USB Headset vs Analog: Which One for Better Audio?

Wired headsets are known for their high-quality audio. But there are different types of wired connections, aren’t there?

On the one hand, there is the remarkably familiar analog connection of a headphone jack. In this, a male plug of (usually) 3.5mm connects to the female jack of a smartphone or laptop.

On the other hand, there is the option for digital audio transmission, via USB headsets.

So, what does it all mean? How are these two headsets different from each other?

The question of USB headset vs analog may seem perplexing, but we are here to sort it all out.

Read on to find out more!

How Do We Hear Audio Through A Digital Device?

Be it your smartphone or your computer, a digital device stores data in digital format. In the case of audio, this digital data needs to be converted into analog before we can perceive it.

There are two conversions for audio with the help of two types of converters. Both these converters are usually pre-installed in a digital device like your phone or laptop.

The Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) converts the incoming analog signal (say, the other person’s voice in your call) into a digital signal.

This digital signal is sent to the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) and converted back into an analog signal before it enters a speaker system that lets you hear the audio.

This dual conversion is necessary for digital devices to let you make a call or listen to music.

Analog: The Ubiquitous Audio Transmission Technology

The analog headset is a simple system that receives an analog audio signal in the form of an electrical impulse.

This impulse is then transmitted via the headphone wire to the speaker system/driver of the headset, where it produces sound.

That is, an analog headset simply receives the analog audio input and converts it into sound. For a USB headset, it is a bit more complicated.

USB Headset: The Emerging Audio Transmission Technology

Since any computing system, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, and computers store digital data, it becomes easier to transmit it in the digital form to any output device.

The problem here is that no speaker system in the world can currently convert digital data into audio.

That is, even though the DAC inside the smartphone can be removed to save space, the USB headset still requires a DAC to function.

Thus, all USB headsets come with a DAC. This is how the audio is transmitted via a USB headset:

  1. Audio input from a call is converted into digital format and immediately transferred to the headset’s DAC.
  2. DAC converts it into an analog format, and it reaches the headset’s drivers in the form of electrical signals.
  3. Drivers convert the electrical signal into sound.

Is Either One Better than the Other in Any Way?

Seeing that both headsets go through the dual processes via an ADC and DAC, the question now is, how is either of them better than the other?

Pros of Analog:

  • Uses the onboard soundcard of your computer or smartphone, which means that sound quality could be better.
  • They are simple and less expensive (ubiquitous, in a way).

Pros of USB:

  • If the onboard sound card is poor (as in business computers), the USB headset has its own sound card to give better quality sound.
  • By having two sound cards (one on the computer and one with the headset) the sound from the computer can be sent to two different locations simultaneously.

You may note that the pros of one type are the cons of the other.

Final Verdict

This USB headset vs analog comparison makes it evident that the fundamental difference between them is this: USB can process digital signals while analog headsets cannot.

But USB headsets are still not as popular as analog ones, because the additional sound card and DAC seems overkill for most audiophiles.

Regardless, due to the added layer of sound processing, USB headsets can consistently give better audio.

So, our advice would be to choose a USB headset if your area of interest requires high-quality audio. For a casual listening experience, analog headsets are enough.

Hope this helped. 

Vitaly Fedorov

Vitaly Fedorov is a seasoned audio technician and writer. After spending ten years in a studio team, I have decided to spread my knowledge to people in this domain. On this site, I work for headphone fixing or repair issues, that you’re thinking about fixing. Click on any article on my site and read the complete answer about that issue. I am excited to read your feedback.

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