much invested in iOS products.
  6. Switchback666 macrumors 68000


    Nov 16, 2012
    I own 2 UE Pro 18 and before and after the audio jack removal and noticed very little difference using the adapter, actually I don't think there's any difference since sound quality is basically the same on my iPad pro 12 jack's
  7. 1096bimu macrumors 6502


    Nov 7, 2017
    No but I have tried my own high quality DAC, which sounds the same as my iPad or even Samsung phone.

    Never underestimate the power of self confirmation bias. Equalize your volumes, and try again. Sure the V30 will be nigh and day in that it will be crazy loud, but what else? I will only believe it when I see a proper, double blind ABX test.
  8. tuxmelvin thread starter macrumors member

    Sep 26, 2014
    I should probably point out that I listen to a lot of ambient, orchestral, and live music. For the average rock song I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference.
  9. Puddled macrumors 6502a


    Jun 9, 2017
  10. Atomic Walrus, Nov 9, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017

    Atomic Walrus macrumors 6502a

    Sep 24, 2012
    A lot of audiophile terminology is nonsense, and there is a ton of snake oil in that industry. Like, a truly comical amount.

    BUT, not everything “high end” audio people talk about is fiction. It is true that many specialized headphones require more voltage (or in some cases, usually high end IEMs, lower impedance) in order to drive a suitable volume without distortion.

    Smartphones often don’t have enough voltage output for headphones which were designed around the output of studio equipment. If you don’t have enough voltage then your headphones will clip when you increase the volume past a certain level. Clipping is a measureable phenomenon, not a subjective (made up) audio property like “soundstage.”

    Anyway, how much voltage you need is something you can calculate for your headphones. An HD650 needs ~1.8V to be able to handle full dynamic range without clipping. Your AT headphones probably need more like 1V. The adapter does 0.44V, whereas the headphone jack on previous iPhones was about 0.5V.

    That 12% decrease isn’t a lot, and it wouldn’t impact any headphones sold as portable consumer units, but in your case it might be enough to increase clipping to the point where it becomes annoying at the volumes you generally use. My guess would be that you were right at the line before, and now you’re on the other side

    Unfortunately what you need is really a pair of headphones with a lower impedance (or higher sensitivity, or both). Wish I had some more helpful ideas, but it’s a physics problem and that’s just how the numbers work out.

    That’s definitely a major contributing factor. The music you listen to has a wide dynamic range, so you need to crank the volume to hear the quiet parts (modern studio music does not have quiet parts) and anything loud will clip because of the voltage constraints.

    Some reading for anyone who cares:

    On power requirements for headphones. Written by the engineer who was famously banned for life from Head-Fi by bringing actual science into the conversation, thus instantly discrediting most of the products in the audiophile world: takes measurements of the lighting to headphone adapter, compared to other Apple devices with headphone jacks:


    Voltage limited due to the high impedance of your headphones, you will get distortion at high volumes, nothing you can do other than replace the headphones or use lower volume setting.
  11. nilk macrumors 6502a

    Oct 18, 2007
    Interesting.. I heard the DAC in Apple's adapter is very good. I've heard this from multiple sources.

    Here is one fairly reliable one, and he even claims Apple's adapter beats a lot of more expensive 3rd party DACs:

    I still haven't tried the adapter myself, though I do own one. Maybe I'll have to try it out.
  12. tuxmelvin thread starter macrumors member

    Sep 26, 2014

    THANK YOU!!! You are describing exactly the problem I am having. In order to get the music to sound like I want I have to turn up the volume too loud and it sounds terrible. I used to listen to the ATH-M50x, but my desk at work was moved into a factory area, so I purchased this pair for their noise cancellation properties. This makes a lot of sense and I can work with this. Thank you!
  13. sdwaltz macrumors 6502a

    Apr 29, 2015
    Yeah, I've never noticed a drop in quality w/the adapter.

    Perhaps you got a bad one?
  14. Atomic Walrus macrumors 6502a

    Sep 24, 2012
    It’s confusing because it is a very solid DAC and amplifier. No audible distortion, very low impedance, etc. it just isn’t very powerful - in an electric current/voltage sense - because it’s a tiny thing plugged into a tiny device.

    It’s kind of like how you could have a 4 cylinder engine that has excellent performance characteristics, but it wouldn’t be suitable for a truck simply because of its size/maximum power output.

    The OP’s dilemma is that he has headphones that were designed for the higher power output of studio hardware.
  15. california_kid macrumors regular

    Sep 9, 2016
    San Francisco
    Actual measurements of the dongle audio quality disagree with your perception:
  16. tuxmelvin thread starter macrumors member

    Sep 26, 2014
    Would an amp solve this dilemma, or am I better off just using different headphones?
  17. california_kid macrumors regular

    Sep 9, 2016
    San Francisco
    If you got the means, I would recommend the new Sony MDR-1000XM2. It's wireless or wired with 30 hours listening time. Best noise cancelling technology with mobile app that gives you even more options. Supports AAC codec so works great with iOS. Very balanced sound. I use it wireless and it's so much easier and more comfortable to use. Cannot honestly tell the difference between wired and wireless sound when I listen to Apple Music.
  18. Hieveryone macrumors 68040


    Apr 11, 2014
    Are you talking about using the adapter that comes in the box with headphones?

    I use Bose in ear headphones with the lightning to 3.5mm adapter and it’s ok.

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