3SIXT Digital Lightning Buds
Sound quality, usability
Lightning only – no dongle/connector for non-iOS devices
Ever since the first iPod was released back in 2001 part of its cachet has been the white earbuds that have marked iPod, and now iOS, users as part of Apple’s family – or cult in the eyes of some!
And since those days, the earbuds, and more recently the Ear Pods, have connected to our favourite portable music player by a ubiquitous 3.5mm connector. Apple enhanced that connector with the iPhone so that the one connector and socket could handle both input and output. But we’ve been using the same connector for many decades.
The pending release of the iPhone 7 is expected to bring a big change – the loss of the 3.5mm socket. Instead, Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector will become the one connector to rule them all. But rather than waiting for Apple to make the change, accessory maker 3SIXT has jumped the gun and released the Digital Lightning Buds.
The Digital Lightning Buds connect to your iOS device using the Lightning port. The advantage of this approach is that the entire playback experience is digital. While the 3.5mm connector has served us well, it was born in the analogue era. So, when sound was pushed through those headphones, it was converted from the digital form it’s stored in on your device, to an analogue form. By using the Lightning connector, you skip that digital to analogue conversion.
There’s nothing special to do when using the Digital Lightning Buds. I simply plugged them into my iPhone 6s’ Lightning port and they were ready to use. One thing that’s worth noting is that the Lightning connector on the Digital Lightning Buds is slightly larger than the connector Apple uses on their charge and sync cable. As a consequence, I couldn’t use the Digital Lightning Buds with one of my iPhone cases as the cut-out for the connector was too small.
Comfort and fit are critical with headphones. The Digital Lightning Buds come with three different gel tips that cover the 9mm Neodymium drivers that deliver the sound. I found the middle-sized tips fitted securely and blocked out most of the ambient noise – an important consideration as these buds don’t have active noise cancellation.
Sound quality was excellent. For comparison, I played music back through the Digital Lightning Buds and a pair of Bose QC20 noise cancelling headphones. To keep things fair, I didn’t use Bose’s noise cancellation.
The 3SIXT Digital Lightning Buds delivered thick rich sound without overwhelming me with too much bass – something I find is common with many modern earbuds and headphones.
I also liked the use of a flat ribbon cable rather than the traditional cylindrical lead that joins the buds to its connector. Even when I stuffed the Digital Lightning Buds into my backpack when in a hurry, the cable didn’t tangle.
The inline controls are well-designed. I find Apple’s controller, while much sleeker, harder to use as it lacks discrete buttons. The volume up and down buttons on the Digital Lightning Buds are easy to find, as is the play/pause buttons which also let me answer and hang-up phone calls that interrupted me while listening to music.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice: We’re on the cusp of a new era, with the 3.5mm headphone jack going the way of the dodo – at least if Apple has its way. The 3SIXT Digital Lightning Buds are comfortable, offer great sound and are easy to use. If you’re in the market for a set of buds for your iPhone or iPad, they are hard to beat.