iFixit and Friends X-ray Apple Audio Adapter

Google may snicker at the Apple Audio Adapter, but an iFixit teardown found there's more going on inside than may be expected from a $9 dongle.

iPhone 7

Apple added a slew of new features to the iPhone 7 and took away a very notable one: the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Earbuds, included with the iPhone 7, plug into the Lightning port; and for those with beloved earphones they have no intention of giving up, Apple included a headphone adapter in the box. (It can also be purchased separately for $9.)

That adapter—a male Lightning connector on one end and a female 3.55mm headphone jack on the other, is what breakdown-and-repair experts at iFixit most recently set their sights on. Or, well, after a little help from Creative Electron, which took an X-ray image of the adapter.

Their findings, in a nutshell: "There's actually a lot going on in there," wrote iFixit's Jeff Suovanen.

The teams found the expected bits—the connectors. "But what's all that silicon around the Lightning connector end?" asked Suovanen. "Most of the retail space near the connector is taken up by a single mystery IC."

Wanting a closer look at the integrated circuit, a longtime iFixit community member cut open his, which revealed simply a long Apple part number. The function of the IC, the team surmised, is likely, at the very least, an analog-to-digital converter (ADC).

Earphones, and human ears, need analog signals to work. Apple's new connector is digital. The IC likely behaves as the needed translator.

"By the same logic, this chip must also contain an ADC circuit to convert the analog signal from your headphones' built-in mic into something that can pass back through the Lightning port so your iPhone can make use of it," explained Suovanen.

From the moment that rumors of an audio-jack-free phone circulated, audiophiles stressed over whether a dongle would be inferior to the work that previously took place on logic boards inside of iPhone and compromise sound quality.

The iFixit crew pointed to a German music site's thorough sound-quality tests, which showed that the little dongle isn't perfect but generally holds up. (You're only likely to hear the difference, wrote Suovanen, if "you sit in a quiet room with a really, really good pair of headphones … and you're a canine.")

Which then left the team to wonder: Was it worth it, and will others copy?

At Apple's Sept. 7 event, Senior Vice President Phil Schiller said it took "courage" to introduce the feature and that it's part of an initiative to move away from outdated technologies.

Google, introducing the Pixel phone Oct. 4, made a point of noting, in a promotional video, that among the smartphone's features is a "3.5mm headphone jack satisfyingly not new."

How long the company will be snickering remains to be seen.

"It's time to bid an unfond adieu to the audio jack," Ezra Gottheil, principal analyst of IoT, Devices and Platforms at Technology Business Research, told eWEEK.

"It's an entry point for water and dirt, it wears out and it generates static and hum," Gottheil continued. "Device vendors are going to have to provide for power and audio input/output, and it would be nice to us and to accessory vendors if there was a standard, but there probably won't be, at least for a while. Meanwhile, adapters, and cases incorporating adapters, will tide us over."