Thursday, August 18, 2016

Smartphone headphone jacks going away

Rumors flying about the Internet claim that the Apple iPhone 7 will have no headphone jack. So iPhone 7 buyers, be prepared to pry open your wallet for either new headphones, or an adapter.

And Android users...quit laughing at the iPhone users. You're probably next to lose a headphone jack. (Indeed, at least one Android phone has no headphone jack today.)

The reality is that the headphone jack will be going bye-bye on phones sooner rather than later. No headphone jack can mean thinner phones. No headphone jack could also good for the phone battery—the battery could probably be smaller and yet keep the phone powered longer.

And it's argued that audiophiles could benefit. Digitally connected headphones might sound considerably better than similar headphones powered from a headphone jack. Headphones won't be at the mercy of the limited headphone jack power, or “it was on sale when we designed it!” phone DACs. Headphones could also benefit hugely by being designed as a system, where the headphone will be matched to a known DAC and a known amp.

But a part of me mourns the passing of the headphone jack, anyway. There is huge convenience in having a standard that works across a wide range of equipment...from home to portable, and old to new. I've used my Grado SR60 headphones on everything from portable CD players to 1970s stereo receivers. It works on everything I've tried with (even if they could sound better with some sources, of course). And I've never needed anything more than a cheap adapter.

The transition away from conventional headphone jacks come at an interesting time. Currently, I'm using a $20 RadioShack “Its Just a Phone!” special. But I contemplate off and on moving to a smart phone, partly to have a portable music player.

A few months  ago, I was sorely tempted by a smart phone that was on clearance at a local store. It was a Windows phone, and since few want a Windows phone, it lingered...and lingered...and lingered. As it lingered, the price kept dropping until it hit something like $15. It hit something like $15. I had a struggle: that was a cheap price for a phone that got good reviews on the Internet, but I have zero interest in a Windows phone. Plus, of course, there was the question if the price would drop under $10. Answer: no. The two people in America who are interested in a Windows phone apparently stopped by that store. Either that, or the store gave up and tossed the phones in the Dumpster, saying: “Enough is enough!”

More recently, I've been having car troubles, which means I have had to use the local bus service to get around for the last month or two. The more I use the bus, the more I think it would be nice having a smart phone. I could do light Internet surfing. Plus I could listen to my own music, rather than the noisy bus engine, or that passenger who spends a 45 minute trip loudly arguing with an imaginary companion.

Assuming I did get a smart phone, there would be the temptation to keep any headphone purchase simple. Something “good enough” for background. Simple means cheap. I am, after all, the Mobile Home Audiophile. But it would be interesting to have headphones that could connect digitally, and—hopefully—perform better with a smart phone than standard headphones plugged into a standard jack. After all, I am the Mobile Home Audiophile.

We'll see what happens, I guess.

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