Apple said it took ‘courage’ to eliminate the 3.5mm audio port from the latest iPhone 7. While that’s clearly not true, whether you like it or not, the industry is likely to follow Apple’s footsteps and the latest update from USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) ensures the end of jurassic 3.5mm audio ports from your gadgets.
The natural progression of technology is slowly killing the iconic jack and moving towards making the USB port more accessible. To make that happen, USB Implementers Forum recently published its Audio Device Class 3.0 specification, which will provide device makers the solution they need to get audio over USB Type-C port.The idea of taking audio to the next level is something a lot of people do these days through USB DACs attached to their computer and powerful headphone amps attached to those. There are mobile variants of these devices, but by using USB, headphones and earphones can both draw more power as well as provide their own DACs (digital-to-analog converter) which could theoretically lead to a better overall sound.
The latest Audio Device Class 3.0 spec released on September 27th gives the electronic equipment manufacturers the standard they need to start implementing audio channeling through USB-C port in laptops, desktops, mobiles and tablets. The latest specs allow for elimination of multiple ports to deliver data, power, audio and video. Instead, a single USB Type-C may now deliver all of it allowing the devices to be thinner than ever. This will also mean more of the devices will be water and dust resistant and allow for more innovative features.
The new 3.0 audio specification is also designed to improve power efficiency and key word detection for better voice recognition. Importantly, the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 continues to support both analog and digital audio. The two secondary bus (SBU) pins are still allowed to be used for non-digital audio transfer, so device manufacturers can continue to provide Type-C to 3.5mm adaptors to support existing headphones. In fact, all spec compliant hosts will have to support these “headset adaptor devices” going forward, so current headphones will continue to work with USB only smartphones.
A jack-less future may not be embraced by all. Many still hold on dearly to the classic 3.5mm jack, but the benefits of jack-less devices do exist and are worth considering as technology progresses. This development follows roughly a month after HDMI Licensing announced an HDMI Alt Mode that would let USB-C devices and HDMI displays talk directly with one another with no need for converters. Both announcements have the same goals of making USB-C the one connector to rule them all, be it for video or, in this case, audio.
“USB is the simplest and most pervasive connector available today, making USB Type-C the logical choice for the future of digital audio,” said Jeff Ravencraft, USB-IF President and COO.
With just one USB port replacing all audio connections in the future, it would be a lot easier to use your headphones with whatever device you wanted, including your tablet, your games console and your smartphone. That future is still a long way away of course, and there’s also the question of how one will be able to charge and listen to music on our smartphones.
There will, of course be some drawbacks to this vision of USB-C, particularly for devices that have a single USB-C port and nothing else, be they a smartphone or a laptop like the new MacBook. This would mean, of course, that you can only have one peripheral attached to the port a time or, at the very least, be a the mercy of having a multi-port adapter always at hand.
I believe that the 3.5mm ports are here to say at least for the next 2-3 years before next generation of USB and Bluetooth standards take over to ensure faster and more efficient delivery of data. It’d be safe to assume that most of the high-end devices will ditch the headphone jack in favour of USB Type-C, but the entry-level devices will stick to the regular headphone port.
How do you feel about the whole moving forward thing? Are you buying into it already? Sound off in the comments below!