Smartphone makers, it’s time to have that come-to-Apple moment, where we tell you that it’s time to put the 3.5mm analog headset jack back on the phone—at least until you get your USB-C audio act in order. After plugging in a fistful of USB-C dongles and USB-C headsets into a stack of USB-C phones, I’ve discovered that it’s a mess, especially for third-party headsets. Here’s why.

why doesn’t my usb-c headphone workGordon Mah Ung

Here’s why your USB-C analog audio adapter doesn’t work.

Why you can’t plug any USB-C thing into any phone

The first problem is lack of basic compatibility. For example, if you take the USB-C dongle that came with a Motorola Z2 Force or Sony Xperia XZ2, it won’t work with a Google Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy S8, or OnePlus 6.

The USB-C dongle that comes with the Pixel 2 XL though, will work across all of those phones, as does the USB-C headset that Huawei includes with its P20 Pro.

But take the USB-C dongle that’s also in the box with the Huawei P20 Pro and try it on your partner’s Pixel 2 XL, and it’s a no-go.

And yeah, the USB-C headset that’s bundled with the HTC U11 won’t work on many phones either. It’s enough to make you want to curb stomp your non-working headset or dongle.

libratone Amazon

Ahh USB-C: The Libratone Q ADAPT headphones work for music but not for phone calls for phones beyond the Pixel 2 XL.

Here’s why your USB-C dongle probably doesn’t work

These incompatibilities all seem to come down to how each phone maker has implemented its phone, USB-C dongle, and bundled USB-C headset. The key component is whether that headset has a DAC, or digital-to-analog converter. As its name implies, the DAC converts the digital audio into analog audio.

The vast majority of bundled dongles I tried—from Lenovo, Sony, and Huawei—do not include DACs. Instead they rely on DACs inside the phone to convert the signal to analog before pumping it out to the headset via USB-C. These phones essentially treat the USB-C port like a USB-C-shaped 3.5mm jack, and it’s probably not unfair to call these analog USB-C dongles.

The exception I’ve seen so far is the USB-C dongle bundled with Google’s Pixel 2 XL. It includes a DAC to read the digital signal from the phone. Because it’s essentially a USB Audio Accessory (a class of USB audio device that should work on all things USB), every phone I tried it on, as well as a few laptops, largely work the way you expect them to.  We can consider these digital USB-C dongles.





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