Tech Talk: USB Type-C To Replace 3.5mm?

If you remember owning a dumb phone or have been on the Android scene since the very beginning, you likely remember, long before Bluetooth headphones were affordable or any good, having to use a special adapter to use your headphones, or settling for using the phone's speaker or a headset for music. While Apple bucked this trend when they put a phone and their iconic iPod device together, the Android world was just a bit behind on the trend at first. Owners of the HTC G1 or HTC Dream, can attest that a special adapter was needed, and it made listening to music a bit more complicated than it should have been. The adapter would often kink, fall out of the port or get caught on the edge of a pocket when putting the phone away. Listening to music while moving was essentially impossible. To bring things to current times, LeEco announced three second-generation smartphones and not one of them has a headphone jack. Despite that fact, they're not exactly looking to bring back the days of those cumbersome adapters. On top of this, Motorola's recently announced Moto Z line of devices have foregone the 3.5mm audio port and have chosen to use the USB Type-C port for audio as wel, although they do offer a 3.5mm to USB C adapter in the box for consumers.

LeEco's newest phones come with USB Type-C ports that have been specially outfitted for audio use.While software solutions abound to fix Android's USB audio woes, few have really given it a try on the hardware side. Most manufacturers are content to offer phones with audio optimizations built into the 3.5mm jack, which is far from a perfect solution. While a 3.5mm jack is the industry standard for consumer audio, the standard does suffer from some slight channel and noise issues that are fairly noticeable to those with trained ears, especially when juxtaposed with studio headphones hooked into a device through a half-inch jack or the XLR connector used for studio microphones. While LeEco isn't the first to try ditching the headphone jack in a modern phone, they are the first to try their hand at making USB audio worth using. According to LeEco CEO Liang Jun, the setup was complicated and didn't save any space or money over using a 3.5mm jack, but he feels it's worth it in terms of the audio performance on offer. An adapter is present for those who want to use their current headphones, but, according to Jun, USB Type-C headphones are the future. Coincidentally, LeEco sells two models - one set of earbuds for discrete listening, and a set of over-the-ear cans for jamming out or, if you're a particularly bold or strapped-for-time musician, use in studio applications.

The new phones that chose to drop the 3.5mm jack have sold like hotcakes, though whether that's a reflection of consumer confidence in LeEco's decision or simply a testament to the fact that they make flagship-tier phones at midrange or even budget-sector prices, it's hard to say. A good number of consumers these days own and use Bluetooth headphones, since they've improved drastically over the past few years, which would render the lack of a 3.5mm jack somewhat of a moot point. There is always the chance, however, that LeEco, a pioneer and well-known name in many tech sub-industries, has found the magic key to solving Android's audio issues.

The possibility of USB Type-C solving Android's audio screwups is actually quite strong. USB Type-C is a universal standard that any accessory maker can use, leading the possibility of ubiquity among headphone makers. The port can also provide or take in power, allowing for the use of powered headphones without a preamp, something that countless audiophiles have doubtlessly tried to think of ways to accomplish for some time. The standard also allows for incredibly high data transfer rates at a very high level of fidelity with little corruption or failure, unlike the fairly limited 3.5mm headphone jack. The advantages are quite clear, but whether the movement picks up speed from here and becomes the new gold standard depends on a few factors that have little to do with potential. First, LeEco, as the progenitor of the trend, must create outstanding audio equipment using this standard. While headphones good enough to fully enjoy lossless music files at consumer prices may be a bit much to ask, USB Type-C headphones will have to prove their mettle by surpassing most, if not all, unaided 3.5mm models, including big names like Audio-Technica and Sony. If any phone OEM would have the wide-ranging tech chops to do it, aside from Samsung or Apple, anyway, it would likely be LeEco. Second, consumers need to eat the new headphones up with spoons. Plain and simple, low sales can kill a budding movement like this. If both of those things fail to happen with this release, Apple will reportedly be removing the headphone jack for the iPhone 7. While the Lightning port is different from USB Type-C, the advantages are similar; if the move takes off and inspires a rival, such as Samsung or LG, to do the same, USB Type-C could still end up being the new audio standard for Android and perhaps all devices.

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About the Author
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Daniel Fuller

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for Android Headlines since 2015, and is one of the site's Senior Staff Writers. He's been living the Android life since 2010, and has been interested in technology of all sorts since childhood. His personal, educational and professional backgrounds in computer science, gaming, literature, and music leave him uniquely equipped to handle a wide range of news topics for the site. These include the likes of machine learning, voice assistants, AI technology development, and hot gaming news in the Android world. Contact him at [email protected]
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