Tiny tragedies: an iPhone 7 dongle story

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I lost my iPhone 7’s original, pack-in headphone jack adapter in Arizona on a family trip. The main thing I use my iPhone for is listening to podcasts and audiobooks whenever I’m going from point A to point B, so obviously this was devastating.

My first attempt to solve the problem was to reject wires altogether and buy some Bluetooth headphones. But I hate the pairing process, especially when switching between phone and laptop, and I also don’t like the fact that my day is ruined if I forget to charge them. So I switched to the original Lightning headphones that came with my iPhone 7, even though they were conked out in one ear and don’t really fit very well. Life was suffering.

After a month or so I’d finally had enough. I wanted to be able to use real headphones again. So there I was, clicking through Amazon, searching desperately for a clear choice of dongle replacement, drowning in a sea of knockoffs and ripoffs.

The search results on Amazon.com for “apple headphone jack adapter” were atypical. Rather than an obvious and highly-rated best seller, most of the available no-frills dongles had only dozens of reviews and were barely holding on to four star ratings. One rare popular exception was the $8.64 Sout adapter, which had 1,000 or so reviews and a cumulative 1.5 star rating.

The “Amazon’s Choice” dongle on Amazon is ostensibly Apple’s own official adapter, but from reading the reviews, it seems like many people have received a non-operational knockoff instead of the legitimate Apple product. It also hasn’t been available through Amazon Prime, or Prime Now, until only recently.


Great work, Apple

Also, I should point out that on Apple’s own online store, the Apple Lightning adapter has a Sout-esque 1.5 star rating. A lot of protest votes, it seems.

I decided to go with a no-name $14.99 adapter because it was available with fast shipping and its recent reviews were overwhelmingly positive. I figured by over-spending just a little bit, I was just a little bit safer.

Unfortunately, I got a lemon. The adapter “works,” but it lets in weird staticy interference. You know, the one thing you don’t want from your audio gear. The specific adapter I bought now has two stars, but there’s an identical-looking replacement from the same company with five stars. What is going on?

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to online shopping. I used to live walking distance from a Best Buy, and a short bike ride away from an Apple Store. But now I live in a remote part of Brooklyn, and Amazon has become my best friend. For small purchases, I usually crowdsource my buying decisions based on whatever seems popular, cheap, and highly rated on the site. This is the first time I feel like I’ve been truly failed by this process. There’s no real gatekeeper for Amazon’s marketplace, it’s up to happy customers to shine a light on the good deals and quality products. And that process has entirely failed to pick me a good headphone jack adapter.

And without Amazon, I’m adrift. I have Amazon Prime, so next-day shipping is typically free. I never seriously considered buying from Apple.com. Apple only has free shipping if you don’t care how quickly your object arrives, otherwise you’re basically tripling the price of a headphone dongle if you pick next-day shipping.

Plus, why would I want to give Apple the satisfaction? Why should I pretend like I’m totally fine with this situation where I pay Apple money to add a headphone jack to my phone?

When the iPhone 7 got rid of the headphone jack, I assumed there would be several upstarts who would offer small, high-quality DACs to upgrade the listening experience past what Apple’s low-end dongle could offer. That’s the whole point of relying on a powered, digital connector like Lightning, right?

I guess you could say I was optimistic. I’ve never been frustrated enough by the #donglelife to give up my iPhone 7. But I have to admit life isn’t as great as I assumed it would be. And no, I don’t want to buy AirPods, thanks.

About a week after I bought the replacement dongle, my sister-in-law sent my original Apple adapter to me in the mail. Life is fine now, I guess. If I lose it again I’m going to try out this Nexum Aqua DAC someone recommended to me on Twitter. It has three stars and 14 reviews. What could go wrong?

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