Apple Kills the Headphone Jack – What are the current options?

Airpods

Today’s iPhone announcement from Apple brought forth a natural evolution of change that still might catch many by surprise. With the release of the new iPhone 7, the company is dropping the use of the standard 3.5mm analog headphone jack from device to free up more physical space inside the tiny housing that has become our home for mobile talking. This was done in order to make room  for battery, screen and all other consumer technology requests that constantly compete for the precious real estate packed into the tiny shell.

The importance of this symbolic leap was not lost on the presenters at Apple’s streamable annual unveiling event for the handheld. Phil Schiller even took a few moments to directly address some of the concerns that have undoubtably been raised since rumors started swirling around the not-so-well-kept feature set of the new phone. So what are the new options for listening now that the analog jack has gone the way of the 8-track?

Apple presented a few options of their own, starting with a ecosystem-friendly wireless version of the earbud called the Airpod.

Given Apple’s emphasis on design and aesthetics, it seemed a bit surprising to see such a large extension protruding from the driver casing. This of course gives them much more leeway to optimize battery life and other more technical wizzbag features with the extra space here as well. Also a bit of an eye-opener, the price. At $159, it might be hard sell to mainstream consumers who only expect that type of payout for over-ear Beats-style brands. What has yet to be seen is weather these new headphones, and the iPhone 7 in general will integrate support the AptX bluetooth codex or stick with (what some feel is lesser quality) Apple’s own AAC standard.

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Not to be left out of all the action, Apple-owned Beats will be issuing 3 corresponding wireless headphones including a new solo3 which should take advantage of some of the more convince-heavy features that the new wireless interface and W1 chip offer.

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Should you want to connect any pair of headphones wirelessly to your new phone (or iWatch) Noble Audio has created a small device aimed at making IEMs and full size gear even more portable. Their BTS (short for BlueTooth Solution) connects wirelessly for $99 and provides a clipable amp/DAC solution complete with a 3.5mm jack. Other brand-specific, in-line options have cropped up lately as well from company’s like Westone and Jaybird.

While wireless is obviously the direction the big A is pointing us all in, several wired options are launching (or have already launch) that provide their own flavor in the form of an external DAC chip and direct-to-lighting connection.

Sine-1

Aside from a Phillips early entry, Audeze was one of the first adopters to offer a lighting cable with mic, controls and a DAC/Amp all self-contained within the product. The Cipher cable is currently available for both their EL-8, Sine and now iSine headphones. You can check out more of our thoughts on the interface in our formal review of [the Sine].

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JBL was also mentioned in the presentation with a new line of in-ears called the Reflect Aware ($200). The sports-oriented IEM offers noise cancelation and the ability to mix in sound from your surroundings into your music for a safer, more aware workout. No batteries are needed to operate as the internal electronics draw power from your phone via the lighting connection.

The purchase of either new 7 or 7 plus iPhone also includes a pair of more traditional earbuds from Apple that now terminate in a lighting jack. If all else fails, you will still be able to connect any pair of old school cans with another free included adapter intended to soften the blow which does easy-peasy conversion from lighting to 3.5mm.

So there you have it. Obviously there is soon to be an onslaught of more products to be quickly whisked our way in the days ahead. But worry not young listener, there are still numerous options available at day of launch.

The Apple iPhone starts taking pre-orders September 9, with shipping beginning on the 16th.

 

  • Alan R. Christilaw

    With the Beats acquisition Apple will make more companion sales and that is the objective. If wireless could sound the same as wired? Not happening…. yet.

  • Eddie J. M.

    It’s about time! The 50 yr old connection is pure anolog. For a design standpoint, the death of the head phone jack offers the potential for much better fidelity and eliminates a DAC in the signal path, which in effect, results in much better “unfiltered” fidelity and frees up valuable phone “real estate”. The benefits to the designer are many as mentioned/thinner phone case’s, improve screen performance, more internal room for next generation components/feature sets, etc. As an audiophile, the simplification of the signal chain gets me closer to the pure music/audio of the source material. Headphone jacks served the purpose in your 1960’s portable, transistor radio and have no reason to be included in the advanced digital devices of 2016. “Ding dong the witch is dead” !!

    • Alim

      The wheel is older than 50 years old, and yet no one sits ranting/talking about how the car is a dead technology. Everything around the wheel has changed and develop to become a better product. Just like everything around the headphone jack has developed to become a better sounding audio device. All the $40,000 audio amplifiers/equipment out there still use analog connections. Not because these companies are lazy or don’t know what they are doing, but because it’s still the best option. Yes the iPhone audio out headphone jack sounds bad. That’s because they use cheaper components, selling a cheaper made product. So it’s not the connection that’s the bottleneck of Fidelity, it’s the components on the inside of the phone. All the wireless audio technology sounds horrific. And any other external DACs are going to be the same exact thing that would happen on the inside of the phone. And then get plugged into a headphone jack. Your argument is so uneducated and ridiculous. I couldn’t even imagine what type of person you are. You don’t need to reply because I will not pay attention to your messages. Your first ranting message was enough. At no point do I ever expect your argument to make any sense or qualify as something that would be worth reading.

      • Eddie J. M.

        Same here you misguided wort. You don’t know crap about digital audio. I welcome your adversion to opinions other than your own, misguided one. Your last sentence was the clincher. Without it,I would have blown you off as a “know nothing “. To bad you’ll never read this. See you in hell, scab eater!??????

        • AudioHead

          Yikes, that got ugly pretty fast. Although I have to give some bonus points to Eddie for using the phrase “misguided wort” let’s try to keep it civil here guys. Everyone is allowed their opinion and should be able to do so without descending into name-calling. Thanks.

          • Eddie J. M.

            Sorry closed mindedness just pisses me off. Here is a great article from Yahoo

            BTW. My main point as an Audiophile is/ any time you remove a component in the single path between the source material and output device you get one step closer to the original sound/source material , there by increasing fidelity. Very simple concept…. One that Mr Wort fails to comprehend ??

            Technology

            Apple eliminates headphone jack, ushers in ‘wireless future’ with new iPhone 7
            Apple’s latest iPhone may be more notable for what’s missing from previous models than what’s being added. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus unveiled Wednesday won’t have an analog headphone jack — a longtime staple in just about every consumer electronics device that can play audio. Apple justified the removal of the jack as a courageous move to make more space inside the iPhone, saying it’s slimmer, has a longer battery lifetime and other improvements, including stereo speakers and a sharper camera. The company offered as alternatives a lightning cable earphone and an adapter for the old models, but touted its new wireless future.
            The reason to move on is courage. … The courage to move on and do something new that will benefit all of us.
            Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing
            Axing the jack, they say, paves the way for discreet, bean-sized earbuds, called “AirPods,” that can simultaneously translate, filter out unwanted noise or let the user control other devices by voice — driving up the value of the so-called ‘hearables’ market. It’s the vision of the futuristic 2013 movie “Her”, where a human has a love affair with a disembodied voice in his ear. But some who follow the industry say that this development is closer than many think, noting improvements in wireless technologies, materials, artificial intelligence and battery life. Apple has been trying to reverse its first decline in iPhone sales since the company’s late founder, Steve Jobs, unveiled the trendsetting device in 2007. Phone advances from Apple, Samsung and other smartphone makers in recent years are becoming so run of the mill that BGC analyst Colin Gillis says the industry is gradually losing its ability to dazzle consumers.
            (It’s) like buying a microwave — something people do, but not a major event.
            Gillis

          • GSM

            Eddie, you’re just substituting a wireless bluetooth connection in place of an analog one. Bluetooth is actually adding more, not fewer, components (Transmitter, Receiver and power required to drive them both) into the signal chain. The SQ of a current bluetooth signal is not as good as a hardwired connection.

            Will wireless connections eventually compare and equal hardwired? Yes, but we’re not there yet. It’s a convenience vs quality preference. More people seem to prefer convenience over quality. When wireless technology equals or surpasses hardwired quality then I’ll switch but until then I’ll stick with analog tech. BTW, a digital signal IS an analog representation of zeros and ones. It’s truly not digital.

          • GSM

            Bluetooth also introduces compression and it’s the compression that reduces the SQ.

          • Eddie J. M.

            GSM. Damn you’re right on! Forgot about the Bluetooth bit and pieces. Remove the DAC and enter BT! Anyway as I said (and Jeff before me)before , the real hope for improved phone fidelity is advances in wire tech. BTW/No music for me on my phone anyway. (Just podcasts)Always listen on my Creative Zen player to 320 kbps MP3 files, (WAV’s just devoure my SD cards) with my with my Grado HP’s Thanks for bursting my bubble ????

          • Eddie J. M.

            GSM. Damn you’re right on! Forgot about the Bluetooth bit and pieces. Remove the DAC and enter BT! Anyway as I said (and Jeff before me)before , the real hope for improved phone fidelity is advances in wire tech. BTW/No music for me on my phone anyway. (Just podcasts)Always listen on my Creative Zen player to 320 kbps MP3 files, (WAV’s just devoure my SD cards) with my with my Grado HP’s Thanks for bursting my bubble ????

          • Eddie J. M.

            Sorry closed mindedness just pisses me off. Here is a great article from Yahoo

            BTW. My main point as an Audiophile is/ any time you remove a component in the single path between the source material and output device you get one step closer to the original sound/source material , there by increasing fidelity. Very simple concept…. One that Mr Wort fails to comprehend ??

            Technology

            Apple eliminates headphone jack, ushers in ‘wireless future’ with new iPhone 7
            Apple’s latest iPhone may be more notable for what’s missing from previous models than what’s being added. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus unveiled Wednesday won’t have an analog headphone jack — a longtime staple in just about every consumer electronics device that can play audio. Apple justified the removal of the jack as a courageous move to make more space inside the iPhone, saying it’s slimmer, has a longer battery lifetime and other improvements, including stereo speakers and a sharper camera. The company offered as alternatives a lightning cable earphone and an adapter for the old models, but touted its new wireless future.
            The reason to move on is courage. … The courage to move on and do something new that will benefit all of us.
            Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing
            Axing the jack, they say, paves the way for discreet, bean-sized earbuds, called “AirPods,” that can simultaneously translate, filter out unwanted noise or let the user control other devices by voice — driving up the value of the so-called ‘hearables’ market. It’s the vision of the futuristic 2013 movie “Her”, where a human has a love affair with a disembodied voice in his ear. But some who follow the industry say that this development is closer than many think, noting improvements in wireless technologies, materials, artificial intelligence and battery life. Apple has been trying to reverse its first decline in iPhone sales since the company’s late founder, Steve Jobs, unveiled the trendsetting device in 2007. Phone advances from Apple, Samsung and other smartphone makers in recent years are becoming so run of the mill that BGC analyst Colin Gillis says the industry is gradually losing its ability to dazzle consumers.
            (It’s) like buying a microwave — something people do, but not a major event.
            Gillis

  • Jeff

    Changes happen. That’s fine. Just because Apple decides this is best won’t change much for the many with conventional audio plugs, especially for audiophiles with pricey cans and amp/dacs that use old school connectors. Will wait and see how much “better” engineers can make Bluetooth and Lightning connections over the older analog connectors. So far rather unimpressed with Bluetooth connected devices to date, but this will improve over time. In meantime audiophiles will enjoy their high end cans, amps/dacs and the masses will still think inexpensive ear buds and Beats cans are (sic) awesome.

    • Eddie J. M.

      Jeff you hit the nail right on the head! Improvements in wireless tech/ i e Bluetooth, etc, are key and provide the most potential to improve fidelity. Currently, wireless tech is the weakest link in the current signal path chain ….great point!

      BTW….I’m a poor audiophile ?

  • Michael Seow

    The best option seems to be something along the lines of the Arcam MusicBoost. This is a phone protective cover that is also a battery pack, high end DAC and has its own 3.5mm earphone jacks. It pairs with the iphone7 using lightning connector yet outputs audiophile analog through the 3.5 mm jack. We get to keep our headphones and enjoy high quality music.