To USB or Not to USB

 

Bye bye and good riddance to 130 year old technology, the 3.5mm jack, long live the king – USB Type-C

USB-and-Audio

Wow the media is in a frenzy about the latest Apple iPhone 7 dropping the 3.5mm jack. Personally I cannot believe the 3.5mm jack has lasted as long as it did. Here is a list of just a couple of articles which seem to infer that the removal of the 3.5mm jack is the starting point of a catastrophic zombie apocalypse or a huge government-like conspiracy.

What all these articles miss is the fact that there is better technology set to replace it, not Bluetooth audio, not proprietary but audio over USB Type-C. I am afraid that I cannot provide all the details yet as the new spec is super confidential and only available to USB-IF contributors, like Synopsys, but public information has started to leak out: http://www.androidauthority.com/intel-propose-usb-type-c-audio-specification-689502/

Intel-Audio

Audio over USB Type-C utilizing new digital audio specification brings the following benefits

  • Support for audio bursting enabling power efficient system
  • Delivers high fidelity audio
  • Enables local audio DSP right in headset for advanced sound processing

Wait a second you say, USB headsets, including ones supporting the USB Type-C connector have been around for years. These should now be called legacy USB headsets and had no specific optimization for power. Typically these legacy USB headsets were for use with laptops or tablets which were able to power them. The difference now is that the audio connection is to a small form factor smartphone or similar device and power is a HUGE concern. The new digital audio over Type-C use model requires a completely different solution, one that is optimized for power consumption while still providing high quality audio and enable new features.

In addition to power, audio fidelity is important, no one is satisfied with music sounding like it’s been played in a bathroom stall. You can get high fidelity with legacy USB connections but as noted above, this comes with the penalty of power consumption. With a Bluetooth connection the audio is typically compressed to save power and maximize the relative small wireless bandwidth, the result is poor audio fidelity. You can get higher fidelity over Bluetooth but at the sacrifice of power, yuck. With proprietary radio connections you can get fidelity and power efficiency but lets face it, they are proprietary forcing the consumer to have specific headsets for a specific device. With USB Type-C and the new audio spec you get high fidelity digital audio.

Audio over USB Type-C with the new, yet released audio spec solves all of these challenges. Interested in designing in support for this new audio USB Type-C capability, then contact Synopsys as we have a full line of USB IP, digital controllers and mixed signal PHY’s set to support it.

But as usual there is more. The new USB Type-C with audio specification enables the use of in headset audio processing. This could be for noise cancellation, digital audio processing or some yet to be imagined audio manipulation. The opportunity space is huge for innovation.

Low power consumption, high fidelity and advanced audio processing is a requirement for VR headsets too. You don’t get these with the old 3.5mm jack so say good riddance to it and get ready to embrace the new Audio over USB Type-C spec.

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