Throughout technology is a world of evolution. Displays are getting brighter with more density and pixels, video is getting crispier, games are getting more and more engaging and performance is off the charts, but if there’s one thing which has stood still, it’s Audio.
Nearly 140 years old standard!
What if we told you that the standard of which derives the use of Audio jacks is approaching 140 years old (138), 1878 to be precise is when the first Audio connector was introduce. Whilst the standard has since introduced a wide gamut of sizes from the smaller 2.5mm, the larger 6.35mm, or most recognisable the 3.5mm jack, the way audio is distributed through them hasn’t changed at all since even then.
The way audio is amplified through an Audio jack is the oldest piece of all technology we own today, so it goes without saying that it’s time for us to at least try to move on, but aside from it just being a big inconvenience, there’s nothing but benefits down the road which users don’t seem to be getting told which is likely why the world is shouting nothing but negativity about the move, and we’re going to attempt to sooth that … attempt.
We’ve seen this many times before
Whether it’s Floppy to CD-ROM, Ethernet to Wireless, FireWire to USB, VHS to DVD, heck DVI/VGA to HDMI, it’s fair to say when it comes to I/O the world has simply had to move on with the times and harping on about sticking where you are is just going to lead to more of the same.
Can you imagine if every time their was a dispute about the removal of a port in favour of something else, the companies just listened and stuck with the old … we’d have the largest PCs in the world running on the oldest technology?? Who wants that?
Forever, we hear people complain about technology starting to get stale again, yet at the same time if the world attempts to move on, the backlash begins, it’s a no win game right… but that’s where you’re wrong! What if we were to tell you that, the transition away from the Audio jack is a good thing?
The industry is moving on, and soon, so will you
The key to the change in Audio jacks is how they work now, versus how they work using in-built audio DACs in headphones, THIS is why this is such a beneficial move going forward.
To explain the benefits, we’ve to look at where we are now, to where we’re going to be when the world moves away from the Audio jack and moves on to either USB-C, or in the Apple world, Lightning (though they do work the same).
It’s as simple and as beneficial as Analogue vs Digital – because that’s essentially what it is!
To clear some air however, we’re going to show you two set examples of how headphones are going to work, granted do already but will entirely, once the world moves on from 3.5mm to USB Audio. To make this fair, we’re going to show you how typical Audio is transmitted, and the benefits and negatives to each, we think you’ll be surprised.
3.5mm headphone jack
Above is a Smartphone playing a typical Audio file, in this example we’re going to say MP3 and the user (as we do) has a pair of Headphones to listen to that Audio through them. However, whilst your Computer / Phone etc can only produce Digital Audio, a pair of Headphones can only emit Analogue audio, so for this to work they have to go through an in built DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) built in to the device, which then sends a now Audio conversation to the Headphone and such, we can hear the Audio.
BENEFITS TO THIS APPROACH
- It’s the same port used in, well, forever: True, convenience with the Audio jack is something hard to ignore in this.
- Sounds good to me: You’re probably right, no one really complains too heavily about Audio coming from a 3.5mm (or otherwise) headphone jack … (but we’ll get to why you’re likely never hearing the full quality a bit later)
NEGATIVES TO THIS APPROACH
- Each device can carry poor DACs: If you purchase a cheap device, this could be a low cost phone, or even a cheap Stereo, it’s very likely to keep the cost down the manufacturer put a cheaper DAC in the product. What this means is, the Audio even from the most expensive headphones around, won’t sound half as good as from a more expensive product, or one with a better DAC.
- You’ve no control over Audio Output: As we mentioned with quality of DACs being generally unknown, you’ve also no control over how your device gives your headphones audio, other than turning it up or down to a set range, or …well Stop and Play.
We get it, sticking to what you know, if it’s not broken don’t fix it etc are all well and good, but there comes a time when the world must move on, we’re not replacing something which started a few years back that you’ve only just got used to, this is 140 year old technology and its about time we moved on.
But, naturally you’re probably thinking moving to a new Port means nothing but hassle, well let’s see what switching to USB Audio actually means;
USB Audio (USB-C or Lightning ports)
Above is a Smartphone playing a typical Audio file, in this example we’re going to say MP3 and the user (as we do) has a pair of Headphones to listen to that Audio through them. However, whilst your Computer / Phone etc can only produce Digital Audio, a pair of Headphones can only emit Analogue audio, so for this to work they have to go through an in built DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) typically built in to the device, which then sends a now Audio conversation to the Headphone and such, we can hear the Audio.
BUT with USB Audio that process changes … A LOT. Unlike typical headphone jacks, USB Audio emits Digital Audio straight from the receiver, which in this case is the Smartphone meaning no quality is lost from the transfer from the Audio your playing to the Headphones, though a DAC is still required for you to hear it but whereas the DAC was in built, now it’s in the Headphones themselves and this is where the biggest advantage of USB Audio comes in to play.
BENEFITS TO THIS APPROACH
- No limit to quality on ALL devices: As with a headphone jack the quality wasn’t just based on the headphones you purchased but even the device itself, with USB Audio, the quality is literally JUST based on how you want it to be. Play a song on one device, it will sound equally as good on another, just like it should do!
- Sound is instantly better: For years, brands have being trying to differentiate themselves in terms of quality, but now they’re in control and you will hear the benefits. Instead of headphones sounding just like they’ve a bit more bass or not, the audio you hear will be crisp from day one.Side-note: You can actually purchase headphones which offer both solutions today, both a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB Audio with Lightning and USB-C, this is the best solution for those doubters who don’t believe the difference, or want to hear it for themselves. Because even today, your iPhone 5/5S/6/6+/iPad/iPod touch with Lightning can accept Lightning headphones today, as any Android phone with USB-C can accept USB Audio headphones, trust us, give it a try!
- YOU are in control of the quality you can hear: Whereas before you purchased a pair of headphones for £20 to £500 and could maybe only just tell the difference, now the Audio is really going to pop even on lower end headphones, and now you are in control, not your device on how good that audio sounds.
- Headphones alone = Quality of audio: It’s now a simple formula, if you have good headphones, they will sound good on a £50 cheap USB-C Android phone, to a £500-799 flagship with USB-C or Lightning. But naturally likewise, if you’ve poor headphones, the same is true.
NEGATIVES TO THIS APPROACH
- New port to use: As with all I/O improvements, there’s going to be a new Port which we know is a headache, but it’s something we’ve done many times before and moved on
- We all love adapters: In the past we’ve had to use USB to Ethernet, VGA to HDMI, all sorts, adapters are an inconvenience sure, but they’re transitional devices. They exist so you can use your current old technology, but also a sign that whether you like it or not, you will have to move on.
- Can’t use USB Audio on older devices: This is probably the only unfixable problem, should you invest in USB-C / Lightning headphones, none of your other devices will be able to take advantage of them which only have a 3.5mm headphone jack, and yes adapters are available for them as well.
How do I charge whilst listening to music though?
You guessed it, an adapter. This is by Belkin, the Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar adapter features a Lightning connector plus two Lightning ports so you can charge your iPhone 7 while using Lightning EarPods. Though USB-C variants are also available as let’s not forget this is happening on Android as well, starting with the Moto Z with more to follow.
It’s also worth noting that Apple’s Lightning Docks also feature a 3.5mm headphone jack at the back, so you can use them as well, be it finicky.
Whilst this is a solution to a problem people have conveniently just started to complaint about, I still have to ask? Who actually doesn’t charge their devices over night, meaning when they’re awake they don’t need to charge as devices today have all day battery life? … Maybe it’s only us that find that mind boggling.
What about Lightning versus USB-C headphones?
Put simply, they are one of the same thing. Both Apple’s Lightning connector and USB-C carry the same USB Audio standard which all headphones are set to use which we’ve explained above, what this also means is practically every pair of Headphones you can buy today will support BOTH Lightning and USB-C out of the box with each offering at the end.
Some headphones offer simply ends to clip on to the end, either USB-C or Lighting, heck some even offer 3.5mm headphone jack, but they do offer both and do use the same technologies and neither will sound better or worse than the other as they work the same.
Naturally we’d wished Apple made it simple by going USB-C themselves, but hey, at least the Headphone companies know how to ease that simply.
Wireless Future = Bluetooth
But of course the obvious thing the world is moving towards, is a wireless world which leads us to the closing of this post, Bluetooth. For years Bluetooth Headphones have been available and admittedly it’s only until recently, since Bluetooth 4.0LE that Bluetooth Headphones stopped sucking badly. Whilst naturally not perfect, as we’ll get to soon, Bluetooth headphones do work on all your devices including Computers, Smart Watches, Smart TVs and more and offer decent quality Audio experience as they’ve also featured in built DACs since the beginning, but now Bluetooth isn’t as much of a Battery drain as it used to be, the quality no longer suffers and decent quality can be emitted.
BENEFITS TO THIS APPROACH
- Work with all technologies we have today: Can’t argue with that right. Whether it’s a Smartphone, Watch or anything else, Bluetooth headphones will work and even downscale to older devices with last generation Bluetooth technology.
- Offer similar benefits to USB Audio: Whilst wired Audio is still the best, Bluetooth headphones too now feature their own build in DAC meaning the Audio can be pretty good going from these things.
NEGATIVES TO THIS APPROACH
- Need charging: Being Bluetooth, being wireless tends to mean they need charging very often, meaning it’s yet another thing to charge overnight before your full day. However, Bluetooth headphones are improving heavily in battery life, some offering up to 40 hours of constant use, so at least you won’t have to charge them all too often.
- Can be expensive: This is likely the biggest determent to Bluetooth headphones is they are expensive for equivalent quality wired offerings
- Wait…they were here a minute a go???: Being wireless and sometimes small does mean you can lose Bluetooth headphones rather easy … though whilst that’s typically a Negative, you can lose wired ones too!
- Quality is still not up there: Whilst you can get some fantastic sounding Bluetooth headphones, they do need to conserve some of their energy for Battery life, and the sound is transferred wirelessly over a Bluetooth frequency rather than direct, so audio will be less so from wired offerings.
Whilst companies today will mock companies like Apple, Motorola and others for removal of the headphone jacks, heck some may backtrack for a while, but trust us it’ll continue removed, because it’s had its time, and a long time it’s been too, it’s just the same as when companies were mocked for moving with the times before, but we did and trust me you’re feeling the benefits of doing that.
At the end of the day, we’re ranting over nothing. USB Audio offers a heap of benefits that out-way the temporary inconveniences, but are we surprised that Apple is getting stick for it ….. actually yes as they weren’t first to remove it, but naturally whoever did it was going to get stick and everyone cares more about Apple news than say Motorola news.
Once people realise the obvious, that it’s happening across the board everywhere going forward, we’ll all move on and look back and wonder why we were ever bothered in the first place, and you can’t say it’s a surprise it’s happened as we all knew it was coming!