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


We’ve learned Apple has quietly introduced a new specification for manufacturers in its Made-For-iPhone/iPad/iPod (MFi) program that allows them to create headphones that connect to iOS devices using a Lightning connector instead of the usual 3.5mm headphone jack. Apple has not flipped the switch on the audio input support for Lightning cables and existing iOS devices, but it will release a software update in the future that will enable support in devices running iOS 7.1 or later.

The Lightning headphones will be capable of receiving lossless stereo 48 kHz digital audio output from Apple devices and sending mono 48 kHz digital audio input. The input means that the headphones will also support a microphone for audio input following Apple’s upcoming update. Manufacturers will be able to take advantage of Apple Headphone Remote controls like Volume Up/Down/etc, as well as other buttons for launching specific apps such as iTunes Radio or initiating playback controls on iOS. In addition, the headphones can be made to work specifically with a companion iOS app and launch a specific app when connected to an iOS device.

There are a few benefits of using the Lightning cable to send audio. Apple says the headphones will be able to draw power from an Apple device (even if the device is asleep), which for some products could eliminate cost associated with an internal battery. It could also work the other way around by providing power to an Apple device from an internal battery or external power source. That enables you to listen to music and also use a passthrough setup so you could charge the device simultaneously, much like you can with an audio dock that uses a Lightning connector. The headphones will also be capable of receiving firmware updates.

Apple will allow two configurations for the headphones. Standard Lightning Headphones are described by Apple as using minimum components when paired with a digital-to-analog converter supported by the Lightning Headphone Module. It also has an Advanced Lightning Headphones specification that allows digital audio processing features like active noise cancellation and uses a digital signal processor and digital/analog converter. Manufacturers building the Standard configuration have to use this Wolfson digital-to-analog converter.

While everyone has been focusing on what Apple’s purchase of Beats Electronics means for its audio and headphone business down the road, the news Apple is developing some innovative new headphone tech using its own proprietary Lightning connector is significant. If Apple does get partners on board and Lightning headphones prove to be popular with users, it’s easy to see how Apple could push Lightning headphones as a big differentiating feature for iPhone and other Apple devices. A previous report claimed Apple was working on a version of its own in-ear EarPods using a Lightning connector and planned to enable higher-resolution audio playback in iOS 8.

I’m guessing we’ll see a Lightning cable eventually make its way to a pair of Beats. Perhaps Apple will even use Beats as the first pair of Lightning cable headphones to help promote the new tech when it finally flips the switch on support.

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  1. michaeloftroy - 9 years ago

    Interesting… Apple may just be crazy enough to offer beats in lightning only configuration. This lightning equipped pair of beats headphones could come with a year or two of beats music service standard. This would significantly assist in driving the “beats generation” to Apple products. And instead of paying for another year of beats… You just upgrade your headphones.

    This little tidbit could turn out to be a very lucrative venture for Apple and validate the high price they paid for beats.

    • Paul Lancefield - 9 years ago

      Yep, I previously posted a comment to the effect I suspect Apple have been impressed by the popularity of Neil Young’s PONO ultra HD project. I expect, knowing Apples’ penchant for simplification, they are removing the 3.5mm headphone jack and going all in on ultra HD audio for their iTunes iCloud and Radio services. Overnight the 3.5mm jack will seem old-fashioned. The acquisition of Beats suddenly makes total sense. There will be a swath of upgrade headphone purchases. You will still be able to plug-in using an adaptor, but overnight that will suddenly seem very old tech.

      • michaeloftroy - 9 years ago

        I was thinking about this further and it doesn’t make sense when you consider that Macs do not have a lightning port. What good does a pair of high end headphones by Apple do for me if I can’t use them on their PCs?

      • Pierre Calixte - 9 years ago

        @michaeloftry You make a valid point.

        I suspect new hardware will come with lightning ports built in and for older hardware, a lightning dongle that plugs in either the usb or thunderbolt port.

      • Horrible idea what if you want to listen to music or watch a video while your phone charges??

      • Well, the way I see it, is if the new devices all have lightning to usb as the main way of connecting, this idea does make since. As long as they provide all the options for how we already connect devices, then the transition isn’t going to take long when they decide to show a different way of connecting with the lightning connection. (Lightning to thunderbolt, lightning to usb, lightning to firewire, etc!!)

    • Fred Davis - 8 years ago

      I use headphones in other devices too. Like my laptop, or for recording.

      I can believe they would make the headphones only work with their phones. Instead, I’m guessing they would offer two cables (perhaps the stereo cable would be a separate purchase)

    • Robert Nixon - 7 years ago

      Beats Music doesn’t even exist anymore.

  2. jj (@bearish_j) - 9 years ago

    “(…)receiving lossless stereo 48 kHz digital audio output(…)” They didn’t think that through… as long as the iTunes Store just provides the lossy AAC format files with 256 kbps this will make no difference in hearing experience. you can have the best headphones in the world, if your files are comprised into a lossy format, you won’t hear the headphones full potential. I also can’t imagine buying 300$+ headphones which will only work with an iPhone or an iPad. That’s just…

    • Geoff Brown - 9 years ago

      … try ripping cds instead of using itunes download files?

      • jj (@bearish_j) - 9 years ago

        that is not what apple wants you to do. you are supposed to buy their music from the itunes store. they want you to buy everything they offer… regardless the price.

      • Arc Rev One (@ArcRevOne) - 9 years ago

        all CD’s are 44.1 kHz sample rate still not up to this new 48 kHz standard. Music must be recorded digitally in 48 kHz sample rate or higher in the first place and then mixed/mastered/exported in 48 kHz (or higher) to meet this standard. Cannot not be converted from the previous 44.1 kHz version. That means a hell of a lot remastering of old music if the iTunes versions were simply converted form the original CD masters.

      • Robert Nixon - 7 years ago

        @jj If that were actually the case, then ITunes Match would not exist.

    • Robert Nixon - 9 years ago

      Do you honestly think they didn’t consider this when they designed this spec?

    • PMZanetti - 9 years ago

      96 Hz 24-bit ALAC, or bust.

    • Anthony Velazquez - 9 years ago

      I just purchased a pair of AKG headphones for almost $400. The nice thing about these high end headphones is that you can disconnect the cable, so I would imagine the manufacturer could easily sell you a new cable that has a lightning plug.

    • Alan Curtis - 9 years ago

      Most people can’t tell the difference anyway and will just blindly follow this as a new standard to use until the lossless files become the norm. Apple makes money anyway and boasts that it helped innovate the move to the lossless files and the fanboys have something else to crow about along the way…

  3. Tim Jr. - 9 years ago

    Not sure if I like that.. I sometimes like to charge and listen.. Not often.. but sometimes.. It seems this would cause more issues.. needed some way of connecting both..

    I’ve seen special ‘splitters’ before for other ‘special’ cell phone chargers/headset connectors.. I seem to remember Palm Pre mini had one.. it sucked..

    • mrphanntastic - 9 years ago

      Apple would probably already be in the process of developing wireless charging, moving to lightning cable headset would go hand in hand with that I guess.

  4. specht057 - 9 years ago

    Seems like the beginning of the end for the 3.5mm headset.

    Switching to a lightning only connector would save space inside the iPhone case.

    • Jared (@jaredp_) - 9 years ago

      Lightening to 3.5mm jack adapter? I don’t think it’d be a smart move for Apple to remove the 3.5mm jack, but hey they’ve done crazier things and we’ve survived.

      • specht057 - 9 years ago

        Would an adapter even be necessary?

        If it shipped with lightning only, we can only assume it comes with new headphones.

      • Nils Goosse (@NilsG6) - 9 years ago

        You forget that a lightning connector has to be verified by Apple because there’s a chip in it? Remember the first week when lightning was introduced? There were no accessories available and no adapters.. They have been thinking about this for a long time….. It’s genius

    • Luís Bedin (@lhbedin) - 9 years ago

      ok, but what about another 3.5 devices like sound bars, and many others?

      • Noah White - 9 years ago

        i guarantee that you’ll either have to use a bluetooth adapter or a lighting adapter if this comes through. I would prefer getting rid of the 3.5mm jack. It is the only thing that does work well on my phone. The jack gets bent all the time, headphones ALWAYS have a hard time fitting with cases on, and honestly, i hardly use it now with all the bluetooth and docking station stuff i have.

    • Not to mention thinner devices, considering Lightning is about 1/2 to 3/4 the width of 3.5 mm jack. If you look at the current iPods the case is literally as thin as it could possibly be with a 3.5 jack. In order to make those devices any thinner they have to change it.

      • jj (@bearish_j) - 9 years ago

        and where do you put the DAC? you could possibly fit one into an over-ear-headphone but what about earplugs? this whole concept just seems so wrongheaded

      • Fred Davis - 8 years ago

        Yeah, so the camera can stick out even more.

  5. taoprophet420 - 9 years ago

    Maybe they are trying for thinner devices without a headphone port. Wish they would and try stereo sound on all the I devices.

  6. Joseph Curlello - 9 years ago

    Solar Cells will be built into the top of the headphones to charge iPhone.

    • What … Why … ugh ….

      • Noah White - 9 years ago

        People don’t understand how little energy is harnessed by small photovoltaic cells. I understand your frustration.

      • Joseph Curlello - 9 years ago

        Uh… ok. Yet they already make portable solar phone chargers. What is so far out about the possibility of building an internal battery into beats headphones that is charged by a nicely designed solar cell? No need to be a jackass.

  7. Steffen Jobbs - 9 years ago

    I like the idea of headphones being able to receive firmware updates and being able to change sound profiles. I have some Bluedio Legend+ headphones and although in theory they can be modified with software, it takes a special cable (that’s hard to find) and can only be done using a Windows computer running some complicated non-user friendly software. It’s definitely beyond my capabilities to do it. I’d certainly like to see future headphones where a user can easily change the sound profiles to suit them. Apple may not be the first but maybe they’ll make it easier to do than any other company.

  8. akismet-b5da94d525cfad4930026d9699d627c5 - 9 years ago

    With Apple seemingly more confident in the product pipeline than usual, might be in the realm of possibility to see:

    – A very slim iPhone 6 without headphone jack, standard lightning headphones and some variant of wireless charging?
    – iPad Mini with all of the above? iPad Air too?
    – a revised last stand iPod lineup with some variant of the above (upper armband accessory with health sensors too for the exercise market)?

  9. J.latham - 9 years ago

    I have a dealing this will also be a big deal for making the Lightning connector more of a standard. Cook seems to be okay with changing his mind on decisions. Maybe we’ll see Apple positioning Lightning as a solution for other companies as well. Also, Lightning to Lightning cables for things like CarPlay would be pretty cool. Charge and send great high quality audio at the same time.

    • Pierre Calixte - 9 years ago

      lightning to lightning would be a great idea. not only in terms of function, features and convienience but form cause it will allow for thinner devices all around. Now all they have to do is get lightning to transfer data as fast as thunderbolt and usb 3 and you can basically start to get rid of those other ports.

  10. jakexb - 9 years ago

    So… Would laptops have lightning connectors? Or do I need separate headphones for my laptop?

  11. Daryl Diego Timido - 9 years ago

    I really like this idea.

  12. Mr. McTailor (@McTailor) - 9 years ago

    I think this ist the beginning of something big.

    This will allow for additional devices to be integrated in the headphone and than interact with the connected i-device. Cameras, displays (small or big), microphones, accelerometers, memory cards to start with. From reading QR-Codes to reading the real word an knowing in which direction one is looking, process this information in the iphone and returning audio feedback on this. And not to forget health related sensors.

    Head connected gear offers a large variety of opportunities, once you do not have to care about power and speed of the data connection.

  13. Rexplore (@Rexplore) - 9 years ago

    This was an idea of Rexplore before 5S release and Mark Gurman told that nobody will publish it.
    Look Apple has published already :)

  14. Rexplore (@Rexplore) - 9 years ago

    No Zeki Ozek none of us will post about your Lightning earphone jack concept.— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) 14 Ağustos 2013

  15. I think this will be great for DJ equipment. Connecting an iPhone or iPad to a digital mixer console will enable new capabilities.

  16. Rehan Haque (@R3hxn) - 9 years ago

    curious, what happens when EU standardize phone chargers (if it happens)

    • PMZanetti - 9 years ago

      No one cares. The EU trying to mandate hardware (based on hardware from 5 years ago) is absurd. No one will be paying any attention. Least of all, Apple.

  17. Eric Mason (@eMason0321) - 9 years ago

    That picture is making me twitch… Looks like it’s Deats now… no longer Beats.

  18. philips9179 - 9 years ago

    I can see why Apple would want to do this as it gets rid of the headphone jack in the iPhone so saving on costs, room etc BUT (nice big but there) what about that recent EU ruling which said all mobile phone manufacturers have to use the micro USB standard in the future?!?!?!

    • PMZanetti - 9 years ago

      Screw the EU. It’s an illegitimate governing body, and that ruling is among the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.its already completely obsolete

  19. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    You guys know nothing about audio

    Sending over the Lightning port enables 96Hz 24-bit audio, which is all anyone cares about in this circumstance.

    • Martin Robertson - 9 years ago

      YOU know nothing about audio. Otherwise it’d be clear to you that 24/96 doesn’t matter to the end listener.

      • Andrew Culp - 9 years ago

        It will with the right marketing.

    • Arc Rev One (@ArcRevOne) - 9 years ago

      CDs, most mp3s and the AAC files sold by the iTunes store all use a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. Not 48 kHz or higher. But, the real quality difference is in the file type itself, Aiff / Wav files are much better sounding (and much larger files vs the compressed mp3 & AAC files) and make more of a listening difference than higher sample rates anyway. The only people who care about 96Hz 24-bit audio are Audio Producers/ Engineers who believe the highest possible sample rate might enhance their end product, though this is still not proven because human hearing is only 20Hz to 20 kHz which is why the standard became 44.1 in the first place (which means they can reproduce frequencies up to roughly 20 kHz) here is a decent explanation of all this:

  20. standardpull - 9 years ago

    Just recall that the highest end studio headphones available are all analog. Lighting DAC is fine and cool but pointless in terms of quality. As the DAC happens either way somewhere along the wire.

  21. clyde47 - 9 years ago

    so you cant charge ur iphone while listening to music thru headphone?

  22. Mike Gorman - 9 years ago

    This is mind-blowingly stupid. I was really impressed with the keynote on Monday but this is dumb. These headphones will cost too much for both manufacturers and consumers, the connector is larger than existing wired headphones and provide weird, dubious benefits. Like the charging thing. Headphones shouldn’t need a battery (they would in this case to decode audio from lightning) outside of bluetooth headphones. And the idea of using headphones to charge the phone is almost as ludicrous. Why would you want to add more weight to something that sits on your head?

    Speaking of bluetooth, why can’t Apple make a new standard for MFI bluetooth? Basically fill the last hole that bluetooth audio has left which is data rate/fidelity. For example, if they promoted aptX (higher fidelity codec over bluetooth), manufacturers would actually make aptX headphones.

    A new wired headphone technology? Seriously?

    • Amen. And all of this after Apple REMOVED the audio line out with the new dock connector. Removed the audio line out from its line of media-centric phones, after finally every rental car and hotel radio has an auxiliary input. Total detachment from reality.

  23. Dan Neal - 9 years ago

    Buying a great product then buggering it up by not letting everyone use it…. Awesome buy your beats headphones NOW before apple Screws them up.

  24. This is a blatant attempt to segment the market even further with proprietary technology and to lock users into an Apple hardware ecosystem. Wake up I-Zealots.

  25. Kathy Jopling - 9 years ago

    only audiophiles would notice the difference in this change. apple is just looking to monopolize its consumers by making them buy just from apple. but hey, if you want to spend $600 on a phone, $400 on headphones and then rebuy your justin beber album from itunes, then whatever floats your boat. get sucked into a never ending upgrade scheme that comes around each year. just dont try to convince me that your shit song is SOOOO much better through apple, you are just a literal tool.

    • Martin Robertson - 9 years ago

      Not even audiophiles will hear an *actual* increase in sound quality. I guarantee that everyone will *perceive* a measurable difference, and Apple will make lots of money like you said.

  26. This is IDIOTIC. Apple REMOVES the audio line out from its dock connector, then pushes this garbage. When finally every rental car, hotel clock-radio, and boom box has an auxiliary input… Apple gets rid of the line out on its music-oriented phones. Seriously, WTF?

    Apple is so far in the weeds in terms of technical decision-making it’s scary. So now headphones are supposed to require POWER and have D/A converters in them? RETARDED. Not to mention the pathetic video that’s put out by this Lightning connector: It’s lossily compressed and worse than the band-aided and ancient 30-pin connector.

    So to get an analog line out, we’re supposed to buy (and carry around) a clunky $30 dongle, which prevents your phone from sitting in a dock on your dash or elsewhere. As usual, your “elegant” Apple product requires a bunch of schlocky adapters and wires.

    Good job not calling Apple out on this shit, editors.

  27. iPhoneThereforeIam - 9 years ago

    For the most part I like my iphone 5. We have 3 in the family. The one part of it that I am the most frustrated by is the lightning connector. We have had 3 Apple cables stop working. And every third party cable I bought failed within a week or two. There are plenty of other reasons lightning headphones may be a bad idea, but the failure rate I have seen is enough of a reason alone for me to never consider buying a pair.

  28. André Magnani - 9 years ago

    OMG… the obvious use for this is audiophile DACs, not lightning headphones. Dumb article is dumb…

  29. observer1959 - 9 years ago

    Sorry if someone mentioned this already but I scanned through quite a few comments and they all seemed music related.
    What if a part of this has to do with the upcoming Health push? There are a LOT of health staff carrying iOS devices that could plugin some high end health equipment into it. All their audio video results could quickly be entered into an alpp on an iPad that could be analyzed on the spot. These are big files and having it all going between equipment over fast cables would be a big plus. Basically the iOS device would replace all these various monitors hooked up the equipment. Taking all this info in one device with you would be a big improvement as a health specialist or patient between doctors.

  30. sino01207 - 9 years ago

    Its really tremendous design. Too nice job. Thank you for sharing with us.

  31. Splendub djs (@splendub) - 7 years ago

    As Jordan points out, Lightning headphones will support lossless stereo (such as AIFF), which Apple has never been able to master with their iTunes (Apple Music) lossy AAC format. This may signify that Apple is planning to sell 16-bit and 24-bit lossless music in their music store, for which they are already a year behind Beatport and 7digital music stores. This is good news for audiophiles, who have had to move to other platforms to play ‘CD quality’ digital music. I am looking forward to the change.

  32. Dana Machado - 7 years ago

    The future is here!


Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.