The latest big move for music streaming services has been to expand their catalogs to include lossless audio. Although it remains unclear when Spotify will launch its service losslessly, between Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, Deezer, and Qobuz to name a few, there is no shortage of streaming services to get quality music from here and – right Now. There’s only one problem with that: you may not have what you need to actually listen to any of those missing tracks.
Until the big streaming services made their way to lossless audio, it was possible to get the most out of your subscription with just about any earbuds. However, even lower quality lossless music pushes most Bluetooth codecs to their limits. If you want to get the most out of your money, you need a wired connection.
Can I listen to lossless audio with the USB-C to headphone jack adapter?
With a USB-C to Headphone Adapter, your only limit is the native bitrate of the DAC (abbreviated DAC). On most Android devices this is 24bit @48kHz, and while that’s a far cry from what you can get from an external DAC, it’s still much better than what Bluetooth connections can achieve.
To get started, the first thing you’ll need is a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter. Not all converters are created equal, so be sure to find converters with a high-resolution DAC chip. Across the board, these all seem to support 24-bit 96kHz audio. While this is not strong enough for excellent High-quality sound, at least it’s good enough to make your phone the bottleneck to your audio.
Once that’s done, you just need a wired pair of earphones or headphones. You can spend the whole day looking for things like open-back versus closed-back headphones, or in-ear monitors with multiple drivers, but most of that is just down to personal preference. The most important thing to pay attention to is the impedance (measured in ohms). The more ohms the more difficult it is rated to power headphones, and the speakers in phones aren’t particularly powerful, so the volume of music will start dropping once you go above 60 ohms.
Once you deal with the hardware, all that’s left is the software. Since we’ve covered the top, Spotify isn’t quite yet lossless, and YouTube Music didn’t even pretend to care about high-quality audio. There are still plenty of options if you want to immerse your toes in the world of hi-fi. You can get lossless tracks from Apple Music for $10 a month, unlimited Amazon Music for just $8 a month if you have Prime, or from Qobuz for $130 a year or $13 a month. Deezer and Tidal also pride themselves on audio quality, but Deezer is limited to CD-quality files, and to get the most out of Tidal, you need special hardware to decode their MQA files, so neither service makes the best choice in this case.
Android’s built-in USB audio routing isn’t as smooth as plugging in headphones, but it’s better than nothing. Some phones will ask what type of audio device you have connected (earphones, car, etc) and pump all the sound through without a problem. Other phones may not work through wired buds unless you open your music app before connecting it. In my experience, any issues that arose from this and can be resolved by simply unplugging the USB cable and plugging it in again.
How does Bluetooth audio compare to wired headphones via the USB-C to Headphone Adapter?
The main limitation of Bluetooth audio is the bit rate (the amount of data that can be transferred per second). While Sony’s LDAC and Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codecs have the highest bit rates available, they barely have the bandwidth to play lossless CD-quality music (16-bit @ 44.1kHz). Other codecs are “lost,” which means parts of the audio are compressed and lost in order to transfer the file from your phone to the earbuds. Bluetooth is getting better, but it looks like it might take a while before you can handle the same high fidelity Files that you can listen to over a wire.
While jumping from 16-bit 44.1 kHz to 24-bit 48 kHz may not seem like a huge bump at first glance, that extra depth and faster sample rate comes out to nearly double the data per second. The audiophile world is full of shocks of diminishing returns by just trying to make the big numbers bigger, but this improvement is very marked. Switch to high resolution Coils lead to things like fuller sound and a larger sound stage, and can let you hear details you might not have noticed in the tracks you’ve been listening to for years.
On top of that, Bluetooth headphones that can handle lossless music can get expensive, even before features like active noise cancellation are added. Alternatively, good headphone adapters start at less than $10, and a pair of good in-ear splash screens come in. About the $20 mark. Although wired headphones don’t have the same convenience as Bluetooth, they make up for it with better sound quality, lower latency while gaming, and a much lower price tag. So, while bluetooth headphones still obviously have a place, and they get better over time, if you want to increase the quality of your music, you can do so. better to less Money if you’re willing to deal with wires again.
Looking for more Android Police recommendations? Check out our picks for the best budget phones, or take a look at our picks for the best wireless headphones if you don’t feel like going back to wired headphones to boost your sound quality.
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