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End of the headphone jack, rise of the audiophile

Everything I do revolves around music. It's always been this way — as a kid I would sit on the floor in my carpeted living room creating hours of mix tapes from my father's classic rock cassettes, returning to my bed to close my eyes and exist between two worlds.

As a teenager, I spent nearly all of my money on headphones, poring through the Head-Fi forums to discover the best possible combination of music source, headphone brand, and emotional state. I amassed a collection of over-the-ear closed headphones and in-ear monitors, of custom amplifiers, DACs and cables. I paid attention to everything, and nothing was good enough. As I approached college and moved into a tiny dorm room, my headphone collection got sold to pay for textbooks and expensive coffee, for first dates and, inevitably, other technology. Though the iPod certainly catalyzed my regression to lower-quality portable audio, it was a confluence of factors that caused me to leave that addictive, expensive world behind.

I spent a long time building a collection of expensive audio equipment only to sell it and start all over again 15 years later.

That itch stayed dormant until a couple of years ago. I re-purchased a pair of headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT770, that I had worn so much as a teenager, the damn things had fallen apart; to push them, I dusted off a solid-state headphone amplifier that had been sitting in storage for over a decade.

But like the multitudinous reasons I left behind audiophilia in the early 2000s, the itch that caused me to re-up on a devastatingly expensive hobby has its roots in my current job, in reviewing phones. For so long — and I largely blame Apple for this — it was the "headphones in the box" appeal that made it useful to plug those recognizable white earbuds into the standard 3.5mm jack. The thin sound wasn't necessarily good, but unless someone was curating a collection of high-quality MP3s, either ripped from an increasingly-ignored CD collection, or downloaded legitimately (or otherwise) from a trusted site, the returns on spending much more than a few dollars on a pair of nice headphones were largely wasted.

I'm not going to pretend that no one used good headphones between the years of 2001 and 2016 — that would be absurd. Of course high-quality equipment was popular and, in many cases, ubiquitous in the right circles. Lossless music files offset the potential inconveniences in leaving behind physical media for the digital. And wireless headphones, an expensive pipe dream when I was growing up, began sounding pretty good, even at prices 15-year-old me wouldn't have balked at.

The iPod made it easy to carry thousands of songs in your pocket, and just as easy to forget what music was supposed to sound like.

But, ironically, the slow death of the headphone jack has, if not facilitated a resurgence in high-end equipment itself, brought the importance of quality components back into the conversation. Phones like the LG V30, Sony Xperia XZ1 and HTC U11 emphasize high-quality DACs and powerful amps as they would impressive cameras and multi-day battery life. The market is also being divided into those companies retaining the classic 3.5mm (Samsung, LG, Sony) and those that aren't (Apple, Google, HTC).

For the most part, I use wired headphones at home and wireless on the go. Given how often I change devices, I can't take for granted that a favorite pair of earbuds will work with the phone in my pocket, nor that I can remember to stuff one of the dozen dongles I've accumulated since the Moto Z shipped with one in the summer of 2016.

I also don't stress too much about sound quality when I'm mobile; as I've grown older, I've come to accept that, unless I am actively reviewing a composition, music is for listening, not scrutinizing. As long as the Bluetooth connection is solid, the seal in my ears good, and the quality good enough to keep me engaged, I don't much care if they're $24 Ankers or $350 Sonys. Of course, the more expensive they are, the more I'm able to appreciate the subtleties in my favorite recordings, and the better the sound displacement, the less I am distracted by the outside world.

One of those great expensive headphones is from a new-ish company trying to compete with Sony and Bose in North America. The $350 FIIL IICONs (pronounced "Fill Icons") are big, plastic, and unabashedly simple, but they have some of the best sound I've ever heard from a pair of wireless headphones. An accompanying app lets you tweak equalizer settings and adjust the intensity of the excellent active noise cancellation, too, which is nice, and a gesture area on the right earcup can adjust volume and switch tracks.

These days, I care more about how easy it is to listen to music for a long time than how good that music sounds.

I've also discovered — and stay with me here — neckbuds. I had largely dismissed the design after receiving and immediately hating a pair of LG Tone headphones from the G4 launch event in 2015, but I heard such good things about the 2017 refresh that I picked up a pair of the sub-$100 Tone Infinims and immediately fell in love. Neckbuds take the pressure off your head and ears by resting most of the equipment around the neck. They sound great, have easy-to-use controls and, most importantly, are incredibly comfortable to wear for long periods.

I've also thoroughly enjoyed testing and comparing the $129 Fitbit Flyer and Jaybird X3 headphones, which I've employed during my workouts to great effect. Unfortunately, I seem to have a weirdly-shaped left ear and can't get a solid seal with either of them despite multiple sizes of tip, wing, and flange.

There's also the V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless, which are currently my favorite wired and wireless headphone alike. At home, they stay in my solid-state amp hooked into my MacBook Pro, and are superb on trips and in places active noise cancellation isn't necessary.

And, finally, I just indulged and bought myself a pair of dream headphones: the Sennheisher HD600s. Sort of. These are a custom-built version of those venerable open-back headphones from Massdrop, a company that works with brands to deliver improved or modified versions of existing audiophile products. Back when I was 15, all I wanted was a pair of HD600s, but they were way too expensive, and I didn't have the equipment necessary to drive them properly. Now, a bit older with a fuller bank account — well, here goes nothing.

Here are a couple other things to keep in mind this week.

  • The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL launch on Thursday — can't believe it's only four days away. These phones intrigue me, and I can't wait to see whether they live up to their lofty expectations.
  • The hardware bug that led to the permanent disabling of the Google Home Mini's top touch area is unfortunate, but won't hurt sales. It's just a silly, silly thing that could have been avoided.
  • I think I'm finally getting closer to thinking about maybe kind of buying a VR headset.
  • This, from Disney, is an amazing accomplishment. Kudos.
  • You'll be able to read about it tomorrow, but I really, really like the Sony Xperia XZ1. So does Andrew.
  • This week's podcast was really good, and addresses a number of important topics around privacy, security, and beer.
  • 🙄
  • 🤔

👋

-Daniel

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

66 Comments
  • Your custom amp and HD600s will bring you back to the dark side. Also, you are awesome and totally should be listening to great music with great equipment :)
  • Except the Massdrop 6XX's are based on the 650's, and not the 600's. :) Edit: The only custom part is the color and model number. The rest is IDENTICAL, which is why they were such a steal when they launched (and still are).
  • Also, i totally want a Bottlehead Crack to go with mine....
  • I had to resist when Daniel showed me earlier this week (been staying off Massdrop because I have no willpower). Sinking every extra penny into my other addiction in the garage. Dad finally gave me his Vette and I have to touch every piece and buy all the things :P
  • ONE HOBBY AT A TIME JERRY lol I really want a DAC that does MQA with the BHC. I think that would be heaven. But also $$$$
  • The first part sounds like my wife :P Doesn't Sony's new Walkman (the crazy cheap $800 one) use MQA (and DSD/PCM)? If so, buy it and buy the BHC kit to build yourself. You'd be set for like $1,100
  • Yes, as does the Onkyo and Pioneer. Meridian and Audioquest are also reasonably priced DAC's but don't have the right output.
  • I wouldn't bother wasting time or money worrying about MQA, it's just another proprietary money-grab. It's also ultimately a lossy codec, so while I can see why it's useful for streaming where bandwidth is limited, it still seems that ultimately you'd want a lossless format if you're really concerned about quality
  • If I had to guess I would bet you've never actually heard it. At least not in a proper setup. While I don't care for proprietary solutions, better is better. MQA is better. If I have the choice to have it or not (and I DO have that choice) I would rather have it. Even if it means I miss out on awesome stuff like the Jotunheim and other Schitt products.
  • Have you heard it in a proper setup where you could A/B it volume matched against the same master in another format?
  • Yes (at least to the best of my knowledge they were from the same master). And so have people that are for more knowledgeable/experienced about audio than I am. I'm no expert, but everything I've read about WHY it sounds better makes a whole lot of sense.
  • There are also many knowledgeable people who are skeptical of it. I've heard a short demo, but nothing I'd trust 100% to be honest. We'll see how it develops
  • And many people that used to be skeptical actually took the time to get a proper demo and changed their minds. I get the proprietary argument and agree with most of it. But that doesn't take away from the performance.
  • EVEN BETTER!
  • What I'm curious about is whether you've had audio dropouts with headphones like the Bose QC35s when out & about. It happens occasionally with mine and is a bit annoying, but otherwise I love having no wires when portable. I find at home I'm not using headphones much when listening to music, as my home theatre system handles that for me. Admittedly I could do with a better audio setup at home, but haven't decided what to get yet.
  • I have dropouts with my MDR-1000X, but only in a crowd, and only when facing a certain direction.
  • For me it's usually somewhat busy streets; maybe car Bluetooth systems interfere with the connection or something.
  • Thought it was just me haha. I live downtown and have noticed this too.
  • I don't see much on the subject - one issue, unless I'm totally mistaken, is having to choose (as I'm unwilling to replace existing wired headphones /buds) between charging my devices or listening to them. I just don't see a scenario that I'd move to a device without a jack.
  • Keeping my 2016 Pixel until it explodes, and this is why. The audio on it isn't great (in fact it sucks as bad as most every other phone) but my well-worn and comfy Sonys plug into the hole God intended them to plug into. If I need something better I just toss the V10 into my bag.
  • There are a few headphones that can pipe music through their micro-USB port, so a USB-C to micro-USB cable would work in those cases. Not that that excuses the lack of a 3.5mm jack.
  • What headphones do that?
  • Off the top of my head, I know the Sennheiser PXC-550 and Momentum 2 Wireless do because I used both of those last year. The new B&W PX headphones do as well through their USB-C port. So it's mostly on more expensive sets.
  • Interesting. I wasn't aware that they could function as, essentially, a self contained USB DAC.
  • Being a audiophile was lost long a go, compressed audio, mp3, digital, small little speakers, all gone. Move on people. It's not the end of the world. It's a world of convenience, been that way for a long time.
  • It's not lost at all. In fact, it's making a huge comeback. And not just with headphones.
  • Nothing convenient about having Bluetooth earbuds die at the worst time or having one more thing to charge at night.
  • hey go to college
  • I have Terabytes of hard drive space and a box filled with spare Russian vacuum tubes that says differently :)
  • Wav/FLAC take loads of space!!! But I will say, to this day, I still love the sound of vinyl
  • I hope that it being sarcastic, if not I have lost all respect for you.
  • The mere existence of "mp3" hasn't accelerated the decline of "audiophiles"... If everyone who considered themselves an "audiophile" had to take a listening test to distinguish even 192 kbps mp3 from lossless there would be no audiophiles left.
  • 192 would be easy! So would 128, but 256 bps might give the typical listener a bit of trouble.
    For some reason, 192 kbps seems to color the bass, so if I HAVE to drop the bit rate, I prefer 128 kbps to avoid the colorization.
  • I don't know about you guys but I don't want a constant wire dangling from my ears, and having to tuck that wire underneath my shirt (inconvenient) or having it free wave where it could get snatched by any immobile object (inconvenient). Its why I never cared for wired earbuds. Bluetooth, I just feel a lot more free to do what I want.
  • I don't know about you guys but I don't want a constant wire dangling from my ears, and having to tuck that wire underneath my shirt (inconvenient) or having it free wave where it could get snatched by any immobile object (inconvenient). Its why I never cared for wired earbuds. Bluetooth, I just feel a lot more free to do what I want.
  • I don't want one more gizmo to charge, that will fall dead regularly while I'm using it, that costs more or sounds worse, and is less reliable and less comfy to use.
    Also, I like FM radio on my phones, and that uses the wired headset as antenna.
  • I pretty much never have a problem with my Bluetooth headphones being dead. Jaybird X3s. I love them, and I definitely hate having to deal with wires.
  • I don't think most people who actually use Bluetooth headphones deal too much with that issue...I think it's more of the ppl who don't use them but made up in their mind that a problem exist
  • So you mean you were FORCED to use wired earphones before they were ditched? And here I was thinking that you could as well CHOOSE to use Bluetooth ones instead.
  • This is why asymmetric/J-cords (aka. "round-the-neck" style wires) were superior to symmetric/Y-cords on earbuds/IEMs. Yes, there was still a wire. But with a J-cord you had only a single free-hanging wire and it sat off to the side of your body (conveniently aligned with pockets). Plus the loop behind your neck kept the weight from or any strain on the wire off the earbuds, meaning you could tuck excess cable in your pocket so it wasn't dangling loosely without the risk of pulling the buds from your ears when you moved around. The J-cord design also minimized noise transfer through the cable, because there was very little movement in the short lengths of wire connected directly to the earbuds. Whereas with Y-cords you have all the weight/strain from the wire on your earbuds/ears, meaning you need to keep some slack in the main length of wire; i.e. you *have* to leave it dangling loosely in front of you. Moreover, the "Y" itself is perfectly designed to catch on *everything*, and it dangles directly down the center of your body, the most inconvenient position possible. It also means Y-cords are noisy as hell, as every little body or head movement causes the cable to tug on or brush against some item of clothing, transferring noise directly into the earbuds. Unfortunately the J-cord has mostly gone the way of the dodo. Apple and their iconic white Y-cord earbuds made the headphone cable a fashion statement. Everybody wanted that white cable front and center when they were listening to their iPod/iPhone in public. (Particularly Apple for the subliminal advertising.) J-cords are inherently less intrusive and less obvious, so clearly that was less than ideal for people wanting to pose. You can kinda-sorta emulate a J-cord with some Y-cord earbuds, but they need a cable of sufficient length (many Y-cord earbuds are made too short) and ideally the need extra features such as Y-length adjustment (to avoid massive cable loops beneath your ears) and a clothing clip (to help prevent the cable from slipping from your neck, since Y-cords don't have the asymmetric weighting that kept J-cords in place behind your neck). It never works as well as an actual J-cord though and is a lot more fuss to arrange.
  • One thing I've really enjoyed about having Oreo that past two days has been the new LDAC codec. I have last year's Sony MDR-1000X headphones and with LDAC enabled on my phone music sounds as good as it does with a Dragonfly Black DAC and 3.5mm cable. I did run into some really bad interference when I was using my paper shredder earlier, though.
  • I love the MDR 1000x headphones. They are my favorite Bluetooth headphones I've purchased so far. I still look at a high end headphones as well that are wired but have no idea what to even look for as far as features etc.
  • Honestly, the only thing I would change about the headphones is I'd swap the micro-USB port for USB-C so I can use the same charger that I do with my phone. Other than that, they're perfect (for me).
  • When you’re listening to FLACs.... ....on $5 earbuds Me in a nutshell
  • Well, that's better than buying $2000.00 headphones to use only with a cellphone!
    I actually bought a $2 set of headphone on a flight because I forgot mine. They sounded wonderful! No, actually they were painful to wear and sounded so bad that I wanted to set them on fire... while their designer was wearing them!
  • I wish they made that same case for the pixel 2, ugh.
  • I was thankful to find Bowers & Wilkins P9 headphones as an item I could redeem with airmiles... Sure, a tonne of airmiles... But worth it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have spent $1000 on them. That said, the P9s are exceptionally durable, and a joy to listen to. I've never used ear buds to listen to music... The sound is bad and I don't think they are good for your hearing. Yes, I once owned the top Beats headphones... The ear pads fell apart... Awful. Back to ear buds... What a lot of people don't realise is that due to their popularity, music recording engineers began to push more mid range sound on records because that range is what sounds best in ear buds. Kids will buy more music that sounds good... And mid range sounds best in ear buds. I'm not a fan of yet more batteries that wireless headphones require. I don't believe for an instant there is a rational argument to end the headphone jack in phones... To save one mm? The thin phone mantra is another topic, and a concept taken too far. Ie. I'll trade 3-4mm for substantial cell phone battery use gain. LOL, where is the environmental crowd? Yet more chargeable batteries? C'mon.
  • "music recording engineers began to push more mid range sound on records because that range is what sounds best in ear buds" No, we don't. And, midrange is dominant on cheap ear buds because that's what you get from cheap dynamic elements.
    We actually don't use headphones in the recording studio control room. In the studio itself for the artists to use, yes, but not for the engineers or producer. We use high powered main speakers which are built to accurately reproduce the full audio spectrum, including subsonics. Headphones are used to make sure the mix still sounds ok when downgraded to headphones and boomboxes.
  • Sounds expensive!!
  • "Nothing convenient about having Bluetooth earbuds die at the worst time or having one more thing to charge at night." This is exactly what's wrong with OEM's removing headphone jacks. I don't care how good wireless sound may become as long as I have to worry about my headphones/earbuds running out of juice. Wired headphones rule now and always and Quad-DACS should be standard equipment on all Flagship smartphones.
  • My setup: Headphone: Audeze LCD XC upgraded to carbon fiber headband DAC AMP: Centrance HiFi M8 CABLE: 2 meter pure silver strands in XLR balanced connector Source: FLAC 16/24/32 bit USB audio. 24 and 32 bit are difficult to find unless you rip them yourselves. Portable. Powerful. Convenient. Customizeable. Utilitarian. Yes it is addicting chasing the latest high and eek out the best performance combo. Took many months of research. The only thing that can satisfy me now is probably STAX.
  • How old are you that you were frequenting internet forums when you were a teenager?
  • I'd like to see you and Jerry work further on this subject. He recently did the aptX and aptX HD article. Guess there's an LDAC article coming soon. Have not jumped on the Bluetooth bandwagon as yet. Still sporting wired IEM's; Etymotic Research HF5's and HiFiMan 400a's. I've come to appreciate the audiophile advice of ljokerl from over at TheHeadphoneList. I enjoy the neutral, under $150-ish range. I keep hoping HiFiMan or Etymotic would come out with aptX HD IEM's, or someone similar. Don't follow too closely, but would love to see something happen soon. I guess I'm about ready to move over to wireless.
  • Really dug this week's podcast, Andrew's spot on the PNW beer scene, it's amazing and I'm grateful I live here just about every time I grab a beer with a buddy. I've been curious to find if there's anything I would say sounds better than the Sennheiser Momentum 2's. Daniel you've piqued my interest with those Fiil Iicon's hmmm. I'm actually kind of excited for USB C Audio taking over, hear me out. Since it's purely digital to digital once we get hardware that can actually go C to C without the need for a dongle we've progressed beyond needing that on the fly mid signal change D to A conversion. I think that'll open up things a bit once adoption actually happens, but only time will tell.
  • i keep forgetting to recharge my bluetooth head phones, ending up not able to listen each time i go somewhere. so 3.5mm is no help so we dont need it at all? funny.
  • The audio drivers in Android lag too much, getting rid of the jack makes this problem even bigger.
  • Hmm....never had that issue
  • OF course if you only listen to music you will never have an issue. If I never ride motorbikes I will never have a motorbike accident.
  • Can't stand low end audio, i use AT E50 with K1 DAC and its brutally awesome 😀
  • You know I’m not the best judge of miniscule differences in sound. But for the most part, there’s definitely a difference between a $5 pair of headphones to... say $30+ I bought some Tao Tronics bluetooth and the sound is crap(distorted), the mic is crap(no one can hear me unless I scream). A $10 pair of Sony...audio is very low. But Sony at high-end sound better for sure. I’ve tried the Bose at stores and they’re arguably some of the most comfortable. Anyways I only have a couple of headphones I use. A wireless Logitech for gaming, which used to work great until it didn’t...started dropping connection. Then I have some wired Sonys that I use when I go on trips. Plus the Tao tronics ones that I’m afraid may zap me on that one occasion I use them.
  • Y'all gonna review the Pioneer Granbeat?
  • Meh. Google told me I shouldn't want to use an SD card in my phone for years. For years I have been happily using an SD card. As google tracks more and more like Apple, employing more and more customer unfriendly policies, I'm content that other companies will continue to provide quality alternatives that are less customer hostile.
  • The Bluetooth audio spec hasn't changed in 13 years. So the fidelity of the signal it's able to carry hasn't changed let alone improved either. In fact nothing about the standard for BT has changed in that time. It's still horrid. Seemingly it always will be unless and until someone stomps it dead and replaces it with something else. My Jabra headset is a step in the right direction because it tweaks the BT stack a bit an improves it. But it's a one off AND it specifically will NOT work with a PC, only a phone unless you get another dongle that costs as much as the headset to get that to work with your PC.
  • Have you ever heard of AptX, AptX lossless or AptX low latency etc.? Most laptops comes with only a BT-data-driver installed. But if you track down the BT-audio-driver for your laptops BT-chipset and install it yourself, your headphones will work like a charm!!! That has been true on all laptops I ever owned or supported... Your BT-statement and the statement " WiFi IEEE 802.11a-1999 hasen't changed for 18 years" are equally true - luckily in both cases some new standards have taken their place :-)
  • Im not sure i can take a guy serious that doesn't know how to spell a very expensive set of headphones. Such as the Sennheiser 600 HDs..
    Im also not feeling much excitement about the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 xl Since the Pixel 2 is just a smaller version of the HTC U11 with a slight upgrade in camera. Plus I THINK the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL are positively UGLY especially compared to my blue HTC U11.
    i like Sony , but until they get face recognition perfected [Without a fingerprint scanner] Im not interested. I seriously considered the Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra 6" Factory Unlocked Phone but no stereo speakers and huge bezels.
  • Warning: Long post! Thanks Daniel, you have reawakened my interest, and the family room has been rearranged so I can setup the big system once again. Fortunately, the prototype speakers were elsewhere when we had our big house fire years ago, but I lost just about everything else. This included my turntables, records, home mixer, and my beloved original Harman Kardon amp. The setup I'll be using (when I get it all out of the trailer in the garage), will likely be my rack mounted Mackie 1604 VLZ for analog inputs, my old Sony CD player in the rack with the effects and compressors (used for vocals when I do small live events), and an old Ross MegaAmp 800. That amp is nice and warm sounding, and actually delivered an impressive 732 watts RMS (if I recall correctly) when we measured it at the lab. Downside is that it is convection cooled with no fans, which makes it quiet, but thermal soak becomes a problem if you leave it on all day. I do have a collection of Crown microtechs (1200 and 2400 watt), but they are noisy. I use stacked Mackie FR1400's for shows because of the features and being clean, but they sound cold even when the bass cutoffs are disabled. Speakers are DDAC's (of course!): certified at 2,816 watts RMS with zero distortion. Since the fire, my collection is all digital, and I prefer original CD's which I rip myself. Second choice is Amazon music because you can download the music and play it with whatever player you want. Last choice is Google Play Music because it's like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're gonna get! Some are pretty good, some are crap. I have songs from the same artist where one song is fine and another sounds like it was recorded off an iPod. Last week I bought an album off the Play store that was bootleg, and Google refunded my money 15 seconds after I complained. Two things stand out to me on bad digital music: Poor dynamic range, and awful frequency response. For mobile music on the go, I held onto the HTC M8 for three years, and had to move on eventually. The U11 makes an admirable replacement, and although the adapter is an inconvenience, at least it offers one of the cleanest audio audio experiences on a smartphone. You know what is NOT an inconvenience? Charging. It's been four months of HARD use, and not once have I had to charge my phone while listening to headphones. 28 hours average battery life per charge, and there's only 24 hours in a day. Some people have exceptions and listen to music while sleeping, and I know some who use GPS for long trips, and I understand that. For the majority of the rest of us, the problem of not charging while listening is only a hypothetical scenario. Something that Daniel brought out in the article is casual listening versus critical listening (or scrutinizing, as he put it). There are times when quality takes a back seat to situations or material, and our expectations are set accordingly. I kept the earpods from my last iPhone. Not because they sound good (because they don't), but because they are comfortable and don't sound distracting. I can have the music as a background track and forget about it when I need to concentrate on something. This is something you cannot do with with some headphones where the experience is too immersive. It's funny that I obsessed over the 3.5 mm headphone jack with the U11 versus the M8. I spent days comparing them side by side and back to back until I concluded the DAC in the adapter was actually better that a lot of built-in jacks, even if it was a hair short of the M8. Then after two or three days of this, I decided "Hey, may as well check out the free ones in the box". I felt like a car tuner who just spent days tuning his sport compact, and was satisfied with the results... Until a friend picks him up and shows him ludacris mode on his Tesla. If you have already experienced USonic, you know what I'm talking about, but if not, strap yourself in and hang on baby! A few minutes ago I was listening to the remastered version of "Roundabout" by Yes, and I had to stop and take off the headphones because it felt like Steve Howe's arm was going to bump my face. I can't concentrate on work with an experience that intense, but put me in a room where I can sit back or lay down and get lost in the music, and I'm gone. Bluetooth. For me, it works well for casual listening, and my Jaybird X3's sound pretty good. I do not get dropouts during music, but I do get lots of disconnects and reconnects during phone calls. Odd, and that is why I don't use the Jaybirds for important phone calls. I also HAD a pair of Jam Transit on-ear headphones, which are very "fun" sounding with good bass extension. People keep borrowing them and not giving them back, so the last ones were the 4th pair I've bought. Accurate? Not in the least! Comfortable? Not unless you like wearing a C-clamp on your head! But they were still fun on occasion. I use Bluetooth in the car because it's really convenient to control your phone through the car's head unit, and the audio quality is adequate for the purpose. I'm not going to sit up and notice if a guitarist changes his pick in mid song, but it's decent. Six Kickers and a custom sub with external amp make for solid sound, and I can still plug in using the aux jack, but I lose all the functionality of BT. Regarding USB C audio in general, specification 3.0 allows for analog audio over the sub pins, but I don't know of any devices that actually uses it that way. The normal setup is to use the USB C digital output from the jack. This means that anything you plug into the jack will require a DAC, whether it be headphones or line outputs or adapters. The good news is that you can get a really great DAC and it's limited by the source material, not the phone itself. A simple setup with great results is a Dragonfly Red plugged directly in using a Dragontail. Say hello to 2.1 volt power output levels and claimed -130 dB noise floor. I say claimed because the sound of electrons moving through a conductor is -128 dB, so it's technically impossible to go below that except on paper. The typical configuration for smartphones themselves, however, is to utilize only the digital USB C output, and this means that the DAC will be external to the phone. It may be in the USB C plug of the accessory itself, or in a line module, or for headphones it may very well be in with the rest of the components in the earpiece. The location may vary, but at some point the digital stream will need to be converted to analog and fed into an amplifier stage which powers the headphone drivers. Interestingly, the analog sound waves produced by the headphones hit your tympanic membrane, and physically move it, and that movement is transmitted through the malleus, incus, and stapes to the cochlea, and converted to… bioelectric signals! It would be quite a trip to have a device that could bypass the whole digital to analog / analog to bioelectric process, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for THAT!