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This article was published on August 15, 2016

A Lightning-only iPhone 7 may sound bad, but we’ll get over it

A Lightning-only iPhone 7 may sound bad, but we’ll get over it
Nate Swanner
Story by

Nate Swanner

Former Reporter, TNW

TNW's former West Coast writer in the PNW (Portland, Oregon). Nate loves amplifying developers, and codes in Swift when he's not writing. If TNW's former West Coast writer in the PNW (Portland, Oregon). Nate loves amplifying developers, and codes in Swift when he's not writing. If you need to get in touch, Twitter is your best bet.

Now that I have my hands on an iPhone 7 dummy unit, the Lightning-only connectivity is staring me right in the face, mocking me to upgrade my current wired earbuds for something… else.

But will it be worth it?


Lightning sounds expensive (literally)

My colleague Napier Lopez recently reviewed some Lightning on-ear headphones, and reports the sound was better than he anticipated. “Music does sound better through the Lightning connector” were his exact words.

But those headphones had a Lightning cable with a dedicated amplifier, processor and converter. That’s loftier than what you and I can expect for $50.

And to use Lightning, manufacturers have to involve themselves with Apple’s MFi program. Unlike other standards, Lightning can’t be used and abused by anyone. Apple wants to control it, both to make sure it’s implemented properly and better manage the supply chain.


Bluetooth a go-go

I’m not the audiophile my pal Napier is (I’m also convinced the term ‘audiophile’ is a clever way to sound smart about something so subjective nobody can argue your point, but I digress), so I’m worried about more basic things. So long as the earbuds and/or headphones don’t bottom out on Future, I’m good.

And that probably leaves me with Bluetooth in the new Lightning world we’ll soon be occupying, which is actually okay. I’ve reviewed some on-ear headphones from Satechi that I was actually really impressed with, and the price is right.

Then again, I don’t travel with them, and my favorite in-ear buds are wired.


The iPhone 7 might have a dongle problem

My absolute favorite in-ear buds are from Xiaomi. They’re $25, insanely comfortable and sound really good.

But I won’t be able to use them with the iPhone 7, it seems. All reports from the supply chain suggest we’ll lose the audio jack, so a direct wired connection as we know it will be dead to us. And that leaves dongles.

Additional reports note Apple is planning to release a Lightning converter for legacy headphones, which is probably going to have a placebo effect on users. We should expect to see ‘reviews’ of the dongle, even though it’ll likely be a straight converter that neither amplifies or degrades sound in any way.

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Will Lightning be worth it?

I’d like to say it will, and I believe it will, but it’ll be a tough road. Consumers will be confused by the change, and audiophiles (whatever those are) will condemn it.

Until we try Lightning and find it’s not going to affect sound quality in any way.

Those who complain we’ll no longer be able to charge our phones and listen to music are being a touch too sensitive about change, but have a point. But in a year or two, when just about every manufacturer has a Lighting option in their headphone lineup, it won’t be so bad.

It will take that long, too. If a company isn’t already involved with MFi, ramping up to production will take time — and I really doubt headphone manufacturers that are serious about sound will throw caution to a dongle.

Like 30-pin to Lightning, the vitriol and malaise will die off in short order and we’ll start tweeting snarky things like ‘lol remember analog headphones?’ before fondly recalling our favorites… and then remembering the Lightning version in on our desk is exactly the same.

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