A Lament for the 3.5mm Mini Jack

It seems that Apple has pressed the world into abandoning one of the oldest standard connectors still in use, the 3.5mm mini-jack. Apple, Samsung and others are now offering mobile phones sans mini-jack, much to the delight of the Bluetooth Consortium and those who make adapter dongles.

I’m not going to waste any more ink, digital or otherwise, with respect to the logic of abandoning the ubiquitous little connector. Enough has been wasted on that already, and it changed no one’s mind.

Nexus 5 top

That said, I am able to comment on the shoddy state of the 3.5mm jack in the past generation of mobile phones. The mini-jack on two of my last three my last mobile phones became defective. Both of those phones, a Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, were made by LG, so perhaps the problem is specific to them.

I have other devices that don’t seem to suffer this fault routinely. Of course, it’s also possible that I don’t used a wired headset as much with those devices. Still, over the years I can’t recall as many simple mechanical failures of the mini-jack as I’ve seen with recent mobile phones.

My suspicion is that the lowly mini-jack simply doesn’t get much respect. In the drive to pack more junk into ever thinner handsets, the elderly connector gets squeezed to the point where it’s mechanical integrity can’t be sustained. It’s not a complicated thing. I suspect it’s just gets ignored. Even under-engineered.

It’s a pity since there very reason that the mini-jack has survived this long is the fact that it can be both robust and cost effective. Not to mention that fact that there are millions of existing headsets that use the little devil.

If someone should decide to not include a mini-jack, I get that. I may not agree, but I understand the decision. To include a poor implementation is another matter entirely.

There’s A New Headset Connector In Town

Sony TRRRS Connector MDR-NC31EMSome time ago I published a backgrounder on 3.5mm headset connectors. It detailed a bit of history of the 1/8″ (3.5mm) mini-plug, from the Sony Walkman of old to present day. That evolution could also be described as from “Tip-Ring-Sleeve”  (TRS) to Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve”  (TRRS.)  That post has proven surprisingly popular.

It’s been said that the universe is continually expanding. That includes the universe of mini-plug variants. Today I got my first look at the next step in the evolution of the lowly mini-plug; TRRRS!

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Wired Headsets: A Tutorial on Connectors, Cables & Pinouts

Headset DevicesPrior to smart phones life was much simpler…at least with respect to the wiring for headsets used with portable music players vs cell phones. A recent project has me dealing with some wired headsets. I thought it worth sharing some of the things that I’ve noted along the way, along with just a bit of the history.

What I’m describing relates to the various ways in which the common headset connector has been used over time and across a number of application contexts, including:

  • Music players
  • Desk phones
  • Smart phones
  • Computers

In the beginning there was the pocket transistor radio. When Sony got around to it some transistor radios featured a 3.5mm (1/8”) 2-conductor jack. This was intended to receive an earphone for private listening. It was also called a “mini-jack” since stereo headphones for listening to music used the full-sized, 1/4”  phone plug.

It’s unclear if the creation of the earphone feature was motivated by the desire to listen to the radio after bedtime, or avoid aggravating the Mrs with the play-by-play of the baseball game.

…time passes, until…
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Lightning Strikes Beats

BeatsHeadphonesWhiteI’ve not been a fan of Beats by Dr. Dre. I’ve purchased a couple of their lesser headsets and found them wanting. So it was that the purchase of the company by Apple didn’t really rock my world view, although the sum involved brought with it a bright spotlight. Lacking for other information there was a lot of speculation as to the underlying logic. It was certainly a curiosity.

Apple’s recent announcement that they will be abandoning the use of the ubiquitous 3.5mm TRS plug for the lightning connector is however very interesting. While it doesn’t change anything about the performance of the products, this announcement casts a new light on the value of the Beats deal. It makes a certain amount of sense if Apple wants to take the whole realm of headsets beyond analog connections, even beyond USB connections.

Digital connections, whether USB or other, make a lot of sense. Such connections remove the variability of the hosts on-board audio interface. In the case of a computer, being at arms length from the internals of the device reduces the likelihood of noise induced into the analog stages of the electronics.

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Wired Headset Happiness: The Return Of ETY.COM

Despite the fact that I have a couple of very good wireless headsets I still find that a wired headset can be handy. This is true both in the office and on the road. While lately I’ve been traveling with a Plantronics Voyager Pro UC cordless headset I also keep an Etymotic ETY.COM wired headset in a my laptop bag.

I’ve mentioned the Etymotic ETY.COM wired headset previously. It remains my favorite wired headset for mobile use. It sounds great and has a boom that reaches around to the corner of my mouth, which is ideal for use in a noisy environment.

However, since I changed cell phones back in November 2009 I’ve not been able to use the ETY.COM with my cell phones. Whereas the Blackberry Pearl has a four conductor 2.5mm jack for the wired headset, the newer Blackberry Bold2 (9700) has a larger 3.5 mm headset jack. The ETY.COM doesn’t fit the 9700 without an adapter.

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