The death of the headphone jack

Here’s what you need to know about USB Type-C and the best Bluetooth headphones on the market.

Meryl D'Souza May 2, 2016

For those of you who love smartphones but aren’t obsessed at keeping up with the fast changes that take place within the tech world, you should know that sooner or later, your headphones are going to be redundant.

The 3.5mm connector became ubiquitous ever since Sony dropped their first Walkman more than 30 years ago. It was man’s first taste of personalised listening and is now the senior citizen of the personal tech world, omnipresent in smartphones and laptops. 

Sadly, it’s those very devices that now threaten its existence. Technology has moved on and there’s no place for the established headphone connector with just one job. We’re in a digital world that’s defined by its multipurpose efficiency. 

In terms of real estate on a smartphone’s circuit board, the audio jack has fallen far behind other components such as the USB-C connector, which can not only handle high-throughput data transfers while moonlighting as a charger, but is also capable of audio output. 

New age 

EDGAR was at the HTC 10 Middle East launch earlier this year, when their head of global product marketing, Darren Sng, said that the USB Type C-charging port would replace the headphone jack in the near future. 

When we got our hands on the device, we were surprised to see that HTC decided to retain the old style headphone jack, and placed it on the top of the device. Despite doing so many things right with the 10, having the headphone jack at the top felt outdated. 

Of course by April, everyone around the world had heard the rumour about Apple planning to ditch the 3.5mm connector, which is why HTC’s insistence on holding onto the headphone jack was even more surprising. Especially when the 10 came with the new USB Type-C connector.

One cable to connect them all

To listen to music as digital files, smartphones need to house a Digital Analog Converter (DAC) that changes the digital data stream into an analog electric signal, which then drives an amplifier, which then drives a loudspeaker to produce sound. That is how things work when your smartphone uses the 3.5mm headphone jack.

With the digital connection available via USB-C, headphone designers can integrate the digital-to-analog converter and amplifier right into their headphones, ensuring consistent quality across devices.

But that’s not all. With the extra power and programmability on offer, in-ear headphones could also be used to track health data like temperature, which can in turn feed into the growing array of fitness-tracking databases. 

If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that smartphone companies are already sending our 3.5mm friend to an early grave. You don’t have to wait for the iPhone 7 to make the switch. LeEco, formerly LeTV, recently introduced a trifecta of smartphones without a 3.5mm port.

Best Bluetooth headphones

Even if Android and Apple smartphones take the leap towards an all-in-one connector, there are limited options out there for Type-C headphones. The alternative in this case would be Bluetooth cans.  These are the ones you should consider:

Parrot Zik 3.0

Hands down the best looking headphones in the list, the Parrot Zik 3.0’s touch sensitive interface that makes it easy to control volume, change songs, pause/play music, and also answer phone calls with just a few simple taps and swipes.

Price: AED 1,599

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0

The foldable cans from Sennheiser come with active noise cancellation and a pair of microphones so that they can be used as a smartphone headset. You also have the option of using it as a wired headset.

Price: AED 1,499

Beats Studio Wireless

The Beats Studio Wireless is a very comfortable over-the-ear wireless headphone that features active noise-cancelling technology. The headphones fold up into a more compact form factor and battery life is decent at 12 hours of wireless listening.

Price: AED 1,149

V-Moda Crossfade Wireless

The badass-looking V-Moda Crossfade Wireless offers strong sound both in wireless and wired modes as well as decent battery life of 12 hours.

Price: AED 1,000

Plantronics BackBeat Sense

The Plantronics BackBeat Sense is a lightweight, comfortable on-ear wireless headphone has a sensor that knows when you have the headphones on or off.

Price: AED 570