Should wired headphone owners think twice before buying an iPhone 7?

Apple deletes the headphone jack on iPhone 7; is that "courage" or a bad move?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Since the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus don't have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, does that pose a dilemma for anybody who invested in a decent set of wired headphones? True, the 7 and 7 Plus come with a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter for connecting wired headphones, but what about sound quality? Will the adapter degrade it?

Since my iPhone 6S (which hasn't been discontinued) has a 3.5mm jack and a Lightning port, I wondered if they would sound the same. Did Apple sacrifice sound quality to limit headphones' wired connectivity to the Lightning port?

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The iPhone 6S has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a Lightning port.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

To get to the bottom of this I bought the Apple adapter for $9, (£9, AU$12), and the very first thing I noted was that its skinny wire didn't seem all that durable. I have my doubts that it will last more than a few months of day-to-day use. We'll see. I'm not sure why, but I had to update my iPhone 6S to iOS 10 to use the Lightning adapter. Next, I gathered a selection of wired headphones -- the 1More Triple Driver, Beyerdynamic iDX 200 iE, Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2, Etymotic ER4SR, Hifiman HE400S, and an Oppo PM3 -- to audition with and without the adapter.

As for the user experience, I can tell you this: fiddling with the adapter and your headphone's plug is a two-handed operation. You hold the adapter with one hand, and insert the headphone plug into the adapter with the other hand. It's fussier than just plugging the headphone directly into a 3.5mm jack.

With the P5 S2 headphone, Orrkervil River's "Away" album sounded a little clearer over the 3.5mm headphone jack, the Lightning connection muddied the bass a bit and the sound was a little less clear overall. Next, the Chiara String Quartet's "Bartok By Heart" over Oppo PM3 headphones told a similar story; the Lightning connection lost some clarity. The sound of the Quartet's breaths as they played were slightly hushed by the Lightning connection.

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As I continued listening, the differences between Lightning and the 3.5mm connection seemed less and less significant. So unless you're really fussy about sound quality, no need to fret over losses from the Lightning adapter.

Audiophiles looking to improve on iPhone sound quality can pick up an external digital converter/headphone amplifier, like the AudioQuest DragonFly Black ($99, £89, AU$160) that works with the iPhones' Lightning port.

With sound quality concerns put to rest I still resent that Apple chose to make something as easy as plugging in a set of headphones a little more difficult, potentially inconveniencing millions of iPhone 7 buyers using wired headphones. Of course, we have a choice; we can still buy an iPhone 6S, or get an Android phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack.