We found the chip inside the new iPod headphones...but is it DRM? (Update: It is not!)


Update: We have now confirmed with both headphone manufacturers and Apple that the control chip does not use an encrypted signal, but as part of the "Made for iPod" licensing program does incur an additional charge to manufacturers.

You'd never guess it was there—a tiny chip, barely a millimeter square, hidden inside the headphone module on the third-gen iPod shuffle. If you dismantle the module itself, you still won't see it: it's underneath a board containing a few simple copper traces, itself minuscule, and glued to the plastic. Even the traditional iFixit teardown gallery missed it.

We decided to take a closer look after iLounge reported that the third-generation iPod Shuffle's headphones had an "authentication chip" that Apple could use to turn something as basic as headphones into a proprietary licensing scheme.

By adding such a chip to headphones, Apple could force third-party manufacturers to pay fees to make headphones for its iPod Shuffle—after all, the device has no controls, so normal headphones are useless.

"This is, in short, a nightmare scenario for long-time iPod fans," wrote iLounge's Jeremy Horwitz. "Are we entering a world in which Apple controls and taxes literally every piece of the iPod purchase from headphones to chargers, jacking up their prices, forcing customers to re-purchase things they already own, while making only marginal improvements in their functionality?"

Even if someone invented headphones that worked without a licensed chip, that could amount to circumvention of a digital lock: Apple could shut them down using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, provided the signal sent from the headphone buttons to the iPod itself is encrypted.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Fred von Lohmann followed up, exhorting gadget reviewers to looks closer:

One final thought: why have so many of the reviews of iPods failed to notice the proliferation of these Apple "authentication chips"?


What we found is a mystery to us: we're not electrical engineers. For all we know, it could be something the FCC made them put in so that it doesn't interfere with whalesong.

But it's an honest-to-god chip inside the proprietary headphones required to listen to the latest iPod, and it's hard not to wonder if Apple, with its 70% market share, just tried to eat the headphone industry whole.

If so, they've been planning it since at least the last update of the iPod line. According to the product page for the new "Apple Earphones with Remote", the new controls will also work with the most recent iPod Nano, iPod classic, and second-generation iPod Touch. That means that whatever sort of signal is being sent from the new headphones, it's been in the works before the latest Shuffle. And while the new headphones do not work with the iPhone 3G, it can be expected that they will be compatible with the next version of the iPhone.

If it's not an "authentication chip", then, what could it be? The current in-line click remote for the iPhone works by dropping the resistance on the second ring of the headphone's TRRS minijack connector, which the iPhone recognizes as a simple on or off. One click pauses. Two clicks fast forward.

It is possible the new Shuffle headphones simply send a pulse or other analog electrical signal to the headphone jack of the Shuffle, but we do not have the equipment to determine that ourselves. (Put a multimeter on the second ring of the new headphones, though, and you'll at least be able to see if different button presses causes different resistance, implying the controls work with analog controls, not a digital scheme.)

But it is also possible the signals are digital. "Digital" does not mean "encrypted", however. If the signals are not encrypted, then there would be no legal impediment to manufacturers making compatible and unlicensed headphones that work with the new controls. (Either way, regular audio headphones still work, although without controls they're useless on the Shuffle.)

If the signals are encrypted, it would mean that headphones with in-line controls compatible with Apple's latest (and future) iPods would have to be made with chips* available exclusively from Apple. Manufacturers attempting to reverse-engineer the simple three-button controls could be prosecuted under the DMCA.


New iPods have DRM on the headphone interface

Old inline iPod/iPhone adapters don't work in new Shuffle

* Labelled in the headphones we have as "8A83E3", not currently listed in Octopart.Update: Hideki Francis Onda opened his up, and found that his one has a different number.


Join the Conversation


  1. So this chip provides electrical signals. It might be as simple as playing a series of pulses on the extra wire in the headphones, or maybe playing different tones.

    High, medium, and low tone, depending on the button pushed.

    Or it could be a crypto handshake.

    Do we know? Has anyone benched it out?

    But to the point — we don’t know what Apple is planning. They could announce “Anyone can make the clicks/tones on their own, no need to pay us.”

    OR they could announce, “No, you must sign this insane secret DRM contract and pay us ONE MILLION DOLLARS.”

    We don’t know yet. Hopefully, we get an answer this week.

    Mean time, try not to view it as the end of the world. You don’t even LIKE this UI. Maybe nobody does. Could be the next Cube.

  2. It looks far too small to do any sort of encryption or DAC/ADC stuff. I’d rule out any sort of encryption.

  3. Regular headphones are not useless — they work just fine as headphones. It’s the stupidly designed music player that is useless without the chip.

    And even that’s not what’s useless. You can still hear the songs play randomly along your playlist, but can’t skip or control volume. Unless your headphones do volume.

  4. I realize that you are just following up on the EFF coverage but calling it DRM is more than a little disingenuous. If it does what we presume it does it’s no more DRM than the proprietary wireless protocol Microsoft uses in Xbox 360 controllers.

    The more I think about this though, the more I have doubts and the more I think it’s probably part of the mechanism to send signals to the iPod. I mean how much does Apple really stand to make from a lockout chip versus merely licensing the name/logo for authorized products? The in-line remote by itself is a limiting factor without adding any lockout technology.

    Basically I still think the idea is stupid but it’s far from a “nightmare scenario”.

  5. Shmod: More than large enough to be a crypto chip.
    Sure, it’s tiny if you compare it to, say, the SafeXcel 1840 ( http://www.ewt.com.tw/main/02/01security/safenet-02.htm ), but that has got tens of different algorithms, random number generation and gigabyte performance.

    Apple only need something very simple to be able unleash DMCA on whoever circumvents it. Could even be a simple XOR on a challenge from the Shuffle.

    But on the other hand, it is unlikely that Apple will use this to establish a monopoly. The only reason for doing so would be to gouge the customers or after-market parts suppliers. If they did that, Apple products would become more expensive and thus less competitive.
    Which would increase the risk of some pesky competitor springing up and stealing their crown.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that this is some sort of noise filter or damper that prevents the user from hearing a nasty click every time they press a button, since the signal goes through the same wires as the sound.

  6. @Spazzm: Great info. One thing: I’m fairly certain the controls go through a separate wire from the sound, since a TRRS connection has four wires. (Right, Left, Controls, Ground probably.)

  7. I wouldn’t be too hasty to jump to the ‘omg its drmd headphones bandwagon’ just yet.

    As you noted, double-clicking and triple-clicking are ‘next song’ and ‘previous song’ on the iPhone. Perhaps all this little chip does is send a double pulse when you hit ‘next’ and a triple pulse when you hit ‘previous’?

    One easy way to test would be to plug the headphones into an iPhone or an iPod touch– if those buttons work with it, when that’s what’s going on.

  8. It could be a simple serial E2 ram ic . Where I work we imbed an E2 ram chip into a probe so the measuring device knows what kind of probe has been plugged in. It would be elementary to program a hash on an E2 and the player does all the heavy work of decoding and and allowing or not allowing content to play.

  9. Here’s an idea: If Apple are engaging in yet more shenanigans, buy someone else’s products. Enoguh lost sales may just fix their little white iWagon.

  10. So it’s an itty-bitty $80 MP3 player that doesn’t have a screen, has no way to expand the capacity, requires proprietary software to load music onto it, has no controls, *and* requires fancy-ass headphones from a single manufacturer in order to use it?

    Explain to me again why I should give a rat’s ass?

  11. justify amplify and filter anything played on it: *faintly in background: “Apple is the one true way, you will only worship” …etc.*

  12. “This is, in short, a nightmare scenario for long-time iPod fans.” Hyperbole anyone? Jesus we don’t even know the real situation and shit like this is being tossed around. We need a jump to conclusions mat.

    The only possibilities for the chip I turned up were pretty unlikely. 8E8 is one of a series of silicon diodes. It’s also similar to a date code format used on some Japanese ICs; it could be May 8th, 2008, so that’s probably not it since this is newer than that. It also could be a vacuum tube type voltage regulator … ahh, again, probably not.

  13. Just as a wild guess, simply by looking at the devices on the pc board, that little chip is just a transistor pack that provides isolation and switch debounce for the switches in the headphones. Nothing sinister.

  14. This seems bogus to me. There are a number of things the chip could be for outside of DRM. I call shenanigans.

  15. What I find strange is that every time I use the headphones on my new shuffle, I seem to want to go to the iTunes store & buy at least a dozen albums.

    Can anyone explain this?

  16. You guys need some sort of tech editor to keep your writers from jumping the gun on worthless stories like this. This is almost as bad as the “what are the wavy lines on this skiing slope” story you posted a couple of months ago. You didn’t contact apple, you didn’t try and see if the headphones would work with the chip removed and you don’t even mention that regular headphones work just fine plugged into this. This post is crap and pure FUD.

  17. Whatever apple is up to, it’s a stupid hack.

    As usual, determined users will post simple instructions on the net on how to patch a standard issue jack *after* the control chip, so that you can plug in any arbitrary headset.

    If it’s innocent, and just a control protocol for controlling the shuffle, then Belkin or any of the many Apple licenses will make an adapter. It’ll be a pain, but it is what it is.

    If it’s intent is evil, then apple will probably forbid the licensing of such a device.

    We’ll see how it plays out.

  18. I hope they fix this problem if the only kind of headphone you can use is made by Apple… because frankly, Apple headphones are pretty lame & make everyone around you a little more uncomfortable.

    All I know is that when I’m on the subway and I can hear some doofus playing their crappy music, 9 times out of 10 the headphones are white.

    It’s amazing that a brand as savvy as Apple has put out headphones with this kind of sound leakage.

  19. I wish Apple was more responsive.

    Funny story: I once wrote something (very mildly) negative about Apple for Wired: that the specs of a newly announced iMac were still not good enough for gaming. This is a somewhat obvious point for the hardcore set.

    I’d tried to get hold of Apple for hours, sending emails and placing calls, before I wrote it. I’d much rather have done a balanced and properly-sourced story about Apple and gaming, after all, than a two-graf opinion blog item.

    So, when the post starts getting lots of traffic, Apple finally responds — by contacting Wired editors directly to claim that I never tried to contact them, and what are they going to do about these lies they published about the iMac?

    This looks like an old trick that subjects do to try and exploit communication weaknesses in news organizations: ignore the reporter, then see if the editors can be manipulated into a correction or retraction if it all goes wrong. If they’re lucky, the editors or publishers will promise something without asking the reporter what happened.

    I can only wonder what the editors said to Apple, but I never had to retract or rewrite the post.

  20. I’m going to buy one of these things, make a playlist that includes Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on it and run it on a endless loop. Between that and wrapping it in tin foil it will surely explode this chip and prevent Apple’s satellites from spying on me.

    Seriously, did you dinks ever think it’s just a micro-controller that allows this badly designed new iPod shuffle’s controls to work and that’s it?

  21. Apple likes to send remote control information to the host by encoding the button information into a serial bit stream. That requires a chip. The encoding may be as simple or as complex as Apple chooses to make it.

    Bear in mind that Apple has used several different protocols in the past for this job, and some of them have been reverse-engineered and documented on the Web. This may be no different, so don’t assume it’s anything evil until you prove it by making an honest attempt to decipher the serial bit stream and failing due to ever-changing pseudorandom bit patterns.

    What you folks need is an electrical engineer with an oscilloscope to look at the signals.

    1. @nixiebunny: That’s exactly right. I actually approached this presuming we might not even find a chip at all. (No offense to iLounge, just saying it was worth checking.) And even though we found it, I don’t have the equipment nor skill to actually do the real work. We’re simply saying: there’s something there; we hope someone smarter than us will tell us what it is.

  22. Well I don’t know what the hell this article’s talking about, but it sure gets me pissed off at someone!!!

  23. Has anyone taken one of these headphones and attempted to drown it? If it floats it’s evil and must be destroyed. If it sinks it’s perfectly good and should be taken right out of the water and plugged directly into your iPod.

  24. Rob, that’s it! It’s a 4.3 watt rubidium doped helium-argon light pump designed to go off if you open it up. Don’t plug it in now, whatever you do!

    p.s. Jack, dinks? Dinks. Hmph.

  25. If it is a DRM chip, it would have to be implemented pretty soddily, since you say in a previous post:

    People have asked a few times what happens if you just plug standard headphones into the Shuffle. The answer is that nothing happens at all. However, if you turn the Shuffle off then on again, it will automatically start playing–but with no controls to pause, skip, fast forward or rewind.

    There is an IC here to handle the controls. DRM is conceivably possible, but, given what I’ve read, unlikely. Regardless, it’s still incredibly annoying that this thing can’t take standard headphones…

  26. Good post, guys!

    Looks like an o-scope is next in the investigation! Anyone in Boulder want me to take apart theirs?

    schmod- it’s definitely big enough to contain some havoc… for example, the PIC10 is 2×3 mm, and it’s a microprocessor.

  27. “”Are we entering a world in which Apple controls and taxes literally every piece of the iPod purchase from headphones to chargers, jacking up their prices, forcing customers to re-purchase things they already own, while making only marginal improvements in their functionality?”

    …Bank on it.

  28. Given Apple’s history since the original iMac, it’s more likely that the new headphone specs will be a boon to the 3rd party manufacturers. Everyone and their brother gets to sell new stuff. The 3rd party guys love Apple for this.

  29. For those of you who own or know someone who owns a soldering iron, it’s no big deal to open up the remote pod and desolder the crappy Apple headphone wires and solder in the nice Sennheiser wires.

  30. So let me see if I understand this:

    The new Shuffle doesn’t have any controls on it. So you need to rely on controls on the headphone / headset instead.

    As far as I know, there is no universal protocol for headset controls, is there? Am I mistaken? Or isn’t pretty much every headset-mounted control system out there proprietary?

    In any case, you’ve got to send signals down the wire to the Shuffle in order to make it do stuff, so of course there’s a chip in there. How is this DRM exactly? Methinks the Internet is overreacting. Again.

  31. What sucks about my 2G Ipod is that I have to fish it out of my pocket to cycle the songs.

    Apple is simply trying to re-invent the interface and change the whole paradigm.

    I just don’t see why they would care enough to stop on the 3rd party headphone market, but it is an unfortunate side-effect.

    Time will tell if 3rd party providers can make iPod controls. Me thinks they will.

  32. Acting on a rumor, I checked to see if Boing Boing contains code to track the users identities. And guess what? I found something! I don’t know what it does, but this could be part of a secret NSA complete information system to track all citizens.

    It’s near the bottom of each page embedded in comments called

    It loads a remote program, so who know what it might be doing.

  33. I’m slightly concerned about this post – apparently you cracked open a modern piece of electronics and found an microchip. I’m afraid I didn’t fall out my chair this time. I mean, if it was stuck to the back of a painting in the president’s bedroom then that’s a bit suspicious but inside mp3 players is where you expect to find chips.

    Admittedly, yes that does something but you don’t know what but that’s because you’ve not had much of a look at it rather actual proven malfeasance on Apple’s part. I think this is an article that’s still in beta, I’ll read the follow up with interest though.

  34. It’s licensing, which makes it no different than Apple’s restrictions on the dock port accessories. Great? No. Tolerable? I guess.

  35. If you don’t like the earphones, DRM, or the lack of controls on the device, the answer is simple: don’t buy it!

    No one is putting a gun to your head to purchase one of these things, so buy from a competitor if you don’t like Apple’s product.

    I swear…people seem to bitch, moan, and complain about Apple products more than just about anything else, yet they still run out and buy the damn things like lemmings. Then it’s the greatest thing ever and alternate between telling you how great it is or how horrible it is if they discover an imperfection.

  36. Before we bust out the oscilloscope or call the EFF lawyers can we like jot down the numbers on the chip and google them? Find out what kind of -simple- IC it is and who makes it?

    Nevermind, forget I said that. Lets just make sure we are taking our meds right, lets step away from all computers and do some simple crafts with our hands for the next few days.

  37. It may not be DRM, but it surely is a sign Apple is using customer unfriendly practices. Headphones are the first accessory that breaks, wears out or gets missed/stolen in a portable player. By moving part of the logic in the headphones they force the users who need a replacement to buy the official “genuine”, and of course much more pricey, ones instead of a normal headphone.
    The shuffle is becoming a razor and its phones will be the blades. Another sign I did the right thing when a couple years ago I moved Apple to the list of companies I’ll never buy anything again from.

  38. @Jason Rizos

    Since when is a remote on a wire “reinventing the interface and changing the paradigm” The sony cd player I had in high school did just that and actually had a forwards backwards and play button. Even older iPods had remotes. There’s nothing new here, just a smaller more confusing remote.

  39. What everyone seems to be forgetting in this discussion is that even if this is an attempt to make a proprietary headphone market for Apple, Apple won’t be able to claim under the DCMA against anyone making a compatible imitation. The US courts looked at this very issue in Chamberlain v Skylink and Lexmark v Static. In the latter case, which revolved around re-chipped printer cartridges, one of the judges said:

    “We should make clear that in the future companies like Lexmark cannot use the DMCA in conjunction with copyright law to create monopolies of manufactured goods for themselves just by tweaking the facts of this case.”

    This suggests to me that either Apple can’t afford a lawyer to explain this to them, or this chip doesn’t do what a lot of people are imagining it does.

  40. The seriously daft thing here is that the main USP of the shuffle is it’s size and therefore convenience for exercise where you are more likely to want gym specific headphones. The last thing I want is to be fiddling down the front of my sweaty top for some minute controls.

    By making everyone’s gym headphones redundant they’re simply adding to the cost of upgrading when your old shuffle, er, shuffles of it’s mortal induction coil. I can see a roaring trade in 2nd gen Shuffles on ebay for quite some time to come..

  41. My money is, its a simple yet necessarily part of nearly every cheap switch “button” ever used. It sets a “bounce” time for the switches. Without a bounce control, cheap button switches act very erratically.

    What a bounce control circuit does it clean up a signal from a switch. It will ignore variations of the “switch on” signal within a certain time period and resistance range or OHMs.

    The nature of that cheap switch and many others is varied resistance and even rapid loss of connection albeit a very short time span of lost connection. Think I probably over explained this and I would put 100 bucks on it easy money.

  42. People are assuming that this chip sends some kind of encoded message down the wire to the Shuffle. Nobody wonders whether these secret coded messages aren’t in fact being sent in the opposite direction?

  43. Rob, are your #4 & #31 comments really by you, or has your account been hacked? What difference does it make how the chip is formed? The laser comment must be a joke, but how does that help move the discussion along? For now, I’m going to assume those comments weren’t made by a tech writer…

    Do BB and EFF writers know the definition of DRM? According to Wikipedia (so it must be true, right) “digital rights management enables the publisher to control what can and cannot be done with a single instance”. That does not apply here. Of course, a story gets more hits if you throw DRM in there, so I can see why you do it.

    Even if this chip is some kind of encryption, and not just debouce which seems much more likely, it’s not even new. Anyone remember the old iPod with the remote? The one that had 4 extra contacts next to the headphone jack. I think it was 2nd or 3rd generation. That’s a proprietary connector. That remote had buttons, dioes, switches AND a chip inside it. Has anyone looked inside the Radio Remote? I bet there’s chips in there that aren’t to do with receiving FM signals.

    Heck, for the longest time you couldn’t even source the 30-pin dock connector without signing a distributor agreement with Apple and you couldn’t sign that unless you were an established vendor. Apple has long had the ‘Made For iPod / iPhone’ licensing scheme. That includes access to the connector sources and pin outs and any authentication needed. It’s up to consumers to decide if they want to buy products that have been tested and approved and hence have the logo, or if they want to buy something less stringently tested but probably cheaper from unofficial sources like ebay. That’s called a free market. As others have pointed out, the inkjet printer cartridge court cases have already ruled that manufacturers cannot shut down thrid party manufacturers via DMCA. Even if they could, the fight should be against the over-reaching terms of the DMCA, not against any one product, be it headphones or ink…

  44. Did you all watch Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer the other day..?
    Remember the clip where Cramer said how important and easy it was to start rumors about AAPL because they were so tight lipped and the “people who write about Apple want that story”…

    Ever feel this is all helping people like Cramer make a killing while our 401k goes down the tubes..?

  45. “Does the EFF know what DRM is?” followed by a Wikipedia citation automatically wins the thread.

  46. I’ll keep my Sansa C-series MP3 player, thank you. It cost fifty dollars two years ago. The basic device has two gigabytes of memory, and there is a slot for a miniature memory chip to be inserted. The FM radio receiver is just a bonus!

  47. @Dv Revolutionary – Right, because three dozen people haven’t already done that and come up empty handed..

  48. Just a thought: Wouldn’t a chip that’s supposed to do encryption have to be an active component, therefore needing a supply voltage? So unless there’s a DC voltage (probably between 3.3 and 5 Volts) between any of the wires I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.

    (Disclaimer: I am not a electrical engineer. Maybe someone who has more experience in the electronics part of drm/crypto can correct me if my assumption is wrong.)

  49. Looks like an o-scope is next in the investigation!

    BitScope DIY oscilloscopes aren’t as pricey as the classic Tektronix models.

    If you don’t like the earphones, DRM, or the lack of controls on the device, the answer is simple: don’t buy it!

    Why does this solution have to be so coarsely grained? Historically (i.e. before the DMCA) you could buy it and circumvent the DRM, which forced the producers to act more agilely to consumer demands — using products for unanticipated applications.

    p.s. Simon Bradshaw in post #50 made an excellent point.

    The US courts looked at this very issue in Chamberlain v Skylink and Lexmark v Static. In the latter case, which revolved around re-chipped printer cartridges, one of the judges said:”We should make clear that in the future companies like Lexmark cannot use the DMCA in conjunction with copyright law to create monopolies of manufactured goods for themselves just by tweaking the facts of this case.” This suggests to me that either Apple can’t afford a lawyer to explain this to them, or this chip doesn’t do what a lot of people are imagining it does.

  50. Some serious questions for ya, since you have this opened already.

    What does the back of the board look like?

    Can you describe the other chips?

    Can you tell how many pins the chip has?

    A digital chip would need a clock circuit (or a clock on board, but I somehow doubt they’d be able to fit a clock onto the same IC of that size, plus get functionality out of it.)

    IMHO’s: I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple pushed some component out of the Shuffle to make everything fit in its tiny case with no thought to compatibility with other headsets. I would be surprised if Apple made all of their iPod products require proprietary connectors–they have been fairly forgiving of third-party headphones and adapters, even to the point of giving them significant shelf space at their stores. But they also are willing to sacrifice standards for a particular niche market or in the continued quest to put out the iPod poquenjo (sp?).

    I do agree with others, a little heavy-handed with the hyperbole. You almost forgot to include a mention that this microchip development means the end of the world is nigh.

    1. What hyperbole? We were simply told that there was a DRM chip inside the Shuffle’s headphones and checked to see if we could find any chip at all. I appreciate that, considering the venue, it might be difficult to rectify our skepticism, but it’s right there in the title of the post.

      It’s entirely possible that the chip in the headphones is just a simple controller for the buttons. Or it’s some sort of weird authentication chip as claimed by iLounge. We didn’t say either way, because we don’t know. But by publishing the article everyone at least knows what’s inside and take the next steps.

      All of this is in the article, which I would suggest you dumb critics read before you start slinging beardo dandruff everywhere in detached fury. (Thanks for reading!)

  51. ‘wrote iLounge’s Jeremy Horwitz. “Are we entering a world in which Apple controls and taxes literally every piece of the iPod purchase from headphones to chargers, jacking up their prices, forcing customers to re-purchase things they already own, while making only marginal improvements in their functionality?”‘

    Jeremy, I don’t mean to be impolite, but haven’t you realized yet that Apple makes CLOSED SYSTEMS.

    “We” have been in the world you describe with respect to almost every Apple accessory, except maybe for mousepads. Whoops…now Steve Jobs will demand that one of his engineers create an Apple mouse that only works with Apple mousepads…which will have a proprietary grid pattern, naturally. He will demand that something exotic, like Quantum Dots, be embedded in the pattern, so as to claim some unique advantage and amp-up the cool-factor.

    Creating systems this way, where users can’t even choose their own preferred brand of earbuds/earphones/whatever is (typically) cynical.

  52. Gawd… next thing you know they’ll be putting the whole iPod inline with the controls and there will be no iPod left to connect to… try defeating the DRM then.

  53. Follow up question: What can be done with the buttons? Can they be used in combinations, e.g. pressing button one and two at the same time performs a different function than pressing one or two by itself? If so, then the chip is probably doing more than just debouncing.

    I’m only an electronics hobbyist, so I could certainly be wrong. But it was mentioned there is only one wire used for the interface. For that to work, the signals from the buttons must be turned into discrete values the chip inside the player can read. The most common solution is using a chip that can turn the button presses into a binary value that can be read serially. This is likely to be the case if the buttons can be used in combination.

    So my vote is that it’s a proprietary chip for signal conversion, and probably isn’t DRM. I’d investigate instead of speculate, but I don’t own one and don’t want to break my personal pledge of never buying an Apple product. (I find them over-priced and, as this seems to point out, proprietary.)

  54. All of this is in the article, which I would suggest you dumb critics read before you start slinging beardo dandruff everywhere in detached fury. (Thanks for reading!)


    “I hate the public so much! If only they’d elect me. I’d make ’em pay!”

  55. I have all the electronic test equipment necessary to dope this thing out but I don’t even have the time to read this thread and associated links, much less reverse engineer a product that I’d never use.
    maybe the major issue here is that there’s so little intersection between Apple users and heavy electronics technology guys. Like owners of new Bentleys who change their own oil. Not many.
    One observation about the suckescent headplugs: no matter what’s in the cord and buttons, the earpieces are still passive devices. If I owned this and hated the sound I’d cut the wires ‘above’ the control switches and splice in a TRS jack so I could use someone else’s 32 Ohm headphones. Aplogies if someone stated that above. I’m 90 posts behind.

  56. Re: Debouncing circuit. There is no need for a debouncer… this IC probably does it, but it could be done equally well in software, by the shuffle.

    Re: Need for a chip. This circuit could be reliably implemented with 3-5 resistors (much cheaper), so there is no *need* for an IC. So, it makes you wonder… are they doing something more complicated (like authentication), or are they just making it compatible with other (future/parallel) devices?

    Re: Claud9999 – Check out the pictures at the top of the article. One side has 3 discs (the buttons); the other has the IC and some passives. Clock circuits have been built in microcontrollers for a long time now.

    Here’s a chip that might fit the bill (but doesn’t… package is different & markings don’t match):

    Re: IT_Kraut – The absence of a dedicated power supply line doesn’t mean that there isn’t a microprocessor in there. The same wire can be used for power and data – a small capacitor on the remote would provide power for the processor while sending “0”s. Here’s a full line of one-wire products (and it would be easy to adapt this technique to other processors):
    .. and here’s one of those chips specifically for authentication:

    Re: #47, DJ_Rev – All chips have part numbers, but they tend to be long and not fit on the smaller physical packages. So, there are “Markings” – shorter codes that correspond to part numbers, but are not standardized and harder to search for because these numbers are typically found only buried in individual datasheets. Also, some of the marking may represent a batch or data code… like I said, it’s not standardized. The lack of a manufacturer logo makes it harder to figure this out.

    … but this is still all rather pointless until we determine what is being communicated between the remote and the shuffle.

  57. Chamberlain v Skylink was decided by the judge ignoring the letter of the DMCA & simply saying that Chamberlin couldn’t deny people access to their own garage.

    Chamberlin’s case was a novel interpretation of the DMCA that hasn’t been strictly tested and could be applied here: that the IP protected by the effective measure was part of of the code running in the remotely-controlled device. In that case, it was the code that opens the door. Not protected against copying, but against operating, in a fashion similar to secure-hash signed for authentication binaries.

    In this case, the “unprotected” operations of the shuffle are playing at a fixed volume, but the code that adjusts volume & navigates tracks is (possibly) protected.

    All encryption cracking or working around is not protected by the DMCA. If I man-in-the-middle your encrypted IM to your luvva, I’m guilty of wire fraud, etc., but not DMCA unless we delve into Berne Convention insta-copyright of the messages themselves (not worth it when fraud is so much easier to prove).

  58. Joel, two points: it doesn’t really matter if the chip is “DRM” or if Apple has just changed the protocol breaking backwards compatibility. The issue is ‘just’ that old headphones don’t work. That ‘aint exactly new territory for electronics gadgets. It is what it is.

    As a user pointed out above, the DMCA angle is probably BS.

    The other thing, and I mean no disrespect here, is: OMG there’s a chip in an iPod could this be GPS for the orbital lasers?! (You got BB branded tinfoil on sale this month or something? I’d buy a roll.)


    > “Whatever apple is up to, it’s a stupid hack.”

    Can we all PLEASE remember what the word “hack” means? PLEASE?

  60. Okay, I went and read all the linked info and here’s my take on it:
    Controls on the cable: good ergonomics.
    Circuitry in control unit: probably necessary
    Circuitry = intentionally restrictive? : probably not
    Freely sharing control protocol with aftermarket: would be good customer care if they did.
    Retaining control over accessories market: possibly necessary for quality and definitely a profit source.

  61. 4 wire jack = ground, left, right and one left for 3 buttons. Ok, so you can do 3 buttons with resistors and a single wire (no chip needed). People have done this before – eg sony.

    But… the apple in-ear headphones with controls also work with the shuffle. These also have a mic. No extra connector. They also have a chip in them.

    Ever thought that maybe this chip is the thing that allows a mic and 3 buttons to share the same wire?

  62. Seriously – raise your hands if the existance of such a chip actually surprises you. I mean, this is apple after all – they’ve always been control freaks.

  63. This is ridiculous.
    A proper DRM chip would need to be a DSP, and that thing is nowhere big enough for that.

    As #77 points out, there HAS to be a chip in here, if only a shift register or similar, to handle the multiple buttons on a single wire.

    Second, if you’re not electrical engineers or know something about electronics, this is all just stupid speculation.

    It does NOT take a genius to figure out whether the audio signals going to the headset are encrypted or not.

  64. Clearly the audio signals going to the earspeakers are NOT encrypted. That is obvious from reading the article, or any of the articles on this headset. They all say that the older headsets transmit the audio but the control functions, if any, do not work.

  65. #65 – It certainly could have an internal clock. Check out the Freescale RS08 series for examples. They don’t even have an external clock option, last I checked. The internal clock can be trimmed to +/- 2%, more than good enough for this sort of signaling. Package sizes go down to at least 3x3mm.

    As someone else pointed out, a few resistors would be a much simpler way to do it. Unless Apple’s planning some expansion capability – maybe a display or something? Seems like it’d add at least 25 cents to the design to use the MCU instead of passives alone, must be some reason for it.

    And even those ultra low-end MCUs can do enough encryption to be worthwhile. I’m using the XXTEA cipher on 8-bit MCUs and it works quite well, even without bothering to write it in optimized assembly language. A pair of LFSRs configured as a shrinking generator would require even less computation while still being a total bitch to reverse engineer.

    I’ve got a shop full of oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, and SMT rework gear. I’d be happy to tear one of these apart and see what’s going on, but I’m sure someone else has already done it by now. Apparently it’s a lot more fun to get all upset about it before waiting for any kind of actual analysis, though.

  66. #73 – well put. I wish the chamberlain judge had set a precedent – instead, she just pointed out the absurdity of the issue in this one case. Are people to hope that the next judge will also think it’s ok for people to control their own ipods, or will they see it as no right to manufacture 3rd part products?

    #79 – nope, a DSP isn’t needed for DRM. An 8-bit micro or dedicated hardware will do it easily.

    You can still multiplex a microphone & buttons without a chip (microphone = AC coupled, buttons are DC-coupled and apply various resistances depending on which buttons are pressed). But that’s just speculation.

    /elec engineer who reverse-engineered the original ipod remote.

  67. #79 – Not at all, you could do it without an IC. Just use different resistor values on each button. It’s an old trick for I/O expansion. You can even get by without an ADC and use a single I/O line to cycle between a logic high output into a capacitor and a logic input, and measuring how many pulses it takes to charge the capacitor to the logic threshold through the resistive circuit.

    That might not be the best way to do it, but it’ll work. I’ve got a wind vane on my bench right now that uses resistors to read 8 magnetic reed switches. The magnet can trigger two switches at once, and you can reliably read all 16 positions over a reasonably long cable despite having no active circuitry in the vane at all.

  68. This article is a joke, next time present the facts and don’t post or quote sensationalist bullshit.

    Expect a cheap inline adapter from china within a few months if you really must buy this player.

  69. One more comment on the IC markings – they look lasered to me, and this doesn’t have to be a custom IC. I get MCUs pre-programmed and laser-engraved with my own part number (reflecting the firmware version loaded) for about 50 cents each for quantities under 1000.

  70. I’m an electrical engineering student, can anyone get better quality photos of both side and a count of the wires going into and out of the whole board. And if someones willing, pry off all the components so we can see the board traces.

    If the left and right channels go through the chip then it may look for a non-audible watermark. If the audio chanels don’t go through it then it can’t be a DRM chip.

  71. Apple is really starting to scare me. It’s almost like Jobs has been dead for a while and they’re using some sort of proprietary huma-droid! I’ll just wait for the tutorial on how to make my own apple circumventing headphones on Hackaday…

  72. Snip off the phones past the control and replace ’em with a 1/8-inch stereo jack.

    Now you have your crazy-assed controller with your favorite headphones.

  73. All this cutting and rewiring is tedious, don’t you think? I prefer a much simpler solution: don’t buy an iPod. You’ll get more for your money with a different brand, anyway.


  74. #72/Morcheeba: ah, thanks, I thought it was a separate board stuffed behind the board with the buttons. (Wonder how hard it’d be to get a logic probe in on the traces? I’m guessing they epoxied the whole board so it’d take some careful work.

    #68/Joel: Sorry, but there is hyperbole in your article. Yes, it’s a quote from iLounge, but you repeat it (unnecessarily, IMHO):

    “This is, in short, a nightmare scenario for long-time iPod fans”

    Whooo, a “nightmare scenario”, I’m never gonna get another good night sleep…

    Ya could have said 1/4 of what you said in this article to inform us of the mystery chip, the rest is pure conjecture on your part and the part of others.

  75. It’s not DRM – it’s just a simple multiplexer.

    God, Americans are such total bloody Conspiracy freaks!

  76. @89 Because the remote unit is on the right headphone wire (after the split) Apple has made it somewhat difficult to hack a stereo jack onto the wire post remote.

  77. I can assure you that Apple is indeed using authentication chips because I have done work for at least one company making them for Apple (and a little prodding will get anyone to violate an NDA, believe it).

    I can also assure you that those who think that this chip is too small to do any sort of encryption has no idea what they are talking about. The smallest authentication chips I have seen (the Origa from Infineon) are about the size of the head of a pin.

    I also want to inform you that the authentication chips being used in these applications are generally EXTREMELY secure, since it is hardware based encryption, and, depending on the chip, FIPS 140-2 certifiable in many cases.

    They are also getting smaller, more secure, and cheaper.

  78. FWIW, I can’t find it now (so maybe this has changed) but I distinctly remember iLounge’s policy dictating that only officially sanctioned iPod products and accessories would be reviewed by them. Which seems ridiculous since there’s an overflowing of third-party “unofficial” products out there.

    If I’m mistaken or this has changed, my bad.

    But honestly if that’s still the case, why is iLounge complaining about Apple’s monopoly on anything when their review policy blocks anything but official Apple sanctioned accessories.

  79. Is it possible for people to wait to find out definitively what the chip is, before jumping to insane conclusions?

  80. Am I the only one that thought the original shuffle really didn’t need any improvement, other than storage size… and MAYBE a shell that didn’t stain from frequent usage? Even the 512MB model was a few hours of music, at least. Cripes, an MP3 player that can double as a flash drive in a pinch… and from a reputable company! (Not some poorly made import device that winds up being a mediocre prize in an arcade game.)

    Regardless of who is jacking what and this DRM headphones guy’s headphones (What kind of pompous ass goes by only their initials?) I think Apple’s bigger mistake was trying to innovate TOO much.

    Every time they make the shuffle more of a choking hazard and reduce the functionality.
    I can’t help but think that Apple’s underlying goal is to make a product that consumers find just inadequate enough that they go spend more money on a more functional device, but adequate enough that the next device purchased comes from Apple.

    When it comes to the shuffle line, it’s like Apple is having a (genital) measuring contest with itself and consistently losing (and flaunting it!).

  81. #97,

    You are lying! Apple loves us! Steve Jobs brings us these visionary products, and we should be proud to give him our money. Apple is doing this out of the goodness of their heart. It is right and just that they dominate market.

    You should be ashamed of yourself for spreading anti-Apple propaganda. ESPECIALLY if it is true.

  82. iPod Shuffle… SEASON OF THE WITCH!

    ‘…Eight more days to Hall-o-ween, Hall-o-ween, Hall-o-ween! Eight more days to Hall-o-ween, Hall-o-ween, Hall-o-ween!’

    ‘Eight more days to Hall-o-ween… Silver Shamrock!!!!!’

  83. IF it’s a chip (and ok, I’ll grant you this one)
    IF it is involved in the headphone/ipod interface,
    IF it’s some kind of authentication chip,
    IF it uses encryption,
    IF Apple wants to license it,
    IF they want to charge huge fees,
    IF they’re trying to drive out competition,
    IF someone breaks it they MIGHT sue under the DMCA.

    Hmm, clearly it’s a plot to take over the free world. It’s certainly not a (mostly) harmless little chip that you (admittedly) have no idea what it does.

    This isn’t news, this is barely a blurb. I’m not a raving fan of the new headphones because it’s a bad idea, but it’s exceedingly alarmist of people to get this unhinged over a “hidden” chip.


  84. I think that desoldering the chip and looking on the number of PCB pads might help shed some light.
    Then on a working one I’d check the signals around the chip and see if there’s some digital (it must be digital) data going around (and different on pins). It looks very tiny for a crypto (and fast, configurable) device. Doesn’t it need a crystal?

  85. You all are just overreacting. Come on. Apples money is not made on the earphones. It’s mostly on the iPods themselves, the iTunes store, and getting people to switch to Mac from happy iPod experiences or necessity.
    But go ahead and waste your time on this one with arguments that sound so techy…talking about simple and absurd earphones.
    No disrespect meant. Cheers 🙂

  86. It seems to me that the past hundred posts say something interesting about the spread of information on the net.

    The initial post was actually quite rational: “here’s a chip, we don’t know what it does, could it be DRM?” subsequent comments have basically been a battle between people who read that as “OMGWTFDRM!”; people who read -those- comments and responded with “OMGWTFCONSIPRACY NUTS!”; comedy/satire posts; and the few, the proud, the posters who tried to keep things on track AND sane.

    You know who you are.

    Also, I’m going to an Apple store today. I’ll see if the self-proclaimed geniuses have heard anything.

  87. I agree with those who said that putting the controls on the phones is actually good ergonomics. Apple is said to release adapters soon which means they might just sell the controls and give customers control on whatever phones they prefer. As for this chip, I sure hope it is not a DRM chip. I understand Apple possibly wanting to keep the quality of their wares high, but that is not yet true with their headphones, so I hope they improve on those first.

    These shuffle generation is undeniably sexy though.

  88. You ever watch Halloween.. The one with that song.. 5 more days till Halloween, this is the chip from silver shamrock.

  89. Apple wants to rule the world, this is why you shouldn’t buy their archaic, proprietary, hard-to-use and overly expensive junk. 🙂

  90. Fearmongering at its best.

    “We don’t have the equipment to test what it does” followed by “it’s probably DRM.”

    Speculation – and rampant at that.

    1. Reading comprehension at its worst. “I didn’t read the article” followed by “but I’ll go ahead and accuse you incorrectly anyway.”

      iLounge said there was an authentication chip inside. We weren’t sure that was true, so we opened up the headphones to see. And lo! there is a chip. But whether or not it’s an authentication chip or not—which has nothing to do with audio as far as I can tell—is something left to others.

      I’ll admit this one is subtle, but not so subtle that you guys couldn’t figure it out by actually reading what we wrote.

  91. I bet it’s a resistor array. 3e3 appears to be a common marking for various types of resistor chips. ie:

    “Metal film resistor MRS25 3E3 1%”

    second google match for “3e3” chip

  92. @spazzm (#8): schmod is right — this chip does not have enough pins to be a crypto chip. Judging by the number of conductors leading to the IC, it is likely a controller that sits between the buttons and the player (implementing i2c or similar protocol to report keypresses). I volunteer to find out for sure — just send me the device I can take apart. 🙂

  93. @DCULBERSON (#117) Yeah, right… resistor array with resistors attached to it. And the #1 pin marker…

    Resistors do not come in this package. Also, what would be the purpose of a resistor array in the headphones?

  94. Can you provide a full picture of the circuit board, sililar to the last picture on this page? From what I can see, this circuit is probably a 6-pin microcontroller (PIC10F***?) which scans the buttons and send the status eiter through a single wire or overlayed on top of the music. The small chips are most likely an ESD protection diode, some resistors and capacitors for ESD protection and button debouncing. As connectors and copper wires costs, then its natural to try to overlay the communication on top of the signals. Depending on the technique, between 1 and 3 wires can be used to send button info separately. More convinient then to overlay the signals and use a standard cable and connector.
    Is this headphone using the standard 3-ways earphone plug or using a 4-way plug? Some pictures of the soldering points between the cable and the circuit board would tell a lot about how they made it.

  95. The surface mount devices next to the chip are not necessarily resistors. Diodes, capacitors, and other passives also come in that package.

    Resistor array would be for the button encoding. Common method of allowing multiple buttons to be sent down one wire.

  96. If it isn’t clear, the wire going into this chip is NOT the headphone wire. It seems to be a wire that comes up alongside head earphone, into the control module, then goes back down.

  97. i use to live in Lima Peru and i can tell you that some areas… if you showed up with the signature white headphones of apple, you could get stabbed, then robbed. NO ONE uses them anymore for safety reasons.. and now they want to MAKE us use them!?

  98. I stopped downloading when the S.O.B.s shut down Napster, and have since recorded my own music from CDs. I urge everyone to do the same, and shut down online music sales! If they want DRM, let them buy their own music!

    Joel, if this many people are claiming the post and concept behind it is paranoid, then maybe subtlety in the face of paranoia just doesn’t work.

  100. we’ll have to wait and see. They added a similar chip in the dock connector, and it’s a license-fee thing. You pay a license, you get permission to use the chip and put the “Made for iPod” logo on your product.

    The difference is, if I want to use the same headphones for my iPod, my laptop, and my (insert device here), I could conceivably need more than one set of headphones, or more than one adapter.

    Here’s my real gripe: The point of the headphone remote is to put the shuffle away and not think about it. Click the cord to change tracks. Makes sense to me. Now, think of the adapter… If it’s a short, unobtrusive adapter (like the old iPhone adapters), you need to pull the Shuffle out of your pocket to change tracks, defeating the purpose of a remote. If it’s long enough to get where it needs to get to be convenient (i.e., your shirt pocket or backpack strap), then you have that length, PLUS the length of your after-market headphones. Lose/Lose in my book. Unless the cord to the remote has a pass-thru port on it, so the remote and your headphones essentially plug right into the shuffle, and you have 2 wires to deal with, one to your head, and one to the remote.

    I think it’s a bad move at this point, but it may be “Step 1” in a new movement by Apple to prioritize connectors. I hope it’s just one bad move. That being said, I use my iPhone headset, and love the earbuds and the remote feature. They just work for me. The dock connector makes sense. It has pass-thru for 30 pins for audio in/out, video out, power, remote control, and even yet-to-be- implemented video in. You can’t do that with a 4-pin USB unless every dongle has circuitry in it. 30 Pin pass-thru is needed for the functionality. Headphones are headphones, you really don’t need all this extra proprietary crap (if, that is what we’re looking at)

  101. wow take a look at the craftsmanship on that thing it looks like something u get when you buy those cheap import knockoffs lol.

  102. It’s fruitless to try to look up the part number for a custom-made chip.

    We’ve got 89S3E3 or 8A83E3.

    So at least the first 3 digits are some form of date code or lot code which tracks different production chip batches. The rest – who knows – but at minimum to identify the chip type and its revision.

    As others have pointed out, with a 4-pin plug you’ve got one entire signal available for control with unmolested stereo audio on the other 3 pins. So yes, they could have easily done this without a chip.

    So why did they use one? Apple has already told us. They want more control (and more revenue) from “Made for Ipod” hardware and a proprietary control scheme allows them to extend their lock on accessories.

    Case closed.

  103. Someone needs to crack the chip and see what’s inside it. It should be fairly easy to see how advanced the chip is and possibly tell what its function is, right?

  104. Device it self appears to generate control train of audio pulsees (4) to tell pill (maybe future inductively coupled appliances) whether it’s in sequential or shuffle mode

  105. It’s only a custom Apple Accessory Protocol chip. Takes the buttons and produces the digital stream.

    Pinout is:
    tip = audio L
    ring 1 = audio R
    ring 2 = GND
    sleeve = Serial data

    Accessory protocol is 3.3V serial, 8N1, 19200bps.

    Data is (example):
    play: 0x55 0xFF 0x03 0x02 0x00 0x01 0x06
    vol +: 0x55 0xFF 0x03 0x02 0x00 0x02 0x07
    vol -: 0x55 0xFF 0x03 0x02 0x00 0x04 0x09
    skip >: 0x55 0xFF 0x03 0x02 0x00 0x08 0x0D

  106. Isn’t it an easy thing to test? Take a standard audio line out cable from the headphone jack to an amplifier input and see if it works chicago mortgage loans. It’s not a direct test; if this test works, then there would be no real reason to believe that the chip is DRM.

    Isn’t it more likely that the electronics necessary for the controls are just moved upstream to a place with more thickness?

    The DRM story doesn’t make a lot of sense given recent moves from Apple to DRM-free their store las vegas homes for sale. No one would stand for iPod compatible only headphones. Insert shock and dismay here.

    Having said all of that, it is time for someone to properly give Apple’s iPod some REAL competition, especially for Mac users.

  107. Curiouser and curiouser. Maybe someone should litterally just ASK apple what it is and see what they say..if they respond that is.

  108. They did, when Vista came out, a whole bunch of USB headsets stopped working because they didn’t conform to the DRM in Vista. My perfectly good Logitech headset became useless because of this. rent a car |

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