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The Evolution to USB Type-C Headphones

USB Type-C is still relatively new, but even as we get used to what it means for data and video use-cases, additional exciting new uses are being developed, such as USB Type-C as the main interface for headphones. Many industry leaders are touting the move from the 3.5mm jack to the USB Type-C port. It will be interesting to see how this move turns out for the end-user: There are (at least) 3 different approaches to implementation of audio over Type-C: analog over Type-C as defined in the Type-C specification, digital using Audio Device Class 1.0/2.0, and a future Audio Device Class update. Press releases don’t dive into details about exactly which standard the various proponents will actually use, and the market has not yet coalesced behind one specific architecture.

Several companies are already rallying behind the concept of a Type-C digital audio interface, including Intel, LeEcoHTC and JBL. Undoubtedly there are more coming, and we’ll be watching to see where this goes.

person holding phone with type-c port Photo by Onur Binay on Unsplash
Why is USB Type-C good for headsets?

There are four main advantages of Type-C:

  1. Compared to the 3.5mm jack, the USB Type-C connector is more compact. Its smaller footprint requires less space.
  2. For devices that don’t need to charge while playing audio, a single connector can handle charging or audio connectivity.
  3. Operational power is available for things like amplification or noise reduction.
  4. For the digital approaches, moving the Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) outside the handset potentially allows for greater isolation from electrical interference.

The smaller format of the Type-C allows for the introduction of thinner device designs  (i.e. mobile phones and laptops) to the market. The form factor of the bulkier 3.5mm jacks and other ports has been the primary limitation of how compact and lightweight mobile listening could be.

In the next post, we’ll discuss some of the things to be aware of, such as battery life and other challenges.

Whether you are using released or proprietary devices,Total Phase provides high performance, cost effective tools for the development, test and simulation. Please contact us at  sales@totalphase.com if you would like to learn more about how our tools can make your projects easier.