Headphone standards and Apple and a solution to the dB problem

Thinking a little, I actually do see a way out, because Apple doesn’t follow standards.

Now if you’re in any other electronics company, this infuriates you. “I make good headphones,” you say “And now fucking iPhone users cannot use them any more because apparently the industry standard 3.5mm jack isn’t good enough for Cupertino any more.“

"I make good power supplies” you might say. “And every single phone in the WORLD accepts the standard USB Micro B connector except apparently that’s not good enough for Apple”

And so if you have an iDevice, your peripherals are more expensive because Apple doesn’t have to compete on price with every single standards-compliant electronics producer. This helps Apple preserve the exclusivity of their brand and, in general, completely infuriates me but it does also mean:

Apple is free to innovate past the standards.

And they do. And the standards then try to catch up to apple, because while you may be second fiddle to Apple in status/branding, it is embarrasing to also be second fiddle in quality.

The best example I can think of right now is the Apple charger, and how it doesn’t give a fuck about standards, in a way that forced the standard to catch up.

USB Micro B, the Standard, has a problem shared by almost every single connector in the world: If you connect the wires wrong, bad things happen. To prevent this, a brilliant solution was thought up (long before the USB standard): Let us make the plug assymetrical – it only fits into the receptacle if you turn it right. Sure, “turn it” is techincally user input, but since it is physically impossible to get it wrong (unless you use a violent level of force) we can trust the user to connect it right. Now of course this means you can also try to connect it wrong and have to fiddle with your device and maybe it is dark so you cannot see what way is up and down so you must fiddle even more but it works: USB Micro B does not burn out your device.

Apple solved it differently.

The iPhone connector, called “Lightning,” has a dead simple quality to it: You cannot turn it wrong; it is symmetrical on the user end, it has no “up” or “down,” either way you can insert it works out. So why doesn’t it short-circuit the device when you accidentally insert it so the wrong connectors touch? Because that stuff is hidden. If the right-most connector on the top is “ground,” then, once you turn it over, the right-most connector on the top (that is, a different connector now) is ALSO ground. They ran every single connector out twice so if you turn it over, the pins don’t switch place, but are instead replaced with identical pins.

And this drives the standard. USB Micro B is on the way out, being replaced with USB Type-C which cannot be inserted upside-down because, like the Lightning, type-C has no up or down – they ran all the connectors out twice.


This means that Apple, in their complete disregard for standards, creates standards. And they might do the same for headphones – if a Standard Apple Headphone always has the same impedance, Apple can start labelling their sound controls with dB instead of just a line that goes from short to long. Then they make that standard impedance a requirement for being licensed to work with Apple products and you’re done, that is 40% of the market that suddenly expects dB labelling on their sound controls. If Apple is feeling really mean, it will coincide with a lobbying effort that makes accurate dB labelling a legal requirement for all headphone designs.

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