Hands-on: How the new Lightning EarPods compare to the old 3.5mm EarPods [Video]

It’s going on two weeks since the iPhone 7 first went on sale, which means that many of us have had time to sit back and digest the experience. We covered the iPhone 7 via an unboxing video with a glance at some of the device’s top features, but now we’ll take a closer look at the new Lightning EarPods versus the old EarPods with 3.5mm headphone jack.

Sound Quality

If you’ve ever used EarPods, you’ll know exactly what to expect with the new Lightning EarPods. Sound quality is the same on the new EarPods as it is on the old versions.

I wasn’t able to discern any noticeable differences when comparing the sound of both sets head-to-head in a blind test. Some people may disagree with this, sound is highly subjective after all, but I’m sticking with my belief that the sound quality, if not exactly the same, is too close for my 35-year-old ears to differentiate.

EarPods are serviceable listening tools — good enough for a pack-in, but probably not worth buying separately.

Video walkthrough

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Build Quality

The build quality of the new Lighting EarPods is almost exactly the same. The same white shiny plastic is found on the earbuds, along with the same inline remote connected via the same rubber wire enclosure.

However, there are two notable differences between the Lightning EarPods and the regular EarPods with the 3.5mm headphone connector:

  1. The Lightning connection replaces the 3.5mm connection. This is the most obvious change. It means that new EarPods will only work with Lightning-enabled devices like iPhones, iPads, and the iPod touch (but not iPod nano). Inside the Lighting connector housing is a tiny digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which was revealed during a teardown by a Vietnamese website last week.
  2. The Lightning EarPods are a little over three inches longer than the old EarPods with 3.5mm headphone jack.

You’ll also notice that, unlike other Lightning cables and adapters, Apple’s new Lightning EarPods have a rubber gasket at the end of the cable where the Lightning connection is.

It’s unclear as to why Apple has incorporated this gasket, but it could be there as a way to protect the small DAC housed within. You’ll notice that the same gasket is found on Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter, which we’ll talk about next.


Notice the rubber gasket above where the DAC is housed

Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter

Apple has included a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter inside every iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus box. Many seemed to doubt Apple’s willingness to include such a dongle along with the iPhone 7, but it proved that it was eager to help ease the transition from the old 3.5mm standard.


The tiny Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter

The Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter is extremely tiny, measuring just a hair over three inches in length. On one end of the adapter is a female 3.5mm jack, and on the opposite end, a Lightning connector.

This adapter allows users to connect older headphones to Apple devices lacking 3.5mm headphone jacks. If you own several pairs of legacy headphones, you’ll probably need more than one adapter. Apple sells these adapters for $9.00 on its website, and you can find similar adapters on Amazon. Because Apple sells the adapters so cheap, I’d recommend paying an extra dollar or two for the real thing versus a third-party offering.

Using Lightning headphones on older devices

Can Lightning EarPods be used on iOS devices other than the iPhone 7? Absolutely. Even devices that have the 3.5mm headphone port can use Lightning-enabled headphones. For example, I was able to listen to music on my iPhone 6s and my 12.9″ iPad Pro using the Lightning EarPods.


The old plastic EarPods case vs the new cardboard case

And Lightning EarPods aren’t the only Lightning-enabled headphones available on the market. Jordan rounded up a list of Lightning and wireless headphones, and you can find more listed on Amazon.

Can you use Lightning headphones and 3.5mm headphones at the same time?

If you have a device with both a Lightning port and a 3.5mm headphone port, you may be curious about what happens when you use two pairs of headphones on the same device. You can plug both devices in with no issue, but you will only be able to hear music on one device at a time.


Two EarPods plugged in simultaneously

The device that you plug in last gets priority. For example, if you’re listening to Lightning EarPods on your iPhone 6s, and you plug in a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50xs using its 3.5mm headphone jack, the Audio-Technica’s will handle sound output, and the Lightning EarPods will go silent.

What about using the Square Credit Card Reader and other 3.5mm headphone jack peripherals?


3.5mm dongles like the Square Credit Card Reader work fine

The Square Credit Card Reader works perfectly fine when connected to Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter. Square even notes this as you go about setting up the Square Reader for the first time within its app.


As controversial as the decision to nix the 3.5mm headphone port was, the Lightning EarPods don’t seem to inspire much debate. It’s the same run-of-the mill pack-in that we’ve grown used to over the years, except it features a different type of connector on the end.

What do you think? Do Lightning EarPods sound better or worse? Are you adjusting to life without the 3.5mm headphone port, or do you sorely miss it?

If you’re looking to go wireless, be sure to check out our hands-on video of the Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones. These headphones contain Apple’s new W1 wireless chip, the same chip that will appear in the company’s upcoming, and highly-anticipated, AirPods.

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