An ode to the audio jack as an engineering marvel


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/01/31/an-ode-to-the-audio-jack-as-an.html


#2

This is why I’m holding onto 6s. I’d rather pay for new batteries until they stop offering security updates than “upgrade”. Hopefully by the time that happens they’ll have wised up… seriously considering making my next phone a dumb phone if they don’t wise up by then.


#3

The only marvel here is that anyone would eliminate such a useful and standardized interface from a general-purpose device. I can’t imagine buying a thing that produces sounds without a headphone jack on it.


#5

This reminds me of this one guy giving a talk he called “the coming war on general purpose computing” kindof about this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUEvRyemKSg


#6

If the same function is reproducing audio, please explain how it is better.

Perhaps your and my idea of efficient differ. It seems to me that a digital interface introduces complexity which is counter to the idea of efficiency.


#7

Lightning (or USB) ports are able to reproduce audio with better fidelity and with channels for things like surround sound if needed. They’re also able to carry charging signal which analog audio ports can’t do.


#8

I don’t have Square, but I do have a PayPal card reader. I will never forget the first time I signed in to the PayPal app while listening to a podcast through earbuds… the app recognized that there was something plugged into the jack and tried to talk to it, resulting in an ear-splitting screech.

Except I lied when I said “I will never forget”, because I’ve actually done it twice more since then. D’OH!


#9

The lightning port does not reproduce audio at all. It can send a digital signal to a set of headphone and if those headphones have a very high quality DAC it may outperform the DAC on your phone which normally sends an analog signal to a headphone jack. This is not a function of the port being better but rather a function of spending more money on a set of headphones with a DAC of higher quality than the one which may be included with your phone. In other words, the port has nothing at all to do with the quality of the audio. The quality of the audio is a function of the quality of the DAC being used and in the case of the lightening port that’s whatever DAC your headphones have.


#10

Any device with an onboard speaker can be tapped for an audio port, until such time as audio jacks are banned as “piracy paraphernalia” (the rolling papers of sound).


#11

Can you operationalize “better”? I’m having trouble understanding how a new port, which necessitates purchasing new equipment and locks out 3rd party devices is “better”.


#12

Yes, the standard audio jack can transfer both digital or analog signals with 100% fidelity, so it’s vastly superior to the digital-only ports @nunguesser mentioned.

We will be able to use an audio jack for data formats not yet invented, because it’s a simpler, more elegant solution than most connectors.


#14

Good point. An analog output jack can send a digital signal to a set of headphones with a built in DAC providing exactly the same experience you would get with a lightening jack with all the benefits mentioned by @nunguesser such as multiple channels, post signal amplification, etc etc etc and still be able to read a magnetic stripe, send audio to cheap and simple earbuds and all the other things the old port can do which the new port cannot. But there is the inline charging. So I guess that’s it. You get no better audio that an analog port can do, you get no more channels, you loose a lot of functionality and you trade all of that for inline charging.

You accept that your experience is subjective, may be entirely a function of your earbuds, that cost of an earbud is not an indicator of quality, and that there is no objective measure for which a digital audio port can produce better sound right?


#17

Not at all. I was actually trying to give you an out so you could save face.


#19

I’m not trying to do anything of the sort. I am attempting to have a discussion about a port. If my assertions somehow embarrass you then you should look towards yourself.
You could have saved face by simply accepting that your experience is a subjective one and should not be used as a reason why one port type is better than the other but you refused to do so and instead doubled down. That’s not on me friend. That’s all you.


#21

You are entitled to your own opinions my friend. You are not entitled to your own facts.


#22

No. No it is not. Needing a device that requires charging to transport audio is not better or more efficient. Modern surface-mount headphone jacks occupy about .25 cubic centimeters on the board, less if you are going for the smallest possible part. They can add whatever the hell bluetooth or NFC stuff they want, but removing the headphone jack in order to save a nickel worth of parts and a cubic centimeter of enclosure space isn’t progress, it’s a way to force people to buy more shit.

And all that bluetooth is doing? It’s sending data packets to your headphones, and that means adhering to standards. Those standards include things like SBC, and lots of the ubiquitous bluetooth accessories available ONLY support this. Bluetooth wasn’t created for audio quality, it was invented for telephony and we only added the entertainment elements later. The fancy hardware in your iPhone might support a billion different audio CODECs, but with Bluetooth you get this: MPEG 1 & 2 Audio (MP2 and MP3), MPEG 3 & 4 (AAC), ATRAC, and aptX.

Ripped those files as FLAC because you care about audio quality? Too bad, once it hits the Bluetooth stack it’s going to be transcoded and compressed into whatever format your sink supports. If that sink only supports SBC because you bought a 20 dollar pair of headphones (or an overpriced pair of name-brand headphones that only manages to look nice) then the quality of the files and the DAC capabilities of your SRC mean squat. You’ll get FM-radio broadcast quality at best.

You’ll also notice that the list of CODECs above is pretty weak when it comes to lossless offerings. There’s MPEG4 listed, but not specifically MPEG4-ALS, no FLAC, no Ogg-Vorbis. There’s AptX but that’s proprietary, and only offers better performance versus other communication modes, not true lossless, and both SRC and sink need to support it.

An audio jack, on the other hand? decode->DAC->your ears. Want to run it into your $7000 home audio setup? Just plug it in, no loss of fidelity. Over Bluetooth? Almost guaranteed that there will be some kind of reduction in quality, even if I use “high end” Bluetooth gear because Bluetooth is a standard, you might get more features, you might get nicer speakers, but at the end of the day Bluetooth is a low-power, lossy, narrowband communication system. It’s pretty great for a lot of stuff, but it WILL reduce audio fidelity, the severity of which depends source material and sink’s capabilities. At the end of the day, all sound is analog. We have amazing digital audio technologies, but Bluetooth isn’t one, and the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone was 100% about making more money for Apple at the expense of functionality.

And good god before you bring up Lightning dongles: That is a teensy-tiny little DAC chip stuck in the connector that goes to a plain-as-rain audio jack. You are literally plugging the parts missing from your phone into the ass-end of your phone and saying, “look! it’s better!”

It’s not.


#23

I had no idea I was wading into a religious conversation about ports.

I’m withdrawing all posts and opinions and I apologize. Have a nice day, folks.


#24

I have repeatedly asked for someone to show me the results of listening tests that prove this, yet I have seen nothing even in my own searches. Therefore I have to conclude that this claim fails to pass my marketing bullshit filter.


#25

Yep - when it was phone upgrade time I got an iphone six because the seven was missing just about the most important component. I can always shit to android when it dies I guess…


#26

‘Shit to Android’ would be a great band name. :grin: