No Headphone Jack, No Problem: The Best USB-C Headphones

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No Headphone Jack, No Problem: The Best USB-C Headphones

Your new phone is perfect: great camera, fast, and beautiful to look at. But something's missing … the headphone jack!

Following Apple's suit, more and more Android phones are ditching the headphone jack. Instead of Lightning, Android users get to rely on their USB-C port for audio. Unlike with the last few iPhones, the headphone industry didn't have enough time to catch up for Android. So now, you're left with roughly 10 options, most of which cost more than $100. Bummer.

In both cases, you won't be able to charge your phone and listen to music at the same (sorry, car commuters), but we think this is a small price to pay for the future of digital audio. The cool thing about USB-C headphones is that they draw more power. Headphone companies can direct this power to better/more drivers in the buds that provide louder and clearer sound (hence the high price tags).

Though we're excited and hopeful, we understand that this transition is a pain, so we did some work for you. Instead of just listing the USB-C headphones that exist, we found the best reviewed ones and tested them out in real-life scenarios. We also checked out the best cables and dongles to help you ease into this USB-C life.

We know it's hard to say goodbye, but we're hear to help. 

01

These earphones look almost identical to Apple's Earpods, but they sound ... better. We know, we were surprised too.

The 3.5 mm Apple Earpods have been a budget favorite of iPhone and Android users alike, but they are known to be a bit bass-heavy. These Huawei headphones offer a more equalized sound without sacrificing bass quality altogether, a common hurdle for USB-C/digital headphones. Your ears and podcasts will thank you, trust us.

We recommend these headphones because they sound great, are affordable, and had full functionality with any USB-C device that transmits data, including phones that also had a traditional headphone jack (i.e. Samsung Galaxy 9, 9+, and OnePlus 5T).

Pros

  • Cost
  • Sound quality
  • Compatible with major USB-C phones (Yep, the Pixel 2 included!)

Cons

  • Average noise-cancelling
  • Control panel is very close to face

Read the full review.

Best USB-C Headphones for Most People
02

If you need a Lexus for your ears, Libratone is the way to go. These earphones look and feel premium, and they have impressive sound quality to back it up. We especially love the CityMix™ feature that lets you adjust the level of noise-cancellation. We also recommend the Libratone Q Adapt USB-C Earphones because of their design, comfort, and excellent noise-cancellation.

There's a noticeable audio quality difference between Huawei's earphones and these, which is to be expected, but we could also hear the difference when compared to the Essential HD Earphones. For the extra bucks, you get superior audio, the CityMix feature, a comprehensive control button, a smaller mic pod at chin level, and an overall gorgeous set of earphones.

Pros

  • Noise cancellation and isolation
  • Great sound quality
  • Build quality

Cons

  • Price

Read the full review.

Best Premium USB-C Earphones for Audiophiles
03

Best USB-C Cable for Your On-Ear Headphones

The great thing about AiAiAi's headphones is that they're modular. If you already have a great set of on-ears with female 3.5 mm jacks, just swap out the cable with the C60. This braided nylon cable has a great three button mic and a reliable DAC.

Shure is working on a similar cable for MMCX connectors, but they currently only have one for iPhone users (we know, we know). We'll also test AiAiAi's on-ear headphones soon and will update this guide accordingly.

Pros

  • Reliable DAC cable
  • Three-button mic
  • Nylon braided cable
Best USB-C Cable for Your On-Ear Headphones
04

Best Auxiliary Cable for Your Car

This shorter cable from AiAiAi is great for plugging into your car's aux port for some tunes or podcasts. Like the C60, it's a braided nylon cable with a great onboard DAC. 

Best Auxiliary Cable for Your Car
05

Best 3.5 mm to USB-C Adapter

If you can buy a backup/replacement adapter from your phone's manufacturer, definitely do that. But if they're hard to find or worse, the company doesn't make any, you can't go wrong with Google.

This adapter is a standard reliable DAC works well across brands (phones and headphones), is reasonably affordable, and it's easily available online for the next 15 times that you lose this tiny dongle. This is a standard, reliable digital to analog converter (DAC), but certain devices might require some software adjustments in their sound output or advanced settings.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Effective
  • Highly compatible

Cons

  • Small/easy to lose
Best 3.5 mm to USB-C Adapter

How We Chose

We rounded up guides and professional reviews of USB-C headphones and audio adapters from Business Insider, The Sound Guys, The Verge, Digital Trends and cross-referenced them with customer reviews on manufacturer sites, Amazon, AliExpress, GearBest, and Reddit threads.

Once we sifted out the riff-raff, we tested out Libratone's Q Adapt Earphones, Essential's HD Earphones, and Huawei's USB-C headphones. Libratone and Essential sent us their earphones to test and we bought Huawei's earphones independently.

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We listened to different kinds of music and podcasts on each pair in various locations (our office, an apartment, residential streets, busy streets, buses, and trains) over the course of a week and also tested the in-call audio quality.

We plugged them into the devices you probably care the most about: a new Macbook, Pixel 2, Essential Phone, and a Huawei Mate 10 Pro. We also wanted to see how well they played with others, so we tried them with a Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ as well as a OnePlus 5T.

After that week, our choices were clear, and now you can stop combing the internet for USB-C headphones.

Close, But No Cigar

JBL's Reflect Aware C was even more expensive than our premium pick, reported as more bassy, and impossible to find, but the corresponding app was much more useful than Libratone's app. Razer's Hammerhead USB-C earphones were a decent mid-range option, but wildly uncomfortable. HTC's Usonic USB-C Earphones were also great, but they only work with HTC phones (and the Huawei Mate 10, for whatever reason).

Unfortunately, if you like noise isolation in your earphones, there's a massive price jump from Huawei to Libratone. The Essential HD Earphones aren't as tough a pill to swallow, plus they'll work with anything that sends USB-C audio (with some software/hardware limitations). We just couldn't get around the one button control panel, how much that hindered functionality, and how the button was somehow even less functional with the Pixel 2. 

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-The Gizmos Team. Learn more here.