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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Don’t Bother With USB-C Headphones (For Now)

The headphone jack is fast disappearing from high-end phones and even bigger devices like the new iPad Pro. So it’s time to head out and get a decent pair of USB-C headphones, right? Not so fast.

Unlike the accommodating analog port that’s been around for decades, getting audio out of a USB-C port alone requires a little digital finagling. And that’s a problem, because digital formats are more complex, and all too often incompatible.

While there are a few sets of headphones on the market with a USB-C port, they’re generally of pretty middling to poor quality, unlike some of the options available for Apple’s similar Lightning port. Between a poor selection and poor compatibility, they’re just not worth bothering with, at least until the market settles on a more reliable standard.

The Selection Sucks

Your fancy new phone might come with a pair of USB-C headphones as a sort of apology for being incompatible with all the other ones you already have. If it does, hang on to them. Odds are that you’re not going to find a better pair any time soon.

While there are a handful of vendors of USB-C headphones on Amazon on the like, there are precious few options from reliable manufacturers… most of whom seem more interested in selling Lightning-equipped headphones, if they want to go for a non-analog option at all. Google sells a set of wired Pixel buds for its phones and Chromebook laptops, and they’re reasonable at $30. Ditto for HTC, OnePlus, and Xiaomi. But beyond that, your choices get progressively slimmer, especially if you don’t care for in-ear buds.

Razer sells a pair of USB-C “Hammerhead” buds, which are poorly-reviewed even if you do like the lime green color and gamer branding. JBL makes a set of buds called the Reflect Aware C, but they’re not even being sold anymore—and perhaps that’s for the best, since users say they had a nasty habit of simply dying. The best choice for a premium set of USB-C buds appears to be the Libratone Q Adapt, which sport hardware noise cancellation in multiple levels. But $120 is a lot to pay for a pair of wired headphones that only work with one of your gadgets.

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