The 3.5mm headphone jack, or rather the lack of it has become a growing trend in the smartphone industry, at least on the flagship side of things. The number of manufacturers hopping on the Type-C audio bandwagon is increasing day by day. We have a great article about why manufacturers are ditching it outright and should it really be removed?
I wouldn’t say Apple is behind the whole trend of removing headphone jacks, but they definitely gave others the “courage” to do so. While Apple’s implementation is less of a hassle since all iPhones are using the lightning port, so users who want to have wired headphones can switch to one with a lightning connector and use them with iPhones and iPads (Yes!! They still can’t be used with any other devices, even with Apple’s own Macbooks and Apple really wants to push their users towards wireless audio). But things aren’t quite smooth on the Android side, at least for the time being.
Now that the 3.5mm headphone jack has started disappearing, we need to decide on an alternative. So let’s take a quick look at them.
USB Type-C Audio
Technology is said to be evolved if the new one is superior and more convenient than the older one. While USB Type-C audio can be superior in quality, but convenience is still lacking. That’s more because of the fact that we are in a transition state and transition states are always hard. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of Type-C audio.
You might be thinking why I said – ‘Type-C audio can be superior in quality’, that’s because the current setup needs a complex circuitry inside smartphones consisting of a DAC, AMP and what not, to drive headphones connected via the 3.5mm headphone jack.
So the quality of audio not only depends on the headphones you are using but also on the device you are playing it on, of course, due to the difference in above-mentioned circuitry. When it comes to Type-C, it can transfer data in digital form from the device to the headphones and the audio processing circuit positioned inside the headphones (unlike standard 3.5mm ones where the circuit is on the device rather than the headphones) will take care of the rest. That means your headphones will deliver same quality even when it is used with a cheaper smartphone or other devices.
That also means smartphone manufacturers can get rid of that circuit and save the space for something useful.
The second advantage is that Type-C can transfer data, that too in digital form so headphone manufacturers can introduce companion apps which allows the user to fine-tune the sound signature to their liking as well as remap the buttons present on headphones to perform some quick actions (can be done on wired ones as well).
Since headphones pack in the circuit for audio processing, there would be an increase in cost – but that’s a one-time investment anyhow. Also, there won’t be any night and day difference in quality between Type-C audio and audio via the 3.5mm headphone jack. The difference is just that you get consistent audio quality across all your devices.
Using the same port for charging, data syncing and as a headphone jack will cause it to wear quicker than expected. Since USB Type-C is a friction-fit port, effects of wear would be more prominent than say Micro-USB, which has a locking mechanism. This would create problems, mostly for long-term users. Of course, you can’t use headphones while charging.
Another problem is that there isn’t a proper standard for Type-C audio as of now. Some smartphone manufacturers are using their own proprietary standards which means Type-C headphone from one manufacturer may not work with another device. Even though that is getting less prominent these days, it questions the integrity of the technology. That being said, these are quirks which can be expected on early days and hopefully be rectified down the line.
It is much easier to plug in a 3.5mm connector compared to a Type-C one. Even though Type-C is reversible, you still need to align it properly, but that’s not the case with the 3.5mm connector. These are me just nitpicking, but worth a mention nonetheless.
The most important concern for those who want to switch to Type-C audio is the lack of choice. You are almost stuck with the manufacturer bundled pair (Sorry, Pixel 2 / 2 XL owners!!) as you can’t find many decent Type-C headphones from reputed manufacturers. The situation will definitely change down the line as more and more companies switch to the new technology, but it looks like the transition would be much slower (and painful).
3.5mm to Type-C adapters
If you are not that of a headphone user or you are okay with carrying a dongle with you all the time, it is a viable option.
There are not many advantages apart from the fact that you can use your old headphones with your new smartphone which doesn’t come with a headphone jack. This might be the best choice if you are heavily invested in audio gear and you cannot compromise on the quality of sound.
Despite the known disadvantages like it is easy to get lost, it is an additional accessory to carry around blah blah blah, the main caveat here is compatibility. You still have to rely on manufacturer supplied adapter to get the max. out of your smartphone. There are chances that your smartphone may support some third-party adapters or one from another manufacturer. I won’t say its certain or happens all the time, but when it happens, it can get really annoying.
Bluetooth, as a technology has evolved a lot. We have seen a ton of improvements in terms of energy consumption, data throughput, range and so on. While the improvements in Bluetooth technology doesn’t necessarily translate to audio via Bluetooth – in fact, it hasn’t received a major overhaul since it was introduced back in 2004.
Bluetooth is by far the most convenient option in my opinion. There is no fiddling with connectors, no incompatibility issues and it can easily be used with a whole range of devices like laptops, consoles, music players and even smartwatches as all of these devices comes bundled with Bluetooth nowadays.
When it comes to Bluetooth headphones, there are no wires to deal with and it is a boon for people while jogging, working out or just moving around in general.
Bluetooth audio quality is not comparable to that of wired audio by any means, the latter is just better. While you can get decent quality wireless audio, but you’ve to shell out a lot more money than that of its wired counterpart. Well, the lack of quality might not be noticeable to casual listeners (like me), but for audiophiles, quality is a big deal and that simply cannot be attained by Bluetooth audio, at least as of now.
Since Bluetooth headphones depend on batteries for power, it adds to the ever-growing list of devices to be charged. As these devices are small and don’t have much room for a bigger battery, a regular user should have to charge his/her earbuds once every 3-4 days.
Smartphones have improved a lot, by that I mean A LOT. Manufacturers baking in technologies like HDR and Dolby Vision (which are limited to high-end Televisions that cost a pretty penny) into small smartphone screens shows how much of an influence these small (yet powerful) devices have on media consumption. As you all know, the sound is an integral part of the whole media experience and most people depend on headphones for media consumption, both in public as well as in private. So removing the convenient 3.5mm headphone jack, without a strong alternative is a big bummer. From a user standpoint, I definitely am against this move because I think there isn’t a right technology to replace the 3.5mm headphone jack.
As you have gone through the article, do you feel other technologies are matured enough to replace the 3.5mm headphone jack? Would you compromise the headphone jack for a millimeter of thinness or a bit more battery capacity?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned to Mr. Phone for more tech news and updates.