Listening test: Apple’s Lightning EarPods sound better than antiquated 3.5mm headphone jack

As Apple attempts to move beyond the headphone jack, its replacement wired audio input source, Lightning, offers a number of benefits over the legacy 3.5-millimeter technology.

Apple’s new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus each come with with EarPods with Lightning connectors to deliver incredible sound, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack adapter that allows customers to use old headphones and accessories.

AppleInsider shows you how Lightning is truly a step forward for audio quality.

Direct link to video here.

MacDailyNews Take: We believe that we can hear the difference, but we’re still looking forward to some real scientific audio A/B testing and blind listening tests.

Also, we just realized that we haven’t plugged anything into our iPhones’ headphone jacks since we were rocking iPhone 5s units! (We went Bluetooth via JayBirds around the time we got our iPhone 6 Plus units and the portable speakers and vehicles all use Lightning connectors or Bluetooth).


    1. Uh, Stereophile is the BS. I know John Atkinson for many years. Nice guy, and sincere in his quest to get audiophiles to care about measurements. But it’s been a failure. Also, I’ll ask him if he does want to test these, but I doubt it. And headphones and earbuds are very hard to test accurately anyway.

      1. Actually…because of the mobile phone industry there is now specialized speaker testing equipment for small speakers. When I worked at Foxconn there was an engineer that designed speakers, their location, and the housing. He used the equipment to verify his design and check for sound quality. Julian Hirsch used to do great work; R.I.P.

  1. There’s no doubt this new tech is head and shoulders above the 3.5mm audio jack.

    In 5 years you’ll be hard pressed to find a phone with an audio jack, just like it was with the floppy drive when Apple removed it from the iMac.

    1. Sorry, but that’s a pretty easy claim to bet against.

      Basic reason is because the Lightning connector is proprietary, and the unwashed masses of non-iPhones aren’t about to be willing to pay the licensing fee to be able to use it.

      Its cheaper for them to pay for the hardware for a 3.5mm jack than to pay a license fee to use Lightning.

      1. That doesn’t mean that all the others, when they see the advantages of going digital as has Apple, will not make the decision to make USB-C the default connector for headphones so their devices will have a similar ability to have powered headphones and also have higher gain and better sound.

  2. I want to wait for proper tests too, but they theoretically should have better sound quality. An all digital connection like the Lightning cable does not lose any sound fidelity over the length of the cable, while a completely analog cable like the 3.5mm headphone cable must lose sound fidelity according to amount of electrical impedance and length of the cable.

    1. Not necessarily. If the Digital to Analog converter is better than the one in the lightning plug, then connecting to the headphone port is likely to sound better than connecting to lightning. There’s lots of other variables, too.

    2. Do you actually understand about impedance? You’re just vauguely using technical words to make it sound as though you know what you’re talking about when you clearly don’t.

      Headphones offer a relatively low impedance load and a 3.5mm jack together with the headphone lead will not create any significant effects at audio frequencies.

      If there really were a fidelity limitation with 3.5mm jacks and the headphone leads, it would have been noticed and addressed as soon as people started using high quality headphones and that would have been at least twenty years ago.

    3. I wonder if the power output of the lightning connector is any greater than the regular headphone port? I don’t have a pair of non-lightning earpods to test with, but when I played with the lightning ones for a few minutes, they “seemed” to be driving louder. Will have to check when I get home.

      1. I just watched it. The difference is that the Lighting port provides more power. So, with an amplifier like the SoundBlaster E1, you can get the same audio quality from an iPhone. This just goes to show that the amplifier which the iPhone uses for the 3.5mm headphone jack is insufficient; the amplifier, not the jack.

  3. as I’ve said before, all Apple has done is to move the Digital to Analog convert from inside the phone to outside… The new setup may sound better, but ONLY because the D/A converters are better, or the ear buds are better… NOT because of the lightning connector…

    1. That’s absolutely correct.

      Moving the DAC from one place to another will not improve the quality unless the DAC or transducer is also improved.

      Listening tests will frequently reveal that one product sounds different to another, but that doesn’t mean it’s better – just different. You may prefer one sound to the other, but that’s just a preference, not a sign that one offers better fidelity than the other.

      Properly conducted double-blind tests, using people with trained ears remains the only way to assess the fidelity. Simpler tests merely indicate which one is preferred by that particular reviewer or group of people.


    iPhones have always been about convenience, not quality.
    You are more than likely listening to compressed audio to begin with.

    Does this mean it has to sound like crap? No.
    But it will never sound as good through a cheap DAC and good headphones as lossless files and even then you need a pretty good DAC.

    And there is the problem, the better quality equipment you use with an iPhone the more you hear its limits. Accepting this and using one for it intentions make them so much more enjoyable.

    My SE sounds pretty good even with bluetooth and SYNC in my pickup going down the highway with road noise, as long as I am playing rock or country.

    When I get home I generally listen to jazz or classical through one of my two systems (near field or surround). These are lossless and hi-res files streamed from my iMac or 16/44.1 from Tidal. They don’t sound that good stored on my iPhone and played through the Onkyo Player and the compressed files sound pretty bad played through my home systems.

    Just my 17 pesos worth….

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