Category: Computer Accessories

Product Review–Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset which is a USB-connected gaming headset designed by SteelSeries on behalf of Dell.

This is a practice that a lot of manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the computing and consumer-electronics game have been involved in where they ask someone else to design and make the product to be sold under the client’s name. Infact, most of the Japanese consumer-electronics names had engaged in the practice themselves, either making “white-label” products for other companies to sell under their own labels or being the companies who called on others to design and build products.

One of the ways you would know that this headset was a SteelSeries design was the speaker cloth on the earcups had the label “Acoustics by SteelSeries” written on it. As well, I had a look through the product documentation and it required me to install the SteelSeries Engine software to be installed on my computer so I could gain more control over the headset.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Price

RRP: AUD$99 / US$49.99 / GBP£66.76

Shop Now – US / Australia / UK and Europe

Headset Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-ear
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (covers the ear completely)
Driver Enclosure applies to circum-aural or supra-aural designs
Closed back
Primary sound path Digital
Microphone position Microphone integrated in left earcup

Functionality

Pitched for Gaming
Active Noise Cancellation No
Remote Control Mic Mute

Connectivity

Connection for main operation Wired
Wired path USB Audio via Type-A
Supplementary adaptors None

The headset itself

Dell AE2 Performance USB HeadsetThe Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is designed like most circum-aural headsets and implements the USB bus as its way of connecting to host devices. As to appeal to the gaming community, each earcup has a glowing white ring which illuminates when you have the headphones plugged in to your computer. But, as I have said later on in the review, you can determine whether this glowing occurs or not or what colour is used thanks to a configuration program called SteelSeries Engine.

I have done most of the reviewing of this headset without using the SteelSeries Engine control software, which would represent requirements where you can’t or don’t want to add extra software to your computer to gain more out of these headphones.

Connectivity and Functionality

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - USB plug

How the Dell AE2 headset connects to your computer

The Dell AE2 Performance Headset connects to USB-equipped computing devices using its USB Type-A connector and presents itself to them as a USB Audio input and output device. Windows 10 was able to even identify this headset as headphones and give this device priority over existing default audio devices like integrated speakers in a monitor or laptop. The headset has a maximum rated power draw of 150mA which means it shouldn’t place much demand on your laptop’s battery power as well as being able to work comfortably on a four-port bus-powered USB hub being used by input devices.

I had tried using this headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone by connecting it to the phone via a USB OTG cable. Here, it would work as a USB Audio device but I had found that this functionality didn’t extend to communications tasks like using the phone. Here, I would communicate with the caller via the smartphone’s speaker and microphone rather than through the Dell USB headset. The USB-based audio device as a mobile-phone accessory is becoming a reality thanks to USB Type-C connectivity and manufacturers doing away with the 3.5mm audio jack on their phones.

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen for Dell AE3 Performance USB headset

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen – graphic equaliser, DTS surround sound, etc

You can run the SteelSeries Engine 3 software on your Windows or Macintosh computer, which effectively allows you to gain more control over the headset. This program offers a DTS Headphone 7.1 surround decoder for headphone applications, a five-band graphic equaliser, a microphone-optimisation program along with the ability to control the lights on the earcups. You could even have the lighting change colour based on games events which works for some games thanks to API hooks that SteelSeries have published for game studios to use.

This program works properly as advertised and you don’t need to have it running all the time you use the headphones, which can be a boon for those of us who use laptops while on battery power.

Comfort

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - SteelSeries motif

SteelSeries design highlighted in earcups

These headphones are very comfortable to wear for a significant amount of time thanks to the circum-aural design and the fact that your ears are not touching anything hard. As well, they don’t feel sticky after that long time of use because of assuring some airflow around the foam surrounds.

Sound Quality

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is able to handle music in a similar manner to most circum-aural headphones by being able to put up some good bass response. It was also able to work well with the vocals and other instruments but you may experience a bit of reduction of higher frequencies – it is not really something with hi-fi credentials for listening to detailed music.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - glowing ring on earcups

Glowing ring on earcups

I have also tried these headphones with some video content in the form of watching an Inspector Morse episode (Sins Of The Fathers) from a DVD using my desktop computer. Here, the dialogue came across very clearly and I was able to hear the sound effects distinctly with the added bass response doing some justice to certain effects like the rumbling heard in the brewery that was part of the story. There were a few brewery scenes in that same show which represented a sound presentation not dissimilar from what would be expected from a lot of action-based computer games with people traipsing around the factory, the rumbling of machinery and the music score, with the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset handling them very well.

I had placed a call using Skype to someone I know and they had noticed that I was able to come across very clearly with the headset while I was able to hear them very clearly. The Dell AE2 headset can earn its keep as a communications headset for VoIP softphones and similar online calling platforms, especially if they implement high-quality voice codecs.

Noise Reduction and handling of noisy environments

The Dell AE2 headset offers a significant amount of noise reduction which can be a boon for those of us who are commuting or working in a noisy office. It may not be as effective as active noise cancellation but can suit most of us in these environments.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One of the problems that will need to be answered with these USB headsets is for all mobile operating systems to treat them as headsets when they are connected to mobile devices.

Another desirable feature would be to have a hardware switch on the headset that turns the lighting on and off so you can be able to reduce your laptop’s battery drain when you run them and avoid the need to run a configuration program to achieve this goal. As well, headsets of this kind could benefit from a volume control on the earcups that controls the host system’s volume using the standard USB protocols.

Similarly, Dell and SteelSeries could implement a USB Type-C detachable connection so that they can be provided with a detachable cable allowing them to last longer by allowing you to replace damaged cables. This would also cater towards the newer USB Type-C direction as more of the computers come with this connection.

Conclusion

Personally, I would position the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset more as suitable as a general-purpose computer headset for applications where you want to hear your computer software’s audio privately but are not expecting to pay attention to how music comes across through them. This is rather than just as something for chatting during games or hearing games effects privately and intensely.

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset also represents a newer trend for headphone construction where there is emphasis on “digital to the earpiece”, which can open up many points of innovation like optimised sound or active noise cancellation. The USB connectivity allows for this to work for wired-headset setups including allowing the host device to actually power the headset.

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A logo-driven certification program arrives for USB-C chargers

Article

USB-IF announces compliance for USB Type-C devices | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers Forum

Press Release (PDF) Certified USB Charger Logo and Compliance Program Infographic courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

My Comments

Previously, the USB standard has become effectively a “DC power supply” standard for smartphones and tablets. This has avoided the need to end up with a desk drawer full of power supplies and battery chargers with the associated question of which one works with which device. It has also led to various points of innovation like USB external battery packs and multiple-outlet USB “charging bars”. Similarly, gadgets like lights, fans and cup warmers have also appeared that can be powered from a computer’s USB port or a USB charger.

There was also the environmental view that we will see less chargers destined to landfill when devices are finally retired or less need to supply chargers with mobile phones. But a common reality is that most of these USB chargers end up being kept near or plugged into power outlets around the house more as a way of allowing “convenience charging” for our gadgets.

But the problem has surface where particular USB chargers don’t do the job properly when charging particular devices, especially high-end smartphones or tablets. Here, you need to be sure that you use something like a 2.1A charger for these devices and have them connected using a cable known to work.

The new USB Type-C standard is bring this concept as a low-profile connection for newer smartphones along with using the USB Power Delivery standard to extend this convenience to larger tablets and laptops. But there have been situations where substandard USB Type-C leads and chargers have been appearing on the market placing our new gadgets at risk of damage due to them being improperly powered.

Now the USB Implementers Forum have brought forward a certification program for USB Type-C chargers and leads with this program augmented by a logo. What will happen is that a charger or external battery pack will have to show this logo and state its power capacity in watts so you can be sure it will charge your Ultrabook or 2-in-1 as well as your smartphone.

What should be required is that the logo and the power output is stamped on the charger body itself and also a colour code is standardised for the power output. Having such a colour code could be useful when recognising which charger from a bunch of chargers could handle your gadget or which one is the right one to buy when you look at that display rack.

At least something is being done to make it easier to be sure we end up with the right USB Type-C power-supply device for that 2-in-1 Ultrabook or smartphone without the risk of the computer not charging or being damaged.

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Kogan are offering a highly-capable USB dock for $120

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Kogan

Wavlink USB 3.0 Multi-task Universal Laptop Docking Station & Hub (WL-UG39DK1) (Product Page)

Wavlink

USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station Dual Video Monitor Display

My Comments

I had come across in my email a Kogan ad where they were offering a highly-capable USB dock with integrated video support for 2 displays. Here, they are offering the product for AUD$120 including tax but excluding shipping.

This device has 2 USB 3.0 ports and 4 USB 2.0 ports, which can come in handy with a mix of USB input devices and USB storage devices along with an integrated USB sound module and USB-Gigabit-Ethernet network adaptor.

For video, there is a DVI connection and an HDMI connection for displays that work to DVI or HDMI specifications. From the manufacturer’s site, there is also meant to be a DVI-VGA adaptor so you can use it with that VGA-only display or projector. This functionality is supported according to Displaylink standards for USB-video adaptors.

It is targeted at laptop users who use current-spec laptops but want to maintain a desktop workspace with “full-bore” peripherals like full-sized input devices or larger monitors, let alone a reliable Ethernet or HomePlug AV500 connection to the network. Here, the idea is that a person who uses a “work-home” laptop can quickly connect and disconnect the laptop to and from this expansion module using one plug while all the peripherals are in place, connected to this device.

In some cases, it can also be of benefit to those of us who use small desktop computers like all-in-ones or “Next Unit Of Computing” devices where there isn’t much in the way of connectivity; or for those of us who carry around a laptop that doesn’t have much in the way of external-device connectivity but don’t want to worry about losing adaptors left right and centre when you move from place to place.

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Bone-conductivity technology rises in the common space once again

Article

Check out these cool sunglasses with built-in bone conducting headphones | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Zungle

Kickstarter campaign

Video – click or tap to play

My Comments

In the early 1980s, an electronics company tried out a common application for bone-conductivity personal audio technology by selling to a mail-order gadget-supply company and to Radio Shack (Tandy) an AM/FM stereo headphone radio that implemented this technology. This radio, known as the “Bone Fone” and powered by 4 AA batteries, dropped around your neck like a shawl and used bone-conductivity technology to bring your favourite broadcast’s audio to your ears.  You were able to hear your music privately through the sound being transduced through your neck clavicle bone to your ears.

It was found to be heavy but the technology has resurfaced in another application that would be seen to be popular. This time it is a pair of sunglasses that use an integrated Bluetooth headset that exploits this technology. These Zungle Panther sunglasses, modelled on the Oakley Frogskins, don’t require you to wear headphones or an earbud to hear your music or caller due to this technology. Rather they use your skull bone as the transducing surface.

These glasses link to your smartphone using Bluetooth 4.1 technology as a way to save battery runtime for both devices. They also implement a jog wheel to allow you to control audio playback as well as implementing a noise-cancelling microphone when you make and take calls or ask something of Siri, Google Now or Cortana.

For their power, the bone-conducting Zungle Panther glasses implement a 300mAh battery that uses the same microUSB charging connectivity as most of the current Bluetooth headsets.

Because of what they do, they may be considered to be bulky like a set of 3D glasses used for watching a 3D movie at the cinema but they weigh in at 45g. They were found to earn their keep for cyclists and other road users who want to keep their ears open to hear for traffic.

There is actually a Kickstarter campaign to get the bone-conductivity glasses idea off the ground with a starting price of US$99.

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A USB expansion dock that complements the latest high-end ultraportable computers

Article – From the horse’s mouth Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

Minix

Neo C USB Multiport Adaptor

Product Page

Canohm (Australian distributor for Minix)

Press Release

Purchase here (AUD$119)

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – can benefit from the Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor

Minix, a computer manufacturer based in Hong Kong, has released a USB Type-C expansion module that has the same calibre as most of the current-issue ultraportable computers that it is targeted for.

The Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor has a high-quality metal finish to complement the Apple MacBook 12, the latest HP Spectre and most of the high-end Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s that have the USB Type-C connector.  There are three different finishes available to match the finishes that the MacBook 12 is available in – a “space grey”, silver or gold finish.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

Available with HDMI for the current and latest displays

It has 2 USB 3.0 Type-A connections along with a card reader for SD and microSD memory cards which come in handy with your Android mobile phone or digital camera’s “film”.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

.. or VGA for older displays and projectors

There is also a Gigabit Ethernet socket so that you can connect your ultraportable to a wired Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network. But this requires you to download and install a software driver for the network-adaptor functionality to work – the operating-system vendors and the USB-IF need to define a class driver for network adaptors.

The device comes in two variants – one with a VGA connector that works to Full HD resolution and can earn its keep with that economy data projector; and one with an HDMI connector that works to 4K HDR resolution which I would consider more “future proof”. Of course, you can connect your ultraportable’s charger or a USB-C peripheral to the USB-C socket on this expansion module.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

You can connect your Ethernet or HomePlug network to your laptop here

You have to connect your laptop’s USB-C charger to this device rather than run it just from your laptop if you are using it to connect a large USB storage device like a USB hard disk or USB optical drive to that laptop.

One of the use cases that Minix were pitching included the ability to fill in your ultraportable’s missing functions and connections. This is important where an increasing number of these computers omit connections like USB Type-A ports, video ports or SD card slots in order to preserve their slimline look and lightweight build. In some cases, your computer may have an SD card slot but it may have malfunctioned and you still need SD-card capabilities for something like your digital camera. The small size and lightweight design of this expansion dock may allow you to stuff it in your briefcase.

Another use case that has been highlighted is using the Minix Neo-C as part of creating your “primary” workstation at your home or your office. It is a practice that I have noticed a lot of people do when they want to use a laptop or ultraportable computer as their main or sole “regular-platform” computer. Here, you connect a full-size keyboard, mouse, large monitor and, perhaps, a USB external hard disk or optical drive to the laptop computer and set up a dual-screen computing arrangement when you work at that workstation. This device simplifies the connectivity procedure and requirements down to one cable that you connect and disconnect from your laptop computer while all the peripherals are connected to the expansion dock.

There are a few reasons why I like the Minix Neo-C USB-C expansion dock. One of these is that it is presented in a manner that complements all of the current-issue premium ultraportable computers. This is more so where the manufacturers are placing equal importance on the looks of these computers to convey the position that these computers are pitched for. Another of these is that it has enough connectors to suit most applications whether to deal with the MacBook 12 that has no other connections or to provide extra connectivity for computers that already have other connections. Similarly the small size can go well for those of us who want to have a small expansion dock in our laptop bag or briefcase to connect to an external monitor or wired network segment or add that USB peripheral.

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Belkin offers a USB-C car charger that ticks the boxes for that standard

Article

Belkin USB-C Car Charger press picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin USB-C car charger – works tightly to USB expectations to make sure your gadgets work properly

Belkin’s new USB-C car charger will intelligently charge your phones and tablets | Android Central

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Belkin have launched a USB-C car charger that can charge up one of the newer smartphones, tablets or ultraportable laptops that are powered through the USB Type-C connector, which is becoming the trend for today’s portable computing equipment. This also comes in handy if a passenger wants to use that tablet or 2-in-1 during that car journey without compromising the device’s battery runtime.  Think of activities like being on the Internet or even viewing online video material to while away the journey would be considered risky for your 2-in-1’s battery.

One may think that the Belkin USB-C car charger that plugs in to the cigar-lighter socket in the car and sells for US$50 is too expensive for this class of device but there is more to it to assure that the device it is connected to is properly and safely powered so it lasts a long time.

This car charger implements advanced universal-supply circuitry to stabilise its output current, which prevents the power surges associated with starting up the engine from getting to the equipment it supplies. As well, this circuitry matches the power supply to the equipment’s needs to prevent any risk of damage the that equipment.

It is also compliant to USB-PD to assure proper power supply to one of the new smartphones, tablets or ultraportable computers and can supply a load of up to 27 watts. The requirement for power supplies and cables to be compliant to this standard has come about because of the market’s awareness of substandard USB cables and power supplies placing the expensive personal-computing and communications devices we have at risk of damage. Here, Amazon have tightened their rules regarding the purchasing of USB accessories where they won’t procure these accessories for sale through their channels unless they are certified compliant by USB-IF.

The supplied cable which has a USB Type-C connector on each end has a length of 4 feet or 1.2 metres which would reach from the dashboard to the back seat of most cars or the first row of seats in a vehicle with multiple rows of seats. Of course, you could use it with existing smartphones and tablets when you use a USB Type-C adaptor cable – a USB-C to Micro USB cable for most Android and Windows devices or a USB-C to female USB-A cable along with an Apple Lightning cable or an Apple USB-C to Lightning cable for your iOS devices.

This USB-C car adaptor could earn its keep with powering or charging the newly-released portable computing equipment on a long journey so you have enough power to use it at the destination.

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Vizio to equip their latest soundbars with Google Cast Audio

Article

Google Cast will come stock on Vizio’s new soundbars | Android Authority

Vizio takes on Sonos with Google Cast-friendly soundbars | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Vizio

Product Page

Blog Post

Press Release

My Comments

Increasingly Google is encouraging companies involved in consumer audio-video to integrate Google Chromecast audio or video functionality in to their devices. This avoids the need to purchase and install a Chromecast dongle to benefit from audio and video streaming from online services.

Sonifi brought this concept in to the hotel scene so you can lie on your hotel-room bed and watch Netflix managed by your Android phone while Vizio, Sony and Philips are implementing it in to their TVs. Google even implements this concept in to their Google Fiber TV set-top boxes so that you don’t need a Chromecast dongle for this functionality. But Vizio has taken things further with Google Cast for Audio by offering this functionality in their latest range of sound bars.

Typically, you may think that a company may offer this function just to one soundbar or speaker base in their lineup but Vizio has offered it across the board for their up-and-coming SmartCast soundbars. These will work as Google Cast Audio devices where they can play online audio sources like Pandora or Spotify rather than being a “soundbar + Chromecast” device that adds Chromecast to your TV.

One article sees these soundbars as an answer to the Sonos multi-room sound system and nothing is further from the truth thanks to Google’s latest Chromecast software. Here, you could gang these speakers together in a “party mode” or have them playing different programs in a similar way to what you can do with Sonos. Let’s not forget that you can have something like Spotify or Pandora playing and the music isn’t interrupted if a call comes in or one of your phone’s apps throws a notification signal. It also means that the ringtone or the notification sounds don’t blast through your Google Cast setup’s speakers.

As for the price, the cheapest unit, which is a 38” 3.0 setup costs US$180 while the most expensive models being the 45” 5.1 setup that comes with surround speakers and a slim subwoofer runs for US$500.

Who knows who will launch the first stereo or home-theatre receiver or stereo system that has integral Google Cast functionality or if an existing multiroom audio platform will end up with Google Cast integrated in to it.

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You could enable your existing computer for Windows Hello

Article

USB accessories add Windows Hello capabilities to any PC | Windows Central

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

You could be soon able to equip your existing laptop or 2-in-1 with the same kind of fingerprint scanner as the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2

An increasing number of business-focused Windows laptops are being made ready for Windows Hello which is the password-free login ability that Windows 10 offers. This allows for facial recognition or fingerprint recognition as an alternative to keying in that Windows password.

But what if you have that tower desktop, all-in-one or existing laptop that has no RealSense camera or fingerprint reader. Normally, you would think that you were cut out of this feature.

At the Computex 2016 “geek-fest” in Taiwan, there were two aftermarket USB accessories that bless these computers with Windows Hello login abilities. One of these is a webcam that is compliant to Intel RealSense specifications which opens up the path for facial recognition, while another of these is a USB fingerprint-reader dongle that is very similar to a Bluetooth or wireless-peripheral-transceiver dongle and plugs in to the side of a laptop computer.

These peripherals would be a step in the right direction for small businesses and consumers if they were sold at reasonable prices and were made available at most electrical stores, computer stores and the like, rather than just being sold to value-added resellers that cater to big businesses.

A solution I would like to see especially for desktop users or people who set up primary workstations would be a fingerprint reader integrated in to a keyboard or mouse. This could be offered as a differentiating feature for business and gaming peripherals. Similarly, a standalone desktop fingerprint reader could be offered as a way to have your existing workstation or “gaming rig” working with Windows Hello. Similarly, a fingerprint reader could be offered as a “short-form” device that can be integrated in to the PC cases that tend to modified by gaming enthusiasts.

Similarly, more manufacturers and resellers could contribute to this class of device in order to allow more of us to benefit from Windows Hello.

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SteelSeries integrates OLED in their gaming mouse

Article

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse press image courtesy of SteelSeries

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse

SteelSeries ships its OLED-packing gaming mouse | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

SteelSeries

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Audio Adaptor

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – OLED display to show time or details about what’s playing like the SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse

Regular readers may have read my review of the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone audio adaptor which implements a monochrome OLED display to show the time or metadata about what what’s playing. Sony has also implemented this concept in a few previous personal-audio players as well as this Bluetooth headphone adaptor because of the fact that this display technology doesn’t take up much room in the device itself and could be best described as a “VFD display for battery devices” where it offers the same brightness as a vacuum fluorescent display while drawing minimal current.

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse press image courtesy of SteelSeries

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse – OLED display

SteelSeries have taken this further by implementing a user-customisable OLED display on the Rival 700 gaming mouse. Here, this mouse uses a special program to copy over game stats or a user-defined logo to appear on the display courtesy of the USB connection. Here, it is proving the idea that an OLED display can earn its keep on a small portable device even if the device is powered from another host device.

The Rival 700 gaming mouse also implements tactile feedback during gameplay so you can benefit from that convincing game effect but it is achieved in a manner to avoid disturbing your gameplay. As well, the mouse is designed for increased durability so you can subject it to intense gameplay or office work and SteelSeries offer it as something to equip your gaming rig or workstation for AUD$100.

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Why call for the 3.5mm headphone jack to be replaced on mobile devices

Article

Intel Thinks USB-C Should Replace the Headphone Jack | Gizmodo

My Comments

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Intel has raised the possibility that the common 3.5mm headphone jack not exist on a smartphone or similar audio device. Here, they would rather that the USB Type-C connection serve as the phone’s audio connections.

There was a similar outcry when Apple proposed this idea for a newer iPhone design by requiring the use of their proprietary Lightning connection as the audio connection.

The problem is that the 3.5mm phone jack has been established as the common way to connect mobile devices to headphones and audio equipment.

The Intel approach requires the use of the USB Type-C connector which implements standards accepted by all of the industry. It is different to Apple’s approach because the Android and Windows platforms place a high expectation on the concept of “open-frame” computing where there is a preference for hardware and software standards and specifications accepted by many different vendors rather than the one vendor.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

High-end headphones like these noise-cancelling headphones could be powered by your smartphone or laptop

Firstly, there is the USB Audio Device Class which has allowed for USB sound modules and USB DACs to exist without the need to add extra drivers. This can allow for a high-grade digital-analogue converter to be integrated in a high-quality USB headset or supplied as a phone-powered USB sound-module accessory that you plug your high-quality headphones in to.

For headphones, this could lead to ideas like surround-sound processing such as to use hardware to convert Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound to Dolby Headphone surround sound. It could permit the headphones to implement sound processing such as equalisation or echo cancellation so they sound their best in all situations. Even when you speak in to the phone, the newer technology will provide some benefit such as using a microphone array to catch your voice better.

To the same extent, a USB sound module that works with high-grade microphones could open up paths for your smartphone to make good recordings for your podcast or video.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

You may soon find amplifiers and stereos equipped with a USB Type-C connection on the front so you can play our new smartphone through the speakers

Another path is to use the Multimedia Transport Protocol that operates over the USB connection to play music through your car stereo or home stereo system, using the music system’s control surface to navigate your audio content while the currently-playing music details show up on the music system’s display.

Intel’s idea also investigated the possibility of an analogue-audio connection via the USB Type-C connection to cater to the budget end of the accessories market. This is to allow for headsets and audio adaptors that have no digital-audio functionality to exist.

Another common device class is the USB Human Interface Device Class which is used primarily with mice and keyboards but there is a subset of “called-out” control types that highlight consumer-electronics and business device control applications like transport control or call control. This could open the path for USB headsets and adaptors to have full control for calls and music like the full AV transport-control quota or two-button call control.

The power-supply option that USB Type-C offers allows for the phone to power active-noise-cancelling headphones or headphone amplifiers. Similarly, an audio accessory like a stereo system or an audio adaptor that has a high-capacity battery could provide power to the phone.

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

Bluetooth will still exist as a wireless audio-accessory connection alternative as long as the phone and accessory still work to the established Bluetooth Profiles for their applications.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

This USB audio adaptor could be considered as a way to connect existing headphones to your new smartphone

The idea that we will lose the ability to use our favourite audio systems and headphones that depend on the classic 3.5mm phone jack when we get a newer handset can be nullified when we use a USB sound module for a wired connection to our smartphones. As I mentioned before, those of us who appreciate the high-quality sound could end up benefiting from this kind of accessory especially where it is optimised for that kind of sound. An example of a USB sound-module device that I had dealt with was one that came with the Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II gaming headset that I previously reviewed, which presented itself to Windows as a USB Audio input and output device. If we want the wireless link, we could look for that Bluetooth audio adaptor typically sold with a pair of intra-aural earphones and connect our favourite headphones to this device like I do with the Sony SBH-52.

If this proposition is to work properly, the sound-processing circuitry need also to be power-efficient so you don’t end up draining your smartphone’s battery or depending on external power supplies to use your smartphone. Similarly, other accessory vendors may need to add USB Type-C hub functionality to their accessories like USB battery packs so that these headphones can work while the smartphone is being powered from the battery pack. Or the smartphone vendors may have to concede to having 2 USB Type-C ports on their phones to support USB headphones and USB external power supplies for example.

But whatever happens, this could open another path for innovation to take place when it comes to the supply of accessories for portable audio and video equipment.

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