I’ve been an iPhone user for quite a while now, since the 3GS. Each iteration offered something new and improved to make a purchase and upgrade worthwhile.
I wasn’t enamoured with the iPhone 7 when it was announced. There were few enhancements and, as the design hadn’t changed, it didn’t really feel like a new phone. For many Apple fans, the exclusion of the standard 3.5 mm headphone port was the killer blow. Like them, I held back and chose not to upgrade.
Of course, Apple removed the headphone socket (partly) to create a waterproof iPhone which is, of course, a major feature. I’m sure the additional profit opportunity from new accessory purchases wasn’t missed, either. I have been using Bluetooth headphones for a few years and the lack of the audio connector, for me at least, wasn’t an issue at all. It certainly wouldn’t have stopped me upgrading had I wanted to do so at the time. But I can appreciate that users have their favourite headphones that they had no inclination to stop using. Apple hasn’t completely abandoned these users, and includes a Lightning to 3.5” audio connector in the box.
But what happens if you want to charge while listening to music? A single Lightning port means that you have to choose between charging your phone OR listening to music. Hardly convenient.
As usual, Apple’s third-party accessory manufacturers didn’t sit still for long and a number of solutions were announced soon after the iPhone 7 was launched. One such producer is Belkin, who has heavily invested in aftermarket products for both iOS and MacOS devices. True to form, they were quick to announce their own fix for what was clearly an issue for a lot of users, the Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar.
In essence, the Rockstar is a Lightning port splitter which allows the connection of both a charge cable and either the included, new-style Lightning headphones or any standard wired headphones, using the aforementioned ‘Apple Lightning to 3.5 mm audio’ adapter.
What’s in the Box?
Belkin’s distinctive white and green livery adorns the simple, compact Rockstar packaging.
A tray slides out from the bottom of the box to reveal the one-piece cable adapter. To be honest, the Rockstar looks very much like an adapter produced and sold by Apple themselves for allowing you to connect your iOS devices to TVs (via HDMI) or to read picture data from cameras and SD cards. I have pictured my recently purchased Apple SD card reader alongside the Belkin device, to show you just how similar they are.
The included paperwork is basically an instructional card showing you that the device is solely designed to allowing you to connect one Lightning cable for an audio device and the other for a power source. No other combination will work – this is definitely not a headphone splitter allowing two people to listen at once.
When all is connected, the Rockstar setup certainly adds clutter to your desktop. The combination of the Belkin adapter itself, a Lightning cable, the Apple audio Lightning adapter (or Apple headphones) and then your own headphone cable is a world away from the simple setup Apple’s designers had in mind when removing the headphone jack.
Obviously, we use our phones in cars too and the Rockstar enables those who listen to music on their phones to continue to do so on the road. While many newer cars have interfaces to allow Bluetooth streaming or even via an integrated Lightning cable adapter, those that are on the road throughout the day will need a device like the Rockstar to stream and charge simultaneously. However, as you can see from the picture, this can lead to a less than streamlined result. Unless you can tuck your cables away in an armrest or centre console, cable management will definitely something to think about with this adapter.
Aesthetics aside, Belkin’s usual high quality build and design-led approach has most definitely been applied to the Rockstar. They’ve gone to great lengths to ensure the close proximity of audio signal and power don’t cause any interference to your listening pleasure with shielding in place to prevent an impact on your phone signal and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The adapter allows a full 12W power pass-through so charging speed via the Rockstar is no different than it would be if you were charging directly. Audio quality supports up to 24-bit 48KHz lossless output, so even if you are playing high quality audio files, you should be happily catered for.
In terms of sound quality, I couldn’t detect any audible difference between my current Bluetooth earphones, the Apple Lightning headphones or my Bose QC2s, when using the Lightning adapter on its own or via the Belkin Rockstar. Overall, my listening pleasure wasn’t affected, regardless of connectivity. It’s good to see that you don’t have to sacrifice sound quality in order to just use your device how you’d like.
The Rockstar is MFI (Made for iPhone/iPad) certified, with Apple’s nod inflating the price somewhat. The Belkin Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar isn’t cheap, priced at £34.99/$39.99, but it does come with a 2 year warranty.
Personally, I think Bluetooth is the way to go for headphones, Apple obviously do too and in reality, they’d love it if we all purchased their AirPods I’m sure, but I think it’s good that the option to carry on using your headphone or audio connection of choice is still there. If you can look past the extra cabling chaos that an adapter like the Belkin Rockstar will cause, then it’s good option that allows you to use your iPhone in the way you want to.