Friday, March 16, 2018

Lightning vs. USB-C for Headphones

John Gruber:

Samsung’s customers aren’t asking for the headphone jack to be dropped, so the path of least resistance is to just keep the jack. But looking at what’s available on the market, a big problem facing Samsung (and the rest of the Android world) is that the USB-C headphone market is a mess — and expensive to boot. “No-name brand headphones at high prices” is a hard sell.

As much as AirPods are better (and cheaper) than standard Bluetooth earbuds, there is seemingly nothing close to Lightning EarPods on the market for USB-C. AirPods get all the attention, but Lightning EarPods are even further ahead of their USB-C competition. The proprietary nature of Lightning allowed Apple to make sure it was ready to serve as the wired audio connector for iPhones when Apple wanted it to be. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder why Apple doesn’t drop Lightning for USB-C.

However, Lightning is no guarantee of quality, either.

Previously: The Impossible Dream of USB-C, Removing the iPhone’s Headphone Jack.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

"Samsung’s customers aren’t asking for the headphone jack to be dropped, so the path of least resistance is to just keep the jack"

No one asked for the headphone jack to be dropped, including Apple's customers. More important, no one has articulated what we gain from dropping it.

@Fred McCann

Amen to that. My earbuds are the Etymotic ER-4P. No lightning or USB-C earbud has anywhere near that level of sound quality. That's why I am sticking with my iPhone 6 and ditched my iPod for an Onkyo DP-X1 high-res player.

AirPods are cheaper than standard Bluetooth headphones? Not kidding, is Gruber high right now?

Martin Wierschin

@Fred McCann
There's always a cost to keeping old tech around, even if it is as venerable as the headphone jack. Apple believes the future doesn't include headphone jacks, so they gain by no longer producing and supporting something that will be phased out. Who knows if consumer preferences and the surrounding hardware ecosystem will ultimately bear that out, but it seems like things are moving in that direction, so Apple is betting they'll benefit by being ahead of the curve and dropping it now.

I do miss the headphone jack and its assured simplicity. It's great to know you can plug something in and get reliable sound quality, no matter the hardware and software. I've certainly cursed my AirPods when they get confused as to the audio source, or suffer from poor connectivity. There is nothing worse than troubleshooting a mismatched or poor bluetooth connection, with essentially zero diagnostic information provided by the devices involved. Apple's W-1 chip may be best in class, but the whole system is not without issues. I've certainly lost valuable time fiddling around, rebooting devices, etc. In those enraging situations a headphone jack would have been a Godsend.

That said, mostly things work correctly and being wireless is preferred. I'd never go back to using a headphone jack and wired earbuds, as most of my listening is done while moving around (exercising or cleaning). I love running outside with just an Apple Watch and AirPods. It's a great free feeling, with no wires and no phone.

"That said, mostly things work correctly and being wireless is preferred."

There's nothing to stop a person from using wireless earbuds even if their phone has an audio connector.

Someone might even prefer using wired headphones with their phone, but use wireless earbuds with their watch.

The headphone jack's not really a particularly old piece of technology. Every aircraft currently flying uses pitot tubes to measure airspeed & they were invented in the 1600s and refined to the current form in the 1700s. They are still used as it's they're the most efficient way to measure speed onboard an aircraft.

As a cricket fan, BT headphones aren't fit for purpose. I need an absolute minimum of 8 hours battery life and preferably 12 hours as the UK T20 Blast finals all take place back to back in a single day. Unlike Microsoft, I guess Cricket's not something that Apple is aware of.

The other big advantage of the headphone jack is that, it works with most audio hardware so I don't need to carry separate headphones, dongles & so on for my Nokia 8 & my iPad.

I believe that the ongoing issues around USB-C audio is that there are two different ways to transmit audio, one digital & one analog, not everyone supports both. Once the USB consortium get their act together things will probably sort themselves out.

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