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Intel put the knife to 3.5mm jack, throw weight behind USB Type-C port
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Intel put the knife to 3.5mm jack, throw weight behind USB Type-C port

by Stephen Charlton2016/08/18

Thinking about buying headphones with a 3.5mm jack? You might want to reconsider. Intel would like to kill off the 3.5mm jack in favour of the USB Type-C connector. They’re not the only ones giving some heat to the humble 3.5mm jack. Apple is reportedly set to ditch the headphone jack on iPhone 7 in favour of the Lightning jack, while Lenovo’s Moto Z has already done away with it in favour of a USB Type-C port.

USB Type-C port enables thinner smartphone designs

Intel 3.5mm jack USB Type-C iphone 7 lightning Brad Saunders

Intel Senior Project Manager Brad Saunders.

The USB Type-C enabled Lenovo to create one of the thinnest smartphones on the market. Intel recently outlined some other advantages to ditching the analog 3.5mm jack for the digital USB Type-C port format.

At the Intel Developer Forum on Tuesday, Intel’s Brad Saunders and Rahman Ismail outlined a new USB audio standard that will help make the USB Type-C port a more attractive option.  The standard will ensure a USB headphone doesn’t excessively drain battery power. It also defines how buttons for volume control and pausing music will function. The specification will be out this quarter and will give us more insight in to how this will actually work.

As CNET reported, Saunders said the specification will:

“really make USB Type-C the right connector for audio.”

This doesn’t explain how the new specification will get around the issue of how to run headphones from a charging USB phone with a single port. Also, anyone who tries to use a 3.5mm headphone with a USB-equipped phone will have to deal with a clunky and easily-misplaced adapter.

Consumers move from wired to wireless headphone models

Intel 3.5mm jack USB Type-C iphone 7 lightning Bose QuietComfort 35

The Bose QuietComfort 35, one of the leading wireless headphones options.

Intel are no doubt hoping people will jump onto USB or wireless headphones. Currently USB Type-C headphones are light on the ground and quite expensive, so the 3.5mm isn’t going to disappear overnight. Wireless headphones are a different matter though. Wireless headphones outsold wired models for the first time in June. The shift was perhaps inspired by the persistent rumours about the iPhone 7 dropping the headphone jack.

Intel favours USB Type-C over 3.5mm jack for size, features

Intel 3.5mm jack USB Type-C iphone 7 lightning

The Apple Lightning and USB Type-C.

So what else has the USB Type-C got going for it? Intel state its digital operation means that it doesn’t cause electronic interference like the analog 3.5mm jack. Digital connectivity also means audio effects (EQ, reverb) and signal processing (noise cancellation) can be applied without third party deals. Which means more money for Intel of course.

USB does eat up a lot of power however. With PCs this is not an issue, however phones are obviously a different ballpark. The new standard’s power management features will help bridge the gap in battery use between the 3.5mm and USB Type-C, making the latter a more competitive audio option. The standard could save power by disabling unnecessary features, for example an integrated microphone, while they are not in use.

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About The Author
Stephen Charlton
Stephen Charlton is a musician, journalist and editor.

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