USB Headphones: What's The Point?

So I bought a set of Logitech headphones with an attached fold-down microphone.

This style of unit used to have two plugs on the end: one for the headphones and one for the microphone. These were plugged in side-by-side.

But now, it’s USB. Is there any point to this beyond aesthetics?

Because USB is replacing almost every other connector? You can’t even buy PS/2 keyboards or mice (mouses?) anymore, almost. I’m not sure there’s any real “point” to it other than standardization.

Are motherboards going to start coming with eight USB ports soon too? Because I’m lucky to have a special port for the microphone I have, but once I get a new computer, just how many available USB ports are there going to be? I want to actually be able to plug everything I want/need in ya know.

Motherboards with 10 USB ports.


8 ports
Most cases also have 2 or 4 ports in the front.

Plus, AFAIK, you can plug in so many hubs (and hubs into hubs) that you’ll run out of uses for USB ports before you’ll run out of available USB ports. I think I’ve seen websites explaining USB (like Wiki, so grain of salt time and I’m no expert so I can’t really tell the accuracy) having numbers like 127 separate USB devices on one USB bus (yes, that’s redundant…too bad).

Some of those headphones are an integrated audio device as well so you do not have to have a functioning audio card to use them.

And the alternative to a bad audio card is… a plug in USB card.
All roads lead to USB.

My media interface point has both audio headphone and microphone plugs. Some have an audio output using the same type of jack. I have to get down on my knees and shine a flashlight at it to figure out which of the three to aim for. Better to plug a device into USB and let the machine work it all out for me. Isn’t that the whole point of computers as labor saving devices?

The USB headphones and microphone don’t require a sound card. It’s nice to just plug it in anyplace you want with a USB port and have a good audio sampling setup.

My mobo has 8 rear USB ports and 4 in the front.

They’d be great for me-- I’ve only got three audio ports on my computer and a VOIP headset that takes up two, so that only leaves one port for my speakers and my good headphones. Since the speakers don’t have a headphone port, I have to reach back and physically switch the line to go between them.

I don’t think that analog audio can be sent through USB. Either way, even if it can, most USB sound devices use their own DAC (digital to analog converter), which acts as a sound card in this case. That makes the headphones quite different than ones that are just sound transducers with a wire. I don’t have much faith in the quality of the DAC included in a cheap pair of headphones, considering I have a standalone DAC that cost hundreds feeding my headphones.

That being said, it’s entirely possible that the quality of the built-in DAC is matched well to the headphones and that no significant improvement in sound would come from using a better DAC. The analog outputs from the motherboard are certainly nothing special either.

There are a couple of big disadvantages to the usb headphones/speakers. One is that you can’t plug them into anything that isn’t a computer, such as an ipod. Another is that enumerating and activating a usb device is a whole lot more complicated than the simple act of plugging an old-school headphone in, and sometimes if your computer is being funny, something that should take a few seconds takes a long time or sometimes doesn’t work at all. I’ve had the experience of plugging in the headphones because I was somewhere I didn’t want to make noise and having it take 30 seconds for it to do its thing and activate the new sound device, so the sound continued playing obnoxiously in the meantime. And of course the computer was busy doing something, preventing me from simply hitting mute, which is also software controlled.
And finally, many apps do not deal well with sound devices being changed all the time. My wife and I watch TV on her laptop via hulu and media center regularly, and we have a little set of logitech usb speakers that we use sometimes, but if you plug them in after the app (the browser or media center, whichever we are using) is already running (maybe we are mid-show), the sound will not come out of the new sound device until you restart the app. This is very annoying, and none of these problems exist with traditional analog minijack connectors.

I was at a computer fair looking at some Senhanuser (sp?) headphones, when one of the sales rep explained that the USB-types have better audio quality/fidelity. Something about the connection. Is she hoaxing me?

If you run out of usb ports, you can always get a hub.

There’s no limit on how many usb gadgets you can connect to your computer, the only limit is how many your motherboard will accept.

As noted, USB headsets/speakers contain a ADC/DAC setup and act as new audio input/output devices. This is why plugging in a device may not register in a currently running app - it has already selected and connected to a particular device at startup. This is a Windows design issue, and not the fault of the app or the headset.
The USB headset configuration can be customised in hardware for a particular application (such as VOIP with echo cancellation etc). Also, the fact that USB devices can draw power from the bus means that the electronics can be more complex (active filters and gain/volume control, ALC or compression) as opposed to the passive controls of a simple earphone/mic setup. 3.5mm jacks are a broad brush interface with few defined standards for impedence, input/output levels etc. The output of a passive microphone may not be well matched to the mic input on a motherboard soundcard. A manufacturer will be much happier with a fully known signal path from audio to digital and back again. Finally, the ADC/DAC combination built into a motherboard is generally cheap, exposed to electrical noise and relies on system CPU, whereas with a USB device delivering digital data all the conversion is isolated and offboard. This gives manufacturers a higher level of confidence that that user will have a good experience.

If you have spent good money on a sound card for your computer, then it will probably be better (with an equivalent matched mic/headphone) than a USB based device. But for a simple motherboard based soundcard, the USB system will probably give better and more consistent results. But YMMV.


I use a USB headphone-with-mic setup even though I have good studio headphones and a decent microphone. This is mostly because I frequently use Skype and need the kind of control the USB setup gives. I can mute by pushing a button and the attached mic is a lot more comfortable than a mic on a stand. The only thing I don’t like is that my webcam also has a mic, so I had to fiddle with settings so that only the headset mic picks up the audio so I don’t get feedback. But that was a one-time thing.

Thanks for the input, people.

Another thing about USB headphones: they let you hear DVD playback.

DVDs have some form of copy protection on them that prevents me from listening to audio through the headphone jack on my speakers. I know it’s copy protection because the AnyDVD software (which breaks copy protection) makes the problem go away.

USB headphones route audio through some trusted path and I don’t have to mess with any extra, potentially less than legal software to listen to DVDs I own.

Prevents you from listening from the headphone jack on your speakers? Are you sure about that? Unless your speakers are connected digitally, this is not possible.