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Will your expensive new headphones soon be obsolete?

27/01/2015 by Sharon Shahzad


The jack plug was designed centuries ago to route telephone calls at switchboards, so it should be no surprise that mobile phones will soon drop it. But many will be left holding expensive and obsolete headphones.

They’re a staple even on cutting-edge smartphones, televisions and Hi-Fis, but the jack plug was invented back in the 19th century to route phone calls. 

Has any technical standard ever lasted as long?

Despite their age, it will still come as a shock when they disappear into obsolescence. Especially to those people who have just bought an expensive pair of headphones.

The original design was 1/4in in diameter, which is still used on electric guitars, but it shrank to 3.5mm for headphones. It’s showing its age, though, and even the smaller sockets are now hindering the gradual de-thickening of mobile phones. Which is why they’ll soon be replaced.

There are basically two main ecosystems for mobile phones today: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Both of them are well on their way to ditching the 3.5mm socket altogether.

At its developer conference last year, during a talk on designing accessories for the iPad and iPhone, Apple announced it was working on headphones which connect via the Lightning port. That odd, proprietary socket which replaced the original 30-pin iPod connector now provides audio as well as power.

Philips was first to develop a pair: the Fidelio M2L. So, just when you thought Apple couldn’t be any more of a walled garden, there now exist headphones which only work on its devices.

Perhaps it was a deliberate measure by Apple to not be the first to launch such a product through its recently acquired Beats brand, in order to avoid the same accusations of profiteering which cropped up when it dropped 30-pin connectors for Lightning. Certainly, much of Beats’ $3bn price tag could be recouped if every iPhone owner bought a new set of Lightning-equipped headphones.

The latest version of Google’s Android operating system, known as Lollipop, also includes support for USB audio. This is effectively the same thing as Apple’s new feature, but with a universal USB plug rather than proprietary connector.

What do these features mean for audio? Unlike a traditional headphone wire, which carries the analogue signals produced by a chip inside the phone, the new headphones will take digital audio and convert it to an analogue signal only when it reaches the speakers next to the ear.

In theory, if you buy decent headphones, this will provide better quality: not only will that DAC (digital to analogue converter) likely be better quality, but there will be less degradation along the wire thanks to digital error correction.

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Montash is a multi-award winning global technology recruitment business. Specialising in permanent and contract positions across mid-senior appointments across a wide range of industry sectors and IT functions, including:

ERP Recruitment, BI & Data Recruitment, Information Security Recruitment, IT Architecture & Strategy Recruitment , Energy Technology Recruitment, Demand IT and Business Engagement Recruitment, Digital and E-commerce Recruitment, Leadership Talent, Infrastructure and Service Delivery Recruitment, Project and Programme Delivery Recruitment.

Montash is headquartered in Old Street, London, in the heart of the technology hub. Montash has completed assignments in over 30 countries and has appointed technical professionals from board level to senior and mid management in permanent and contract roles.

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