New iPhone and Headphone Adaptor (Sound Quality)
November 17, 2020 4:30 AM   Subscribe

I recently upgraded my iPhone after the one I had for 4+ years stopped working. I got an iphone 8. All good so far, and I realized that it didn't work with the traditional 3.5mm headphone jacks. No big deal; I picked up a iPhone lightening adaptor jack to use with it, plugged in my headphones and started to listen... The sound quality is HORRIBLE! I have many pairs of earbuds and decent quality headphones that I love to listen to music on my iphone (Sony, Sennheiser, etc) and they sound horrible now. I have no desire to buy those Apple Pro earbud things, so am I now destined to abandon all of my earbuds and headphones , or dig out my old iPod and listen to music on that? Help!
posted by konaStFr to Technology (16 answers total)
If you want to spend a little bit of money: ddHiFi TC35i.

If you want to spend kind-of-a-lot-of-money: Audioquest Dragonfly + Apple Lightning-to-USB adapter.
posted by box at 5:33 AM on November 17

Did you buy the (ridiculously priced) Apple adaptor? When I got my iPhone 7, I bought that, and I notice no difference in sound quality (using the same earbuds) between my previous phone and the new phone with the adaptor (I'm a musician so I'd notice the difference).
posted by jonathanhughes at 5:40 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]

I have a sound blaster Bluetooth headphone adapter/amp that works great. It wasn't too expensive either.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:54 AM on November 17

Before you start throwing money at this, have you tried going into Settings > Music > EQ and trying the different settings there. One of those may work better with your headphones and source music.
posted by Lanark at 6:04 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

The iPhone lightening adaptor jack is probably defective or low quality. There shouldn't be any difference in sound quality with one of those jacks. I use earbuds with a lightening adaptor regularly.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:35 AM on November 17 [6 favorites]

Can you describe what you mean by "horrible"? I've purchased lightning adapters in the past that has prominent hiss and my guess is that they were counterfeits with poor shielding. Ordered directly from Apple and there is no impact on sound quality on a wide range of low ($7 JBLs) to high quality (HD600s) headphones.
posted by lucasks at 7:49 AM on November 17


I have a bunch of these adapters and I have never noticed a difference. So I’d try another one of the same. I found this article that lists sources who took a deep dive into measuring output, and the earliest versions of the adapter did have limits driving very low impedance headphones.

That said, the DAC and amplifier are built in to that tiny $9 lump of plastic, so it is responsible for the quality of sound. Some people get really into the sound quality of different DACs and headphone amps. Other people get really into analyzing audio things to prove things to themselves or others.

With anything as subjective as audio my philosophy is: you do you. If that Apple adapter displeases you then you can fire it and get something more pleasant.
posted by sol at 8:49 AM on November 17

I agree that I never heard any difference using an adapter, so you might try a verified Apple one.

Apple sells Earpods which are wired with a lighting connector ($19) and I am using right now (with rubber adapters so they stay in my ears). There are lots of other bluetooth headphones that work with iPhones, so you don't have to go with Apple.

However, since you already have good wired ones you like, you might want to see if you can find some speakers that will connect to your phone using bluetooth and also accept a 3.5mm connector.
posted by soelo at 9:55 AM on November 17

Could you be more specific about what's wrong with the sound? Is there hiss, or distortion, or is it too soft on the highest volume or too loud on the lowest volume, or something else? Some more specifics might help identify the problem.

It's not normal for the sound to be that noticeably different.
posted by floppyroofing at 11:07 AM on November 17

I've used two different lightning-to-headphone adapters (both of them came with new iPhones) and detected no difference in sound quality with my relatively fancy headphones. (And believe me, I was listening for any decrease in sound quality.) Based on my experience, I would suspect your adapter is the likely culprit here.

The only other thing I'd suggest is ... are you sure your headphone connector is pushed all the way into the socket? Oftentimes I will plug headphones into some piece of gear and be dismayed at the tinny, noisy sound quality only to discover that the jack was unusually tight and I needed to push the plug in just a tiny bit farther to actually seat it properly.
posted by Mothlight at 12:30 PM on November 17

The adapter actually includes a Digital to Analog converter, so yes one that costs $5 is going to be terrible. Amazon and Ebay are full of counterfeits for this kind of thing, so I would buy one direct from Apple.
posted by Lanark at 2:10 PM on November 17

When the iPhone 8 was released, an Apple lightning to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter was included in the box. There weren't a significant number of people using that adapter who reported the kind of audio issue you're having, so I think it's likely the hiss you're hearing is because of the adapter you got from Amazon.
posted by theory at 3:04 PM on November 17

Hey folks - sorry about that. I realized that I probably should have clarified what I meant by "horrible".

Ok, its a VERY pronounced HISS noise. Its super loud and unbearable. I tried to listen to a podcast with my phone, and couldn't get past 3 mins. Tried to listen to some songs through Spotify and Bandcamp app, and couldn't do it. So its a horrible 'hiss' noise.

And yes, I bought a VERY cheap one from Amazon. When I got the phone from my carrier, the guy noted that this phone (vs my older iPhone which I had on me) wouldn't work with my headphone jack. he said they have ones for $20, but suggested getting one from Amazon for like $5 (which I did).

I had no idea it could be the adaptor or the EQ settings...

And trust me, I am NO audiophile. I have a couple of 'decent' pair of headphones and earbuds that were gifted to me (Sony and Sennheiser) that work just fine for me listing to Spotify on an iPhone. So i am NOT looking for anything fancy (and I am NOT complaining about the mids or lows not being right). Talking about a huge hiss that I couldn't listen to and ruined any audio. This adaptor was just unbearable (and some quick google searching showed a similar hiss, so I figured it might be all lightning adaptors??)

Hope that helps for some follow up...
posted by konaStFr at 4:53 PM on November 17

Yeah, I’d grab the official Apple adaptor. I’d be shocked if you have the same issues.
posted by sixswitch at 7:06 PM on November 17

The Apple adapters work great. I have them both for Lightning and for the USB-C jack on my iPad. In addition I’ve had good experiences with cheap Bluetooth headphones on iPhone, like the JVC Gummy headphones (which really needs more battery life) and inexpensive Sony wireless headphones that are more expensive than the Gummy’s but don’t sound as good. (You can probably tell I’m no audiophile, but I can tell the difference between good, okay and bad sound).
posted by lhauser at 7:21 PM on November 17

If you have a cable with a built-in analog volume dial, you can probably work around this problem by turning the volume dial way down while turning the volume on your phone way up to compensate.

But it sounds like a bad adapter to me. I'd get another. (And ask for a refund for this one.)
posted by floppyroofing at 8:01 AM on November 18

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