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Samsung Galaxy Phones Drop Headphone Jack: Harman Audio to the Rescue!

by December 08, 2016

It was just about this time last year we reported that Apple planned to remove the 3.5mm jack from its (then) upcoming iPhone 7. Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller said of the move: "Some people have asked us why we would remove the analogue headphone jack. It's been with us a really long time and it comes down to one word: courage. Our team has tremendous courage."

Schiller’s infamous “courage” quote has been endlessly mocked online. But he makes a valid point - it must have taken some courage to piss off a large segment your customers by leaving out a feature long taken for granted.

Wireless Courage

Now it's Samsung’s year to show, maybe not quite as much courage as Apple, and drop the 3.5-mm jack from its upcoming Galaxy S8 smartphone. The leaked info about the Galaxy S8 had been confirmed by SamMobile.com earlier in the week. Other important rumors about the Galaxy S8 include that it will feature an upgraded USB port. Gone will be the familiar micro-USB 2.0 in favor of the next generation Type-C. The Type-C USB port is not only a higher speed connection, but provides fully reversible two-way connectivity. So, you can expect faster data-transfers, faster charging and a variety of new Type-C USB-to-3.5mm headphone jack adapters being rushed to market in coming months.

What This Will Mean For Portable Hi-Fi?

As more and more phones drop the 3.5mm jack and upgrade to Type-C USB – how do we keep the music flowing? You'll basically have two options: Go wireless or use an adapter.

USB to Type CThe average user accustomed to plugging headphones directly into their smartphone for a playlist fix will need to be ready when its time to buy a new phone with no headphone jack. The exodus from analog headphone jacks won’t stop with Apple and Samsung. In a couple of years it’s likely to be difficult to find a phone that still has a 3.5mm jack. The market seems to have spoken. The jack itself and the accompanying components inside today’s phones take up too much internal space. Since Apple, having made the switch first, isn’t on fire running down streets of Cupertino screaming… the market seems willing to bear the burden of either going wireless or adopting the adapter.

The good news for anyone who wants to keep their old wired headphones is that the USB port isn’t going anywhere. Mobile headphone hi-fi fans that already use a DAC/Amp with a digital input will experience no change to their listening mode of choice.

If you already own an audio device with a USB-micro input, such as the Oppo HA2 portable DAC, don’t worry - your device won’t go obsolete with USB Type-C. The new USB standard is backward compatible, minus the new Type-C features of course. But the Type-C plug itself is different so a new cable will be required to bridge the new Type-C to your DAC’s USB-micro input.
Samsung may have been busy this year buying its way into the automotive telematics business with recent news that it will purchase Harman. But the Harman purchase was never exclusively about connected cars. Samsung’s foray into hi-fi is at least partly behind the Harman deal. So, it should come as little surprise that the Galaxy S8 is also rumoured to include a new stereo speaker system built by Harman. Samsung phones have lagged behind when it comes built-in speaker quality. Now that the iPhone 7 sports dual speakers, a Harman speaker upgrade for Samsung will keep it from slipping behind its biggest competitor.

Harman Audio Peripherals

The new USB standard is backward compatible, minus the new Type-C features of course. But the Type-C plug itself is different.

The solution, as new tech standards are adopted and old ones are dropped, is always for you to buy more stuff. This is where Harman comes in! It’s likely that Harman is going to provide plenty of options whether you opt for a USB-to-3.5mm jack adapter or you decide you need some new wireless headphones. The good news is that digital-to-analog audio adapters and wireless headphones have never been cheaper and better quality.  

Harman’s many audio properties already produce some of the most sophisticated wireless headphones available – like the JBL Everest Elite 700 wireless noise-cancelling headphones. The Everest Elite 700s came out just last year but have experienced a slight update for JBL’s 70th anniversary and are backed by some serious technology.

But overall the Samsung deal means we’re probably in for a slew of new wireless models coming soon from the various Harman audio brands. We’re all well aware of the limitations in sound quality anytime you introduce wireless into the audio-chain. But, rest assured, this is the era of Bluetooth 4.0 and wireless headphones can sound amazing now. The days of mediocre Bluetooth audio quality are long gone. And in practice, how much critical listening are you really doing when you’re out traipsing the streets causing trouble like you know you do?

Better Quality DAC/Amps

When it comes to converting digital sound to analog, not all devices are created equally. Consumer-grade USB-to-3.5mm adapters are likely to come pretty cheap for those that choose to stick with stock earbuds.

But if you spent the money on even a modest pair of headphones you may find that a good adapter is the fast track to some of the best sound you’ve heard from your headphones. The USB output on your phone has access to digital audio in its purest form, whether streamed or stored. Cell phones are notorious for using the cheapest and smallest DACs and headphone amp components possible. So, it should be no surprise you were always getting crappy sound from your phone. But once more people start using better quality external DAC/Amps, there's likely to be a new generation of headphone hi-fi converts. Of course, the majority will still only want the cheapest adapter they can get. 

Rumors and speculation will finally come to an end next February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, that’s when Samsung will unveil the Galaxy S8 and all of its features.

About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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