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Apple and "digital" headphones via Lightning, Impending death of the minijack?
skamp
post Jun 5 2014, 15:36
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Apple has created a new specification for its Made for iPhone (MFi) program that will allow OEMs to make headphones that use the Lightning port instead of the standard headphone jack, reports 9to5Mac. Headphones that use the specification will apparently be able to receive 48kHz digital stereo output, and headsets with integrated microphones will be able to send 48kHz digital mono input. The headphones could additionally send other kinds of input to the iDevice, including the ability to control playback or launch specific applications.


Apple introduces MFi specs for Lightning cable headphones, support arriving in future iOS update

Report: Apple defines specs for Lightning headphones with 48kHz output

Apple reportedly paving the way for Lightning headphones, but benefits are unclear

Would anyone care to venture a guess as to what Apple is trying to achieve here? Aside from the obvious lock-in.

Edit: Lightning is digital only, Apple dropped the analog line-out that their 30-pin dock connector used to have. Lightning audio hardware will need to have a built-in DAC and headphone amplifier.

This post has been edited by skamp: Jun 5 2014, 15:55


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eahm
post Jun 5 2014, 15:46
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I read this yesterday, I think they are crazy, should stop with bs and go a little with the rest of the world. If they start selling ALAC on iTunes I would completely switch to it for example.


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dhromed
post Jun 5 2014, 15:47
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Anyone wanna venture a guess as to what Apple is trying to achieve here? Aside from the obvious lock-in.


Lock-in and money.

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probedb
post Jun 5 2014, 15:48
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Well I guess that's going to allow manufacturers to put up the cost of headphones and mics, open a new market for adaptors for normal headphones. Oh yeah, plus Apple take cash for every device. So no reason other than to allow Apple to make even more money.
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skamp
post Jun 5 2014, 15:58
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Obviously they have those in mind, but they're going to need to sell it to their customers, i.e. "something cool" that this switch will supposedly enable. That's what I'm interested in.


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kornchild2002
post Jun 5 2014, 16:02
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Who really knows at this point? They could be using it as a lock-in for device owners, allow for the powering of headphones that would normally require a battery (i.e. noise canceling models), or it could be for something else like headphones with built-in health monitoring capabilities. Either way, I don't think the standard 3.5mm jack is going anywhere. It has been a part of Apple portable devices (not including notebooks) since the Newton eMate 300 released in 1997, I don't think they would stop using a universal standard (especially now that their three button control setup has fully infiltrated the headphone market) 17 years later.

So far the news articles read as "insider reports" with nothing officially released by Apple. It also looks like they have just opened up the lightning port for headphone and audio output support to developers. To me, that doesn't indicate that Apple is going to do anything and there won't be a shift in lightning headphones. If anything, it will allow accessory manufacturers to release iPhone/iPad docks without a 3.5mm plug so that they can just use the lightning connector for audio output. There might be some other aspects here and there down the line but I don't see it as a way to lock out 3rd party headphones.
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skamp
post Jun 5 2014, 16:06
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QUOTE (kornchild2002 @ Jun 5 2014, 17:02) *
Either way, I don't think the standard 3.5mm jack is going anywhere. It has been a part of Apple portable devices (not including notebooks) since the Newton eMate 300 released in 1997, I don't think they would stop using a universal standard (especially now that their three button control setup has fully infiltrated the headphone market) 17 years later.


Apple has a history of dumping "legacy" technology before anyone else would dare do it, though (3.5" floppy disks, parallel and serial ports replaced by USB 1.0 in the first iMac, optical drives replaced by internet downloads in recent Macs, the analog line-out on iDevices).

This post has been edited by skamp: Jun 5 2014, 16:08


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andy o
post Jun 5 2014, 17:46
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I don't think anything indicates they're even thinking about dumping the 3.5mm standard port. It's just uninformed speculation of the tech sites, who by the way, all I've seen also speculate about the supposed "higher sound quality" that this certification could be a reason for, including sites that should know better like Ars Technica.

The thing is that everything regarding audio itself that has been said by them is already possible right now. I think the part of the certification is the important part, not the (not new) capability of doing it. You can already connect a DAC for digital output and input, as you also could with the old 30-pin connector. The certification seems like a marketing and moneygrubbing move to me. Or, if we're not too cynical, maybe just a means to tightly control the accessories so they all work as intended.

QUOTE (kornchild2002 @ Jun 5 2014, 08:02) *
allow for the powering of headphones that would normally require a battery (i.e. noise canceling models)

I like this hypothesis. Nothing to do with audio quality or capabilities itself.
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kornchild2002
post Jun 5 2014, 18:05
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QUOTE (skamp @ Jun 5 2014, 09:06) *
Apple has a history of dumping "legacy" technology before anyone else would dare do it, though (3.5" floppy disks, parallel and serial ports replaced by USB 1.0 in the first iMac, optical drives replaced by internet downloads in recent Macs, the analog line-out on iDevices).


True but all of the successors to those universally adapted technologies were on the horizon anyway. They weren't like Apple ditching something universal for a proprietary connector which would serve the same purpose (i.e. dropping the 3.5mm output for lightning only). I could understand if a new connector was emerging on the market and Apple was the first company to adopt it across their product lineup, as they have done in the past, but that isn't the case here.

QUOTE (andy o @ Jun 5 2014, 10:46) *
I like this hypothesis. Nothing to do with audio quality or capabilities itself.


It's something I came across on a tech website (I think The Verge) and think it has some viability. Granted, it would be eating into the battery of an iDevice but I don't know by how much, it make not make much of a difference in the end. If a company can release a pair of lightning noise canceling headphones that take 10% (or less) battery away from an iDevice, I would call that a success and valid use. Then again, I think the mainstream headphone industry is moving more towards Bluetooth wireless headphones as they seem to be all the rage these days so development of wired counterparts might be diminishing.
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Robertina
post Jun 5 2014, 18:11
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A few days ago, shortly after the acquirement of Beats, Apple SVP Eddy Cue announced the most impressive product line he has seen in 25 years, upcoming later this year.

I wondered for a while what this could be. It is known that Apple is working on home automation and on software services in the health sector. Apple is extending their cooperation with car manufacturers and then there are still Apple's television set and smartwatch plans, apart from the usual iPhone/iPad/Mac lines etc.

But I think what Apple will sell as their next big innovation - something that shareholders demand more and more forcefully - might be something related to audio (hardware):

Apple bought Beats although they needed neither their music streaming service nor their image nor their heavy on the bass headphones. But Beats seem to have a loudspeaker technology at their disposal, which some market analysts deem to be worth the $3 billions Apple paid for this company.

And now this Lightning headphones news. I have the impression there is more behind it than an ordinary alternate plug system. Maybe I am completely wrong. For milliseconds I had also thought Apple's strategy concerning this matter might be influenced by Neil Yohng's upcoming portable media player (you know which one I mean).

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RonaldDumsfeld
post Jun 5 2014, 19:38
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It could be as simple as staying ahead or differentiating themselves from the competition.

The imminent arrival of USB C looks like lightning but cheaper.

Seems odd for Apple to go after such a small niche as the garden shed portable DAC and headphone amplifier market but if Apple can get Beats marketing wonks to convince folks they have a superior product it heads off the likes of FiiO and Schitt at the pass. Dunno how valuable that market is though. Would be cheap to do though. DAC and volume control in the headphones that is.
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skamp
post Jun 5 2014, 20:02
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My thinking is that people buying Lightning headphones will either do it consciously (they like the product, and they own an iPod Touch or an iPhone), or they'll be confused and return the product after they realize they can't use it with anything other than a recent iDevice. Surely Apple must have thought of that, and must have a plan.


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saratoga
post Jun 5 2014, 22:33
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QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Jun 5 2014, 14:38) *
It could be as simple as staying ahead or differentiating themselves from the competition.

The imminent arrival of USB C looks like lightning but cheaper.



AFAIK lightning is just USB over a different physical transport. Hence they're basically the same thing, just with incompatible pin outs.
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RonaldDumsfeld
post Jun 5 2014, 23:56
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Imagine being able to buy a really expensive headset without having to worry about all that impedance matching bollocks?

Do you have enough volts? Enough amps? What about the slew rate when using plutonium fiddlefaddles bought on eBay?

It clears the way for 'active' headphones. They always sound the same. On anything. 'Cos it's digital right?

Someone might do what Genelec did with speakers. Put everything into the one box.

Spend a bit more - take the worry out of the purchase.

While everybody else is running to keep up on the last innovation there might be enough time to seriously cash in.
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Sik_Lescinovid
post Jun 6 2014, 00:06
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Could it be that Apple is basically trying to invent/push (or reinvent?) "active headphones"? And that they've decided to do it in the form of a proprietary solution first? What I'm thinking is that it could be considered a possibility in the future that many headphones will be active (i.e. include DAC and amplifier) so as to guarantee "good" sound (just as there are active speakers with custom tailored amp section with really good sound), and that Apple just wants to be the frontrunner to this with a proprietary solution (making them possibly market leaders for a long time).

I might not have phrased this as clearly as I wanted, all I'm really trying to say is that I'm considering the possibility that Apple isn't actually thinking of this as another minor money-making-move but rather as a way of getting into a winning position with regards to a new market that they're anticipating. If that is true it seems like a smart move. The two questions then would be whether this market will really come to be and whether it makes sense/is beneficial to people who like good audio. I think you could argue for the latter by analogy with active speakers which do have their merits (I even thought there were already some that included a DAC, maybe wireless speakers like the Dynaudio?).

EDIT: Ronald beat me to it. I was basically trying to say what he said.

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saratoga
post Jun 6 2014, 00:22
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QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Jun 5 2014, 18:56) *
Imagine being able to buy a really expensive headset without having to worry about all that impedance matching bollocks?


1) You don't impedance match headsets.
2) You already don't have to do this if you buy an Apple product. Their amps are more than sufficient to drive any conventional headset.


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xnor
post Jun 6 2014, 00:31
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The only thing new here is that Apple seems to prefer proprietary Lightning over USB. USB headsets have been available for over ~7 years.
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andy o
post Jun 6 2014, 02:09
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QUOTE (saratoga @ Jun 5 2014, 16:22) *
QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Jun 5 2014, 18:56) *
Imagine being able to buy a really expensive headset without having to worry about all that impedance matching bollocks?


1) You don't impedance match headsets.
2) You already don't have to do this if you buy an Apple product. Their amps are more than sufficient to drive any conventional headset.

I think he was being sarcastic. But in any case, I don't think that's true for the microphone part of the headset.
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Ed Seedhouse
post Jun 6 2014, 03:43
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QUOTE (andy o @ Jun 5 2014, 18:09) *
I think he was being sarcastic. But in any case, I don't think that's true for the microphone part of the headset.


A dynamic microphone does not consume power, it generates power.


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andy o
post Jun 6 2014, 04:48
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I meant that with microphones on headsets you do come into problems with impedance.
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Ed Seedhouse
post Jun 6 2014, 05:34
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QUOTE (andy o @ Jun 5 2014, 20:48) *
I meant that with microphones on headsets you do come into problems with impedance.


And what would those problems be? Dynamic microphones have a fairly benign impedance, just like dynamic speakers. After all they are basically identical.



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skamp
post Jun 6 2014, 08:47
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QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Jun 6 2014, 00:56) *
Imagine being able to buy a really expensive headset without having to worry about all that impedance matching bollocks?
[]
While everybody else is running to keep up on the last innovation there might be enough time to seriously cash in.


I thought of that, but you don't need Lightning for it, except maybe to draw power from the iPhone. My Bose QuietComfort 15s are such headphones, except they work with pretty much any source with a headphone jack, for the reasons you've mentionned. But yeah, it needs its own AAA battery.

The thing is though, the average Apple customer has no idea about such problems; and surely "Made for iPhone" headphones are designed to work well with iDevices already.


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skamp
post Jun 6 2014, 09:01
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According to Apple's manager of platform accessories Robert Walsh, the new Lightning headphone module connects directly into an iOS device's Lightning port, breaking out analog audio. In addition, the module offers more bandwidth and a digital interface for richer control of system services like iTunes Radio.

"If your headphones support, for example, noise cancellation, you can offer an app on your device that communicates with your headphones that controls how it operates," Walsh said.


Apple announces Lightning-enabled headphone standard in WWDC session


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RonaldDumsfeld
post Jun 6 2014, 10:46
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I'm as cynical as the next bloke but I have to say this looks like a positive development in the medium to long term.

When consumers first started investing in digital gear we tended to buy a 'best' DAC and route everything through that. Now digital conversion technology has reached the stage where transparent operation is available very cheaply in small, light and power efficient packages. So it makes sense to include a DAC with pretty much all transducers. Then everything stays digital from the moment of recording until the final analogue output. An obvious long term trend.

Apple are, as usual, getting in first using their reputation to sell products at a premium. The presumed forthcoming iBeats headphones will have 'added value' by also taking a bite out of the aftermarket pocket DAC and headphone attenuator sector. I do something similar already by taping a very inexpensive BT receiver to my regular headphones.

The next step will hopefully be to include a DSP chip into the on-board DAC assembly. Then we could dial in a compressor when in the car or out on the street and leave it out when listening at home. Thus clearing the way for audio to be distributed with a greater dynamic range. We can but hope anyway.

ed: rd spelling sad.gif

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Maurits
post Jun 6 2014, 14:33
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QUOTE (andy o @ Jun 5 2014, 17:46) *
I don't think anything indicates they're even thinking about dumping the 3.5mm standard port. It's just uninformed speculation of the tech sites, who by the way, all I've seen also speculate about the supposed "higher sound quality" that this certification could be a reason for, including sites that should know better like Ars Technica.

Agreed. There is zero indication Apple wants to drop the 3.5 mm port. They'd be foolish to do so as they'd lose hundreds of millions of customers who suddenly can't plug in their headphones into a new Apple device.

All Apple have done is present a new profile (in addition to the list of profiles they already have) for third party device makers to interact with an Apple device. The Lightning connector already has a digital out. If a third party can think of use cases for advanced wearables that require more communication than a one-way analog connection, this is an option they could use.

All the other stuff you read about on the internet is wild speculation without any substance.

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