Apple"s brand-new iPhone doesn"t have actually a headphone jack, just a Lightning harbor that"s likewise used to fee the battery.

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In-ear sound originates from the EarPods or various other headphones with a Lightning connector, via a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter (included) or wireless headphones such as AirPods (sold separately).

Why walk Apple eliminate a common audio connector?

The 3.5mm jack is end 50-years-old and also doesn"t do much besides bring an audio signal. It needs its own power amplifier and digital audio converter, which have the right to be constructed into headphones, for this reason removing the jack makes room for other things, such as a second speaker.

As to apologize marketing chef Phil Schiller said at the iphone 7 launch, "Maintaining an ancient, single-purpose, analogue, large connector doesn"t do sense due to the fact that that space is in ~ a premium."

But walk making room because that what Apple thinks we desire (such as a vibrating Taptic Engine) outweigh the inconvenience that not having actually a widely-used socket -- and also being forced to purchase yet another expensive adapter to hear to music when charging?

Schiller said the decision to drop the 3.5mm jack was down to courage. However, even if you accept that the readjust was brave, "courage" doesn"t clearly highlight the advantages to customers. Apologize should have used another word to explain the iphone phone 7"s lack of headphone jack: progress.

"The headphone jack is really fairly limited," states Dr Joshua Reiss, head of audio engineering research in ~ Queen Mary college of London. "For the human who wants really an excellent sound, utilizing the Lightning harbor is much far better than using the headphone jack."

Sound quality

The Lightning harbor is exceptional to a 3.5mm jack as result of how that carries audio signals. "The large problem v the old headphone jacks is that they"re analogue technology," Reiss explains. "Modern audio formats are every digital, and have been because that a really long time."

Sound consists of tide transmitted as vibrations with a medium such as air. Yet while an original resource -- favor sounds native musical instruments -- create a continuous wave that has infinite information, her auditory system (ears and brain) doesn"t have to sense actual waves to awareness sound as a consistent stream.

Just together movies are made-up that a succession of still images presented in quick succession (usually 24 frames every second), audio is tape-recorded by taking snapshots the a wave at regular intervals, allowing those samples to be stored as bits of digital information.

constant sound tide (red) and bits the data sampled (blue) because that storage together digital audio (Image CC... <+> BY-SA 3.0: Wikimedia)

For playback, those digital bits are converted earlier to a wave representing the original recorded sound, or "analogue." This is completed by speaker that vibrate wait to develop a constant wave that deserve to then be detected at your eardrums. One drawback of a 3.5mm jack is the its digital-to-analogue converter changes the audio signal prematurely, prior to it get a headphone"s speakers, i m sorry can enable data to be shed from a recording.

"Generally, the jack itself will have had actually some audio deterioration just getting the audio," claims Reiss, that recommends the you plug headphones right into the digital port. "Your finest option in ~ the moment is to not use the adapter, however have an excellent headphones that have the right to use the Lightning connector directly."

High-resolution audio

For audio the sounds closer to an initial recording, you need to go beyond CD quality. "For nearly all people, most music, you wouldn"t hear a difference," says Reiss. "But there room benefits, and for audiophiles these points become much more important."

CDs keep 16 bits that data every sample in ~ 44,100 samples per second (44kHz), however sound can likewise be videotaped with 24 bits at a higher frequency of 96kHz. And while iphone phone 6 hardware support 24-bit/96kHz, software program such together iTunes and Apple Music don"t transmit that to a 3.5mm jack. Together streaming services like Tidal offer hi-res audio, iphone 7 owners could soon get much better sound.

Whether we have the right to appreciate beyond-CD resolution has long to be a topic of debate, partly due to conflicting scientific studies.

CD quality have to be enough to capture a realistic sound and also most people can"t detect frequencies above 20kHz (which is why friend can"t hear dog whistles). In ~ the very same time, some insurance claim that hi-res audio sound crisper or an ext intense, and brain imaging mirrors that people do respond come high frequencies.

As a an effect of the confusion, parts of the audio community cherry-pick whichever examine supports their agenda. Because that example, manufacturers of deluxe audio devices obviously have actually a vested interest in speak we"re able come tell the difference between ordinary CD quality and also hi-res audio.

Reiss recently settled the dispute by bringing every the relevant research together, a meta-analysis that 18 studies that included 400 participants native 12,500 experiments. "Putting them all together, it confirmed that world did definitely hear a difference," he says, including that flaws in numerous tests imply the impact isn"t as ethereal as it seems. "There were countless indicators the our capability to hear this difference could be even stronger than the studies."

While any kind of headphone connector -- whether 3.5mm or Lightning -- can impact audio quality, Reiss emphasizes that the most essential factor is the speaker inside each headphone, which turn a signal earlier into sound. "That"s normally the weakest connect in the whole chain," he says. "You can have an amazingly high resolution, terrific representation of the signal, yet then girlfriend play it back over really negative loudspeakers."

NEXT: Why Apple was wrong to usage Lightning (and AirPods)

One criticism the Apple"s decision come drop the 3.5mm jack from iphone 7 is the you can"t hear to music while charging (without a 2nd adapter). This is intentionally inconvenient due to the fact that the firm is aiming to push human being away from cables. As Phil Schiller said, Apple has actually "a vision of how audio have to work on cell phone devices... Wireless."

Wired vs. Wireless

Wireless headphones like Apple AirPods communicate with audio players v Bluetooth technology. Recent gadgets use variation 4, i beg your pardon is fragile to loss of audio -- drop-out -- if two tools aren"t appropriately paired.

"Bluetooth standards room much much better than they offered to be, but still much from what they could be," claims Joshua Reiss, who believes the following standard -- Bluetooth 5.0, obtainable in 2017 -- can fix many current issues. "Your connection might always stay on and you could not must do something to make the Bluetooth machine connect, for this reason the sound drop-out have to go away."

The brand-new AirPods have actually a "W1" chip the helps pairing, yet they"re ultimately constructed on ageing tech, and it"s less reliable than wired connections. If this could not bother early on adopters, others may want come wait for iPhone 8, i beg your pardon should include Bluetooth 5.

Lightning has actually some advantages over wireless headphones, such as bandwidth -- the quantity of data moved over a link -- measure by the number of bits moved per second. Bluetooth 4 can transfer 25 megabits per second (Mbps), whereas Lightning deserve to handle almost 20 times as much, 480 Mbps.

Greater bandwidth enables a link to bring extra information, i beg your pardon will mean interesting new features in future phones. A signal might transmit many audio networks (more 보다 two-channel stereo) because that surround sound, because that example, or your headphones could adapt its output based upon geolocation data accumulated by your phone, automatically activating noise cancellation in a crowded environment.

Lightning vs. USB

Although removed the headphone jack connected both courage and also progress, Apple to be wrong to replace it v Lightning.

During the iphone 7 launch, Phil Schiller presented a misleading number -- there room 900 million Lightning-enabled devices -- to suggest that people prefer the port, do no cite of various other wired connectors. This doesn"t enhance Apple"s article that the agency ditched the 3.5mm jack "to perform something brand-new that benefits every one of us".

By "all that us", Schiller was only referring to people who are fine through being locked into Apple"s ecosystem -- not those that have, say, one Android phone and iPad, customers that would fairly not need different cables because that each device.

If apple truly want to benefit everyone, it would switch come USB Type-C -- a connector the company already uses in its MacBook computers. USB-C is uncovered in smartphones favor the Google Nexus 6P and also Moto Z, and also -- choose Lightning - it"s a digital connector v a bandwidth of 480 Mbps (for conventional USB 2.0).

Why stick v Lightning? due to the fact that it"s proprietary technology, therefore third-party manufacturers must pay Apple for the patent to usage it. (For human being who want to future-proof their headphones or want them to job-related with non-Apple products, it may be worth skipping iphone 7 and seeing if next year"s version switches to USB-C -- unlikely -- or uses Bluetooth 5.)

Removing the headphone jack is inconvenient in the short-term, however Reiss to trust the permanent benefits do it worthwhile. "It"s a bit shocking to some people, it"s law away through the an innovation that civilization are an extremely comfortable with, and also an extremely frustrating for people who"ve invested in headphones utilizing the 3.5mm jack and don"t want to use an adapter."

Ultimately, the factor Apple changed the headphone jack is because the benefit outweighed the danger of alienating a few existing customers.

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"It"s a happy mix of something that permits them come sell brand-new products, to license anyone who wants to usage their Lightning," states Reiss. "At the exact same time it"s also great technically, for enhancing audio quality."


I"m a scientific research communicator and award-winning journalist through a doctor in evolutionary biology. I specialise in explaining scientific ideas that show up in popular culture and mostly write around health, nature and also technology. I spent number of years at BBC Science focus magazine, running the features section and also writing around everything from happy genes and also internet memes to the scientific research of death and origin of life. I"ve additionally contributed to clinical American and Men"s Health. Mine latest book is "50 Biology concepts You Really should Know".