USB vs 3.5mm Headsets: Which Are Better?

Alex | Last Updated On December 30th, 2021 | This post may contain affiliate links.

We were always familiar with the 3.5mm jack because, in the past, it was the only interface we used to connect our headsets to our devices. It was so reliable and efficient that we didn’t need to reinvent it. So we kept using the same old 3.5mm jack for our usual use-cases, such as listening to music and playing video games.

However, things changed when they introduced USB headsets. These USB headsets were said to be better than the regular 3.5 mm jack when it comes to sound quality, and they were hailed as the new thing that would send the 3.5mm jack to its grave.

Alongside USB headsets, USB-C was taking over the smartphone industry. The USB interface provided better quality, much-needed versatility, and a host of other features, and to encourage this, most smartphone manufacturers started releasing new smartphones without a headphone jack. You would have to use an adapter or go wireless if you needed to listen to music.

For gamers and people working with PCs, modern smartphones taking out the headphone jack may not be the biggest of concerns. What matters to them is how much of a difference USB is supposed to make when it comes to working on a PC or laptop. So, in that case, their concern is going to be: “is it worth it to switch over to the USB interface?”

The short answer: USB headsets have better quality audio. However, the differences lie in how they transmit audio and the methods by which they process it. So in some devices, “Ye olde” 3.5mm jack would be more versatile than USB.

To help you find out if USB headsets are a good fit for you, we are going to elaborate on topics such as:

  • How do USB and 3.5mm audio jacks differ from one another?
  • What are the extra advantages offered by USB?
  • Is the USB headset better for gaming?

So with that in mind, let’s get into it.

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How do USB and 3.5mm audio jacks differ from one another?

During the introduction, we found out that the USB interface is more powerful and produces sound with higher quality. In this section, we are going to talk about how it manages to achieve this higher level of quality.

The 3.5 mm Jack

Holding golden headphone jack on pink background

Most headphones, headsets, and wired earbuds utilize the 3.5 mm jack to transfer analog signals, whether it’s the analog signals from the microphone or audio to the speakers. The capabilities of the 3.5mm jack depends upon the number of rings in the plug.

Speaking of rings, if you are still interested in the 3.5mm jack, it’s best to know how to identify the three different headphone jacks.

The best one is the 3-ring jack, which can transfer both stereo sound and microphone signals. These are widely used in most wired earbuds and work great for smartphones and laptops. Next up, we have the 2-ring jack, which can only transfer stereo audio signals. You can find these 2-ring jacks in older gaming headsets. There are two separate 3.5mm jacks, one for the stereo and the other for the microphone. However, if you have to plug this kind of headset into a laptop or smartphone, you will need an adapter.

The main difference between USB and 3.5mm jack is that the 3.5mm jack can only transfer analog sound signals. It cannot read or transfer digital signals. So the sound card of the PC or smartphone is responsible for converting the digital signal into analog (DAC) and transferring it over to the 3.5mm jack. Therefore you cannot listen to audio or use the microphone on a headset with a 3.5mm jack without a sound card.

We also have an article here comparing 3.5mm and 1/4″ jacks.

USB Interface for Headsets

USB headsets do not need a sound card. They’ve got their own system to process the audio signals because they work with the digital signal itself. They do their own processing and convert the digital signal to analog when directing the audio to the speakers. In the case of microphones, they convert the analog signal to digital and relay that information to the computer/smartphone. All of this is done inside their USB adapter.

The USB headsets have their own system to clean out the noise in the audio signals. In this manner, they can bypass the sound card entirely. Also, because of the USB adapter, it can work with the OS itself. So even if you have an inferior sound card, a good USB headset will be able to deliver high-quality audio on its own. It will also install its own drivers when you plug it in for the first time.

What are the extra advantages offered by USB?

In addition to providing better audio without the help of a sound card, a USB headset has several other optional features where it can control the volume, answer calls, and control the music. Although a three-ring 3.5mm jack headset can also provide a few of these features, the USB headset is more reliable, responsive, and offers far better options.

Is the USB headset better for gaming? 

For casual scenarios such as listening to music or getting some quick work done on your laptop, the 3.5mm jack will be more than enough. However, if you are serious about gaming/work, and you want a rich audio experience that is faster and less prone to noise, a USB headset is the best option. 

But high quality comes at a higher price. So if you are not worried that much about sound quality but still want to enjoy an affordable USB headset experience, check out our article on the “Best gaming headsets under $100.”

If you need recommendations for the most comfortable gaming headsets, check this article.

Conclusion

The 3.5mm jack is slowly on its way out. Modern mobile phones and laptops are starting to get rid of the headphone jack. Most manufacturers are encouraging consumers to go wireless (see also best wireless headphones with wired option here) or USB-C. For PCs, it’s a slightly different story. The 3.5mm jack is still alive and well, but going for a USB headset is the better option. You will experience audio of higher quality, regardless of the sound card.