Lightning EarPods vs. 3.5mm EarPods – What’s the Difference?

Lightning EarPods vs. 3.5mm EarPods - What's the Difference?
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The long, controversy filled wait is over – the iPhone 7 is here, and everyone’s worst fear has been confirmed. Apple has gotten rid of the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack on their latest series of phones.

While online forums and comments sections were filled with hate-filled fervor about Apple’s decision, it really didn’t seem like that big of a deal when the iPhone 7 finally launched. Included in the box of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus was a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter for users who wanted to continue to use headphones they had purchased, as well as a new pair of Apple’s ubiquitous EarPods, this time terminating the traditional jack in favor of a Lightning plug at the end. Although you can still find users complaining about the inability to listen to music via corded headphones while simultaneously charging their phone, much of the controversy has died down.

While Apple’s decision to get rid of the 3.5mm port was likely motivated by lack of space in the increasingly technical and already thin iPhones, there are several theoretical advantages to making the switch from 3.5mm to Lightning connectors in headphones. For one, headphones utilizing the Lightning port have the capability of higher audio quality. Higher-end Lightning headphones, or even higher-end 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapters can use higher quality digital audio converters than the digital audio converter that had previously been built into the iPhone, resulting in higher audio quality. Lightning-compatible headphones can also draw power from the iPhone for improved amplification (leading again to better sound) and active noise cancellation, as well as offer impressive app control from the headphones, and a host of other features.

While Lightning-compatible headphones are certainly capable of higher-quality audio and other features, how do Apple’s included Lightning-powered EarPods stack up to the previous 3.5mm EarPods that we’ve all become used to? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jeff Dunn of Business Insider claims that he “found the older EarPods to sound a teeny bit better… with a little more oomph in the lows and a little more depth overall.” A review by AppleInsider disagrees, with the reviewer claiming that as he “concentrated on the different instruments it became apparent that the Lightning EarPods do have crisper highs and slightly clearer mids.” AppleInsider even went as far as testing a pair of higher-end headphones (Audio Technica M50x) on an iPhone 6s and an iPhone 7 using the included 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter, and coming to the same conclusion – better highs and mids, as well as increased volume from the iPhone 7.

The fact of the matter is, Apple’s EarPods have never been great as far as headphones go. In fact, compared to other headphones in a similar price range, the EarPods have pretty poor audio quality. And when compared to higher-end headphones, the quality is downright pathetic. However, the average consumer is far from an audiophile, and likely won’t notice, or care about, any difference in quality. Listening to highly-compressed streaming music on a pair of EarPods that connect via the 3.5mm port compared to the same music on a pair of Lightning EarPods will likely sound almost exactly the same. The only users who would be likely to complain about the sound quality would be audiophiles, who likely have their own (quite expensive) pair of headphones, and quite likely a separate headphone amp and digital audio converter for the rare times when they’re forced to listen to music on the phone. And those of us that truly care about audio quality will likely be impressed with the Lightning-compatible headphones that higher-end audio manufacturers are sure to put out in the future.

In short: it’s a non-issue. Users who are used to listening to music through their EarPods on previous iPhone models likely won’t experience any noticeable difference between Apple’s older EarPods and the new Lightning EarPods. Users with higher end headphones may even notice a slight bump in audio quality using the included adapter. It turns out all the fuss was pretty much all for naught.

What are your thoughts on the sound quality from Lightning-enabled headphones?
Let us know in the comments below! 

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