Sifting through cheap alternatives so you won’t have to
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If you have a desk job like me, you’ve probably had an awkward time with the newer iPhones and their single Thunderbolt port. For starters, my good headphones use a 3.5mm jack, which has left me searching for a decent adapter since the iPhone 7 (a disappointingly high percentage of adapters introduce a ton of static into your audio playback). Even with Thunderbolt connectivity, though, the single port means periodically swapping out my headphones for a charging cable.
If you get through your work day with podcasts, have a long commute to work, or simply prefer falling asleep to music, you’ve probably also been looking for a way to listen to tunes while charging your phone. What you need is a headphone splitter.
Headphone splitters are adapters that plug into your iPhone’s Thunderbolt port and split off into a port for charging and a port for audio. Problem solved, right? Maybe not: There’s only one official product in this space: the Belkin Rockstar.
While its form factor is a little blocky, it is the gold standard for functionality. There’s no background static, even when the phone is charging. There are no clicks when the phone is transferring data. All the ports and plugs fit snugly.
The Belkin Rockstar is a solid option, but it isn’t perfect. The Rockstar costs over $30, is fairly bulky, and there are quite a few Amazon reviews complaining their product broke within months of purchase. Belkin, for its part, does seem to reach out to those users to get the broken units replaced.
Since there aren’t any other official products in this space, if you want another option, you’ll have to delve into the realm of generic iPhone accessories.
This can be treacherous territory, riddled with disingenuous practices, sub-par manufacturing, and questionable Photoshops. Many of the products I researched got an F on FakeSpot, a site that analyzes the validity of product reviews, for some kind of shady activity. Several of the products had their Amazon pages removed before I finished this article.
Since there isn’t a lot of information on who’s actually making these headphone splitters, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I turned off my FakeSpot plugin, sorted by average customer review, and blind-bought the first few options on Amazon. Unfortunately, only one was worth it.
Out of the eight other adapters I tried, the Keturiton was the only one that didn’t add static to my audio playback. There wasn’t any additional noise when the phone was charging, when the cable moved around, or when the phone was wirelessly transmitting data.
Everything fit snugly and the build quality felt good. It’s significantly less bulky than the Belkin and roughly a third of the price. This model is the only unofficial adapter I tried out that seemed worth a recommendation.
I’m on the fence with this one. While I definitely heard static during playback, it was much quieter and less harsh than what I heard with other adapters. The noise was only really noticeable during breaks in the music or while listening to podcasts and it stops as soon as playback does. I also heard some subtle clicks during wireless data transfers, but nothing jarring.
This adapter has two 3.5mm ports, which is neat functionality but results in a bulkier block than the Belkin. Many of its user reviews praised this functionality, claiming it was helpful during family flights.
Given how quiet the static and RF interference is and the functionality of the second audio port, this adapter might be a good solution for some users. It’s not perfect and it’s more expensive than other adapters, but it’s one of the few options available with this connectivity.
Initially, I had hope for this one. The build seems to be fairly high quality, and all the plugs snapped into their ports with a satisfying click. It took a few tries for my phone to properly send the audio through the cable, however, accidentally blasting my colleagues will full-volume music.
Unfortunately, as soon as audio started piping through, there was static. It was noticeable even during louder, more distortion-heavy songs. Even when music isn’t playing through the cable, I still could still hear random blips of interference whenever the phone started transmitting or receiving data.
From the get-go I was concerned about this one because the sticker on the package read, “Pepsi-Adapter-2in1-pack.” The lightning cable doesn’t fit flush in its port, leaving about a millimeter of plug exposed (it still seems to charge just fine, though).
Once I started playing music, the hiss of static started. Since it’s a high-frequency whine, it was pretty noticeable even with loud music—podcasts are a no-go with this one. The static also persists for a moment after playback stops, which is especially grating. I didn’t notice any clicks when push notifications come through, though.
Another dongle with a high-pitched whine during music playback. It’s more noticeable at first, and persists for a half-second after playback stops, though it can fade into the background given kinetic-enough music. Definitely not suitable for podcast listeners, though. The form factor helps accommodate different configurations, but the plugs and ports are actually fairly long compared to other adapters.
While this adapter wasn’t the worst one I tried, the static was still a bit too loud to receive a recommendation.
While I liked the form factor of this adaptor, it had the same high-pitched whine that disqualified many others in this round-up. It also amplified interference from data transfers quite a bit. I can’t recommend this one, both because it sounds terrible and because Amazon doesn’t know if or when this item will be back in stock.
The Amazon page for this adapter was full of branding for a company called CDYLE, but the product and its instructional videos are all branded with iNassen. I actually had to double-check to make sure I had the right product.
This was the smallest of the adapters I tested, which helps minimize the blocky design. While there is some static during playback, it’s very quiet. It’s only really noticeable during podcasts, or for a split second after playback stops.
This product is notable for coming with a small packet that includes an alcohol wipe, cotton swab, and an instruction booklet that’s incredibly cute and earnest (though the warranty program is questionable).
There are a lot of sub-par products out there. Dealing with lesser-known or no-name brands is often a losing proposition because there’s often no fixed entity to hold accountable for a bad product. If you have a bad experience with your Belkin adapter, you at least know to approach further Belkin products cautiously. With these smaller manufacturers, it’s difficult to track down exactly who they are, or what names they’re selling under, so you can avoid them in the future.
While there are a lot of products out there that aren’t worth your time or money, the world of knockoff products isn’t a total void of useless junk. There are some decent buys out there, and some less-expensive products will give you your money’s worth.
If you’ve had good luck with knockoff products and found that diamond in the rough, let us know in our Facebook group, Know Your Stuff!
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.