Listening to the iPhone 7 While Charging: A Higher Audio Performance Workaround


by Michael Liang

Courage To Move On

On September 16th 2016, Apple’s iPhone 7 went on sale with arguably the most controversial design move in the history of mobile phones – the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. At the special event in San Francisco where the iPhone 7 was announced a week earlier, Phil Schiller (Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing) calls the move courageous: “the courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.” While the headphone jack is the oldest technology on the iPhone 7, it is the most mature and widely used port for many different applications. Deleting it from the most carried mobile device on the planet means using the iPhone 7 with standard headphones or in the car would require an adapter and some inconvenience. The biggest problem with having only one port (Lightning) on the iPhone 7 for audio output and charging means you can’t do both at the same time. A customer wrote to Phil Schiller in an email shortly after the announcement expressing this very concern. Phil Schiller replied suggesting to buy the $49 Apple Lightning Dock if the user wishes to use a wired headphone while charging. Yes, it is a valid workaround, but it’s an expensive one for the same “average" audio performance, as the included Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter for the ability to charge your iPhone while listening to music. I feel that if you’re going to spend money to work around this problem, you should get higher audio performance for the added expense and inconvenience. 

Juicing It

Some of you may not be aware that Apple makes a Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter for the iPad for $39. It is less expensive than the Lightning Dock, more compact and more mobile-friendly because it is not designed for the desk. To achieve higher audio performance for your standard wired headphones or anything that uses the 3.5mm port, I recommend AudioQuest’s new DragonFly Black USB DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) and amplifier for $99. The USB bus-powered DragonFly Black re-routes the audio from the iPhone with the help of Lightning to USB 3 Camera adapter to its internal high quality ESS SABRE DAC and amplifier. The sonic benefits are significant compared to the low-quality DAC inside the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter included with your new iPhone. DragonFly Black supports audio files up to 24-bit/96kHz so you can play Hi-Res music if you so choose. And since the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter has one USB 3 port and one Lightning port, you can listen to high quality audio and charge the battery simultaneously. For those who enjoy listening to music on their iPhone without losing the ability to charge the battery, I think this is a better solution than Phil Schiller’s recommendation.

Higher Performance

If you want to take the sound quality up a notch, AudioQuest makes a DragonFly Red for $199 that offers an even higher DAC performance and more power to drive high-end headphones.