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Review: Apple vs Google USB-C Headphone Adapters

Roen

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There are phones that have a DAC and headphone amp inside, and that rely on dongles to output the analog audio via their USB Type-C port.
That is not what these dongles are.
The ones tested here have their own DAC, Headphone Amp, and ADC built into the Type-C plug. They're genuine USB DACs.
The performance of which is what Amir tested in this review.
The Apple Dongle has a ADC?

Hmm, I guess that’s how it would support a mic in.
 

Roen

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Oh! -Now I'm curious about that lightning to 3.5mm. jack I have that I use all the time for sound testing HiFi equipment. I wonder if that's an adapter or a DAC.
What do you connect the dongle to, an iPhone?

If so, it’s a DAC.
 

Roen

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I’m happily using an Apple USB-C dongle plugged into a startech USB-A hub with USB-C port plugged into an old laptop. The dongle is plugged into an O2 Amp for some extra juice.
 

Jimster480

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What is so wild is how much performance they squeeze out of something so tiny and mass-produced. It goes to show that all of these big box devices are truly obsolete when it comes to high quality audio. You can build a setup for such a low price if it doesn't look aesthetically pleasing. Even to build something that looks aesthetically pleasing doesn't cost that much which is more of the reason why I doubt all of these $7-800 top of the line products that truly don't offer anything to the customer
 
D

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What do you connect the dongle to, an iPhone?

If so, it’s a DAC.
And iPads.

Dang, look like it's a DAC! Wouldn't know as I was sure it just was a plug converter from the size.

1684661591972.jpeg



I feel old now.
 

Roen

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SuperDerpBro

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I noticed the DAC in my main system was creating some hiss in my speakers. So im swapped in an apple dongle for now. Surprising how good it sounds! However, I need coax so what would be a good, cheap side grade?

Screenshot_20230526-125859.png
 

staticV3

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However, I need coax so what would be a good, cheap side grade?
 

Jabinho

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This is a review, detailed measurements and comparison of Apple's USB-C adapter to the current and last version of Google Pixel headphone adapters. The Apple adapter costs just $9 including one day shipping for free. The Google dongle costs $12.

Not that any of these are large by any stretch but Apple's is also the smallest of the three:


Oddly there is no apple logo or markings on the device. The others don't have it either but I thought Apple would insist on that.

All three adapters work in Windows with the appropriate adapter and that is how I tested them, allowing my analyzer to fully control and quantify their performance.

Format wise, Apple's supports the key ones:
View attachment 18461

So very similar to Google Pixel V2 and better than V1 which only supported 48 kHz.

Note that volume control in Windows is active at all times even if you use WASAPI exclusive mode!

Not much else to talk about than getting into measurements.

Measurements
As always, let's start with our dashboard view at maximum volume:
View attachment 18462

Oh wow! That is good. Very good for a dongle. Here is how the SINAD compares:

View attachment 18463

As you see, it leaves both Google dongles in the dust. Mind you, built-in DAC in LG G7 ThinQ is much better still so Android fans don't need to kill themselves. :) Clearly someone cared about audio performance here in design of Apple dongle.

Let's look at jitter:
View attachment 18464

That's massively lower noise floor and distortion spikes than the Google pixel V2.

Seeing how this is a semi-serious DAC performance, I thought I run some adult tests on it like Linearity:
View attachment 18465

Most excellent again for something that is tinier than your fingernails!

Here is Dynamic Range:

View attachment 18498

The most important metric for these is how much power they have. There was some criticism of my Google Pixel measurements so I decided to remeasure them and refine the graphs and setting. While Google Pixel V2 repeated its past performance, the V1 produced less power. I don't know what is up with that. But here is the data anyway:

View attachment 18467

The Apple USB-C headphone dongle betters both in noise. It then proceeds to produce much more power than Google Pixel V2 and a bit more than V1.

Here are the results for much more stressful 33 ohm load:
View attachment 18468

Here the noise performance is similar but the Apple Dongle has a commanding lead over both Google dongles with respect to power.

Putting these in a graph we get this (sorted by 300 ohm power):
View attachment 18469

As we see, the Apple USB-C adapter even beats the small thumb drive sized Audirect Beam!

Story doesn't end here. Let's look at the output impedance:
View attachment 18470

At 0.9 ohm, the Apple USB-C dongle has near ideal output impedance whereas Google V2 is far higher at 7.6 ohm.

Listening Tests
I started my listening tests with my AKG K92 headphones. Here, there was ample power with excellent fidelity when using the Apple headphone adapter. Hard to imagine this much oomph coming out of such a tiny thing. The extra power was very audible as compared to Google V1 and V2. I am listening to the Apple dongle as I am typing this, having to keep the Windows volume control at just 18 out of 100 on my headphone electronic music.

Switching to high-impedance 300 ohm Sennheiser HD-650 nearly killed performance. The sound was OK but bass is week and dynamic range just not there. Here my reference is more powerful desktop and battery operated portables.

Finally I tested the Hifiman HE-400i. This wasn't nearly as loud and dynamic as AKG K92 but still quite good!

Bottom line: if you have a lower impedance headphone or an efficient one, there is no reason to apologize for using the Apple headphone adapter.

Conclusions
It is time for us Android users to crawl under a rock. :) Apple showed us that a bit more thought and engineering put in a dirt cheap and small audio product can produce respectable performance. The objective performance gap with Google dongles especially with their regression to version 2 is vast. This is both on objective front and subjective listening tests.

Note that my testing is all on Windows. I attempted to test on my Samsung S8+ and got odd results. Using both Google dongles, all they did was route the not so good sound of the internal DAC through the dongle (???). With Apple dongle I got music but level was very low. So if you plan to use the Apple dongle on an Android phone, you should do some compatibility testing.

FYI I have two other dongles to test in the future. For now, I can recommend the Apple USB-C headphone adapter. For many people it may replace the portable thumb drive dac+amps.

Now please forgive me as I go drown out my sorrows as an ex-Microsoft guy having to recommend an Apple product....

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This is the US version. The EUR version has limited volume level so it's no good.
 

Jimbob54

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This is the US version. The EUR version has limited volume level so it's no good.
Well- its good for many things- just not for anyone wanting more than 0.5v output (or native playback of sample rates >48khz for that matter) As a replacement for a phone headphone jack for IEMs or as a v cheap DAC to bridge a digital source into amps with plenty of gain its fine.
 

AudioSceptic

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I don’t think Lightning has an analog pins, but I could be wrong.
It's digital only.

Edit: it's also a power connector, so it's in effect a miniature USB connector, but reversible, like USB-C. No analogue audio (or video).
 
Last edited:

goldenears

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Thought this might be a good place to ask...

Does anyone know if any of these tiny dongles have ASIO drivers in Windows?

I'd like to use one for Ableton on my laptop because my laptop audio has terrible latency due to no ASIO driver.
 

AdriftAtlas

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If you play this sound through the Apple USB-C to 3.5mm adapter you will hear a static like crackle in addition to the rumble:

https://www.audiocheck.net/Audio/audiocheck.net_polarity_lowrumbleOK.ogg

Source:

https://www.audiocheck.net/soundtests_headphones.php

I thought I had a defective adapter so I bought another one and it does the same thing. Doesn't matter what headphones are used. Happens on my MBP and a Dell laptop.

Normal 3.5mm output from MBP, Dell laptop, or any other device does not cause this crackle.

The Lightning to 3.5mm adapter does not have this issue. I also bought the Anker USB-C to 3.5mm and it doesn't have this issue either. So it's an issue exclusive to the Apple USB-C to 3.5mm adapter.

Is there something intrinsically wrong with the adapter design that causes this?
 

BeerBear

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If you play this sound through the Apple USB-C to 3.5mm adapter you will hear a static like crackle in addition to the rumble:

https://www.audiocheck.net/Audio/audiocheck.net_polarity_lowrumbleOK.ogg
Interesting find. I can confirm and I recorded it, for anyone else who wants to hear it.
The signal has some very strong low frequency (subsonic) content. Play it on loudspeakers and watch the woofers move.
The Apple appears to be clipping or something. Maybe something to do with DC filtering...

---

Unrelated, but another thing I've noticed again today with the Apple: after switching between shared and exclusive mode (in Foobar), it sometimes starts to produce some VERY LOUD NOISE. Quite unpleasant, to say the least. Does it happen to anyone else?
 

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