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 August 27, 2020, to address the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sony WF-1000XM3 as alternatives to Lighting headphones.
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.
If you want the best sound experience go with the Audeze iSine 10
Audeze is typically known for their bold product designs, which reigns true with the iSine 10. Blending its unique sci-fi-like aesthetic with large 30mm planar magnetic drivers, these in-ears deliver a listening experience worthy of any audiophile.
Audeze iSine 10
With the use of Apple’s Lighting cable, Audeze has developed what they call the “CIPHER” cable. Where you would normally find a control module with a mic and playback controls, the CIPHER cable has an inline digital signal processor (DSP), a headphone 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 iSine 10 access to all of it. This results in a sound signature that maintains clarity in the highs without compromising on mid or low-end presence.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are open-back headphones, which means they will leak sound and possibly disturb others around you. Still, if you need the absolute best sounding Lighting headphones, and have some extra cash to burn, the iSine 10 is definitely the way to go.
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 1More Dual Driver ANC In-Ear Headphones are the best bang-for-your-buck Lighting headphones
1More has positioned itself as a company known for making amazing in-ears at a relatively low cost. These earbuds follow suit to legacy, offering solid build quality and decent sound for just under $60.
1More Dual Driver ANC In-Ear Headphones
As its name suggests, these earbuds offer active noise cancelling for a truly immersive listening experience. It doesn’t hold a candle to Bose or Sony‘s offerings, though it’s still a valiant effort considering the earbud’s low price tag.
These in-ears sound pretty average with good frequency responses in the highs and mids. Unfortunately, lower end sounds suffer from slight de-emphasis, which may not be great for listeners who like to feel the bass in their EDM or hip-hop tracks. However, for its relatively low cost, these earbuds are a bargain for the budget-conscious listener.
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.