Digital vs. Analog Audio: Is the 3.5mm Jack Better or the USB Type-C?

usb type c

The elimination of the 3.5mm jack, in exchange for USB-C, brings us the battle of digital versus analog audio. Which of the two options is better?

You know the battle between the old jack 3.5 mm handsfree and the new USB Type C handsfree. With the appearance of the new connector and the potential for audio transmission, some manufacturers have jumped into the pool and dared to remove the old connector from their phones.

These elections have not been without controversy. Users have paid much attention to this, raising our voices. To many, it looks like the future, and to many others, the disappearance of the connector bothers them. But what happens from the technical side? What are the advantages and disadvantages of removing the 3.5mm jack? Is this a battle of digital versus analog audio?

The 3.5mm jack, an old acquaintance since the 70s

To talk about the analog audio connector, we have to go back to the 19th century, to the invention of the telephone. Its first appearance was in the telephone switchboards. Do you remember those cables that operators had to connect to make connections between different telephones? They plugged in jack cables, which carried the analog sound from one side to the other.

The 3.5mm jack has spread like wildfire since then. In addition to serving in telephony, it plays an indispensable role in producing sound and music. Not to mention all the standard devices that carry it. Perhaps its explosion in popularity came from the Sony Walkman, released in 1979. In addition, the 3.5mm jack was designed for use in transistor radios and has become a standard today.

In any case, we are talking about the oldest electrical connector that is still in use today. Our smartphones, laptops, tablets, speakers, sound equipment, etc. use it as if it were the first day. Even the jack continues to be innovated – it’s been used for keyboards, power supplies, and even payment processing.

USB-C: one connector for everything, including audio

But technology advances, and one fine day in August 2014, the USB Type-C Specification 1.0 was introduced. In addition to presenting possibilities that we already know, such as transferring electricity for charging or video in huge resolutions, it also came with the possibility of transferring sound. And this is when the whole story begins.

Industry giants like Intel have already begun to speculate on the possibility:

  • Thinner phones
  • Better theoretical quality of playback
  • Much more advanced features for headsets

Even one server remembers debating this issue at Mobile World Congress 2015 before any manufacturer dared to take the plunge.

And that’s when the manufacturers began to dare. The first to take the step was Lenovo with the Moto Z., but the big event was the removal of the jack on the iPhone 7. A decision that took months between rumors and leaks, but we had to wait to see confirmed to start believing it. And if you want to jack with any of these phones, too bad, you have to pull the headsets.

From analog to digital: it doesn’t just mean changing one connector

You have to be careful with this issue because we are not only talking about a connector change. We are talking about the sound that will stop coming out of the phone as analog to digital. And this means that the chip that performs the digital-to-analog conversion (DAC) will no longer be in the phone; it will be in the handset.

Right now, you don’t have to worry about that: phones still carry DACs. The reason is that USB-C to jack adapters need this to work, so they haven’t removed this circuitry yet. But it is a matter of time before manufacturers do it to save costs and thickness. And that’s when we will start to have real problems.

The good thing about USB Type C

+ | Good handsfree will sound better (and be better)

By moving the playback circuitry to the handsfree, high-end, expensive headsets will improve their sound quality, no matter which smartphone they are connected to. The USB Type C connection also allows data sharing, so these headsets could also talk to the phone to enhance its features or even get new ones.

+ | Handsfree may be more reliable in operation

By shortening the distance analog sound travels and digitizing everything, the theory goes that handsfree will be more reliable. There will be less interference between the original sound and what we hear. And overall, the headset should be able to perform better.

+ | Phones may be thinner and cheaper

Of course, the advantage that manufacturers have been wielding. The manufacturer saves on the thickness and costs by saving the connector and all the circuitry that goes into the jack and the DAC. Although these, in reality, are transferred to the headset.

The bad thing about USB Type C

– | Bad handsfree will sound (even) worse

We have discussed how quality manufacturers will benefit from this by applying good circuitry and good DACs in their handsfree. We have not said that cheap headphones, those that the common user uses the most, are not going to have that quality in pieces. And they are going to hear worse than before in comparison.

– | USB-C is only going to bring the noise in marketing

Taking advantage of the fact that there is a new standard and that the specification is not entirely clear, manufacturers will make a lot of noise that their sound is better. We already had great quality phones with jack and analog sound; you can safely ignore all the manufacturers who come with that mantra.

– | Say hello to DRM

If now the sound is digital, and the headset can (and should) talk to the phone, what prevents a manufacturer or studio that you cannot use certain headphones? Lack of response is the wet dream of the music industry. And for those who doubt this, you can check what happened when we jumped to HDMI with its nice HDCP.

– | Goodbye to your old handsfree, unless you want an adapter / DAC

Do you want to use your usual headphones, those that have a 3.5 mm jack? Bad luck; You have to carry an adapter. And that adapter gets more expensive when your phone stops carrying DAC and has to do the conversion. Because telephones, sooner or later, are going to save that cost. And they are going to transfer it to you and your nice adapter.

The other option, and practically what an adapter will be after that, would be to buy an external DAC. But we are already adding complexity and clutter to carry with us.

– | No one had asked for this

And best of all: I don’t think anyone is asking for thinner phones than they are right now. It is more than proven that users want better performance, better battery life, better functions. As Nilay Patel says for The Verge, why don’t we vote with our euros?

In the face of Apple’s audacity, we all look at Samsung

In any case, Apple has already moved the tab. And other manufacturers have done it too, but we are not going to fool ourselves: we are all looking at what Samsung will do. Your decision on this matter, what the next Korean flagship will wear, may thoroughly condition the market in the coming months.

On the one hand, Samsung has not been afraid to be radical with its proposals. They have had successes, like the Note range, which have resulted from taking risks. So if you think this is the future, you will not hesitate to kill the 3.5mm jack. But, on the other hand, it is the perfect opportunity for Samsung to separate itself from Apple. There is no better time to arrive, saying, “look, we have the jack, we all know them and we all like them, and they don’t.And even more so when Samsung has bought AKG handsfree, a professional sound giant.

At this point, we can only wait. What do you think will happen?

You may also like to read:

USB Flash Drive: Which is the best for 2022?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Main Menu