3.5mm Audio vs USB Type-C: Everything to Know

You’ll find a 3.5mm jack or USB Type-C interface in most audio devices these days. The 3.5mm jack has been ruling the audio market for years, and it remained the preferred choice of audiophiles throughout this time. But with the arrival of the USB Type-C back in the year 2014, everything changed.

Now, it’s hard to find a 3.5mm jack on most audio devices which has been the universal standard for decades. Even the latest iPhone 15 now features USB-C for connecting earbuds instead of Apple lightning jack.

So, what’s the main difference between a 3.5mm jack and a USB Type-C interface? We will discuss the good and the bad for both technologies in this guide.

3.5mm Audio vs USB Type-C

Let’s split the topic into different parts for better understanding.

Connection Type

The 3.5mm audio jack is an old technology, that uses analog signals for transmitting the audio data. This is the most simple and widely used method for audio transmission among devices. But there are higher chances of interference and the final audio output isn’t up to the full potential.

3.5mm Audio vs USB Type-C
Connection diagram

USB Type-C on the other hand, makes use of digital signals to transmit data. The Type-C interface has the potential to offer higher fidelity audio as there are fewer chances of interference or degradation. The use of digital connections in the Type-C interface results in enhanced audio and support for higher-resolution audio codecs.

Functionality

The 3.5mm audio jack is only limited to transmitting audio signals between two connected devices. So you can either use it for listening to audio or recording it with the help of a mic.

The type of data that the USB Type-C interface can transmit is not limited to audio only. It is a multi-connection interface that allows you to transfer your pictures, videos, and other useful content from one device to another device as well. You can also use a Type-C port for charging your smartphone, tablet, or any other compatible device.

Form-Factor

Although the 3-5mm audio jack is compact and thinner compared to the previous interfaces, it still runs deep into the device circuit consuming a bit of space on the circuit board. So, the devices that come with a 3.5mm jack are a bit bulkier than the ones that come with a USB Type-C interface.

the form factor comparison of 3.5mm and type-c port
As you can see, the 3.5mm port is bulkier than the Type-C port

The USB-C interface on the other hand is much more compact, smaller, and reversible than the 3.5mm jack interface. It’s reversible, which means you can connect your device either way. The smaller dimensions of the USB-C interface enable manufacturers to make thinner devices.

The fact that the USB Type-C interface is slimmer than the 3.5mm interface is because the DAC and other components have been moved from the phone to the headphones.

Additional Features

The devices that support a 3.5mm jack are limited when it comes to additional features. The most important of all is the noise-cancelling which is found in modern headphones or earbuds these days. As with devices that support a 3.5mm jack, you’ll hardly get access to these features.

One of the biggest reasons users are switching to Type-C interface is these useful additional features. With earbuds that support USB-C interface, it’s common to find features like Spatial Audio, Active Noise Cancellation, etc.

Power Draw

Typically, 3.5mm audio jacks do not consume any watts of power by themselves. Rather, these are passive connectors meant for transmitting audio signals between devices.

Type-C interface is able to draw power when connected to your smartphone, laptop, or any other compatible device.

The power draw in the Type-C interface depends upon the usage like data transfer, charging, etc. Similarly, a USB Type-C port is able to deliver power to connected devices if you want to charge them.

Drawbacks of USB Type-C Interface

Although there’s a lot to talk about, I won’t go into the technical details here. But where USB Type-C shines in many areas, it gets exposed to Clock Jitter.

A clock jitter is the deviation from the ideal timing of the clock signal. It can result from different factors, including electronic noise, signal reflections, or imperfections in the clock generation circuit.

Jitter is less common in modern devices equipped with USB Type-C interface. But there are higher chances of catching up when you try to connect devices that have poorly implemented USB circuits.

Though many modern devices are equipped with a USB Type-C interface, it’s hard to find earbuds that come with a native USB Type-C connector. All this means is that you will need a 3.5mm USB-C adapter to connect your device to USB-only phones.

3.5mm jack to USB Type-C converter diagram
diagram of 3.5mm jack to Type-C adapter

I’m using Xiaomi’s Poco F3 phone which doesn’t have a dedicated 3.5mm port for connecting headphones. In order to connect my earbuds, I have to use an adapter, which results in latency issues while listening to music to watching videos.

Another big concern is charging your phone while listening to music or calls on a phone that only supports USB Type-C. Surely, there’s no other slot than a USB Type-C slot to charge your phone or listen to music.

Type-C being a multifunctional interface, allows you to interact with only one task at a time. On the other hand, devices that come with a dedicated 3.5mm jack have a separate charging port, so you can do multitasking without any hassle.

Finally, when it comes down to headsets with dedicated USB-C connectors, not every one of them will provide you with the best audio. Some manufacturers cut out extra costs by using analogue SBU pins instead of advanced DACs, resulting in poor audio quality.

Drawbacks of 3.5mm Jack Interface

The 3.5mm being way older than the latest Type-C interface has a lot of disadvantages.

The first thing that I would mention is the limited functionality. Where the latest interfaces are capable of transferring images, video, and audio, and charging your device, the 3.5mm is limited to audio input/output.

Furthermore, the 3.5mm jack technology is susceptible to higher interference and signal degradation as compared to Type-C technology.

Also, headsets that come with a 3.5mm jack are more exposed to wear and tear over time. The audio jack may become loose over time, resulting in no or intermittent audio signals.

But these are the technical limitations that we have discussed before. The most concerning issue is that the 3.5mm interface is phasing out at a faster rate than ever. Manufacturers are going after advanced solutions like USB Type-C, Type-A, or Bluetooth for faster connectivity.

This phasing out of 3.5mm technology from the market is an alarm that soon it’s time to say goodbye to headsets or devices that support this technology. As this interface is being wiped out of the market, you will need to rely on the adapter to connect your device, which I’ve already discussed has a lot of technical issues.

Verdict: 3.5mm or USB Type-C

To be honest, both of these interfaces have their own pros and cons. I have used both of these, and I haven’t found a lot of difference. The only reason I would prefer going with a USB-C interface is because it’s multifunctional. USB Type-C allows you to transfer data, charge your phone, and even use it for display purposes.

Also, knowing that future devices won’t support 3.5mm jacks anymore, the only option you are left with is USB Type-C.

But here’s the Climax! With Bluetooth technology gaining more popularity in the past few years, users now prefer going with devices that they can connect using Bluetooth. And with the arrival of True Wireless Earbuds on the market, nobody cares about USB-C ports anymore.

I think people will prefer USB-C only for the reason that it supports fast charging and data transfer. When it comes down to audio, a lot of users have shifted to wireless earbuds or headphones.

What I believe is that the 3.5mm interface will remain in the market for a few more years before completely disappearing. And people will prefer buying devices equipped with USB Type-C for the sake of fast charging and data transfer, if not for connecting headsets.

As far as the audio is concerned, I think Bluetooth is taking over the 3.5mm and USB Type-C interface. What are your views about this? Let me know in the comments section!

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