What's the Headphone World Coming to?

It's likely today may be marked as the most pivotal day in the history of headphones. The iPhone7 will be announced...most likely without a headphone jack. Tomorrow the news feeds will be filled with raves and rants. I thought Sean Olive's Facebook post was a good synopsis of the situation:

Today I was interviewed by a journalist writing an article about the removal of the analog headphone jack in the iPhone 7 expected to be announced tomorrow. She said there are thousands of people petitioning this.

Me I don't think this is such a big deal. First, iPhones only represent about 15% of the market. Secondly, if you have wireless headphones (which now surpass sales of wired headphones) you can access iPhone music via Bluetooth. Thirdly, in the long run it will encourage people to buy powered headphones with DSP chips that can fix the poor frequency response of most passive headphones. This is the current weakest link to obtaining sound quality over headphones -- not Bluetooth or even MP3.

Yes initially it will be an inconvenience and expense but most consumers have already spoken that they don't wish to be tethered to their music players and phones with a cable ( which BTW is the first thing that fails and turns the headphone into trash ). What do think??

Yes, I'd like to hear what you think too. I'll put this up as a poll, but I'd love to hear your more nuanced opinion in the comments. I'll give you my thoughts next week after I read some of the news on-line over the next few days. Have at it.

What's the Headphone World Coming to?
Consumers will eventually see the folly...wires will be back.
4% (2 votes)
Many will shed the wire, but many with good ears will keep the demand for cables high enough.
25% (12 votes)
Bluetooth will get plenty good for most. Wires for pro audio and enthusiasts will remain.
52% (25 votes)
Killer Bluetooth, good DACS, and DSP headphone correction will soon outperform all passive headphones. Good riddance wires!
19% (9 votes)
Total votes: 48

thelostMIDrange's picture

just add it to the already overloaded RF you are getting From the phone itself, your laptop, the twisty lightbulbs etc etc. why is the cancer rate now 1 in 2? imagine that, every other person will get cancer. And that is current numbers, imagine soon it will be like a rite of passage to go through chemo. let me tell you as someone whose already passed that rite, it's not worth the new gadget's convenience.

RudeWolf's picture

We die from cancer, because we've learned to dodge just about everything else out there and long live enough.

thelostMIDrange's picture

its been tested and proven safe I'm sure. no one wants you unhealthy. no one's jacking with your water and food and air.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

(i'll ramble for a bit but bring it back to the subject)

Ive been an iPhone user since the first iphone 4 dropped. In general, Ive enjoyed their phones and interface and been a happy camper.

So when my i-phone's charging port had issues in the last week, and i knew it was time to upgrade, obviously i figured the best course of action was to wait until the announcement today and make my decision. Then i did some soul searching on what i want and i went in, the day before the announcement, and switched to Samsung.


In my case there's lots of reasons: apple's ridiculous refusal to allow use of memory cards (but you can pay them a HUGE upcharge for more memory), the photos taken with samsungs always appear better (to me), ease of use for file management, etc. However ive dealt with all of those for years...it was the headphone jack decision that drove me away.

I understand Apple's decision to do so, and honestly think the public will be just fine with it in a few months. Bluetooth headphones have come a long way and they'll have snazzy new lightning port headphones. Plus, lets face it, its a shiny new toy and will sell zillions.

However to me the ability to use both headphones and wired aux inputs (car, speakers, etc) is not a luxury, its a requirement. Oh sure sure i'd likely be able to do both with an add on dongle at some point, but then there's the inconvenience of always having that..or multiple...which adds $$.

The biggest area of interest in this decision will be how it fractures and affects headphone manufactures. Odds are they'll just end up producing headphones with replaceable cables (and possibly hardware) so we consumers should still be able to get the phones we want for the gear we have.

Peace .n. Living in Stero


Tyll Hertsens's picture
Boy...we need a "like" button around here.
jakubg's picture

we definitely need a like button :)

Three Toes of Fury's picture

You made my day!

thefitz's picture

Bluetooth is convenient regardless, but folks listening to music at their desks through their phones can happily use an external DAC like a FiiO E18. Folks who don't "get" audio quality will be pleased as punch with their Bluetooth sets, and those who do have plenty of great options.

tony's picture

My big music system is wired and my future Focal stuff will be wired.

But my active life is entirely wireless, although I still own wired stuff ( sitting in my closet, retired ).

I see people, nearly everywhere, nearly all ages, holding their phones to their ears. Betcha I won't see many in two years time, especially if the Ear transducer device becomes beautiful and/or attractively styled.

The wireless 'in-ear-device', running a hearing curve Application on a phone "could" provide a person ( any person ) with "Audiologist" corrected hearing.

I think, the Phone is Audio's next big discovery!

Will we have Audiophile Phone reviews in Stereophile?, or rather, when will the reviewing begin?, I say as soon as the V20 finds it's way onto JA's Desk.

Tony in Michigan

yaluen's picture

"First, iPhones only represent about 15% of the market."

Yes but music consumption is increasingly moving towards mobile and streaming (http://www.ifpi.org/news/IFPI-GLOBAL-MUSIC-REPORT-2016). Now consider Apple as a trendsetter of sorts, this move is a bit disconcerting for analog and the things it represent.

"Thirdly, in the long run it will encourage people to buy powered headphones with DSP chips that can fix the poor frequency response of most passive headphones."

Conversely, would that perhaps disincentivize manufacturers from engineering good passive headphones? As headphone enthusiasts, we hope not.

A few articles of note from the tech journalism side of things:

drblank's picture

to look at this. First off, the reason why Apple only has 15 to 18% of the global smartphone market is pure business logic. What's the first rule of running a business? To be profitable. Apple doesn't go after the sub $400 market, that's where the majority of these smartphones are priced and there are NO PROFITS selling smartphones once you drop the MSRP much below $400.

The average selling price of an iPhone is $600 to $650. The average price of an Android phone is $250.

Now, with that said, who actually has enough money to buy music, buy a subscription to a streaming service and to buy a decent pair of headphones with a built in DAC/amp? You honestly think that someone that dropped $250 is going to spend $800 on a pair of Audeze EL8 Titaniums? Hardly.

Apple actually has the majority market share in the premium priced smartphone market. With Apple selling 200 Million + smartphones a year, they have a pretty healthy share of the market and they are one of the few that actually turn a decent profit.

Yes, wireless sales have risen passed wired headphone sales.

Yes, smartphones are still seen as more of a casual music listening device because the user is typically in noisy places where one is not going to do any serious listening, it makes very little sense to drop tons of money on "audiophile" products for a smartphone because you will rarely be in a position with a low ambient noise surrounding.

I personally hate wearing earbuds, and going out in public with over the ear is just reserved for teenagers trying to look like their favorite DJ.

For me, I like using my phone in speakerphone mode, so I don't care if there's a headphone jack. I care more about having decent speakers than a headphone jack. If it's there, great, if not, I't not going to bother me. It will still do wired, one just has to use the supplied earbuds, use the dongle (supplied) or buy a Lightning connector pair.

I think in 6 months from now, only a VERY small portion of the user community will still care and that's about it. Apple has ruffled feathers before when they removed Floppys, CD Optical drives and this Is probably just going to end being a similar situation.

steble's picture

Expensive , yes , but is the sound quality equivalent to the price?

drblank's picture

I thought what you did until I read this. They were actually one of the least expensive, at least according to a recent article I read.

Here's a link to check out.


tony's picture

They could've just left the Jack as part of the 7's design!

They didn't include it on purpose! It feels like they're trying to "force" the free'er and much larger Marketplace or just maybe their part of the Marketplace.

Betcha they'll change back, I wonder if Jobs would've tried this?

Tony in Michigan

jakubg's picture

I think they might have removed it for it to be more water resistant. I may be wrong thou.

drblank's picture

One, to make them more water resistant, two, to allow room for other things. They increased the size of the battery, put stereo speakers, increased the size of the Taptic Engine. And whatever else is inside.

They wanted to keep the overall size/shape, which room inside is not a lot.

tony's picture

Good point, I appreciate a device that has it's delicate and sensitive mechanisms protected, it's a darn good selling feature with a proven history of usefulness.

I've seen "Waterproof" devices that weren't waterproof or water resistant. My Motorola Star Tac failed after 5 seconds in a puddle of water.

If Apple can prove "waterproof" on the 7 it should be a success just on that feature alone.

Good point, Mr jakubg!

Tony in Michigan

Puffy's picture

I had thought this suicide for a company that is already so far behind the curve on tech that they're becoming laughable to anyone that isn't a zealot, but based on some information gleaned from the intro event coupled with some of the commentary I've been reading I have a new theory.

It's a proprietary new wireless connection (and who knows what else) chip that they are pedaling here. The nice thing about selling a chip like this is that silicon is cheap and ridiculously useful.

My guess is that the margins on cut rate analog hardware that is balanced and EQ'ed using a teeny tiny processor are significantly higher than what you would get selling quality materials in your headphones.

Furthermore, Apple will get royalties on all of the devices that use their chip, of course. Not a bad racquet if it works. It saves headphone makers money on the quality materials they'd otherwise have to use to make better sounding products while making Apple money on their products. Alternatively, it's yet another device locking their followers into their ecosystem if they don't allow other phone makers use of their proprietary chip.

Unfortunately, since most of the other phone makers in the world feel the need to do everything that Apple does, simply because Apple does it, this scheme has a good chance of succeeding. More unfortunately, I can't see it making real, good headphones anything but more expensive if it does work.

Hopefully I've got it all wrong and they're just hoping to lock their loyal rubes into buying Beats as their only option to "upgrade" and keeping them in the ecosystem for that much longer.

I guess there's that lightning dongle though...

Impulse's picture

I seriously doubt they have the clout or market share to try and supplant Bluetooth... Much less succeed.

Impulse's picture

I actually just saw what you're alluding to, both in the Verge's article and the page for the Airpods... They're being very vague about it, 'new technology' and a new 'AW1 chip inside the pods' is about as explicit as they get.

Hopefully they're just piggy backing off Bluetooth and augmenting it (separate data connection between pods and phone transmitting fitness info etc)... If they actually try to introduce their own proprietary Bluetooth replacement I seriously think it'll backfire.

Oh and the wireless earpods with the cable-less stem (for mics I'm guessing) look awful... If they're going proprietary why not just make a third mic unit? :p

MRC01's picture

<< Apple will get royalties on all of the devices that use their chip, of course. Not a bad racquet if it works >>

Exactly. Apple wants to control everything that can be plugged into their device, and extort fees from anyone who makes hardware compatible with their proprietary interfaces. The headphone jack is one of the last hold-outs and has been eliminated.

<< I had thought this suicide for a company that is already so far behind the curve on tech that they're becoming laughable to anyone that isn't a zealot >>

I too am amused by normal, intelligent people who turn off their brains and become fanatic zealots when it comes to Apple products. Any claim to being smaller and more convenient evaporates when you look at the number of dongles and adapters needed to simply listen to your headphones while charging the device. This Apple zealotry seems to affect the press too. But not all the press.

drblank's picture

you can still pair normal Bluetooth headphones, but they came up with a better and easier way to use wireless earbuds, which are less expensive than most others. Whether they license that chip to others is unknown, but it's a much easier way to use wireless, if that's what you want to use.

Now in terms of behind the tech curve? Well, they finished their transition to 64 Mobile devices, and it's going to take Android platform another 5+ years to accomplish that.

I know some people like yourself get all pissed off at Apple for being "so proprietary". But the thing is, it helps them make sure that there is a quality level of 3rd party products. They had problems with these ultra cheap Asian power chargers/cables that didn't meet specs that actually damaged their products, so in order to prevent that, they opted for the MFI program. It's to help remove sub pair products that might damage your device or counterfeit products, which a LOT of name brand companies are faced with.

They charge royalties just like anyone else that licenses technology, and all it pays for is R&D, submitting patents, and ongoing tech support to the companies, and marketing these 3rd parties. They do it where everyone benefits and it's DEFINITELY doesn't make them a lot of money since it's not a separate line item in their financial statements that shows up. The licensing fees are just for covering their costs and that's about it. So anyone that thinks they make piles of money from licensing their technology is just a little misguided. If it made a huge dent in their revenues, there would be a separate line item called LICENSING.

ednaz's picture

I've got two extremely well rated Bluetooth headphones and while they're both great for short listening sessions, and amazingly convenient without those intrusive cords, I can hear the bandwidth compromises. I've never checked them with Apple's compressed audio files, since most of what I own is CD rips or HD downloads that I downsample to 16/44 for my phone. Also have a very well done Bluetooth unit designed for accommodating CIEMs and while it sounds better than my headphones, it's still an audible compromise.

I'm sure, since biology is biology and aging is inevitable, that at some point I may not be able to hear the difference. But yikes, until then, I want to squeeze every bit of joy out of music, my drug of choice.

My last iPhone upgrade was driven by the camera improvements (worth it) but the tradeoff in terms of dongles may outweigh the camera improvements. I've been a Mac user for work for awhile, and my customers get the giggles when I take out my bag of dongles to connect to their ethernet, projector, or both. I sometimes think the Apple business model is based on profit from dongles. This is pretty much confirming it.

drblank's picture

and they only are charging $9 for the thing if you actually need to buy another. $9 for a dongle is CHEAP and only a small number of people are actually going to use it moving forward. Since earbuds don't last forever, people will just buy Lightning based ear buds if they don't use the supplied earbuds OR they'll buy Wireless, which is now overtaking wired headphone sales.

The reason why they do the dongle thing is THUNDERBOLT, THUNDERBOLT is an Intel development and it replaces countless specific I/O ports. Would you rather have 1 port that can take the place of 5 or 6? Most people aren't using wired ethernet anymore, most are using WiFI to connect to a network.

There are now USB-C to HDMI cables, where you can connect to USB-C (which supports Thunderbolt, etc.) so that removes the need for a dongle if you want to connect using HDMI.

Yeah, dongles is a little of an inconvenience, but the thing is, Apple set the trend to what other PC mfgs are doing. They just started it with Thunderbolt connectors and now USB-C is the new connector, which BTW, uses Apple's patent for a reversible connector..

I was also looking at why Apple doesn't ditch Lightning for USB-C on their mobile devices. I was thinking they should ditch it for USB-C, but the thing is, USB Consortium does't have any mechanism for ensuring quality 3rd party products. Apple had/has an issue with sub par 3rd party cables and chargers that can damage the device, so they came out with the MFI program, which ensures quality 3rd party products and that program costs money for which the licensing covers their costs and it actually serves the customer, the 3rd party developer as a result.

I think that people are bitching and complaining about something because that's their nature when confronted with something new that they haven't accepted. Remember when the first Macs came out? All of the hardcore DOS users were conjuring up every excuse in the book to not buy a Mac, and then over time, EVERYONE uses a GUI based computer. So, it's human behavior to put down change before they accept it. I used to work for corporate computer resellers back in the 80's and 90's selling PCs, Macs, etc. to the corporate world. I heard every excuse in the book for not buying a GUI based computer, and then I laughed when all of these people started to ditch their text based OS for a GUI based OS. I'm see repeating patterns when a company brings to market a new way of doing things. It's actually human nature.

veggieboy2001's picture

I pretty much use my phone for texting and to make phone calls (& play a little Sudoku). I use a dedicated DAP for the majority of my listening...my phone in a pinch...maybe. I'm pretty sure there will be plenty of adapters to go from ____________ (Insert Connection Type Here) to a headphone jack, or cables a la Audeze to overcome the "obstacle". Down the road, I don't see the DAPs changing too much, and the phone kerfuffle will settle into a state of stasis, so that generation I-don't-know-what-they'll-be-called will know no other way to listen to music. The bottom line is, whatever it is that becomes the norm, there will still be a way to listen to music.

Impulse's picture

For one thing the mass market is already shifting towards Bluetooth, and there will surely be some sorta Lighting DAC/dongle for those that want to stick with wires.

Most of the time I already use my passive V-Moda XS with a tiny Bluetooth receiver (old Sony MW600)... I'll probably stick to that too, wireless headphones means a limited lifetime dictated by battery and silicon longevity (and I've no need to replace the XS or PM-3 for mobile use).

Built in DSP will have to get a whole lot more impressive for enthusiasts to care, seems like a big jump there is always just around the corner but never quite there... I would think hardcore audiophiles would welcome an easier (or forced) path to external DAC/amp units anyway.

Seems to me the slice of the market most affected is the low end... Cheapskates who don't wanna buy more expensive wireless headphones, although there's plenty of affordable options by now.

I think the most curious long term development will be whether Apple can push Lighting adoption amongst non-wireless niche products (dedicated DAC/amps etc), or whether they all just end up using USB Type C.

Impulse's picture

I'd still prefer to have the 3.5mm jack for when my MW600 BT thingie battery is low or when I don't mind the wire... Luckily the trend of killing the jack seemed to be poorly received in the Android world, maybe because Motonovo was the first big player to do so and they've fallen out of grace since leaving Google's fold.

Tyll, since the gauntlet has been thrown... Any chance you'd consider doing a round up of mini Bluetooth receivers? They range in price from $30-75 units from Sony/Samsung too much pricier stuff from other finer audio brands. It's just a mini DAC/amp with battery in a tiny clip style, yet they're seldom reviewed with an eye to SQ much less compared against each other.

Seems like the ideal solution for anyone that didn't wanna replace their passive/wired headphones, I'd imagine they'll see at least a small bump in popularity now. Shoot I've used my MW600 even at home for TV watching with the PM3.

tony's picture

the superb LG necklace Bluetooth device has a similar cost, it works with every phone. ( maybe not the new 7 ).

Air Pods are not a big deal, probably not even competitive. I can imagine myself say'n : oh, shit, where did that Charger go, did I remember to pack it?

And I can imagine one of the Air Pods falling thru cracks or loosing the darn thing. It needs a tether.

Tony in Michigan

tony's picture

I wonder is Head-fi will do a 20 minute Video Review of these darn things, the 7 is Front Page News on most of the Newspapers.

Tony in Michigan

MarcoGV's picture

... the time when most cellphones used proprietary connectors for earphones or headphones? The very popular Samsung GT-E1200 (Keystone 2) still does. You can buy 3.5mm adapters for this phone from Amazon UK for three pounds.