The deed is done. After months of rumors it’s finally official: Apple is killing off the 3.5mm headphone jack. If you plan on getting the new iPhone and intend to use it as your main listening device, you had better get used to dongles. Or you can steer into the skid and get some of the best Lightning connector headphones out there. Of course, this is more of a “Good products that are currently available” rather than “What’s the best”. For right now, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
If you’re taking this opportunity to really make an investment in the best you can get, then go with the Audeze EL-8 Titanium Closed-Back headphones. These are top of the line planar magnetic headphones and has been taking full advantage of the Lightning port on the iPhone for a while now. Thankfully the cable is removable and you can swap it out for a standard 3.5mm audio cable. This way you can still use them with your computer or audio equipment whenever you need to. But there is one key benefit to using their Lightning cable instead. Audeze calls it the “CIPHER” cable, and it has many of the key audio components required to drive high quality headphones built right into it. Where you would normally find a control module with a mic and playback controls, the CIPHER cable has an inline digital-to-analog converter, a headphones amplifier, and of course a Siri-compatible mic for calls. Your iPhone has more than enough juice to power these, and being plugged into the Lightning port gives the EL-8s access to all of it. Of course, these are high end headphones. Even without the iOS compatibility they wouldn’t be cheap. But if you’re getting tired of carrying large DACs and headphone amps, these are a sleek all in one option.
Audeze Sine on-ears
If you couldn’t tell, Audeze has been preparing for this for a while. Not only do they make the best over-ear Lightning headphones in the EL-8s, but they make a great pair of on-ears as well. The Sine On-Ear headphones are for anyone who still wants the increased portability of on-ears, with the sound quality of planar magnetic headphones. These look fairly different from the EL-8s, with an unassuming all-black design. It’s made of a lightweight aluminum and also folds at the hinges for easy storing while traveling. Of course, they wouldn’t be on this list if they didn’t have a Lightning connector. Like the EL-8s, you can use these with the same CIPHER Lightning cable. You’ll get all the benefits of the in-line mic, DAC, and headphone amp with none of the bulk that comes with the large over-ear headphones. One thing to note is that the cable is an optional add-on. Out of the box these come with a standard 3.5mm audio cable so if you’re looking to take advantage of the 24-bit Lightning cable, you’ll have to dish out another $50. That said, a price of $500 for a pair of planar magnetic headphones is still fairly reasonable considering the quality.
Philips Fidelio M2L/27
If you’re thinking about giving the Lightning port a shot but don’t want to invest over $500 just yet, check out the Philips Fidelo M2L/27 on-ear headphones for only $199. These are have a sleek metal and leather design that gives the headphones a premium look more expensive than they actually are. Inside are 40mm neodymium drivers capable of frequencies ranging from 7Hz – 25kHz. But of course, stealing the spec show is the Lightning cable that connects these to your iOS device. Unlike the CIPHER cable on the Audeze headphones, these have the amp and DAC built right into the earcup. This means that there’s no bulky control module on the cable taking away from the sleek design. Of course, this also means that there’s no microphone which is something to keep in mind. One other downside to the Fidelio M2L/27s is that the Lightning cable isn’t removable. These are meant to be exclusively used with iOS devices so if you’re looking for your next daily drivers, these might not be the best choice simply because most source devices don’t have Lightning connectors. That said, if the only time you listen to music is through your iPhone, these might work for you. The Philips Fidelio M2L/27s can be picked up for about $159 on Amazon.
JBL Reflect Aware
Not everyone enjoys over-ears of on-ears headphones. Whether it’s the convenience of being able to stuff them in your pocket or the ability to wear them discreetly in places you shouldn’t be listening to music, some people just prefer in-ears. One company that took it upon themselves to make a pair of Lightning earbuds is JBL with their Reflect Aware sport headphones. These are technically made to be used while exercising, but just join the rest of us in 2016 and get a pair of Bluetooth earbuds for that. Besides terminating in a Lightning connector instead of a 3.5mm jack, what makes these so interesting is that they also have adaptive noise cancelling. Normally when you think of ANC in-ears, you envision a large bulky control module holding the battery and microphones. But being plugged into the Lightning port on your phone allows these to be powered completely by your iPhone or iPad. No more annoying bulky control modules in this future. You can adjust the strength of the noise cancelling via the free JBL app so if you’re on an airplane you can bump it up to max, but keep it low if you’re on a run so you can be aware of your surroundings. The Reflect Aware in-ears do have a small control module on the wire, but it’s for the built-in mic and playback controls. Not a giant battery. If you want a solid pair of Lightning in-ears from a trusted company, the Reflect Awares are a great option.”
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