Last Active
  • Intel pushes USB-C as 3.5mm jack replacement, touts better sound, thinness & power management

    Proponents of the 3.5mm jack are really missing out on what is possible through a digital port, and yes "better sound" is possible because we already know that 2-Channel audio isn't the nicest experience available in listening.

    1. Firstly there are the obvious multichannel abilities, so you can have headphones with speakers dedicated to, and accurately addressed to, reproduce the various ranges of audio. At the moment we basically have a "hack" method that attempts to bandpass certain frequencies to different speaker types, this compromised approach leads to a highly variable experience, but also rarely an ideal one.
    2. Using an all-in-one port we can simplify and reduce the cost of progress into technologies such as VR
    3. We can utilise better electronics to aid the listening experience, everyone has probably noticed that the forward and back buttons on their analogue headphones aren't anywhere near as reliable as their bluetooth counterparts. Similarly you can expect the microphone-on-earphones quality to improve since better technologies can be included to enhance noise cancelling.
    4. Energy management can be both more intelligent, but also entirely separate.
    5. You will no longer hear a subtle, yet audible "click" noise as your smartphone/laptop switches off the audio hardware to conserve battery.
    Meanwhile DRM is not a legitimate concern, the idea that the industry will be demanding it is naive and old thinking – the music industry has already realised that DRM never did anything to slow piracy, it did however slow sales and frustrate legitimate consumers. It's also not particularly relevant in the streaming culture, also keep in mind that getting around DRM in the past didn't involve wiring the analogue port to an audio-in, it was (and remains to be) as trivial as running audio hijack pro.

    Why does one have to be at the expense of the other? All of the benefits you mentioned can be reaped without removing the 3.5mm jack.

    Removing the jack would be a huge mistake IMO... for every premium headset that gets it right (and the potential upside for high quality is huge) there will be crap products that use awful DACs or have terrible power management. Just because the potential is there, doesn't mean that all digital headphones will automatically do it better. To your point # 5, why won't we hear that "click"? Power management can still shut down the audio circuitry (or output device) no matter where it lives.

    To others who compared the potential move to Apple removing optical media from PCs, I don't quite see it as the same thing; optical disc use was dropping rapidly at the time and they saw the trend. Wireless sets may be gaining in popularity but there is still, and will continue to be a large demand for wired headphones for some time. Personally I don't think I'll ever drop the need for wires here... I haven't experienced a Bluetooth set that didn't have dropouts or noticeable compression. Add in another battery to keep charged and I fail entirely to see what the benefit is, but I know I'm in the minority here.

    Here are some reasons why I think 3.5mm jacks should stick around:
    1. Cost - I lose/break/replace headphones more often than phones or laptops. Adding DAC/DSP/amp electronics to headphones, along with more conductors and a fancier connector is not going to make them cheaper, especially if you want them for any of the improvements that USB/digital sets can offer. Removing this cost from an $800 phone or a $2000 laptop will not likely have any influence on the cost (to us).
    2. Size - I genuinely don't know how small you can make the necessary electronics, and it surely isn't an issue for bigger over the ear type headphones, but where are the electronics going to go for ear buds and in-ear types? How big would the dongle have to be to provide backwards compatibility to the millions of existing headphones out there (and would it compromise quality like the Lightning-->HDMI adaptor does for wired video out of iPads/iPhones?)?
    3. Simplicity - Couple of wires and a couple of transducers... that's it. Not much to go wrong there. Aside from having more components that can fail now located outside the device (and therefore more exposed to the elements), I don't ever need a driver to connect my headphones to a new device, and never see the message "Your device is not supported". 
    Personally I've never had issues with the sound quality from my iPhones, iPods, or Macbooks. Usually if there was an issue it was with the source (crap compression) or due to using bad headphones. All of them do just fine driving my decent AKG/Grado cans and work perfectly well with the near-disposable in-ears I get because I can't seem to stop myself from losing or ruining any small headphones I have. 

    Please don't do it, Apple!