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Philips bests Beats at its own game, announces Lightning-connected headphones

While Apple’s iPhone 6/ Watch event did indirectly dispel the rumor that Apple might kill off the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack on its devices entirely (the photos show it’s still there), it did nothing to address the idea that a Lightning-connected headphone might be in the works, Beats or otherwise. Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on Apple for that, because Philips has now confirmed it has produced the first Lightning-connected headphones, and that means we can expect to see many more of them surfacing in the near future.

Apple sneaked in a few Beats mentions at the end of its iPhone 6/ Apple Watch presentation yesterday, but only in passing, and that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Apple wants to keep the focus on its newest iPhone and Watch products, and besides, the ink on its acquisition is barely dry, leaving little time to mess with its new hardware. But clearly the company isn’t holding its brand partners back, and it appears Philips was only too eager to pull back the curtain on what’s in store for the future.

Related: iPhone 6 may come with Lightning headphones

According to Philips (link uses Google’s translation tool), its new Lightning-connected headphones will be marketed as the Fidelio M2L, and will make their debut in Europe this December for €250 (roughly $320 US). No US release date or pricing has yet been announced. The announcement does clear up a few questions about how Lightning-connected headphones will work, however. 

In a nutshell, connecting to the Lightning port on an iOS device means audio is delivered digitally, bypassing the device’s own internal DAC (digital to analog converter) and amplification. That means that a Lightning-connected headphone has to either include its own DAC and amplifier, or rely on some external device. In the case of the Fidelio M2L, all the necessary tech is baked right in, and it appears that it’s ready to take on high-resolution audio.

Related: Everything you need to know about high-res audio

According to Philips, the M2L will come packing a 24-bit DAC, so it should be able to convert any number of high-resolution audio files. And since the audio signal is delivered in the digital domain, it will be less susceptible to noise generated by the iOS device’s innards, and crosstalk between channels. Philips also touts the cans’ 40mm neodymium drivers, supple leather pads, and superior noise isolation thanks to a closed-back design.

What Philips doesn’t address is whether the M2L will get the power they need from the iOS device they are connected to, or will operate on their own rechargeable battery. We’ll have to wait and see, but if power is sourced from the Lightning port, it would mean diminished battery life for the iPad or iPhone to which it’s connected, though how diminished is tough to gauge. Since the M2L don’t appear to offer active noise cancelling, it’s likely the draw would be minimal.

Regardless, it’s clear Lightning-connected headphones are a real thing now, and though we don’t know much about whether Apple intends to support high-res audio with iTunes, it appears there’s a map to high-res support being charted outside of Apple anyway.