Which are the best Lightning headphones? I'm worried about the iPhone 7 losing its 3.5mm headphone port, and need some good iPhone 7 headphones.
A collective groan echoed across the internet when it emerged that Apple was dropping ye olde 3.5mm headphone socket from the iPhone 7, and that, in future, iPhone headphones would have to use Apple's proprietary Lightning connector instead, or go wireless. (Read our iPhone 7 review and iPhone 7 Plus review for more.)
But, really, technology moves on. And Apple bundles Lightning EarPods with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as well as an adapter so you can still use your old headphones. The company is helping you cross the bridge to the future. However, it does mean it's time to start thinking about your audio options for that future.
Why did Apple ditch the headphone port?
This is the sort of thing that tries the patience of even Apple's most ardent admirers: removing the 3.5mm headphone port means your favourite headphones need to use the bundled adaptor to be plugged directly into the iPhone 7.
But switching to the digital Lightning connector does have advantages. Not least is the fact that the digital connector allows you to step up from 16-bit (CD-quality) audio to high-res 24-bit audio that is comparable to the master recordings produced in the studio.
Before you rush out and buy a pair of Lightning headphones, bear in mind that, as mentioned above, the iPhone 7 comes with a 3.5mm adapter. This allows you to use an existing pair of headphones, potentially saving a lot of money.
If you want a spare adapter, or lose the one that came with your iPhone 7, or want an adapter with additional features, then take a look at our article rounding up the best Lighting to 3.5mm adapters for iPhone 7.
With the preliminaries out of the way, here's our guide to the best Lightning headphones. We'll update this article regularly as additional high-quality Lightning headphones become available.
EarPods with Lightning Connector
- RRP: £29
- Buy from Apple
You can't have a list of the best Lightning headphones without Apple's own EarPods, newly modified for the release of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. A pair will ship with every new flagship phone too, which is good news considering the absence of the 3.5mm jack.
The good news is the EarPods with Lightning connector also worth with tons of other Apple products - to be precise, every single iPhone, iPod and iPad that has a Lightning port. Easy.
You can also buy a pair separately if you need a spare or don't have the iPhone 7.
Audeze EL8 Over-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphone
- RRP: £699, US$799
Audeze is keeping its options open with the EL-8. There are open- and closed-back versions that have a wooden finish, and which cost £599 with an optional Lightning cable available for another £50. However, this more expensive closed-back Titanium model has a smart metallic finish and includes Audeze's special Cipher cable, which includes both a Lightning interface and a DAC that supports high-resolution 24-bit audio. You can even buy additional cables for other high-res audio devices, such as the Pono Player developed by Neil Young.
That brings the total price up to £699, which will obviously be out of reach for many people. But, if you can afford it, the EL-8 headphones really do sound terrific. Like the company's less expensive SINE headphones (discussed elsewhere in this article), the EL-8 uses planar magnetic technology in its drivers. This does a fine job picking out details in the mid-range and higher frequencies, whilst also backing it up with a firm, full bass sound when you need it. The clarity and warmth of the sound works well across a wide range of musical genres, but we found that the headphones worked particularly well with live recordings, creating a lush, expansive soundstage that helps to recreate the live experience.
Our only minor criticism is that the earpieces are quite bulky and heavy, and might not be ideal if you want to wear them for hours at a time on a long plane flight or train journey (and, of course, the size means they're not all that portable either). And, given the price, you could argue whether the slightly more affordable - and portable - SINE headphones represent better overall value for money. But, if you want quality at any cost, then the EL-8 headphones are hard to beat.
They're currently unavailable on Amazon, but you can pick them up from Apple's online store for the same price. If you'd prefer the cheaper wooden-finish models, Selfridges and Richer Sounds are worth a try.
Audeze iSINE 20 In-Ear Planar Lightning Headphone
- RRP: £599, US$599
Audeze is really making the running with its range of Lightning headphones, having already released the expensive-but-excellent SINE and EL-8 models. The new iSine 20 model is a slight change of direction, as it's the company's first set of smaller in-ear headphones. We were very impressed when we got the chance to listen to a demo of the iSine 20 just recently.
Apart from anything else, they look terrific - in fact, they remind us of the TIE fighters from Star Wars. And, like the other Audeze headphones, the iSine models include both a Lightning cable and conventional 3.5mm cable so that you can use them with non-Apple devices as well.
The problem with many small in-ear headphones is the lack of bass response, but the iSine 20 that we tested has a special 'Uniforce' coil built into the earpiece that enhances bass output, as well as the overall clarity of the sound. The result is really impressive, with a depth and clarity that makes the iSine 20 one of the few in-ear headphones that might really make an impression with the finicky audiophile audience.
There's also an iSine app that provides a 10-band equaliser, and even allows you to save two presets on the cable itself, so that you can switch presets when you switch from your iPhone to any other device. The iSine 20 that we listened to is the top-of-the-range model, but there's also a less expensive model called the iSine 10, which comes in at around £399.
- RRP: £450
They're expensive - seriously expensive - but the Audeze SINE headphones stand out in a number of ways. You can buy the SINE with a standard 3.5mm audio cable for about £400, but this £450 model sold on the Apple Store includes both a 3.5mm cable and a special 'Cipher' cable, which has a Lightning connector, DAC, amplifier, and microphone built into it as well. That's really smart, as it means you're not limited to just using the SINE with the most recent iPhones and iPads.
They're neatly designed too, with padded earpieces that sit comfortably on your ears, and adjustable headband with smart leather trim. The earpieces also fold flat so that you can slip them into a bag when you're travelling.
More important, though, is the terrific sound that the SINE produces. Audeze claims that these are "the world's first on-ear planar magnetic headphones" - a technology currently only used in a handful of high-end audiophile headphones. We'll leave the techno-babble for another time, but the end result is a really clear and detailed sound that is a treat for your ears. It works particularly well for gentler acoustic and classic tracks, where the headphones can pick out every little detail and nuance. But there's strong bass in there too, so you can still pump up the volume when you want to get your freak on.
The high price means that the SINE won't be for everyone, but their versatile design and excellent sound quality provide a future-proof set of headphones that point the way to the next generation of high-res audio.
Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
- RRP: £699.99
We admit that we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here, as B&W is still working on the Lightning cable for the P9 Signature, but these audiophile headphones sound wonderful and are well worth waiting for. Launched to mark Bowers & Wilkins' 50th anniversary, the P9 Signature headphones really are something special, as you might expect from their £700 price tag. And if you like, you can buy them now - budget permitting - and B&W will send you the Lightning cable at no extra charge as soon as it's ready.
The P9 headphones simply ooze quality, from the soft leather on the padded earpieces to the smart and sturdy brushed aluminium headband. The earpieces and headband are attached by a special floating hinge that is designed to reduce vibrations and distortion, while the drivers in the earpieces are angled slightly inwards to make sure that every last note is beamed directly into your ear canal.
I'd be worried about sticking such an expensive set of headphones into a backpack, but the earpieces do fold inwards to save space, and there's a smart little carrying case included for when you're travelling. When it was first launched, the P9 was only supplied with a standard audio cable. However, that cable is detachable and, following the launch of the iPhone 7, B&W has announced that it will provide a free Lightning cable to any owner that requests one.
There's no noise-cancelling tech, but the over-ear design means that the headphones go right over your ears and do a good job of blocking out background noise. It's a closed-back design, yet the P9 headphones still do a terrific job of creating an open, atmospheric sound - clear and precise, with good bass response. But the outstanding feature of the P9 is the sheer spaciousness of the sound they produce, rivalling the open atmospherics of high-end open-backed headphones. Listening to Lou Reed's opening narration on The Raven was quite creepy, as it sounded as though the (sadly departed) founder of the Velvet Underground was standing right behind me. This sort of price will obviously be out of reach for many people, but if you can afford them then the P9 headphones really are a luxurious treat for your ears.
JBL Reflect Aware
- RRP: £169.99
We've been waiting for JBL's Reflect Aware Lightning headphones for a while now, but they are now in stock and ready to ship.
We had the opportunity to check them out at the CanJam headphone-fest in London recently. The Reflect Aware earphones are very much designed for sporting use, and are sweat-proof and water-resistant so that you can really work up a sweat when you're exercising and then just give them a quick rinse every now and then. The cables are sturdy and tangle-free for outdoor use, and they're also reflective for extra safety when you're out on the streets.
And, of course, they have a Lightning connector for your iPhone, and a built-in DAC (digital to analogue converter) that handles the digital audio signal from the iPhone. The audio quality is really good, with plenty of detail on the mid- and higher frequencies, and a nice, boomy bass sound that will help to get you motivated during your workouts. There's no Bluetooth, though, and the Lightning cable is fixed, which means that you won't be able to use the Reflect Aware with other types of devices unless you buy an adaptor (which Apple will probably sell for a small fortune).
The Reflect Aware has a noise-cancellation option that will block out background noise in the gym, or on a train or plane. However, the 'adaptive noise' feature in the JBL app lets you cancel out the noise-cancellation, so to speak, so that you can let some of the background noise in through either or both of the earpieces. That'll be handy for outdoor workouts, as it will help you to stay aware of traffic and other hazards while you're pounding the pavement.
Read next: Best running & sport headphones
Libratone Q Adapt Lightning In Ear Headphone
- RRP: £159, US$179
We're big fans of Libratone's AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers, so we were on the phone to them as soon as we heard that the company was launching its new range of Q-Adapt headphones. The larger, Q-Adapt On-Ear headphones have already made it into our list of top Bluetooth headphones, and now this In-Ear model has arrived - although this time Libratone has decided to ditch Bluetooth for a wired connection with a Lightning interface.
One of the advantages of the Lightning interface is that it provides enough power to provide noise-cancellation features without the need for a separate battery, and that helps to keep the Q-Adapt In-Ear headphones really light and compact, with a total weight of just 20g. You can also adjust the noise-cancelling option to let in as much - or as little - of the background noise as you like, which could be handy when you're out on the streets and need to watch out for traffic and other sounds around you. Libratone says that the noise-cancellation doesn't put too much of a drain on your iPhone's battery, so you should still be able to listen all day long without killing your battery.
The sound quality is good for a set of in-ear headphones in this price range, with a full bass sound that works well for pop and rock music. Libratone also provides six different sets of ear-tips to make sure you get a really good fit. Admittedly, the Q-Adapt In-Ear headphones can't quite match the subtlety and clarity of some of the more expensive Lightning headphones that are now available, but at an RRP of £159 (and a street price around £139 or less), they are one of the most affordable sets of Lightning headphones we've seen so far, and a good option if you just want a really lightweight set of headphones that you can carry around in your pocket.
Works with: Lightning connector
Also available from: John Lewis
Philips Fidelio M2L
- RRP: £200
Philips was one of the first companies to produce Lightning headphones, and its ML2 headphones are still one of the most affordable options if you want to go down the Lightning route.
These are on-ear headphones, with an adjustable headband and soft, padded earpieces that sit firmly, but comfortably, over your ears while listening. All the controls are built into the right-hand earpiece, with a small dial for adjusting volume and a single button that you tap one, two or three times in order to pause, or to skip forward and backward. That's a little fiddly to get used to at first, and there's no built-in microphone either, so you'll have to hold your iPhone up to your mouth if you want to take a call.
There's some room for improvement there, but the M2L still delivers the goods when it comes to sound quality. The M2L includes a high-res (24-bit) DAC for playing the digital signal that comes through the Lightning connector, and this sounded great when playing a variety of rock, acoustic and classic pieces. The deep bass was a little echoey, so hard-core dance fans might prefer something with a firmer bass sound, but the M2L will still work a treat for most types of music.
The disadvantage of the Lightning connector, of course, is that the M2L will only work with recent iPhones and iPads, so you won't be able to use them with any non-Apple devices at all. However, Philips does make a similar - and slightly cheaper - set of Bluetooth headphones, called the M2BT, that will work with a wider range of devices.
Pioneer RayZ Plus
- RRP: £149, US$149
- Buy from Pioneer
Pioneer offers something different to other Lightning-enabled earphones with the RayZ Plus - the ability to use the headphones and charge your iPhone or iPad at the same time. While it's not a groundbreaking feature, it's a highly requested feature - especially for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus users that don't have the option of using wired headphones.
But RayZ Plus offers much more than just the ability to charge and listen to music at the same time. The earphones boast smart noise cancellation that can be adjusted on-the-fly for use in different environments. While the process takes around 10-15 seconds overall, it's pretty impressive and can block out the majority of background noise for a comfortable listening experience.
However, Pioneer also realised that there will be situations where people need to be aware of their surroundings. That's why the RayZ Plus also features HearThru mode that let's in ambient sound, activated via the app or via a programmable smart button on the earphones.
They're intelligent too: much like Apple's wireless AirPods, RayZ Plus can detect when they've been removed from your ears and will pause music accordingly. It'll also resume your music once you've put them back in, although we've found the accuracy to be a bit hit-and-miss during our time with the earphones.
Most importantly, the RayZ Plus produce phenomenal sound quality; audio is well-rounded with a perfect balance of bass and treble that can be adjusted via the dedicated RayZ app for iOS if required. In fact, they are so impressive to us that they have become our go-to headphones for everyday use.
SHARKK Lightning Headphones
- RRP: £99, US$149
The best differentiator of these Lightning earbuds is their rugged cabling, which is flat to prevent tangling and increased stress on the wires inside.
The blue volour might not be for everyone, but we think they look great, and the inline volume and play/pause control ably reflects Apple's own Lightning EarPods.
SHARKK also claims the high-quality copper in the 'phones help to improve the data and signal transmission of your music, so be prepared for outstanding quality. Rest assured that the compatibility of the earphones is certified by Apple, too.
At time of writing the Sharkk headphones are sadly unavailable on Amazon UK. US readers (or Brits willing to pay for import shipping) can pick them up from Amazon.com, and at a large discount; they're just $20.