It seems the Apple iPhone 7 will abandon the 3.5 mm headphone jack according to several credible reports, which points to the end of a 30-year-old standard for audio output. The 3.5 mm jack dates back to the venerable old Walkman, my first portable music player.
For years, the 3.5 mm jack and I were inseparable; we discovered tapes, CDs, and Napster together. We shared iPods, streamed audio for the first time on my first smartphone. Now it looks like it won’t be long until I have no use for my tangled collection of cheap earbuds.
I will stop short of calling the removal of the 3.5 mm jack ‘user-hostile’ as some in the tech world have, but I do get a little misty about antiquating a classic.
Whenever this happens, I have to fire up “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon and reflect on the great times I’ve enjoyed with the old 3.5 mm—through a $7 pair of earbuds, of course.
When I think back to all the crap I listened to tunes on;
It’s a wonder I can hear at all.
And though my lack of audio style never hurt me none;
I can read the writing on the wall.
Cheap head pho-oh-ones!
You muddy the tonal colors
Make the all vocals muttered;
Make me think all the world’s a low bitrate, oh yeah!
I got my podcast going;
I like to stream the Spotify;
Apple don’t you take my 3.5 mm away.
Good times, indeed.
Turn up USB Type C for audio?
Now Intel developers are leading the charge to make USB Type-C audio the standard format for digital audio output. USB Type-C for data transfers and charging batteries in mobile devices is already mainstream, and this makes the interface even more universal.
One connector for everything sounds convenient enough; not to mention devices can be slimmer without a circular 3.5 mm jack in the chassis. The drawback is that it obsoletes pretty much every set of headphones in use right now. Hence the pushback. Nobody really wants to carry around audio adapters and dongles with their phone and earbuds.
I can see why folks might point fingers at Apple and Intel, angry that they will have to purchase new USB Type C headphones for the iPhone 7. Typical proprietary shenanigans by the usual suspects!
It’s the mobile audiophiles that have the most valid gripe. The old 3.5 mm beats a Bluetooth transmission for audio quality if you have a good enough set of cans to detect the lossy bandwidth limitations of the latter. If you’re used to storing a small FLAC collection on your phone, or have a special place in your heart for all things analog, this is upsetting news. If you’re just streaming audio over Wi-Fi like most people, there’s no reason to sweat it.
Personally, I get my hi-fi audio fix via quarter inch cable in my living room. I’m not too particular about my mobile situation; that’s just me, though.
Debate the potential of USB Type-C as an audio interface all you like. At the end of the day, it’s $400+ for a new iPhone 7. If the 3.5 mm jack is a deal breaker, save your money and get an unlocked Android or transfer your FLACs to the old iPod.