Wired Audio: Is the 3.5mm Socket a Thing of the Past?

I love being able to plug in some headphones and listen for hours, but is the ageing 3.5mm (1/8″) socket disappearing or is it here to stay?

When Apple dropped the headphone socket with the release of the iPhone 7 in late 2016, it created a media storm – even though Motorola had already dropped it from the Moto Z and Moto Z Force in early 2016. And while the original Pixel from late 2016 had it, it was dropped from Pixel 2 in 2017. It seems Samsung is one of the few high-end smartphone makers to still include it.

It’s a dividing subject. For me, a headphone socket is an essential part of my phone, but for others, wireless audio is the future.

Audio Socket History

Let’s have a little history here. This small jack socket has been around since the 1950s and was popularised by Sony in the late 70s (especially its Walkman), and carried through the portable audio age on CD players, MiniDisc players, and MP3 players.

In the early days of mobile phones, each handset manufacturer – and sometimes each handset – would use different proprietary connectors for hands-free and audio. Recent years have seen that switch to the 3.5mm jack, strengthening its use even further.

It is a smaller version of the 6mm (1/4″) jack that was introduced way back in the 1870s for use in telephone switchboards. It is very rare these days for a standard to stay around so long without being superseded by something else.

The big new thing is wireless audio – hence some phones dropping the ageing socket – but it’s not all it’s hyped up to be.

Wired or Wireless?

Life without wires can be beneficial. It means they don’t get in the way, or it gives you more freedom. This works for me when using a wireless speaker, but not earphones.

I have been down the Bluetooth route many a time; it is something that intrigues me – purely from a wire-free perspective – but I always go back to plugging a pair of earphones into the 3.5mm socket.

A Bluetooth set is just something else to charge up and make sure it is fully charged when needed. As I prefer the in-ear style this limits me to a battery life of around 3 hours, which will barely get me through half-a-day. I can listen to up to 10 hours of music a day and prefer something that plugs in and is ready to use at any moment. Larger ‘can’ style headphones offer greater battery life, but even those would not cope with a full day for me.

I also like to use my earphones as a hands-free kit – for calls, messaging, and OK Google commands as well as draft out articles in Google Docs while out and about (such as this one), and despite Bluetooth offering this, the microphone and call quality is never the same.

The other problem is the price. A good pair of wired earphones can be had for one-third the price of a Bluetooth pair. For a reasonably small amount, you can buy a very decent pair of wired earphones/headphones that offer astounding quality. And while the prices of Bluetooth earphones/headphones are dropping rapidly, they still cost more than a wired counterpart.

There is one advantage to wireless. As great as the 3.5mm socket is, it can be prone to dirt and damage. Constant plugging in and especially in the case of portable audio or mobile phones, the day-to-day strain can weaken the socket and cause the audio output of the socket to fail. This isn’t a huge issue, but it has happened to me in the past.

So for me – and I know others feel the same – wired audio is still a big option. I don’t like being forced to adopt anything, especially if I feel it is inferior. I can live with having a wire trail down if it means excellent quality and never running out of battery.

In the interest of fairness, I do know people who have embraced this new wire-free existence, but perhaps their needs are not the same as mine. When asked if it bothered them losing this audio port the reply was ‘not particularly, just a bonus to still have it’ – whereas I look at it as essential.

I will be holding on to my wired earphones and my phone with a 3.5mm socket. I have no intention of ‘upgrading’ to wireless any time soon, but with more and more handsets dropping it, my future options may be limited.

There is always the option of a dongle to convert the USB connector to a 3.5mm socket, but I am not a big fan of dongles, and it would take up the charge socket.

Could we see a similar trend coming to computers and tablets? Recent computers have always slimmed out a plethora of ports down to a couple of USB, but so far the 3.5mm socket is still there.

I’m off to listen to some music. Wired of course.

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