There is something to be said for universality. The 3.5mm jack plug is fairly universal. Is there something better? Perhaps. I assume that it’s better for me to connect my E17K to my laptop with the USB cable than it is to use a double-ended jack cable plugged into the auxiliary input of the DAC. Is there a noticeable difference in the quality of the sound from using a USB cable? Probably not, although I’m sure there are machines which can produce graphs that show the sound improves. I do have a pair of Logitech USB headphones (H330), but the earpieces don’t produce especially good sound. The signal from the laptop may be better, but if it’s not being played through better kit, it doesn’t matter. ¶ I should add as an aside that that particular pair of headphones are designed for Internet telephony, but at the time it seemed that everything was going USB.
I thought that USB might replace the 3.5mm jack plug, but it never has, being typically confined to the function of supplying power rather than data. In fact, I believe I have more USB lights than pieces of sound equipment.
Bluetooth seems ridiculously overrated beyond very short distances and direct lines of sight between the transmitter and receiver. It gets rid of real cables, but there are still the limits of virtual ones, and the effects of walls which can so easily disrupt the signal. My X300 Bluetooth speaker can pick up the signal from my iPod Touch from the bedroom so long as it’s outside the door to the study, but once it’s in here, the signal either splutters or dies.
The removal of the 3.5mm socket from the iPhone 7 is worrisome if everyone else follows Apple in assuming that the 3.5mm jack plug is passé. As I said at the top of the post, the 3.5mm jack plug is still fairly universal. All three of my DACs use it; a number of speakers I own (even the three Bluetooth ones) use it (and the rest use RCA cables). Such cables can be used across several devices unlike Apple’s lightning cable which is one of those annoy proprietorial connections.
Perhaps the 3.5mm jack plug doesn’t transmit the best sound, but at what point does better sound cross over from reality to marketing to the gullible? My Sony MDR-1aDAC headphones have both 3.5mm and various digital connections, but an unscientific test with my iPod Touch doesn’t have me leaping out of my seat when I switch from analogue to digital. Frankly, it’s all electronic. The musicons (which are music-bearing particles [Really? –ed.]) travel along the metallons (which make up the wire; this is scientific fact [In whose delusional world? –ed.]) to the metal connector (also made of metallons; I’m sure I saw this on Wikipedia) whether you’re using a jack cable or a lightning one. Again, if there’s a difference, I aver that it’s only something a machine could distinguish.
Apart from hardware failure, I expect to be using my current range of kit for a long time to come, 3.5mm jack plugs and all.
Cables and connectors.
My dealings with cables began with the splitter which came with the H5s. Noticing that the sound from the right-hand speaker had been fading, I traced the fault to the splitter. My attempt to get a replacement led to first, a second-rate Y splitter and then a female-to-female RCA-to-3.5mm cable, with the gap being breached by a double-ended 3.5mm cable. I wanted a “clean” solution (i.e., a single cable) instead of some hybrid solution.
Having signed up to JingDong, which started in electronics and now flogs all manner of gear in competition with, say, TaoBao, I bought a Vention cable that seemed to fit the bill. Unfortunately, the RCA sockets are recessed, which meant that the cable didn’t connect well with the RCA cables from the H5s, and I brief had to revert to the old solution. Besides, the Vention cable is very short. I replaced that with a Choseal cable, which was rather cheap, but which bridges the gap between the speakers and the laptop much better because of the length of the cables. (Ironically, the female-to-female cable I mentioned above was, I recently discovered, also Choseal). ¶ This latter cable is quite useful because I can use it to connect my headphones to my DVD player. Initially, it was in place of a male RCA to male 3.5mm jack plug.
I also bought a 3.5-to-3.5mm Vention cable, bound in cotton. Now, 3.5-to-3.5mm cables are two-a-penny things and I can count in my head about ten of them in my possession, but I wanted something nice, with a nice feel. Yes, lambast me for my shallowness. A cotton-wrapped cable is much more flexible than some plastic coated thing which seems forever stuck with its original bends.
To go with that, I also bought male-to-male RCA-to-3.5mm cable, also bound in cotton which has that same pleasant texture. The quality of sound transmission is most acceptable.
I’m not a big believer in the efficacy of cables. I suspect that the cables produced by Audioquest are merely expensive without necessarily producing any audible difference over stock cables. My purchase of the cables above was pure indulgence, and the 3.5-to-3.5mm cable produces no better sound than the Edifier cable which, I think, came with the Aurora speakers. Mind you, that said, a single cable sounds better than linking together cables with 3.5mm plugs and the appropriate male and female RCA connections. Yes, I did it for a laugh, but the sound from my iPod was less clear.