And Dr. Dre Says: Nothing Because Philips Beat Beats to Lightning Headphones

The headphones division of Netherlands-based consumer electronics giant Koninklijke Philips NV (AMS:PHIA) may have just managed to derail the Beats Audio hype train, unveiling the world’s first Lightning connector headphones.

The new headphones are dubbed the “Fidelio M2L” and are expected to go on sale in December, priced at €250 EUR (~$325 USD).  They’re officially the first Lightning headphone entry in Apple, Inc.’s (AAPL) Made for iPhone (MFi) developer program, which only just expanded to headphones earlier this year.

Using the iPhone’s Lightning connector allows for a couple of advantages.  First, it allows for power transfer from an iPhone to the headphones.  Philips’ design uses this extra juice to power a slick 24-bit digital to analog converter (DAC) and amplifier circuit.  The iPhone has its own DAC converter, but it’s pretty safe to say that Philip’s unit will be a substantial step up in terms of sound quality.

Philips Fidelio M2L headphones are iPhone-exclusive with a Lightning connector-opowered DAC/amplifier duo.
Lightning connected headphones can also interface directly to apps, control volume, and skip tracks.  And since the connector is digital, they don’t have to worry about cross-talk or interference which can occur along the headphone cable when DAC is done on the device side.

This is actually Philips’ second major Apple exclusive design.  Way back in 2010 it debuted the Philips SHN6000, which connected to the then 30-pin connector for playback controls and powering lightweight DAC and amplifier.  That DAC is expected to pale in comparison, though, to the more power-thirsty amplification circuitry aboard the Fidelio M2L.

About as attractive as headphones get, the Fidelio M2L features breathable leather memory foam ear pads around speaker heads driven by 40mm high magnetic intensity neodymium magnets.  The headphones feature a closed-back acoustic architecture, which allows them not only to produce intense noises such as roaring bass and shrill highs, but also subtle delicate noises, as well.

Pascal van Laer, a manager to Woox Innovations — the Philips division responsible for the design brags:
We’re excited to launch the Philips Fidelio M2L, our first headphone that has a direct digital connection to your iOS device. This means we can deliver an incredible audio experience today, and also opens up exciting opportunities for innovation for the future.
It’s surprising that Apple itself would not be the first to release a Lightning enabled set of headphones, given its recent $3B USD purchase of the much-hyped Beats Audio brand.  With co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young — better known as Dr. Dre — now in-house as Apple executives, Apple has been exploring new ways to differentiate its lineup using Beats headphones.

Jimmy Iovine (L) and Dr. Dre (R) [Image Source: Time Magazine]
It clearly seemed to have a vision for Lightning-connected Beats Audio headphones.  In June 2014 at a Worldwide Developer Convention (WWDC 2014) session entitled “Designing Accessories for iOS and OS X” Robert Walsh, manager of platform accessories at Apple showed a slide hinting that Apple and its new subsidiary were eyeing Lightning-powered headphones and considering phasing out the 3.5 mmm jack.

But Lightning headphones were a no show at Apple’s much-hyped Tuesday launch of the Apple Watch, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6+.  In fact, Beats Audio was pretty quiet in general at the event.

Surely Beats Audio will event follow in Philips line.  But Apple’s house brand of headphones certainly lost bragging rights thanks to sitting too long on their interesting idea.