Last week, my lightning to 3.5mm audio cable arrived from Apple. It cost £35 (although they were kind enough to include free delivery).
It is, hands-down, the worst product I have ever bought from Apple.
In fact, it’s so bad, that I barely want to look at it. I don’t really want to think about it, either, which makes writing this article a little tricky, if I’m honest.
But I feel I need to. And if you think this is an overreaction, I should perhaps explain why this little 1.2m auxiliary cable has left such a sour taste in my mouth.
Why did I buy Apple’s audio cable?
I own a pair of AirPods Max. I think they’re great, and believe they do provide plenty of bang-for-buck for a very specific audience.
However, unlike every other pair of over-the-ear headphones that have entered my studio, AirPods Max didn’t come with an auxiliary cable. Granted, these are definitely wireless-first headphones, but so too are the Sony WH-1000XM4s, and, at half the price of the AirPods Max, they come with a cable.
Apple asks £35 for their auxiliary cable if you want one. So, with my audience firmly in mind (I’d buy one for no other reason), I made what was, arguably, one of the most painful purchases from Apple’s online store, ever.
Credit where credit’s due, the cable turned up the next day (which is super-fast of late from Apple, given everything that’s going on in the world). But I wasn’t really prepared for what would happen when I opened the box.
Why has it bothered me so much?
I’ve recently been getting into higher-end audiophile headphone gear. This has, inevitably, prompted me to invest in some heavy-duty, decent cabling.
Now, I’m not talking balls-out, remortgage-your-house cabling here, at all. No, just the sturdy, gold-plated stuff which makes sense to buy if you don’t want to muddy the waters of the audiophile headphones you’ve just purchased.
In fact, I’ve always bought decent interconnects, whether they be audio- or video-related. I love the feel of a high-quality cable. It’s why I bought the UGREEN audio cable for my headphone amp – it feels practically indestructible. It cost just £11 delivered and provides so much value.
The same goes for the short USB-A to lightning cable I needed for our new car. I bought a tough little Cabepow cable which feels like it could be yanked, twisted, and pulled to the nth degree without a problem. That cost £7 delivered.
So, at £35, we’ve got to expect a certain degree of build quality from Apple’s little headphone jack, right? After all, this is the company that invests billions into R&D and prides itself on attention to detail. It’s why AirPods Max carry a premium; they’re beautifully designed and feel expensive.
Why then, Mr. Cook, is your lightning to 3.5mm jack cable the flimsiest cable I’ve ever had the misfortune of spending a fortune on?
To give you some idea of just how flimsy this thing is, imagine the thin cable which connects to an Apple EarPod bud. Not the cable which attaches to your phone, no – the single left or right cable which heads towards your ear.
That’s how thin and flimsy this audio jack feels. I was gobsmacked when I retrieved it from the box.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, to be honest. But I think my experience of decent quality, low-cost cabling simply set up Apple’s £35 jack for abject failure. But it’s worse than that; this cable is obnoxious – it’s an insult.
How does it perform?
It works. Plug it into a headphone amp and into your AirPods Max, and music emanates from the cans. The same goes if you attach it to your iPhone.
But doing so feels entirely wrong. The sheer flimsiness of this cable is totally at odds with the high-quality fit and finish of the AirPods Max. It’s like buying a £10K Pinarello road bike and fitting it with Halfords Carrera wheels (a reference for my UK audience, there).
It feels like one slightly too vigorous swivel of your head will snap the cable in two. Indeed, wrapping up the cable for storage feels like you could inadvertently snap it in two.
So, there’s your review: it works, but it feels hideously cheap.
What does Apple need to do?
I genuinely hate this cable, as you can probably tell. Unnecessarily so? I don’t think so, personally, because I think this cable illustrates a much deeper issue with Apple which I thought was heading out the same door as that dreadful butterfly keyboard.
Android and Windows loyalists will, understandably, always scoff at Apple’s pricing. However, the perceived value one can derive from a product like AirPods Max is entirely subjective. I’ve received comments on my video review which state that they’re actually well priced when compared against similar headphones, and that opinion is entirely valid.
It’s ok to feel like you’re getting a lot from your money from a pair of Apple headphones or one of their laptops, even if there appear to be far more cost-effective options elsewhere. But no one can derive any value from this lightning to 3.5mm jack cable, because it doesn’t offer any. Given its cheap construction and ridiculously simple function, it should be £4.99, tops.
I’ve used the word ‘obnoxious’ a fair bit recently to describe some of Apple’s pricing strategies, and this cable sits firmly within that camp. It smacks of “we’re charging this for it because we can”, and I absolutely detest that attitude. Apple doesn’t need the huge profit margin they’re making on this cable; how many people are buying it, after all?
For those that do want it, though, how about not insulting them, Apple? How about charging fairly for it or, at the very least, upping the quality if you really do want to charge five times more than third-party brands?
I can laugh at a £1,000 monitor stand or a £700 set of wheels for a professional desktop computer. But I can’t find an ounce of humour in this stupid cable.
We’ve seen great strides made by Apple when it comes to making certain product lines more accessible. The Apple Watch is a great example of this, as is some of their education pricing for MacBooks and the bundled ‘freebies’ they offer come new school term time.
Apple is quick to be at the forefront of any equality movement or disaster aid. I love that, but I wish they were a little more consistent with that sense of responsibility and respect when it comes to their product line.