The lightning headphone adapter

Rumors are circulating that Apple’s next-generation iPhone will drop the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, with new iPhone headsets relying on the lightning port or Bluetooth instead.

Whether or not this is true, there is another report of a Chinese accessory maker advertising a series of Lightning-to-headphone adapters with separate volume controls.

This all makes sense to me, feels believable. Used to be, high end studio equipment came with a 1/4″ jack and studio headphones shipped with a 1/4″ plug (the same size jack as you find on an electric guitar). As the 3.5mm jack became the standard, headphone manufacturers started shipping headphones with a high quality (usually) screw on adapter. With the adapter in place, you had a 1/4″ plug, without the adapter, 3.5mm. Easy-peasy.

The original iPhone shipped with a wide, 30-pin jack. When Apple shifted to the lightning jack, there was much gnashing of teeth as well as a short-lived market for 30-pin to lightning adapters. Instantly, your 30-pin iPhone/iPad felt old, outdated. But over time, as you replaced your 30-pin devices, the older standard fell into the dustbin.

Will Apple drop the 3.5mm headphone jack? Perhaps. But if they do, I suspect we’ll have no problem finding the right adapter for our existing headphones. You’ll no doubt find them in the Apple Store, right next to the USB-C adapters.

  • michaels99

    I still can’t see a compelling case for dropping the headphone jack. For me it doesn’t pass the, “does it make it better?” test. Lightning headphones are still a wired headphone and the sound quality will remain largely the same for nearly everyone.

    • puggsly

      The only “will it make it better” thing I have ever read is that it would allow for active noise cancelation without the bulk of batteries. I don’t know if that is enough of a benefit for wired headphones, but it is a real benefit. On the flip side, it eliminates a substantial amount of dead space within the phone and removes one of the largest holes in the phone.

      • EVula

        I think if they ditch the 3.5mm port in favor of the Lightning port, they can kill off a lot of the grumbling if they pair the transition with a “now there’s room for more battery” comment and increase the battery life semi-significantly.

        • rick gregory

          Which I can’t see. I mean, how much more battery can they add because the jack and associated electronics are gone? 15 minutes?

        • disqus_g0eWrThno2

          Agreed. If they can show a real, substantial benefit such as longer battery life than I think they’ll persuade the masses.

      • michaels99

        I’ve heard the active noise cancellation argument, I’m not convinced its enough to make it worthwhile. It would allow apple to make the included earbuds noise cancelling though I guess, so maybe.

      • Meaux

        But that could be done today. Are there any lightning headphones with that feature out today? If there aren’t doesn’t that seem to indicate there isn’t much of a demand for that?

    • studuncan

      You’re missing how large the internals of a headphone jack are. Using this space for battery might increase it by ~10%.

      • michaels99

        And that would definitely help battery life but it’s not for free. Powering noise cancelling headphones and/or an outboard (perhaps not power optimised) DAC would sap some of the extra. And people would either be faced with obsoleted expensive third party headphones, or they’d have to carry an adapter around with them everywhere. So much of this is going to depend on the implantation here. It’s not like doing away with the CD ROM drive, people get attached to their headphones, many invest hundreds of dollars in them. I think Apple need to tread carefully. But, if they do, I’m maybe slightly less sceptical than I was this morning.

      • Meaux

        Actually if you look at the internals, it’s not nearly 1/10th the size of the battery in the iphone 6. See that little grey nub smaller than a thumbnail in the lower left corner? That’s the headphone assembly. You’ll get 5% tops. You can fit about three of them across and over six going up.

  • rick gregory

    The 30 pin to Lightning transition was from one proprietary connect to another, though. This is different. People have bought 3rd party headphones, use their headphones with other things, etc. The 3.5 mm jack is a standard in ways the 30 pin connector never was.

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  • David Gillooly

    The usefulness all depends on what headphones Apple decides to offer.

  • Caleb Hightower

    I just use bluetooth, no more debate.