Apple iPhones have been lacking a headphone jack for a few years now, and even though we knew it was a bad idea at the time we still had hope that maybe this product category would blossom into something new and cool. It hasn’t. So if you’re looking for the best lightning headphones let me just preface this by saying that, just like USB-C headphones, you shouldn’t spend your money on these. That said, we’re still going to be pick which ones are the best, starting with the ones that come with your phone. If you want a pair of Lightning headphones, just stick with the Apple Earpods that came in the box.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on March 10, 2021, to replace the Audeze iSine10 with the Pioneer Rayz Plus.
Most should just experience the magic of Lightning earbuds with the ones that they already have
If you’re getting urge to try some lightning headphones, just stick with the Apple Earpods. These might not sound great, but if you can get a decent fit they’re fine for casual listening and podcasts. Plus, the microphone that’s built into them isn’t terrible. The main reason why you should just use these though, is that they’re free and made to use with your phone.
If you’re going to invest in a pair of headphones, you want some sort of inter-operability and right now that doesn’t exist with Lightning headphones. If you get a pair, you can only use them with a Lightning device. And considering Apple made the Earpods specifically for the iPhone that’s your best bet.
The Pioneer Rayz Plus features active noise cancelling
Pioneer is typically known for its car stereo systems, however the company has dabbled in the world of headphones every now and again. With the Rayz Plus, Pioneer is giving iOS device owners a feature-packed pair of Lighting headphones—all for less than $80.
Pioneer Rayz Plus
The Rayz Plus features decent active noise cancelling, given its sub-$100 price tag. While its performance may not hold a candle to other ANC earbuds, like the Sony WF-1000XM3, it does a good enough job at attenuating light chatter, and loud hums from air conditioners. Sound quality is also good, with a slightly-boosted bass that will satisfy most listeners.
One of the most annoying aspects of using Lighting headphones is the fact that you can’t charge your iPhone or iPad while listening. Fortunately, the Rayz Plus solves this with its inclusion of a Lighting port. Just plug your charging cable into the earbuds while listening and you won’t ever have to worry about running out of power.
For earbuds check out the 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 the Reflect Aware. 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.
JBL Reflect Aware
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 an okay pair of Lightning headphones from a trusted company, the Reflect Aware are a great option.
The RHA MA650i is the best bang-for-your-buck Lighting headphones
These earbuds aren’t the newest kids on the block, however its sub-$60 price tag is bound to attract event he most budget-minded listeners.
RHA MA650iFull Review
The RHA MA650i provides users with the basics, and not much else. It comes with a variety of foam ear tips to ensure a proper fit, allowing for good isolation performance. It also comes with an in-line remote to control playback, volume, and summon Siri. While it lacks any dust or water resistance, it does come with a three-year manufacturer warranty that covers you against factory defects.
In terms of sound quality, the RHA MA650i is what you’d expect for $60: average. High frequencies are relatively neutral-leaning and don’t sound harsh at high volumes. Mid-frequencies tend to sound louder than bass notes or high pitched sounds, meaning that vocals may occasionally sound louder than the instrumentation. EDM and hip-hop fans may be disappointed with the RHA MA650i, as it tends to de-emphasize kick drums, brass, and other bass instruments.
If you don’t want to spend ton of money, just get the Lightning dongle from Apple
Apple Lighting to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter
Assuming you already have a pair of headphones and you can just want to be able to use them with your phone, there’s no better way to do that then by just using the Lightning dongle that came with your phone. It’s surprisingly good and won’t even break the bank assuming you lose it (which you probably will). Still, even if you do lose one they only cost $8 USD to replace.
What you should know about Lightning headphones
Before spending your hard-earned money, there’s some things you should know about the state of the market and where things are headed in the future.
Lightning is dying, just like USB-C headphones
If you want to know what the future of Lightning headphones is, just look at USB-C headphones. While companies like Apple and Google were quick to remove the headphone jack in order to drive up their sales, they did so without a full ecosystem of products behind the companies. Apple in particular was hoping that the market would catch up and make tons of Lightning-based headphones, which never happened. Instead of Lightning headphones being the middle ground to take us from the 3.5mm jack to completely wireless audio, Apple just plunged ahead into Bluetooth headphones.
And if you’re a headphone manufacturer it’s way easier to sell a pair of wireless headphones to everyone with a phone instead of making Lightning headphones to sell just to Apple users. It doesn’t help that the Lightning connector, unlike the 3.5mm input, isn’t an open input. That means that if you want to make a pair of Lightning-based headphones, you need permission from Apple. As you can imagine, not a lot of companies went this route and instead just continued making 3.5mm headphones as usual or just made the jump straight to Bluetooth.
You should probably just go wireless
While I’m personally still a big fan of wired headphones, Bluetooth has its moments. Particularly if you want them for exercise or if you’re commuting. If you’re looking into a pair of Lightning headphones, we strongly recommend just going straight to wireless headphones. There are plenty of great over-ears on the market including the Sony WF-1000XM4 or the Bose Noise Cancelling headphones 700, both of which are best in class active noise cancelling headphones and completely wireless.
If you prefer in-ears, the Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3 are among the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds on the market. If you don’t feel like spending that kind of money though, you can always go for one of the many other great true wireless earbuds that are available such as the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 or the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds. Either way, you’re spending less money and still getting a great product at the end of the day.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
The team at SoundGuys has plenty of experience with audio products ranging from professional testing of audio products to years of hands-on experience nit-picking at everything from headphones to microphones and everything in between. SoundGuys is where we put our experience to use, and we’ll never recommend a product we don’t think is good. While we don’t think buying a pair of Lightning headphones is a wise choice, there are some decent-sounding products out there and hey, it’s your money.
Speaking of money, the writers at SoundGuys don’t get paid based on which products we recommend as it is against our ethics policy and would cost us our jobs. We get paid based on content output, and that’s it. We don’t even have ads on our site because we want the experience to be as easy as possible for you. We make our money with affiliate links, so every time you purchase something through one of our links you’re helping us keep the lights on and we appreciate it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Not really, no. Although there were speculations of improved audio playback, the tech industry never embraced Apple's proprietary connector, resulting in a lack of innovation using Lighting. With the dawn of wireless headphones and earbuds, in addition to USB-C, even Apple is beginning to phasing out Lighting ports from their own products.