Several big YouTubers and blogs have addressed the rumor of the headphone jack being removed in the upcoming iPhone 7. Personally, I don’t really think it’s a rumor that holds much water but I’d like to play devil’s advocate and explain why getting rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack is actually not a bad idea.
A lot of people hop on the idea that Bluetooth headphones are getting pretty good and that many people won’t need wired headphones anymore, and, there’s merit to that. There are Bluetooth headphones that are getting pretty decent; however, as a snobby audiophile, I can’t stand Bluetooth. Even aptX Bluetooth which is making its way into some newer smartphones, is still a far cry short of the quality that a decent wired headphone can provide. A lot of people don’t care. They’re fine with wireless, and for Apple, that’s great. Problem solved. That said, there are a lot of people like me that either refuse to use Bluetooth or are people who already own wired headphones and don’t want to buy another pair. So, in this video, I’m going to explain the advantages to using wired headphones through the Lightning connector.
Not just a headphone jack External components bring external benefits
There are several real advantages to using the Lightning port for audio instead of the headphone jack. Behind every single headphone jack on a phone, or iPod, or laptop, really anything, is a DAC or Digital-to-Analog converter and an amplifier. Very briefly, the iPhone (in this case), sends digital data to the DAC converts a digital signal (usually bianary) into an analog current or signal. After your music is converted to an electric charge the signal is literally amplified, or increased, by an amp and THAT is what gives your headphones sufficient voltage to produce sound waves, which are just air pressure waves. So yes, your iPhone, has a DAC and an amp built in.
Space inside an iPhone is limited, and DACs and amps can get pretty expensive pretty fast, so Apple doesn’t really focus on making the DAC or amp inside the iPhone sound fantastic to minimize cost, and phone thickness. Because of this, there often isn’t sufficient amplification to power less efficient headphones—like my Audeze LCD-3 which barely make noise when plugged in and at max volume; however, even cheaper headphones, like the very popular Audio-Technica ATH-M50 sound WAY better when plugged into a higher quality DAC and amp vs. the iPhone. If Apple moved to the Lightning connector, which is digital, the DAC and amp would move from inside, to outside the iPhone. Apple would sell an adapter, with a DAC and amp built-in for people who want to use their old headphones. Now, this is where it gets exciting. Other brands, audio brands, would be able to sell adapters of their own that could integrate higher quality components which would help you take better advantage of your existing headphones. Now, many will be quick to say; there are already portable amps out on the market—and that’s true; however, those products still rely on the iPhone’s DAC and pre-amplified signal so being able to do all of the processing in one unit would produce much better results.
People buy headphones but don’t drive them to their full potential because they’re underpowered.
The biggest part is that new headphones will start to come out with a Lightning cable that has a DAC and amp already integrated. Philips already took a shot at this, but the first really good headphone is the Audeze Sine which will be released in April. I got to listen to them at CES and I was blown away. These headphones will ship with two cables—one regular one for all of your other devices, and one Lightning cable with a DAC and amp combo. With the regular 3.5mm headphone cable, they sounded nice plugged into an iPad (which, remember, used the iPad’s internal DAC and amp); however, when I changed the cable to the Lightning cable, which had it’s own DAC and amp, I was blown away. The headphones sounded like they were plugged into a really good amp. Because they were. The one built into the cable! Headphones act and sound differently with different amplification types and different DACs. Who better than the headphone manufacturer to design and pair a perfect DAC and amp right from the factory!
People buy headphones but don’t drive them to their full potential because they’re underpowered. Imagine if Audio-Technica sold a $30-50 removable cable designed to work with ATH-M50 you already own that had a DAC and amp designed specifically to work and to power those headphone to their full potential. That’s incredible. That takes portable fidelity to a whole new level. And, if Apple changes to Lightning, new, compatible headphones will popup within weeks. People seem to forget that Apple is an extremely powerful company and if you want to make a successful product, you’ll conform to what Apple makes you do. If we quickly backtrack to 2007, there was the infamous recessed headphone jack on the original iPhone. Apple did it for pure ascetics and there was outrage because there were essentially no headphones at that time which had a jack that fit into that skinny little port. Sure, people like Belkin and Griffin took advantage of selling $15-20 adapters for while, but the entire market moved toward this thinner headphone jack as a result. Today, in 2016, you almost can’t buy a headphone with a fat connector. So, we can naturally disregard the notion that headphone manufacturers won’t start to offer Lightning cables for their headphones, because they will. And if you don’t want to buy new headphones, fine, use an adapter that sounds better than the iPhone 6S. And if you don’t want cables, Bluetooth works great, and will only get better.
Again, I still don’t think that Apple is actually going to remove the headphone jack—but, if they do—it won’t be as bad as everyone makes it sound. In fact, it might revolutionize practical, portable, hi-fidelity audio. That’s all from me…