RIP 3.5mm Head­PHone Jack

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE - Rajiv Makhni

MU­SIC COM­POSER Pri­tam may not know this, but he just killed off one of the most loved and used pieces of tech­nol­ogy world­wide. The 3.5mm head­phone jack. It’s been around for more than 50 years, was one of the main rea­sons for the suc­cess of the Sony Walk­man, was the en­abler for the whole por­ta­ble mu­sic rev­o­lu­tion and is the ac­cess point for the en­tire bil­lion-dol­lar head­phones mar­ket. And with­out know­ing it, Pri­tam walked onto a stage, made a few in­nocu­ous com­ments – and killed it off.

Known best for start­ing the por­ta­ble mu­sic rev­o­lu­tion, the head­phone jack seems to be un­der threat now

As it hap­pened

The event was a new LeEco phone an­nounce­ment (two phones ac­tu­ally), the lo­ca­tion Sir­i­fort au­di­to­rium, the au­di­ence com­prised thou­sands of scream­ing fans (the term used is Su­per Fans) and the shocker was that nei­ther of the two brand new LeEco phones had a 3.5mm head­phone jack. Pri­tam walked in do­ing the best im­pres­sion of a teddy bear I’ve seen in re­cent times, an­nounced that they had tried this phone with a new tech­nol­ogy called CDLA (Con­tin­ual Dig­i­tal Loss­less Au­dio. Yes, a mouth­ful of tech jar­gon) and called it way su­pe­rior to any­thing he had heard be­fore. And just like that, the start of the end for the 3.5mm jack was ini­ti­ated.

Legacy

The 3.5mm jack has al­ways had a mixed bag of re­ac­tions. To many au­dio­philes, it’s the worst link in a chain of tech­nol­ogy that even­tu­ally de­liv­ers mu­sic to the hu­man ear, while oth­ers swear by it. With­out start­ing a con­tro­versy, let me call this one. The 3.5mm port is a very in­fe­rior way of hear­ing mu­sic. Un­for­tu­nately it’s now a legacy, a piece of tech­nol­ogy so en­trenched in the in­dus­try and with us, the con­sumers, that it’s tough to break away from it. And while LeEco is first off-the-block with killing it off, they aren’t go­ing to be the only ones.

Ap­ple killer

The ru­mour has been strong that Ap­ple will also kill it off with the iPhone 7. From part sup­pli­ers to ven­dors, al­most ev­ery­one has con­firmed that the iPhone 7 does not have a 3.5mm jack. And if Ap­ple does it, ev­ery­one will fol­low. I’ve heard ru­mours from al­most ev­ery brand that their fu­ture phones will not have a tra­di­tional head­phone jack. So it does seem like the days of ‘the jack’ are numbered. Time to take a look at whether this is a good move for­ward or one that will leave most of us frus­trated?

Will ev­ery­one go wire­less then?

No, that would be ter­ri­ble. While Blue­tooth and other wire­less tech for au­dio is good, it still doesn’t come close to a wired prod­uct. Plus, I don’t see free BT head­sets in­side a box any­time soon.

If not 3.5mm then what?

Yes, this is the big scare. Ev­ery­one will have some new dig­i­tal stan­dard, and right now there doesn’t seem to be a con­sen­sus at all. Dif­fer­ing stan­dards are ter­ri­ble for con­sumers. LeEco’s CDLA is fan­tas­tic (I did a blind test with mul­ti­ple users and CDLA blew the head­phone jack plain out of the wa­ter), but I don’t see it adopted by all right away. So, if Ap­ple does its own, LeEco its own and a few dozen oth­ers come up with their own ver­sions, we are about to have a whole new for­mat war. A messy one!

What do I do with my old head­phones then?

The an­swer is pretty sim­ple. Add it to the dig­i­tal land­fill. Yes, most will turn to elec­tronic junk very soon. Think pager, fax ma­chine and type­writer!

But they will all have to pro­vide an adap­tor for us to use our old head­phones, right?

Right. And that’s self de­featist in pur­pose. When you move for­ward and ditch old legacy stan­dards, you’ve got to have a clean break. The adap­tor will make the tran­si­tion less painful but will also make sure that you don’t get the ben­e­fits of the new sound stan­dard.

Will there be a pair of head­phones for this new stan­dard free with ev­ery phone?

Nope! This is as much a game of adding more sales dol­lars by forc­ing a new stan­dard on to all, as much as bet­ter mu­sic. Think. Ev­ery sin­gle pair of head­phones across the world re­placed by new ones. That’s tril­lions in new rev­enue. Why spoil it by giv­ing it away? Won’t hap­pen for some time.

I don’t want the 3.5mm jack to die. What can I do?

Join the pe­ti­tion called #SaveJack. It has hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple al­ready on it.

Is all this new stuff ac­tu­ally bet­ter?

Well, I’ve al­ready an­swered one part of it with the LeEco CDLA test I did. What this re­ally does is keep dig­i­tal mu­sic more or less dig­i­tal in de­liv­ery to the head­phone. No real con­ver­sion is needed. The dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing is done in­side the head­phone and not on the de­vice. The sound is re­mark­ably bet­ter.

What other ad­van­tages will there be?

Thin­ner phones, lesser space used, much bet­ter qual­ity of sound espe­cially bass, in-built noise can­cel­la­tion, smarter tech (plug in your head­phones and it opens the mu­sic app on its own), bet­ter acous­tic con­trol, lesser power used, bet­ter bat­tery life – quite a bit ac­tu­ally.

To get a taste of this all new au­dio par­a­digm shift, give the LeEco phones a twirl. Both the Le 2 and Le Max2 are bril­liant phones and mega bang for buck. They also rep­re­sent the fu­ture. Or should I say they rep­re­sent the ‘6 feet un­der’ burial of poor old Jack. Pri­tam, yeh tumne kya kiya?

Rajiv Makhni is man­ag­ing editor, Tech­nol­ogy, NDTV, and the an­chor of Gad­getGuru, Cel­lGuru and News­net3

THE LEGACY DIES

LeEco’s new phones come with CDLA and don’t have the tra­di­tional head­phone jack

WHAT’S NEW

No jack would mean thin­ner phones, lesser use of space and bet­ter sound qual­ity (above); there is a strong ru­mour that Ap­ple too will kill off the head­phone jack with the iPhone 7 (be­low)

Photo: SHUT­TER­STOCK

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