Word that Apple might ditch the headphone jack on its next iPhone has to be one of the longest running rumours since the launch of the 6S, but with that actually being the case, here’s how to live with the new jack-less iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
Why did Apple get rid of the headphone jack?
iPhones might be getting larger, but they’re also getting thinner and until the iPhone 7/7Plus, the headphone jack served as the last vestigial of an earlier age of technology, one where companies hadn’t anticipated the wafer-thin profiles of today’s smartphones.
The 3.5mm jack, which is commonplace on the vast majority of modern smartphones, actually has its roots in the 19th Century. There are few other technologies in the electronics space that have seen such little change after so long, but therein lies the problem for Apple. It’s not so much that the 3.5mm jack is old, or that it’s analogue, it’s just that it’s too big.
To pack elements like a new taptic engine into the iPhone 7 Apple’s decided to ditch the jack, stoking the fires of long-term progress (and short term inconvenience) in the process.
Don’t panic, there’s an adapter
Whilst Apple is known for instigating change in the technology market (even if Lenovo’s Moto Z beat them to it this time), the company still made the wise decision to include a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter in the box. That means you can still enjoy audio using any of your existing earphones/headphones, whether they’re last generations’ EarPods, some more serious headphones from the likes of Sennheiser or even a pair of Beats.
The most obvious shortcoming, which will bother some more than others, is the inability to charge your shiny new iPhone whilst you’re music is pumping into your ears. There’s every chance that third-party accessory makers (and perhaps Apple) will jump in to offer some sort of pass-through adapter, but right now it’s a toss up between power going in or sound coming out.
Alongside the company’s new iPhones, Apple also produced not one, but three solutions for connecting headphones to an iPhone: the aforementioned adapter, the new wired EarPods, which sport a Lightning connector in place of a 3.5mm jack and AirPods: the company’s new completely wireless Bluetooth-like earbuds.
Like the Bragi Dash or Samsung’s IconX, AirPods offer a completely wire-free audio experience and let you make or take calls without touching your phone. But bear in mind they require a proprietary case to charge and battery life tops out at five hours (with additional charge from the storage case totalling 24 hours). What’s more, there’s still no word on whether these new iPhones finally support aptX. Those looking for high definition audio from an iPhone should unquestionably side with wired buds or cans instead.
Lightning is all-digital
Ditching the headphone jack means Apple can also shrug off the digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), which used to live inside the iPhone alongside an amp, but will now reside within any supported Lightning headphones/earphones you choose to pair either of them with.
If, as the rumours suggest the Lighting port has been upgraded to compete more closely with USB 3.0 data speeds, that means (based on research collated by TechRadar) a theoretical transfer rate of 5Gbps, or around 640 megabytes per second. By comparison Bluetooth 4.2 maxes out at 25Mbps, or around 3.25 megabytes per second. That implies significantly better audio quality when using compatible Lighting earphones or headphones between last generation and this generation of iPhone.
Which earphones/headphones should I buy for the new iPhone 7/7 Plus?
We’ve already covered a host of wired and wireless headphones that play nice with Apple’s new iPhones.
Check out our ‘Best budget headphones’ roundup for options that won’t break the bank. Our overall favourites, including one of the first pairs of Lightning headphones on the market – the Philips Fidelio M2Ls. Our most recent sports earphones versus, or our latest review of the new Jabra Halo Smart earphones.