Lightning Strikes BeatsMichael Graves | June 13, 2014
I’ve not been a fan of Beats by Dr. Dre. I’ve purchased a couple of their lesser headsets and found them wanting. So it was that the purchase of the company by Apple didn’t really rock my world view, although the sum involved brought with it a bright spotlight. Lacking for other information there was a lot of speculation as to the underlying logic. It was certainly a curiosity.
Apple’s recent announcement that they will be abandoning the use of the ubiquitous 3.5mm TRS plug for the lightning connector is however very interesting. While it doesn’t change anything about the performance of the products, this announcement casts a new light on the value of the Beats deal. It makes a certain amount of sense if Apple wants to take the whole realm of headsets beyond analog connections, even beyond USB connections.
Digital connections, whether USB or other, make a lot of sense. Such connections remove the variability of the hosts on-board audio interface. In the case of a computer, being at arms length from the internals of the device reduces the likelihood of noise induced into the analog stages of the electronics.
The Forbes article cited above suggests that there might be a lightning-to-3.5mm adapter offered, in much the same manner that Apple sells a Lighting-to-30 pin adapter. That would allow a 3.5mm connection to a future Apple device that didn’t have such hardware on-board.
That may be a bit simplistic comparison to make. The 30-pin adapter is a passive device, so cheap and easy to make. In contrast, the Lighting-to-3.5mm adapter would actually be something akin to a USB audio adapter.
I’ve used such USB devices a lot. They can work very well to add audio capability to a server motherboard, allowing me to run a soft phone on a server that I need to be working on for a while.
A headset with a lightning connector simply moves the A/D and D/A stages into the headset itself. Hopefully the manufacturer would provide high-quality electronics. At least there is the potential for that to happen. The new MFi specification sounds very good.
What the Forbes article doesn’t say is that user can still choose a Bluetooth cordless headset.
There’s no doubt in my mind that a digital connection to the headset is a step forward.