Intel Wants USB Type-C Digital Audio To Bury Legacy 3.5mm Headphone Jacks

Intel is joining the fight to replace the widely used 3.5mm headphone jack with USB Type-C connectors. The Santa Clara chip maker isn't the first to suggest such a move, though the challenge in toppling the 3.5mm port is that it's everywhere. Nevertheless, Intel presented an extensive proposal at IDF Shenzhen to make the swap.

Replacing the 3.5mm jack with USB Type-C connectors is a short term goal of Intel's, one that would pave the way towards its long term goal of transitioning from analog to digital audio. The movement is already underway on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, and Intel wants to see USB Type-C take over as the standard for PCs and all audio gadgets.


There are several benefits to transitioning to digital audio. By getting rid of analog audio circuits, engineers will have more space to offer interesting features to customers. By moving to a new spec, headsets and earphones could include things like like thermal sensors for biometric health tracking, and of course higher quality audio.

Intel is spearheading the development of USB Type-C Digital Audio by updating the USB Audio Device Class 2.0 specifications. Not a lot of details about the emerging standard are available at the moment, though Intel plans to release the USB Type-C Digital Audio specification sometime this quarter.

USB Type-C Audio Slide

If there's a downside to this, it's that headsets could become more expensive, at least in the short term. That's because they'll gain their own amplifiers, DACs, and other logic, all of which currently reside inside smartphones and other gadgets. Intel would press it all into a multi-function processing unit (MPU), one that could be upgraded via software to gain new features over time, but also add to costs.