Not much need be said about Apple’s elimination of the headphone jack. Yes, wired headphones remain a superior solution for some applications. But because Apple is shipping a Lightning-to-audio adapter in the box with the iPhone, this is a non-issue. After all, you’ve already kept track of 1/4″ to 1/8″ minijack adapters for all your studio headphones for years. (Okay, to be fair, by “keep track of” in my case I generally mean “lose,” but, uh… wait, what were we talking about again?)
There are certainly reasons for Apple to do this. The innards of an iPhone are crammed enough that something as seemingly innocuous as a minijack port take up a lot of space. They also have implications for Apple’s work on reliability and resistance to water and dust; it’s a point of failure. So you can see why they’ve done this (even if in my experience I’ve had more Lightning port issues and no headphone jack issues).
The more relevant issue is whether this impacts the way the device is used for audio – which for some of us is a big reason to buy the iPhone. I did a quick survey of the Lightning audio accessories I use around the CDM office, and all tend to include their own headphone jack for monitoring. That means that blocking the Lightning port with the headphone adapter isn’t an issue, because you won’t.
At the risk of stating the obvious:
Things that aren’t a problem:
Using your iPhone as a MIDI device (since the audio source is external)
Using with audio accessories that contain their own audio jack/headphone monitoring (mics, etc.)
Things that are a problem:
Using an external MIDI trigger with an internal synth. And this is actually a significant one – because the iPhone makes a convenient, tiny sound module. But I think ideally what we’ll see is some third-party solution that provides pass-through power and audio out.
Indeed, the bigger problem with mobile gadgets is still the fact that very few accessories work with external audio. Once the Lightning port is blocked, you can’t simultaneously charge the device. Now, that does mean that you can’t listen to music, for example, while charging the iPhone, which I have done occasionally and might find annoying.
But that shouldn’t be cause to overstate the significance of the issue. In fact, there are more significant issues regarding Apple and the Lightning port about which even journalists like myself can’t really get information. Apple-certified accessories are subject to an arcane process of review by the company. Unlike something like USB-C, that process is also completely non-transparent. While they can’t go on the record, I have heard from accessory makers that they sometimes haven’t been able to do things they know we as serious audio producers might like, because Apple wanted something else. These conversations are protected by legal non-disclosure agreements, though, meaning we can’t even talk about them.
But I still say — move on, nothing to see here. If you think Apple’s headphones are poor for listening and overpriced (and you’re right, I think), you don’t have to buy them. There are some surprisingly good wireless headphones for times when you want to move around, or you can plug in better headphones as before to listen to that new track on the train.
Eliminating headphone jacks is something phones may generally start to do because of radical miniaturization and waterproofing. It doesn’t say much, really, about headphones in general – consumer and studio headphones are already very different categories.
No, what really matters, actually, on any operating system – Windows, Android, iOS, Mac – is generally what you can’t see, in the form of subtle changes to the parts of the OS that keep audio glitch-free. Or not.
Meanwhile, the best parodies of removing the headphone jack.
Because, sorry Apple, you know you did ask for this.
http://appleplugs.com [Product of love right there!]