USB vs Audio Jack: It’s All About Sound Quality

While an audio jack may be the most used way of audio transmission, USBs are quickly gaining ground. Why is this happening? 

It’s all about audio quality! 

To learn more about what makes USBs a better transmitter of high-quality audio, read on!

How Does Audio Get Transmitted to An Audio Jack?

First of all, all audio is analog. 

But does this mean that the audio that you store on a computer is in an analog format? Of course not!

You know that all digital devices, from your phones to your computers, must talk in a digital language. This language is beyond human perception. 

That is why, when you feed your computer analog audio, it gets converted into digital format inside the computer. For this, the computer uses an ADC, or Analog to Digital Converter. 

Your smartphone also has this, as the same applies to any digital device that is meant to store analog data. 

When you play the stored audio, though, you can hear and perceive it, right? The moment you click play, the digital file is sent to another little chip called the DAC, or the Digital to Analog Converter. 

Thus the digital file is again converted into an analog format. This analog format is essential for an audio jack to receive the signal from the computer, in the form of an electric signal. 

All this happens in a few seconds, and the lag is not usually perceivable. 

When this electric signal reaches the drivers of the headset, audio is produced. This is how an analog headset works. 

What Difference is There For A USB Headset?

The need for a DAC inside the digital device is eliminated if the headset has a USB connector. The ADC’s converted audio file, in digital format, is sent directly to the USB connector. 

But no headset driver can perceive digital signals. Therefore, a DAC is essential for a USB headset to work, as well. 

The plus point of the USB headset, then, is this: instead of the usually poor quality DAC inside your digital device, a bigger, more efficient DAC can be used if the connector is USB. 

Thus the USB headset tends to give better audio quality than a headset with an audio jack.

But there is a downside. 

Usually, headsets with an audio jack are cheaper. The USB headsets that gives better quality audio usually costs more. 

Final Verdict–Which One Should You Choose?

The USB vs audio jack question demands a thoughtful answer.

On the one hand, the digital headset is better in terms of sound quality, if you purchase the right DAC for it. 

On the other hand, the analog audio quality of the audio jack may be enough for the casual user. 

Unless you are in an industry where the highly detailed sound is a deal-breaker, there is little use for the extra DAC and sound processing that a USB headset asks for.

But, you must also consider the emerging market. Investing in a pair of good micro-USB headsets might be better at a time when the major smartphone companies are getting rid of the audio jack. 

There are other alternatives, like Bluetooth, if you would like to go wireless. 

But if you like the sound quality of a wired headphone, a USB headset might be the best option available for you. 

It might also be your best bet if the onboard sound card of your laptop is not as good as you hoped for!

Hope you found this useful!

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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