This isn’t arguable. Apple is at the forefront of audio in many ways, from iTunes to Garageband to Logic Pro X. Whether listening to music or recording music Apple has provided customers with excellent tools for both and has a long history of moving the industry forward. So, here we are, with iPhone 7 on the immediate horizon, and already the nattering nabobs of negativism have turned their collective ears to Apple’s audio faults?
First, iPhone 7 does not have a headphone jack and relies instead on the Lightning connector. Why? The space is better served by larger battery, 3D Touch on the Home button, stereo speakers, water resistance, and probably a dozen additional engineering considerations, but it’s time. The world is moving toward wireless audio and Apple just gave the smartphone industry a big push in that direction.
So, why are audiophiles up in arms? After all, the headphone jack is a relic from the 1800s.
Bob O’Donnell thinks Apple is missing the boat of opportunity.
The problem is the implications of the move on audio quality are not likely to be good for most people. For all of its convenience, wireless audio connections are generally lower quality than wired connections because of the need to compress the file over the available wireless bandwidth. Given most people are starting with highly compressed MP3 or AAC-encoded music files to begin with, that essentially means you’re degrading an already degraded signal. Not good.
I hear the argument but I also hear what my ears hear and I cannot tell the difference between wireless Bluetooth headphones and wired headphones and do not know anyone who can. I doubt if most people can tell the difference, which explains why MP3 is still around after all these years.
Now, admittedly, there is debate on how much of a difference many people can hear across different levels of audio encoding algorithms as well as wireless transmission compression methods, but common sense tells you mixing the two together can’t be good. (And to be clear, yes, I think most everyone would be able to hear the difference between a wired connection of an uncompressed file and a wireless connection of a compressed file.)
No. You. Cannot.
I can boil this argument down to a single word if necessary. Pono. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, audio quality is in the ear of the listener. Admittedly, ears are different, and there are plenty of variables to deal with, including compressed audio files, compression when transmitting wirelessly, headphone quality, ear differences, and on and on. As much as audiophiles fear that Apple is mucking with the quality of music it’s not likely that a double-blind study will validate their argument.
Mario Aguilar on Neil Young’s failed Pono:
Though Young and Pono have failed to produce double-blind studies on the benefits of high-rate audio or their music player, inquiring minds have taken the time to do it. In a 2007 paper published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Brad Meyer and David Moran outline the results of a study in which they presented a large sample of “serious” listeners with a double blind test comparing 44.1 kHz audio from “the best high resolution discs we could find.” The goal was not to show which was better, but simply to find out if people could even tell the difference.
Guess what? They could not. Mathematically, high definition audio works. But not so that anyone listening could tell.
I tend to view audiophiles the same as wine aficionados who claim to be able to tell fine wine from wine in a box, but in test after test, they cannot. For most people, wine is wine, and in double-blind tests, the wine tasters cannot tell cheap from expensive.
So it is with audio.
Bob O’Donnell again:
Though few know it, Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector supports the ability to transmit uncompressed and even high-resolution audio in digital format to external devices. Essentially, it provides raw access to the files before they’re converted from digital into audible analog format. In addition, Lightning can provide power for enabling features like noise cancellation without a battery in connected headphones, and access to additional controls, such as triggering Siri. Frankly, it’s a powerful though underutilized interface. Part of the problem is using Lightning requires paying a royalty to Apple, whereas using the 3.5mm audio jack never did.
The inference here is that Apple removed the headphone jack for financial reasons. Royalties for a Lightning connector. But that argument fails miserably in the face of Apple’s obvious direction. Wireless.
Given how much time Apple spent justifying the removal of the headphone jack at their event, they’re clearly cognizant of what a momentous impact their decision represented and how poorly some might perceive the move. Yet, instead of turning that negative into a positive—as they clearly could have done—they added insult to injury by calling the development courageous. Frankly, it was a missed opportunity of potentially enormous proportions. The bottom line is, for a company that talks a lot about how much they love music, Apple sure doesn’t seem to care that much about audio quality, and that’s frustrating.
The argument also assumes that Apple has put audio into a time chamber from which it will never advance. Obviously, that’s not the case. The Lightning connector means high resolution audio files (which are much larger file sizes) can easily be transmitted to high end headphones where audiophiles might bask their ears. Technology is about tradeoffs. Apple could make a nearly indestructible iPhone, but at what price to the customer? The technology industry moves by incremental improvements, with an occasional revolutionary innovation. Removing the headphone jack from iPhone 7 is the former, not the latter. There is room for improvement but trust that Apple knows that most audiophiles cannot tell the difference between high resolution and quality audio that is available now.
The problem here is not with audio or the technology Apple uses to store, distribute, and playback audio, regardless of quality. The problem is that wine tasters usually cannot tell fine quality bottled wine from wine in a box from Walmart.