Using USB-C As Your Only Headphone Jack Is A Terrible Idea | Vol. 3 / No. 43.2

One port to rule them all | Photo: denvit, CC0 (public domain)

According to CNET, at the Intel Developer Forum last week, developers “Brad Saunders and Rahman Ismail sketched out a coming USB audio standard that could help push the 3.5mm jack aside.

The talk has been around for a while — Apple has wanted to swap out the 3.5mm audio port a number of times, and rumours are circulating that it’s going to finally pull the cord on the upcoming iPhone 7 — but there really hasn’t been much in the way of justifying an action that would make so many people angry.

And you know what? There still isn’t.

Here’s a list of all the benefits of the USB-C audio interface, as spelled out by Saunders and Ismail:

  • It hopefully won’t be too much worse in terms of power consumption
  • It could potentially be a millimeter or two thinner
  • It integrates better with in-headphone microphones, making certain effects cheaper

Seriously, go read the article — those are about it. There’s a couple of pearl-clutching anti-3.5mm arguments, like “they’re big” (not an actual quote) and “the analog circuitry of 3.5mm audio can cause interference that disrupts other electronics in a phone” (an actual quote). All of the other potential pluses, like “audio effects to make music sound like it’s playing in a big concert hall, or signal processing to cancel noise like jet engines or rumbling trains” can all either already be done before the output to analog audio on the phone (as in the concert-hall effect) or rely on the easier integration of an on-earphone microphone that can transmit information back to the phone for processing (as in the noise-cancelling effects) — which would use more power because the microphone functionality is on.

Here’s all the reasons not to do away with the 3.5mm jack:

  • I’m going to need to buy more, and more expensive, headphones
  • I already have headphones that work fine
  • My phone is already 6mm thick and that’s plenty fragile enough, thanks
  • My phone is 6mm thick and I’d pay more for a 7mm thick one if it had a bigger battery
  • Sometimes I need the headphone jack and the charging/data port at the same time

Frankly, one of the reasons I left the Apple ecosystem was because I was tired of buying new cables every couple of years when they decided they were going to create new and non-backwards-compatible systems. I admit that cheaper noise-canceling tech would be nice, but the prevailing opinion among the people I’ve talked to about it is this: if it were a good enough phone, I might buy it despite the massive inconvenience of having to switch, but nothing about USB-C headphones is good enough to act as an incentive to buy the phone.

And until they can change that, until they can make a USB-C headphone that’s so cheap and so good that I’ll want to throw away my old headphones — well until then not having a 3.5mm headphone jack is going to be a reason not to buy a phone.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.