Apple’s announcement of the demise of the standard headphone jack comes as no surprise to many. In the 4 decades, we have been doing this, we have only seen a couple of major changes in how you connect up your headphones.
First, we had the ¼” headphone jack, the true original. Once portables became popular (as early as the first Walkmans), we saw that jack shrink in size to 3.5mm, but it was still pretty easy to adapt an old ¼” to a 3.5mm with a simple adapter. Over the past 10 years, as headphones pushed higher performance limits, we have seen the balanced connection emerge where each earpiece has its own cable for even better sound.
The End of an Era?
Apple’s lightning connector throws a huge curveball at the hundreds of millions of headphones people own and love. Their new iPhone 7 will include an adapter to go from lightning to 3.5mm for legacy headphones and they introduced a new lineup of Beats (now Apple owned) headphones.
But what if you don’t like this idea of eliminating the industry standard jack or don’t want to buy Beats headphones (which even Forbes magazine says everyone knows don’t sound that great)?
The Best of Both Worlds from Audeze
In the Audio Advice stable of curated products, we’ve got a few solutions for those Apple fans who want both: the new phone and the ability to use it to its fullest potential.
One of our favorite headphone brands here at Audio Advice is Audeze. Audeze products are all made in the USA. For a few months, they have offered what they call a Cipher cable for their EL8 headphones. The EL8 uses a planar magnetic driver and sounds simply fantastic. They are one of our favorites. The EL8 Titanium headphones have a DAC built in, work perfectly with the lightning connection, and sell for $799.
Audeze also recently introduced the Sine, an on-ear model using dynamic drivers, for $449. The optional Cipher cable adds $50 to their price, letting you get an Apple compatible headphone for $499.
Finally, Audeze has introduced the world’s first in-ear planar magnetic headphones. The iSine10 and iSine20, at $399 and $599 respectively, both come with the Cipher cable. The iSine20 uses a slightly larger and more powerful planar magnetic driver and promises more dynamics and deeper bass extension.
All of the Cipher Audeze headphones come with an app that lets you customize the sound through a parametric EQ. Run across a song with too much bass. Turn it down. Need to add some sparkle to a really old recording? Play around with the treble boost. Pretty cool overall.
Another way to conquer the lightning connection is to just avoid it all together with wireless headphones. Brands like Master & Dynamic, Bowers & Wilkins, Focal, and Audiofly offer models that are extremely comfortable and sound great!
Check out the over the ear MW60 from Master & Dynamic. At $549 and with several great finishes, you will see why M&D call them modern thinking caps.
Bowers & Wilkins, known for making some of the best high-performance speakers in the world, have a new wireless P7 over-ear model. Made with super soft leather, these headphones sound great and remain comfortable for hours of listening. At $399 and with a 17-hour battery life, these are a great option. You can also get the P5 — B&W’s first headphone model. They have updated the performance and added wireless for just $299.
Unlike the new headphones using the Apple specific W1 chip, these wireless models will work with ANY Bluetooth device.
What if I want to keep my headphones?
Finally, what may well be the best solution, we’ve got an out of the box idea that lets you keep your headphones and make them sound better.
So how do you do that? Well for the last few years, Audioquest has achieved tons of critical acclaim for their Dragonfly products. These are tiny little DACs you can add to a system that also include a STANDARD 3.5mm headphone jack. Audioquest worked with some of the best designers in the world to develop a product that many reviewers say surpasses other DACs costing 10 times as much. The advantage of the Dragonfly is that you bypass all of the electronics in your phone and use the great DACs in the Dragonfly. The internal amp also drives your headphones far better than a phone.
There are two Dragonflies, the Black at $98.75 and the Red at $198.75. The Black sounds better than the recent Dragonfly 1.2, which was $179, and the Red is being reviewed against $1,000 separate component DACs and winning!
Grab a $29 Apple camera to USB female converter cable, beat the system, and get huge sonic improvements! While this is slightly more cumbersome (the Apple adapter cable is not any longer than the one they now give you as an adapter and the Dragonfly is about the size of a small USB stick) if you have a good set of headphones this rig will let you keep your headphones, get a new phone, AND improve your sound!