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For many years, I have been frustrated by how flimsy the audio cables from my headphones and loudspeakers are. They don't use USB, but some sort of analogue audio standard plug. I can't tell you how many times I've been forced to gently tap these connectors, or pull the cable repeatedly, because it drops one channel so it becomes super low-volume with just audio coming from the left ear, etc. This happens all the time for me, and has been the same for numerous different computers and headphones and loudspeakers over the years.

What I wonder is: why do they use this analogue audio plug interface? Why not USB? As much as I hate USB (for other reasons), at least they are physically kept in place firmly, and not sticking out far and easily jerked around like the audio plugs.

Maybe there actually are USB headphones and loudspeakers, but they certainly don't seem to be standard by any means.

Does this have something to do with them having to go through the "sound card"? I haven't had a dedicated sound card for many years, always using the built-in motherboard "audio out" and "audio in" connectors on all computers I have had since year 2000.

I don't know whether dedicated audio cards have USB output now.

Wouldn't a USB headphone/loudspeaker, thus being fully digital, guarantee better audio on top of physically keeping in place? Am I fundamentally misunderstanding something about audio? I do remember having massive problems with an external USB sound card, but it only used USB to connect to the PC -- not for the actual audio output.

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For many years, I have been frustrated by how flimsy the audio cables from my headphones and loudspeakers are. They don't use USB, but some sort of analogue audio standard plug. I can't tell you how many times I've been forced to gently tap these connectors, or pull the cable repeatedly, because it drops one channel so it becomes super low-volume with just audio coming from the left ear, etc. This happens all the time for me, and has been the same for numerous different computers and headphones and loudspeakers over the years.

While I know the effect you're talking about there's a certain element of selection bias going on here - if you buy flimsy audio cables you're going to think they're all flimsy when that's certainly not the universal case. Buying even pretty modest quality kit all but eliminates this in my experience. I don't think I've had this happen in > 20 years, because I stopped using the trash-quality headphones and cables. Conversely I've had countless cheap and shoddy usb cables die in the same time period and don't even get me started on the ephemeral nature of their lightning cable counterparts!

What I wonder is: why do they use this analogue audio plug interface? Why not USB? As much as I hate USB (for other reasons), at least they are physically kept in place firmly, and not sticking out far and easily jerked around like the audio plugs.

Moving to USB connections for headphones/speakers is more than just changing the type of connector - if you're doing that then you're pushing a digital signal not an analogue one. That digital signal is still going to have to be converted to analogue using a DAC (and likely amplified too) before you can hear anything, you're in effect moving a significant portion of the "sound card" from the computer to the headphones. This then increases the complexity (and therefore cost) of the headphones or speakers you're using.

That's not to say it doesn't exist though - that's what Bluetooth and USB-C headphones do after all, and the trend is generally heading that way. And for higher end listening taking a digital input has some real benefits, you can get a nice set of BT headphones that have their own high-quality DAC and enjoy the same quality regardless of the source device. But the flipside of that is why cheap ones are so terrible where even relatively inexpensive analogue units can sound quite decent.

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Modern soundcards have optical audio out in addition to the historic 3.5mm audio jacks. There are also desktop speakers that support optical as an input, for example the Logitech Z625 Powerful THX Certified 2.1 Speaker System with Optical Input. My headphones (Sennheiser HD-280 PRO Headphones) from several years ago have a USB dongle. Often today you can get bluetooth enabled headphones that don't require any wired connection at all.

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