Apple iPhones have been lacking a headphone jack for a few years now, and even though we knew it was a bad idea at the time we still had hope that maybe this product category would blossom into something new and cool. It hasn’t. At least not yet, so if you’re looking for the best lightning headphones let me just preface this by saying that, just like USB-C headphones, you shouldn’t spend your money on these. That said, we’re still going to be pick which ones are the best, starting with the ones that come with your phone. If you want a pair of Lightning headphones, just stick with the Apple Earpods that came in the box.
Editor’s note: This post was updated on March 30th, 2020 to include new picks and reflect the state of the dying Lightning headphones market.
Most should just experience the magic of Lightning earbuds with the ones that they already have
If you’re getting urge to try some lightning headphones, just stick with the Apple Earpods. These might not sound great, but if you can get a decent fit they’re fine for casual listening and podcasts. Plus, the microphone that’s built into them isn’t terrible. The main reason why you should just use these though, is that they’re free and made to use with your phone.
If you’re going to invest in a pair of headphones, you want some sort of inter-operability and right now that doesn’t exist with Lightning headphones. If you get a pair, you can only use them with a Lightning device. And considering Apple made the Earpods specifically for the iPhone that’s your best bet.
If you want the best sound experience go with the Audeze EL-8
If you’re taking this opportunity to really make an investment in the best you can get, then go with the Audeze EL-8 Titanium Closed-Back headphones. These are top of the line planar magnetic headphones and has been taking full advantage of the Lightning port on the iPhone for a while now. Thankfully the cable is removable and you can swap it out for a standard 3.5mm audio cable. This way you can still use them with your computer or audio equipment whenever you need to.
But there is one key benefit to using their Lightning cable instead. Audeze calls it the “CIPHER” cable, and it has many of the key audio components required to drive high quality headphones built right into it. Where you would normally find a control module with a mic and playback controls, the CIPHER cable has an inline digital-to-analog converter, a headphones amplifier, and of course a Siri-compatible mic for calls. Your iPhone has more than enough juice to power these, and being plugged into the Lightning port gives the EL-8s access to all of it. Of course, these are high end headphones. Even without the iOS compatibility they wouldn’t be cheap. But if you’re getting tired of carrying large DACs and headphone amps, these are a sleek all in one option.
For earbuds check out the JBL Reflect Aware
Not everyone enjoys over-ears of on-ears headphones. Whether it’s the convenience of being able to stuff them in your pocket or the ability to wear them discreetly in places you shouldn’t be listening to music, some people just prefer in-ears. One company that took it upon themselves to make a pair of Lightning earbuds is JBL with the Reflect Aware. Besides terminating in a Lightning connector instead of a 3.5mm jack, what makes these so interesting is that they also have adaptive noise cancelling.
JBL Reflect Aware
The Reflect Aware in-ears do have a small control module on the wire, but it’s for the built-in mic and playback controls. Not a giant battery. If you want an okay pair of Lightning headphones from a trusted company, the Reflect Aware are a great option.
If you’re into 360 audio check out the Sennheiser Ambeo Headset
Sennheiser has a long history with good sound, but the Sennheiser Ambeo headset takes that in a slightly different direction. Sure, you can use these to listen to music, but the main reason they exist is because they were also made to record binaural audio. Each earbud is attached to a mic and can let you record your surroundings while you were them.
While this is definitely not a feature that most people will care about, I can definitely see content creators and audio producers experimenting with these. They also fit the qualification of this list, which is that they end in a Lightning connector. So if you’ve been wanting to experiment with sound but also want a pair of headphones to listen to music with then these are for you.
If you don’t want to spend ton of money, just get the Lightning dongle from Apple
Assuming you already have a pair of headphones and you can just want to be able to use them with your phone, there’s no better way to do that then by just using the Lightning dongle that came with your phone. It’s surprisingly good and won’t even break the bank assuming you lose it (which you probably will). Still, even if you do lose one they only cost $8 USD to replace.
What you should know
Before spending your hard-earned money, there’s some things you should know about the state of the market and where things are headed in the future.
Lightning is dying, just like USB-C headphones
If you want to know what the future of Lightning headphones is, just look at USB-C headphones. While companies like Apple and Google were quick to remove the headphone jack in order to drive up their sales, they did so without a full ecosystem of products behind the companies. Apple in particular was hoping that the market would catch up and make tons of Lightning-based headphones, which never happened. Instead of Lightning headphones being the middle ground to take us from the 3.5mm jack to completely wireless audio, Apple just plunged ahead into Bluetooth headphones.
And if you’re a headphone manufacturer it’s way easier to sell a pair of wireless headphones to everyone with a phone instead of making Lightning headphones to sell just to Apple users. It doesn’t help that the Lightning connector, unlike the 3.5mm input, isn’t an open input. That means that if you want to make a pair of Lightning-based headphones, you need permission from Apple. As you can imagine, not a lot of companies went this route and instead just continued making 3.5mm headphones as usual or just made the jump straight to Bluetooth.
You should probably just go wireless
While I’m personally still a big fan of wired headphones, Bluetooth has its moments. Particularly if you want them for exercise or if you’re commuting. If you’re looking into a pair of Lightning headphones, we strongly recommend just going straight to wireless headphones. There are plenty of great over-ears on the market including the Sony WF-1000XM3 or the Bose Noise Cancelling headphones 700, both of which are best in class active noise cancelling headphones and completely wireless.
Of course, you can always just jump into the deep end and go with the AirPods Pro (as Apple definitely wants you to do). If you don’t feel like spending that kind of money though, you can always go for one of the many other great true wireless earbuds that are available such as the Creative Outlier Air or the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds. Either way, you’re spending less money and still getting a great product at the end of the day.
Why you should trust us
The team at SoundGuys has plenty of experience with audio products ranging from professional testing of audio products to years of hands-on experience nit-picking at everything from headphones to microphones and everything in between. SoundGuys is where we put our experience to use, and we’ll never recommend a product we don’t think is good. While we don’t think buying a pair of Lightning headphones is a wise choice, there are some decent-sounding products out there and hey, it’s your money. Speaking of money, the writers at SoundGuys don’t get paid based on which products we recommend as it is against our ethics policy and would cost us our jobs. We get paid based on content output, and that’s it. We don’t even have ads on our site because we want the experience to be as easy as possible for you. We make our money with affiliate links, so every time you purchase something through one of our links you’re helping us keep the lights on and we appreciate it!