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TIL that knockoff wired iPhone earbuds require Bluetooth to work :/

Cheap Lightning earbuds not working with your iPhone? Try turning on Bluetooth.

Published onMay 31, 2024

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max Lightning Cable.jpg
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • Certain companies are selling knockoff variants of Apple’s wired Lightning earbuds that require a Bluetooth connection to work.
  • These manufacturers save some money by avoiding Apple’s standards and not relying on the Lightning connection to transmit audio.
  • The wired connection draws power from the connected iPhone, while the Bluetooth chip handles audio transmission.

Today, I learned that on this planet, not in a parallel universe, a mythical creature roams among us. From afar (and even upon closer inspection), it looks just like any pair of wired Lightning earbuds for iPhones. However, concealed deeply within it is a dark secret that only remote villagers know of. It appears that some companies have been selling knockoff wired iPhone earbuds that need Bluetooth to function. You’ve read that right.

A crazy experience — I lost my earbuds in a remote town in Chile, so tried buying a new pair at the airport before flying out. But the new wired, iPhone, lightning-cable headphones didn’t work. Strange.
So I went back and swapped them for another pair, from a different brand.…
— Josh Whiton (@joshwhiton) May 30, 2024

Josh Whiton shared his wild adventure on Twitter, shedding light on a lesser-known practice that has spread in certain regions. In a remote Chilean town, Josh bought a pair of wired Lightning earbuds to use with his iPhone. The new pair wouldn’t work when plugged into his device, so he sought the villagers’ help. They confidently and unanimously asked him to enable Bluetooth on his iPhone and pair them first. And, indeed, the wired earbuds started working once the wireless connection was established. Wired AirPods?

Josh also tried a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter, and even that required Bluetooth! Yes, the wired dongle needed Bluetooth.

So, it turns out that this is a sneaky practice some no-name brands opt for to save money. Since Lightning is an Apple proprietary port, manufacturing and licensing wired audio accessories would cost companies more. It’s simply cheaper for them to rely on a Bluetooth chip that transmits the audio — while the wired connection exclusively delivers the needed power to fuel the (technically) wireless earbuds. The Lightning adapter also uses the same principles, where the wired dongle wirelessly transmits the audio signal to the phone that is physically connected mere inches away.

Given that the iPhone 15 series has already switched to the universal USB-C standard, this practice should die within the next decade when people no longer use Lightning iPhones. Until then, try enabling Bluetooth on your iPhone whenever you have trouble using wired Lightning earbuds.

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