Headphones: Ready for Disruption?

Using an adapter and slowly buying new cables always sucks, but you can’t look me in the eye and say we’re worse off with HDMI than we were with component and VGA. So, why do our otherwise digital lives still have one analog piece? Right there, on the bottom of your iPhone 5, the biggest port is the headphone jack (with some extra pin hacks to also be analog audio in and receive headset events). For now, lets throw arguments about existing standards out the window and look at the non-audiophile benefits to a miniaturized digital audio output via the lightning port.

Have you ever tried using the auxiliary input cable and a power inverter in your car at the same time? I haven’t tried with a giant shielded cable but standard ones pick up a nice square wave from the inverter. Bluetooth isn’t a solution for multiple devices wanting control of the car audio. What would be better would be a an all digital solution, or at least a cable that has the D/A on the very end. Technically this is possible with lightning now as it supports line out but sadly cables tend to run the line out over the length of the cable.

I realize that digital headphones of any kind will need to get some power from somewhere. Remembering to charge my noise canceling headphones is a pain so the solution might be to pass some power out of the device to the headphones. An interesting implementation discussion here is how volume data should be passed. Should the device pass an altered waveform or should is pass a volume value that the headphones know what to do with? Probably the latter.

Apple would obviously supple in-box a lightning to 1/8th” adapter. A decision they can make is whether or not to put the D/A in the cable or in the iPhone. I guess that depends on bulkiness of the resultant cable – because that’s clearly where it belongs to make the smallest iPhone possible.

None of this is going to work if Lightning remains an Apple exclusive, so maybe this discussion is moot.