Why the 3.5mm Earphone Jack is Still King
It's seems today that more and more devices (to many users dismay) now come without the classic 3.5mm jack. Let's be honest, when we say more and more devices we mean every device Apple releases these days. The jack has been replaced in Apple's case with an inferior sounding Lightning Connector, or of course there is bluetooth. It's no surprise in some ways as almost everything digital in our lives is now wireless. Wireless internet, streaming and even our relationships seem to have lost a level of connection through social media and online dating, but is this always a good thing. Well, if you're into your music then probably not.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is essentially a 19th Century bit of kit - it is a miniaturised version of the classic quarter-inch jack (6.35mm), which is said to go back as far as 1878. Initially the quarter-inch jack was used by operators in old-fashioned telephone switchboards, plugging and unplugging connections.
Of course, as miniaturisation changed audio equipment, so the plug had to have a smaller alternative.The 3.5mm version quickly became popular, spread by the use of personal headsets on transistor radios in the middle of the 20th Century. The jack is known as a tip, ring, sleeve - or TRS - connection. The "tip" transfers audio into the left-hand earplug of a stereo headphone set, and the "ring" the right. The "sleeve" is the ground or "shield". This set-up is stereo - the original mono plugs had only tip and sleeve. Certain modern plugs have a second ring to allow control of a headset microphone or volume.
So great, it worked well in the past, but most of the equipment we used in ye oldie times has moved on, surely it's time for this technology to move on also?
Bluetooth technology has come a long way and actually sound pretty good. However, wired headphones can – and do – sound better. With wireless headphones, you have to combat interference, which is a constant battle fought inside the headphone. Wireless headphones house both a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and an amplifier, which means that if either of those are poorly designed, it's going to lead to tons of unwanted noise.
Lightning-only headphones, like the Apple Earpods included with the iPhone 7, have even more issues since they'll only work with iDevices. You can't even plug them into your MacBook because (surprise) it still uses a 3.5mm headphone jack. Ironically, the MacBook features a USB Type-C port, which is an open standard that competes with Lightning.
The fact is that the headphone jack will live on in high-end audio because it just works. It simplifies the connection between an amplifier and your ears, helping to isolate unwanted noise for the best sound quality available. As far as high-end audio is concerned, digital is not always better.
At Audio22 we have a range of earphones with 3.5mm jack options. One of our most popular brand for music lovers is Soundmagic which does have alternative bluetooth and USB-C models, but has a fantastic core range of award winning models with the good ol' 3.5mm jack. Click below to see more.