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 from the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus), forcing them to rely on Apple's proprietary Lightning connector for audio connections instead, or go wireless.
But, really, technology moves on. And Apple bundles Lightning EarPods with the iPhone 8 and 8 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 X.
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 X 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 X, or want an adapter with additional features, then take a look at our article rounding up the best Lighting to 3.5mm adapters.
With the preliminaries out of the way, here's our guide to the best Lightning headphones. For buying advice related to other types of headphone, see our best wired headphones and best Bluetooth wireless headphones.
Best Lightning headphones
1. 1More Triple Driver Lightning Headphones
The California-based 1More isn't a well-known name here in the UK, but it's been getting some good reviews for its Triple Driver in-ear headphones.
The original version of the Triple Driver had a standard 3.5mm audio connector, and that version is still on sale at around £75 if you want to use them with Apple's bundled Lightning adapter. However, the company has also released a second version that has a Lightning connector, as well as its own built-in DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) to provide high-quality sound.
The Triple Driver design could be compared to a set of speakers that uses three drivers - two tweeters and a woofer - to produce sound, and the strength of these headphones is a detailed, well-balanced sound that feels relaxed and natural right across the frequency range.
The headphones have an impressive range too - 20Hz up to 40kHz - so they can handle even lossless and hi-res audio files with no trouble at all. And who knows - maybe one day Apple will finally get around to providing lossless streaming and downloads from iTunes and Apple Music?
The titanium earpieces can feel a little heavy at first, but 1More provides several different sizes of ear-tips to help you get a good fit, and the cable feels sturdy enough to cope with life on the road.
It's a shame that the Lightning version is so much more expensive than the standard 3.5mm version, but this is still one of the better and more affordable sets of Lightning headphones currently available. You also get a good set of accessories to add value for money, including a leather carrying case, shirt-clip and airline adapter for when you're travelling.
Although the Nuraphones are wireless, they have a proprietary connector. Normally that's an annoying feature but here it means you can use the headphones with a number of different cables, including Lightning.
It's very unlikely you've used any headphones like Nura's. They might look like fairly standard over-ear headphones but they also have an in-ear section, too. It's an odd sensation that you'll have to get used to but the technology on offer here could be worth it.
We don't find them the most comfortable headphones around due to the design, but the sound quality are features are something quite special.
The first time you use Nuraphones, they will play a range of tones to map your personal hearing. Once it know what frequencies you're more or less sensitive to, it will create a profile unique to you. You might not believe how good it is - try someone else's profile and you won't like the sound as much.
Furthermore, the design means that while the in-ear drivers do most of the regular work, the outer cups have bass drivers for an adjustable 'immersion mode'. This is best described as like having sub woofers in your headphones and you'll feel the bass rather than hear it.
A G2 software update to the app brings additional features, too. Namely active noise cancelling with a 'social mode' so you can hear what's going on around you without taking the headphones off.
3. EarPods with Lightning Connector
You can't have a list of the best Lightning headphones without Apple's own EarPods, modified for the release of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus and shipped with the latest models too. 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 tonnes 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 an iPhone 7 (or later).
4. Audeze SINE
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.
5. JBL Reflect Aware
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
6. Philips Fidelio M2L
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.
7. Libratone Q Adapt Lightning In Ear Headphone
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
8. Audeze iSine 10
We really liked the iSine 20 from Audeze, although at at £599 they're probably a bit expensive for most people.
The latest addition to the Audeze range is the iSine 10, which has a similar design - with the large earpieces on both sets of headphones looking like the Tie Fighters from Star Wars - but a lower £399 price tag that is a bit more manageable. That price also includes both a Lightning cable and a standard 3.5mm audio cable so - unlike most Lightning headphones - you do still have the option of using them with other devices too (or you can buy the headphones with just the 3.5mm cable on its own for £349).
And you'll want to use them all the time, as the iSine 10 headphones really sound great. They use a 'planar magnetic' design that - shorn of the techno-jargon - produces a really precise and detailed sound. They've got great range too, going right down to 10Hz so that they can handle deep bass that escapes many cheaper headphones and speakers, and then going right up to 50kHz for high-res audio files (rumoured to be coming to the iTunes Store soon).
The only thing that might deter some people is that the iSine 10 has a 'semi-open' design, similar to the more traditional on-ear headphones favoured by many hi-fi buffs. This does help them to produce a rich, expansive sound-stage that really wraps your head in a floating cloud of sound - but it also means that some of the sound leaks out and might annoy other people if you wear them on the train to work in the morning.
Works with: Lightning and 3.5mm connectors
9. Pioneer RayZ Plus
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 later 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.
10. Scosche LightningBuds
Most lightning headphones are quite expensive, but Scosche's new LightningBuds (aka the IDR-300L) are one of the most affordable sets we've seen so far. The UK price hadn't been confirmed when we tested them, but Scosche's EU store currently has them at €90 inc VAT, which should work out at around £80.
The headphones themselves are fairly straightforward, with three sizes of silicon ear-tips included so that you can get a good fit. They're available in either black or white, but Scosche also includes some extra little silver and gold caps that you can clip onto the outer back part of the earpieces so that you can accessorise them too.
You're obviously not going to get hi-fi quality for £80, but the LightningBuds do seem to be a little louder than most of the other Lightning headphones we've come across, so you can pump up the volume to get yourself going when you're working out, or just trying to shut out the noise on the train to work in the morning.
Scosche says the LightningBuds offer 'increased dynamic range' but doesn't actually explain what that means. In practice, the higher frequencies ring out nice and clear, and the bass is big and boomy - it's a bit exaggerated, in fact, which might not suit everyone, and also means that the mid-range can get a little overwhelmed at times. But if you like driving bass for your dance tracks or workout tunes then the LightningBuds will work a treat, and won't cost you and arm and a leg.
Works with: Lightning Connector