Updated: May 11, 2017
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are Apple’s first iPhones to drop the headphone jack. And while you can keep using your old headphones by plugging them into the adapter that comes in the box, that gets old as soon as you discover you left the little dongle at home connected to a speaker, and you can’t listen to any music.
You’ve got two options. One, stick with a cable and buy some Lightning headphones. That’s fine, but then you can only use them with recent-vintage iOS devices, and you can’t charge your device while you use them. Or two, go wireless. That means Bluetooth, either the vanilla kind, or Apple’s augmented Bluetooth headphones, with the special W1 chip added to make pairing easier.
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Once you have decided on that, you have to choose between in-ear and over-the-head. There are advantages to both.
Earbuds are best for:
- Lightweight: They’re tiny, and easy to keep in a pocket.
- Sealing out the sound: A good pair will seal your ear canal from the outside world, improving sound quality and letting you set the volume lower. They can even beat noise-canceling headphones on planes.
Over-ear headphones are best for:
- Sound quality: Generally speaking, you get better sound from over-ears, although at the higher prices, there are amazing in-ears, too.
- Comfort: You don’t have to stick anything in your ears.
- Not blocking you in: Open-backed headphones let ambient sound in (and your music out). This is good if you don’t want to feel blocked in, but can also be annoying for other people. Also, useless in noisy places.
- They don’t fall out of your ears.
When buying headphones, there are some things to consider. For instance, weight isn’t a good guide to quality. Beats, for instance, is known to use chunks of metal just to add to the heft of its headphones.
With earbuds, you need to consider fit. Apple’s AirPods take the one-size-fits-none approach. And while you can’t test them before buying, you don’t need to, because they are the same size and shape as the free EarPods that came with your iPhone.
For other brands, make sure you pick something with interchangeable tips so you can tailor them to your own earholes, and then learn to put them in properly.
Our advice: Forget Lighting headphones. You’re better off buying the $9 dongle from Apple and leaving it attached to your existing headphones. As of this writing (May 11, 2017), AirPods are still back-ordered with a six-week wait, so if you want wireless with the W1 chip, then you should get the Beats X. They’re great, but The Wirecutter says they cost “way too much” at $150 (The Wirecutter’s pick is the Phiaton BT 100C, but they’re super-dorky). That said, there aren’t many other options for W1-equipped headphones, and our own Ste Smith loved them. “In my opinion,” he wrote in his review, they sound better and will definitely be a better fit for most people, thanks to the interchangeable buds and wingtips.”
Best headphones for iPhone 7
Beats X use Apple’s own W1 chip to eliminate pairing, and have interchangeable earbuds to fit almost any ears. They do have a wire, despite being classed as wireless, but it only connects the two sides, and provides a place for the in-line controls. They also boast all-day battery life in our testing.
Buy from: Amazon
Cult of Mac managing editor Lewis Wallace called the Jaybird X3 earbuds “scary good.” “At one point,” says his review, “a YouTube ad started playing and I actually jumped. The lifelike sound of a woman’s voice came through so clearly that I thought somebody had snuck up on me.”
Similar in style to the Beats X, the Bluetooth X3 headphones are connected by a cord, on which sits an in-line remote, and you can fine-tune their sound using the companion app. They’re also very comfortable for long listening sessions, and claim an eight-hour battery life.
Price: $129 list/$99 street
Buy from: Amazon
NuForce BE6i Bluetooth earbuds by Optoma
The best thing about the NuForce BE6i ‘buds might be their inline remote, which — says Rob Lefevre in his Cult of Mac review — pack just about everything apart from the earbuds themselves.
The inline remote is a wonder — each button has at least two uses to keep the design minimal but functional. The volume buttons (plus and minus) double as a skip forward or back button when held down for a second, while the play button is power, pairing, play, pause, and will answer calls for you. The remote also has a micro-USB port built in that’s covered by a soft rubber door to keep it out of sight when not being used.
Like the Jaybird X3, the battery lasts all day without breaking a sweat, and they can “can handle any music [you] throw at them.
Price: $99 street
Buy from: Amazon
“It looks like we’re back to the glory days of “it just works.” Ste Smith in our review. They sound as good as the wired earbuds we all know and love (or hate), and they’re super-convenient to use. No wonder they’re sold out everywhere.
Buy from: Apple
Best Lightning headphones
Audeze EL-8 headphones with Lightning connection
So far, the Lightning headphone category remains tiny, likely because opting for headphones with a Lightning connector offers almost no advantage over using an adapter. With one exception: if the headphones have their own built-in digital-to-analog (DAC) converter, they can bypass the iPhone’s internal converters, instead sucking the sweet digital straight out and converting it themselves.
That’s what the Audeze EL-8 headphones do, offering way better quality than a standard wires. Here’s Lewis Wallace, writing in our Cult of Mac review:
This is the kind of scalp-tingling musical experience that is all too uncommon in an era of low-quality audio streams and cheapo headphones. It’s easy to forget how much fun listening to music can be, and in a way it’s a curse: It’s easy to adapt to the audio quality of a convenient portable speaker, but plop yourself down in front of high-end equipment, and you might find yourself grimacing at your go-to Bluetooth banger.
The Audeze EL-8s also come with a standard jack cable for use with non-Apple gear, weight in over a pound, and have closed backs to keep environmental sounds out, and your music in.
Buy from: Amazon
Best on-ear headphones
Over-ear headphones can be more comfortable for long periods, and are just bigger, so their speakers can be bigger too. Over-ears are also essential for folks that hate sticking earbuds in their canals, or who use hearing aids. They can also carry way bigger batteries, for longer life between charges. Here are our current picks.
Beats Solo3 Wireless
The Solo3 is the updated version of Beats’ super-popular Solo2. They claim a 40-hour battery life, include Apple’s W1 chip, as well as a button to activate Siri. Whether you like the sound will depend on whether you like the Beats way of doing things, which amounts to plenty of bass. And because Beats is owned by Apple, you can buy a pair to perfectly match your iPhone, Mac, or iPad.
Price: $219 street
Buy from: Amazon