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When Apple removed the headphone jack from its flagship phones last year, it left people with three options.
That third category hasn’t grown very much, but I’ve been trying a pair of Pioneer Rayz earphones I was sent, and I’m impressed.
The promise of lightning headphones is that they can do a lot more than traditional wired models, and these headphones prove that’s the case.
They have active noise cancelling, a mode that lets you hear ambient sounds with your music called “Hear Thru”, an adjustable equaliser, and two features called “Smart Mute” and “Autopause” that I’ll explain in more detail a little later.
When you plug the Rayz in for the first time, you’ll be prompted to download the My Rayz app, which is where you can control the headphone’s smart features. The app will first walk you through a calibration process to get the noise cancelling right specifically for your ears. After that, you’re on your own to flip through different settings — I kept everything on.
One concern with lightning headphones is that they will drain your battery quicker because they draw power, but I didn’t find that to be the case. That said, there’s an “Eco Mode” in the app that disables all smart features.
Though the smart features are what set this pair of headphones apart from others I’ve tested, Pioneer didn’t forget about audio quality. It included six different eartips — half gummy, half memory foam — so you have a good chance of finding one that creates a good seal, which is necessary for getting good bass.
All genres of music sounded very good, with no audible distortion when cranked up to higher volume. I kept the EQ flat, but if your personal preference is more bass or treble, the option is open to you.
Lower-quality audio sounded bad, but that’s the headphones exposing flaws in the file. Whether you’re listening to top 40 music from a streaming service or lossless versions of classical and jazz albums, you’ll likely be happy.
I’ve heard earbuds that sound better, but they cost substantially more than these and lack the smart features that will have a bigger impact on most people’s daily listening.
And they will have an impact — I’m not normally a big fan of extra features on headphones, but Pioneer made some good choices. Of these features, Autopause is my favourite; it stops your music when you take the earbuds out of your ears, and starts playing it again when you put them back in — it’s a convenience I didn’t know I was missing. My only wish is that you could set Autopause to trigger when only one earbud is out.
Smart Mute, the other feature I mentioned earlier, mutes the headphone’s microphone when you’re not talking during a phone call. If you’re in a place with a lot of ambient noise, the person on the other end of the phone won’t have to speak louder to compensate.
Finally, these headphones address the one big issue all lightning headphones face: charging.
Since the iPhone only has one lightning port, you’ve traditionally had the option to listen to music or charge your phone when using wired headphones. Pioneer built a lightning port into the controller of the Rayz, so you can listen and charge simultaneously. That feature alone makes these worth considering if you’re a fan of wired headphones.
Bluetooth headphones will probably become the de-facto standard for many people as more phones drop that jack, but Pioneer’s Rayz earphones give iPhone owners a wired pair worth caring about.
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