The latest big breakthrough for music streaming services has been to expand catalogs to include lossless audio. While it’s still unclear when Spotify will launch its lossless service, with Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, Deezer and Qobuz to name a few, there’s no shortage of streaming services to get high quality music from here and there. now. There’s only one problem with that: you may not have what you need to actually listen to any of these lossless tracks.
Until the big streaming services got into lossless audio, getting the most out of your subscription was possible with almost any headset. However, even the lowest 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 through a USB-C to headphone jack adapter?
With a USB-C to headphone adapter, your only limit is the native bit rate of your phone’s digital-to-analog converter (DAC for short). In most Androids it’s 24-bit at 48kHz, and while that’s nowhere near what you can get from an external DAC, it’s still far 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 adapters are created equal, so be sure to find one with a high resolution DAC chip. Overall, they all seem to support 24-bit 96kHz audio. Although not powerful enough to Great high-end audio, it’s at least good enough to make your phone the bottleneck of your audio.
Once you’ve covered that, you just need a pair of headphones or wired headphones. You could spend all day looking for things like open-back or closed-back headphones, or in-ear monitors with multiple drivers, but most of it comes down to personal preference. Something more important to watch out for is impedance (measured in ohms). The more ohms they are rated, the harder it is to drive the headphones, and the amplifiers in phones aren’t particularly powerful, so music volume will start to drop once you get past around 60 ohms.
Once the hardware is manipulated, only the software remains. As we’ve covered, Spotify isn’t quite ready for lossless yet, and YouTube Music hasn’t even feigned interest in high-quality audio. There are still plenty of options out there if you want to dip your toes into the world of hi-fi. You can get lossless tracks from Apple Music for $10/month, Amazon Music Unlimited for just $8/month if you have prime, or from Qobuz for $130/year or $13/month. Deezer and Tidal also boast about their audio quality, but Deezer is limited to CD quality files, and to get the most out of Tidal you need specialized hardware to decode their MQA files, which doesn’t make one or the other service the best choice in this case.
Android’s built-in USB audio routing isn’t as seamless as plugging in headphones, but it’s better than nothing. Some phones will ask you what kind of audio device you’re plugged into (headphones, car, etc.) and pump all the sound through them with no problem. Other phones may not play through your wired headphones unless you open your music app before plugging in. In my experience, any issues I had stemmed from this and could be fixed by simply unplugging the USB cable and plugging it back in.
How does Bluetooth audio compare to wired headphones through a USB-C to headphone adapter?
The main limitation of Bluetooth audio is bit rate (how much data it can transfer per second). While Sony’s LDAC and Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codecs have the highest bitrates available, they barely have the bandwidth to play lossless CD-quality music (16-bit at 44.1kHz). Other codecs are “lossy,” meaning parts of your audio are compressed and lost in order to transfer the file from your phone to your headphones. Bluetooth is getting better and better, but it looks like it might be a while before it can handle the same high resolution files you can listen to over a wire.
While the jump from 16-bit 44.1kHz to 24-bit 48kHz might not seem like a big bump at first glance, this extra bit depth and faster sample rate generates almost twice as much data per second. The audiophile world is full of diminishing returns just trying to make big numbers even bigger, but this improvement is very perceptible. Switch to high resolution leads to things like fuller sound and a bigger soundstage, and can let you hear details you may not have noticed in tracks you’ve been listening to for years.
On top of that, Bluetooth headphones that can handle lossless music can be quite expensive, even before features like active noise cancellation were added. around the $20 mark. While wired buds don’t have the same convenience as Bluetooth, they more than make up for it with better audio quality, lower latency while gaming, and a much lower price. So while Bluetooth headphones still clearly have their place and they’re getting better over time, if you want to improve the quality of your music, you can. better for less money if you are ready to take care of the threads 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 want to go back to wired headphones to improve your audio quality.
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