iPhone 6 may come with Lightning jack headphones: Here’s everything we know

Apple lightning connected headphones
As the iPhone 6 prepares for landing in Cupertino tomorrow morning, rumors about the integration of Beats headphones — and more importantly, the possibility of connection to the device via the Lightning input — are running rampant. News that Apple has been quietly working on technology that will allow proprietary headphones to connected digitally through the Lightning jack, as opposed to the normal 3.5mm input, has drawn gross speculation.

While there is a chance that Apple might offer a partner pair of headphones which connect via Lightning jack, we would be highly surprised if Apple’s rumored dual iPhone 6 models did away with the standard input completely — that could spell iPhone suicide. However, just in case a pair of Lightning jack-enabled Beats is part of the package, we wanted to fill you in on what we know about the new technology ahead of tomorrow’s launch.

Updated by Ryan Waniata on 9-10-2014: In true Apple form, NONE of the rumors about Lightning jack connection, or even Beats headphones integration were mentioned at Tuesday’s event. It appears for now, and for the foreseeable future, our 3.5mm jacks (yay) and our Earpods (boo) are safe. However, Philips today unveiled the first pair of Lightning-jack headphones we’ve laid eyes on, available in Germany. It appears the age of the Lightning phones is now upon us.

Lightning jack headphone program

Back in June, a report by 9to5Mac showed evidence that Apple is serious about moving audio further into its walled garden, revealing headphone specs that forgo the ubiquitous 3.5mm jack for a direct digital connection to iPhones and iPads.

Related: 10 things we know about the iPhone 6 right now

According to the report, the new system would allow for 48kHz lossless stereo output (just above CD quality), as well as a 48kHz mono input to keep the popular 3-button inline microphone in communication through an update to iOS. It is also believed that hardware could be added, or reconfigured, to allow for launching of apps like iTunes Radio, or spur specific apps when the ‘phones are connected.

Apple’s MFi (Made For iOS) program has reportedly developed two different specifications for manufacturers that will bypass the standard 3.5mm analog output port for a direct connection to the digital side of things. The two flavors include Standard and Advanced.

What’s inside?

The Standard Lightning Headphones are described by 9to5Mac as using “minimum components when paired with a DAC (digital to analog converter) supported by the Lightning Headphone Module.” The Advanced Lightning Headphones will be able to incorporate more sophisticated features, including digital signal processing to shape the sound, noise cancelation, as well as an onboard DAC.

Are we looking at the beginning of the end of the 3.5mm output for future iPhone and iPad models?

Interestingly (to audio geeks anyway), the 9to5Mac report claims that the Standard setup will require manufacturers to use a Wolfson WM8533 DAC. Wolfson’s popular WM8740 DAC is used in gobs of high-end audio gear, including the original AK100 HD music player from iRiver. That suggests much better audio performance than what is currently achieved over, say, the iPhone 5S’s onboard DAC system.

However, while it appears the Advanced configuration will place the burden of all digital processing and digital to analog conversion on the headphones themselves, the report is unclear as to whether or not the “minimum components” of the Standard headphones will allow them to work without the help of additional equipment. That’s a serious point of interest for those who just want a plug-and-play setup.

The new system would allow for some interesting bonuses, not the least of which is a likely upgrade in sound quality. In addition, the new ‘phones will have the ability to draw power from your iPhone – even while it’s at rest – saving the need for the headphones to incorporate an internal battery for digital processing and noise cancellation. The system will also reportedly allow for charging of your phone from a powered module while listening at the same time, like a portable power dock.

Still, these potential changes bring about a host of questions and concerns. For instance: How would users listen and charge their devices if they don’t have one of the proposed charging stations? Will all of those fancy options for the Advanced Lightning Headphones place more power constraints on our already power-hungry iPhones and iPads?

Apple lightning

Will 3.5mm go away?

Perhaps most concerning is Apple’s penchant for dropping standard inputs for its own proprietary ports, whether its faithful cult of followers decries those decisions or not. A prime example in the realm of audio would be Apple’s dropping of Firewire ports on Macbooks for its proprietary Thunder port. The precedent has helped to raise the fear that we could be looking at the beginning of the end of the 3.5mm output for future iPhone and iPad models?

Such a brazen move would be hard to imagine, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Think of it: every pair of headphones or other sound system that requires an analog input would suddenly be incompatible with your iPhone. And connecting non-Lightning gear through a digital input would likely require another shopping spree for one of those $30 adapters Apple is so happy to supply. What kind of adapter would be required to plug in our trusty Beyerdynamic TP 70’s? We shudder to think.

For now, all of that is up in the air, and we’re not ready to say the 3.5mm sky is falling just yet. Again, we think it especially unlikely that anything so drastic could happen with the iPhone 6, perhaps most underlined by the fact that we haven’t seen a steady stream of news about it from the massive iPhone 6 rumor mill. Still, with Apple’s history, the news is enough to make iPhone, iPad, and iPod users everywhere more than just a little nervous.

Putting the missing 3.5mm conspiracy aside, though, the big question for tomorrow’s unveiling of the iPhone 6 is simple: Will we see a pair of Beats with nothing but a Lightning pin at the end accompanying Apple’s new babies?

We’ll find out the answer to that, and many other questions tomorrow morning. Follow us for full coverage of the entire release, and all it has in store.

Updated by Ryan Waniata on 9-10-2014: This post was updated to confirm that no Beats headphones, Lightning or otherwise, were unveiled as partners to the iPhone 6 for Tuesday’s event.

Updated by Ryan Waniata on 9-08-2014: This original post has been updated to consider rumors that the iPhone 6 could include Lightning-connected Beats headphones.

Product Review

Dolby makes the most comfortable headphones ever, and that's only the start

Dolby has taken its first step into product design with the new Dolby Dimension wireless headphones. Offering tons of features, supreme comfort, and a shocking price tag, the Dimension are a unique new take on audio in the home, and out.
Home Theater

BassFit wireless in-ear headphones bring low-end fuel to your workout

V-Moda's latest headphone offering is a set of banded Bluetooth in-ears called the BassFit, a sweat-proof, ultra-secure pair of headphones that are designed to bring low-end power to your next workout.
Home Theater

Get the most boom for your buck with the best headphones under $100

Everybody wants a bargain, and this list has a bunch. For those looking for a solid set of headphones without spending a big stack of cash, this list is is your starting point. Check out our picks for the best headphones under $100.
Home Theater

Don't wake the baby! How to connect headphones to a TV

Do you need to connect a pair of headphones to your TV? Our handy guide will show you how to hook up your headphones in a variety of ways, whether you're using wired headphones, wireless headphones, or gaming headsets.
Music

Tune in to the best internet radio stations for your listening pleasure

Even in the streaming era, radio stations get some of the best exclusives and curate some of the finest handpicked playlists around. Here are the best internet radio stations, for your listening pleasure.
Home Theater

Keep those albums sounding great by converting your vinyl to a digital format

There are all sorts of reasons for ripping records and storing them digitally, but what's the best way to do it? We cover the different types of equipment and software available for ripping records at any price in this guide.
Home Theater

No subscription, no problem. Free Spotify users can soon use Spotify Connect

Spotify Connect, which allows users to stream their favorite tunes to any Connect-enabled speaker, has long been one of the best premium-only features on the Swedish streaming service. Soon, free users will get it too.
Music

A wealth of rich tunes: Cash in with the best songs about money

There may not be as many songs about money as there are songs about love, but it's a close second. If you're looking for a skrilla-inspired playlist, check out our picks for the best songs about money.
Smart Home

How’s your Spanish, Alexa? Some Amazon Echo devices pick up a new language

Amazon's Alexa voice assistant and Echo devices are now available for customers in Mexico. Alexa has been customized for the Mexican market with local knowledge, a new voice, and support for the Spanish dialect spoken in Mexico.
Mobile

New Tidal app will bring a wave of music to your Samsung smartwatch

Tidal fans now have another way to enjoy their music collection. The Tidal app is coming to Samsung wearables, including the Samsung Galaxy Watch, Gear Sport, and more. Tidal will also be bringing its wearable app to other devices.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Music

The best new music this week: Charles Bradley, Muse, and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new releases just for you. On tap this week: Charles Bradley, J Mascis, Muse, and Smino.
DT Daily

Hip-hop artist Rakeem Miles talks musical upbringing, ‘Dante’s Toys’

Rakeem Miles may be best known for his musical endeavors, but he's looking to change that with his forthcoming animated show. On Monday's DT Daily, we discuss Miles' origins, what drives his passions, his favorite superhero, and more.
Music

Music to our ears: Spotify at long last arrives on the Apple Watch

Spotify subscribers are now able to jam out to their favorite tunes on their favorite workout accessory, as the Swedish streaming service has finally released its official Apple Watch app.