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Battle of Google Pixel Headphone Dongles

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of three adapters to give your Pixel phone an analog output to drive headphones. Taking a lead from Apple, Google eliminated the 3.5 mm headphone jack necessitating using these external dongles/DACs+amps to use with headphones. Rumor is that Samsung may also go that way with their next phone. :(

Anyway, I received the original Google Pixel "USB-C to 3.5mm Adapter" months and months ago from a member. I was dreading having to measure it through my phone as that makes the process slow and incomplete. While I was procrastinating on that a member recently loaned me the second generation of that, prompting me to go and measure them. Fortunately I realized that using a simple USB adapter I could connect them to my PC and hence be able to measure them there. The second generation dongle retails for $12 from Google store. I don't know what the original one retailed for but I see it on Amazon for USD $14 with prime shipping.

Meanwhile, someone enticed me to buy the Veclan (or is it Veclan) Electronics dongle. I have no record of a purchase in my inbox but I think it is their "Odyssey" version which retails for $10 from China. Here are the three side by side:

Google Pixel Audio Dongle Headphone Adapter Review.jpg

As you can see, the two versions of Google dongles look almost identical. The VE version though is fancier with metal connectors, longer cord, a case and a USB adapter like the ones I bought to mate with a PC.

Make your guess as to which one you think performs better.

Measurements
I started with the original Pixel dongle. I was happy to see Windows recognize it immediately. Alas, not too happy about seeing the only format supported is 24 bits at 48 kHz sampling:

Google Pixel Version 1 Sampling Rate and Format Support.png


Since just about everything you are likely to play on your phone is from CD rips or streaming at 44.1 kHz sampling, this means your phone would be resampling them all to 48 kHz.

Let's see the Dashboard view:
Google Pixel Version 1 Headphone Audio Adapter Dashboard Measurement.png


This is decent performance but falls short of minimum level performance I like to see (SINAD in high 90s).

Let's look at Pixel 2 now and formats it supports:
Google Pixel Version 2 Sampling Rate and Format Support.png


Ah, we now have native 44.1 kHz sampling support! Let's see if that comes with good dashboard measurements:

Google Pixel Version 2 Headphone Audio Adapter Dashboard Measurement.png


Yuck. We have a massive drop in output voltage to just 0.4 volts. That is going to hurt the power output significantly as we see later.

On distortion front, there is enough extra junk to knock it down the SINAD a bit too.

Let's look at formats supported by VE:
Venture Electronics Headphone Audio Dongle dashboard Measurement.png


This one gets us coming and going! Same low output voltage as Pixel V2 dongle but now we have taken a serious dump in the distortion and noise department. This is the lowest SINAD I have ever measured on any DAC:
Google Pixel Audio Dongle SINAD Measurement.png


As you can see, the Pixel V1 google did as well as my Samsung S8+. None of these dongles come remotely close to LG G7 ThinQ at SINAD of 105.

Let's see how they do in jitter and noise department starting with the twin Google Pixel dongles:

Google Pixel Headphone Audio Adapter Jitter and Noise Measurement.png


What a disaster the Google Pixel V2 is. It not only has lower output meaning the noise floor and spikes are actually higher in amplitude on that graph, but it also has a ton of jitter and distortion spikes. The V1 is much better behaved in that regard.

Let's bring the VE dongle into the picture now:

Venture Electronics Headphone Audio Dongle Jitter and Noise Measurement.png


Again, keep in mind that its output is much lower than Pixel V1 dongle. So in reality, its noise floor (in green) is higher and so are its jitter and distortion products.

Clearly no care has been put in the design of either Pixel V2 dongle or VE one.

Let's measure power using 300 ohm load:

Google Pixel Headphone Audio Adapter Power versus Distortion at 300 Ohm Measurement.png


Neither Pixel V2 or VE donglers get even to one milliwatt! The V1 stretches out to 11 milliwatt in contrast. It is gain limited meaning it would have no distortion even at highest levels of playback.

Let's go the other extreme and measure power using 33 ohm load:

Google Pixel Headphone Audio Adapter Power versus Distortion at 33 Ohm Measurement.png


The much more severe load causes clipping in Pixel V1 dongle producing 53 milliwatts of power. But it has some other distortion that rises at around 7 milliwatts.

As with 300 ohm load, the V2 and VE dongles produce anemic power of around 4 to 8 milliwatts.

At this point I think we have clear enough picture of these devices that I did not run more tests.

Listening Tests
I did some brief testing of the dongles using my Sennheiser HD-650 headphone. Here, I was surprised that the original Pixel V1 had decent amount of bass with clear response and loud enough for enjoyment. In sharp contrast, the other two dongles would not even reach my normal listening level. Yes, you can hear the music but this is no way to treat the HD-650. :)

Conclusions
This whole business of removing the headphone jack is anti-consumer. No phone is thinner than the 3.5 mm jack allows. I don't like the idea of a dongle as it can get lost, get damaged, etc. If you are going to get one for your Pixel phone (or whatever else it may work with), then my strongest suggestion is to buy the original version before the stock runs out on them. It has far more power, and better performance.

The other two dongles, the Google Pixel 2 and Venture/Veclan are what we name "phoned in design." You call a shop in China and ask them to produce a checklist item with no attempt to set quality and performance standard. What you get produces sound but it is a very poor attempt at engineering.

I know it is a huge hassle but if you want great sound with audiophile headphones, you need to carry an external DAC+amp.

I hope LG continues with their audiophile audio subsystem. If they can do it, others can too sans laziness and not caring to support enthusiasts.

-------------

As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

If you like this review, please consider donating funds to support these reviews using Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

restorer-john

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#2
Clearly Google place no value in audio reproduction at all. Have you tested the Apple headphone dongle BTW?
 

Thomas savage

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#6
Brilliantly useful thanks amir, Iv tended to abandon the cord when traveling with my Bose headphones and just use the Bluetooth to connect to my phone. So it’s no issue for me that they ditched the jack and more and more people I see walking about with things on their ears are wireless .

A few angry Audiophiles but 99.9% of folks don’t seem fussed.
 

RayDunzl

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#7
Is there anything in the dongle besides wire?
 

amirm

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#8

amirm

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#9
Is there anything in the dongle besides wire?
These have a DAC and headphone amplifier in them (probably in the same chip). Hence the reason they get recognized as DACs on my Windows PC for testing.

There are passive "analog" ones that pass through the sound from the phone. These are not that type.
 
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#11
I was looking at getting a Pixel and was hoping the V2 dongle would be an improvement. Good thing I got th LG G7 which in combination with my Fiio A5 should provide excellent performance.
 

Timbo2

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#12
I have an Essential phone and the same lack of 3.5mm jack issue. I bought the Google adapter as a spare for it. I can confirm on my phone the only sample rate it supports is 48kHz.

OTH, the Essential adapter that came with my phone supports 48 and 44.1kHz. No idea on the bit rate as Onkyo player doesn’t tell me that. However, it DOES output the chipset for that adapter but has no info on the Google one.

https://www.anandtech.com/show/10311/conexant-introduces-usb-c-digital-audiocompliant-chipshttps://www.anandtech.com/show/10311/conexant-introduces-usb-c-digital-audiocompliant-chips

It’s the 20985.

The Essential adapter sounds noticeably louder as well.
 

amirm

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#14
Oh, seeing that review I realized I forgot to post the output impedance measurements! Here it is:

Google Pixel Headphone Audio Adapterd Output Impedance Measurement.png


As seen, the Google Pixel 2 has a 7.6 ohm output impedance which is much worse than V1 and VE dongles.
 

amirm

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#18
Oh, seeing that review I realized I forgot to post the output impedance measurements! Here it is:

View attachment 16512

As seen, the Google Pixel 2 has a 7.6 ohm output impedance which is much worse than V1 and VE dongles.
7.6 is pretty insane. Even 1.0-1.2 is quite a lot for such weak DAC/Amps, imo, as they are after all being primarily used on quite sensitive IEMs.

Well, the search for a "good" DAC/Amp dongle continues, I guess.... Going with a proper, dedicated full-fledged DAC/Amp alongside the phone (like the Fiio E17) is out of the question for me, I'm afraid. It completely beats the purpose of portable practicality. For me, the only "portable" DAC/Amp are dongles, or things small enough in those areas.
 
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#19
7.6! That's pretty insane. Even 1.0-1.2 is quite a lot for such weak DAC/Amps, imo, as they are after all being primarily used on quite sensitive IEMs.

Well, the search for a "good" DAC/Amp dongle continues, I guess.... Going with a proper, dedicated full-fledged DAC/Amp alongside the phone (like the Fiio E17) is out of the question for me, I'm afraid. It completely beats the purpose of portable practicality.
Check out the SMSL IDEA, Amir and Archimago have reviewed it and concluded that they are great :)
Also the Fiio Q1 MKII seems a good choice. If you want to go bigger, something like the Fiio E17, go for a Topping NX4 DSD, also reviewed here.
 
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#20
Problem there again is that they demand that you have a cable attached to them and to the phone. If these small DAC/Amps, like the Dragonfly, had a direct USB Type-C connection, it would have made it considerably more practical. Currently, the SMSL IDEA, or even the the Dragonfly variants, you need an extra adapter/or cable. This difference is of a greater importance to practicality than you think.

What makes the 3.5mm dongles more intuitive (or at least the second best option, after headphone jacks in phones), is that you can just attach them to you IEM/headphone, and have it as a part of that gear's cable. It's like turning your 3.5mm connection into a Type-C connection.

As for the Q1 MKII, it falls withing the category of DAC/Amps that are smartphone-size(ish), and are really just a hassle to go around with your phone with, like the Fiio E17. I know some people don't mind going around with those in public areas, but for me it's simply way too protruding to even consider. That's true for even using it with my laptop, outside of the house; I'd rather use the 3.5mm dongles than extra blocks.
 
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