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Best USB-C headphones
Now that more and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon of removing their headphone jack, the artificial market of alternative audio solutions is now in chaos. What’s good? What’s bad? How do you know? Apple would want you to grab a pair of Beats wireless headphones, but there’s another solution you might not be aware of: USB-C wired headphones. While this market segment is now basically dead—there are some options out there. It’s just that they’re not really very affordable.
But I caution you: there just aren’t enough products currently available to offer a credible alternative to Bluetooth or traditional headphones. Despite how promising the tech is, USB-C wasn’t ready to replace the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack—and there’s almost nothing to meet the demand for the new product category. Not to belabor the point, but we saw almost no new releases for USB-C headphones from 2019 to 2022. That’s a pretty stark reminder that USB-C headphones just aren’t getting the releases they need in order to be a credible product category.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on May 16, 2023 to update available products with the 2022 and 2023 releases.
Why is the Shure AONIC 50 the best USB-C headphones?
It took a few years, but finally, finally there’s an option for this list that isn’t terrible. Unfortunately, at $399, they’re also one of the pricier headphones we recommend on this site.
Currently, the best USB-C headphones are the Shure AONIC 50. While they’re not the traditional USB-C headphones you were expecting, they do allow passthrough listening via the beleaguered connector—technically qualifying this headset for “USB-C headphone” status. As they’re primarily Bluetooth headphones that have a USB-C listening option for those that want it, you’re not locked into the wired listening if you want to swap sources.
Taken on their own merits, the Shure AONIC 50 are excellent noise-canceling headphones, worthy of anyone’s attention as a set of all-around performers.
The Focal Bathys are the most expensive, best sounding option on this list
Though it’s easily the most expensive option on this list, the Focal Bathys are the best-sounding headphones when it comes to USB-C connectivity. Not only does the product have its own DAC on the inside, but it can connect to just about anything that can send data over USB-C as a result.
The Focal Bathys are loaded to the gills with features built around sound quality, but there are a couple of downsides outside of the price. For example, the headphones are quite heavy at 350g, and the noise canceling is merely “decent.” Additionally, you must have the headphones charged in order to use them. Still, if you want the best sound quality out of your USB-C headphones, this is it.
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is a less-expensive set of ANC headphones
If you don’t want to spend almost $800 USD on headphones, but still want what the Focal Bathys has to offer: the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is a really solid replacement for just under half the price. Though it doesn’t quite sound as good as the Focal Bathys, it is very much worth the money in that department. Additionally, the product is lighter, has a much better battery life, and about the same ANC performance.
Though $380 USD is still a really steep price for anyone looking for casual headphones, we strongly encourage you to take the leap if you’re looking for a tool that serves you for multiple years. While it may sting up front, sometimes expensive headphones are worth it—and this is one of those times.
Check out the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4
If you’re okay with the on-ear design, the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 is currently the next-best USB-C headphones behind the three ANC options listed above. It’s a thin field, but these headphones are solid contenders, if a bit pricey. The USB-C audio category is still developing painfully slowly, but these also happen to have a DAC integrated right into the cable. That may seem like a given with a USB accessory, but the category is such a trainwreck that I have to point that out.
As far as the headphones go, the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 sound surprisingly decent, and the totally-modular design lends itself well to tinkerers and klutzes alike, as you can replace any part of the headphones should they break (or displease you). Personally, I could go for bigger pads: the thin ones included with the standard headphones just don’t do it for me.
Thankfully, AiAiAi offers standalone parts in its store—including bigger pads. When the USB-C cable becomes available on its own, that will make all these other presets contenders for this list:
The stock speaker elements are very straightforward and work quite well. The bass isn’t crazily-overdone on the TMA-2 MFG4 like it is on many consumer headphones, meaning your music will sound a lot clearer than you might be used to if you have a pair of Beats or similar cans. However, that’s all assuming you can get a good seal on your head. While it may sound a little obvious to say, on-ear headphones aren’t really known to be predictable in how well they isolate you from the world around you. If you can’t hear the bass, the headphones probably aren’t fitting well. You need a fairly even frequency response (all notes at roughly the same possible max loudness) to hear everything in your tunes, so when there’s a crazy deviation, audio quality drops.
It isn’t amazing, it costs $150, and it doesn’t offer any killer features. However, it works well—without an app—on both Android and Windows. That’s enough to be a contender for the king of the USB-C hill currently.
Google’s USB-C to 3.5mm Audio Cable turns any headset into a USB-C headset
There’s not much to say about this other than it connects to any 3.5mm port on a pair of headphones and terminates in a USB-C connector. This allows you to take your favorite pair of headphones and plug it directly into your phone’s USB-C input.
The only a couple inches long, and works on all USB-C ports, including the one found on Apple’s iPad. It’s less than $10, but it does everything that you need it to. You don’t need to overthink anything here, the dongles are near-perfect for low-power devices such as headphones, and there just isn’t a huge reason to shell out for anything more expensive.
The best USB-C headphones: Notable mentions
- Shure RMCE-USB Earphone Communication Cable with Integrated DAC/Amp: If you’ve already invested money into something in Shure’s line-up then it’s also worth checking out their (RMCE-USB) terminating in MMCX connectors that can turn its entire lineup of in-ear monitors into USB-C powerhouses that will undoubtedly mop the floor with the existing pack performance-wise. Coming in at $99, this can make the following IEMs USB-C enabled:
- If you buy an Android phone, sometimes there are USB-C dongles in the case
If it seems like this is a thin list, that’s because it is.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Do not buy anything else
It’s not that all the other USB-C headphones are bad, but buying something for the sake of buying it is unwise when better investments exist. Most of the other options on the market currently suffer from one of our extremely few and reasonable dealbreakers. At this point, the good news is that the most common dealbreaker hit is that many of the models that used to be available no longer are on shelves. The bad news is that it doesn’t appear that the segment will be well-populated in the future.
I have yet to find a set of USB-C headphones that aren't frustrating as hell in some way or another.
Though we’re past the part of the product lifespan where you have to worry about walled gardens and incompatibility between phones and headphones, Apple remains the last holdout with a nonstandard connector (ie, the Lightning connector). However, iPhones and iPads may all be forced to use USB-C as a connector following some legal changes over in the EU, which would mean that a slew of new users may want to look for USB-C headphones. This might move the market, but currently it has a lot of ground to cover.
How we select candidates for the best USB-C headphones
The absolute bare minimum criteria we use for our best lists isn’t very discerning, but most models fail this easy test:
- The products have to be reasonably easy to buy for your average shopper
- The products have to work on most popular devices
- The products cannot be discontinued, or cause physical harm
I’ll admit, selecting candidates was the hardest part. Not only are people simply not searching for this term yet, but the number of products available when I started this article was extremely scarce. They were so scarce that most of my results were initially just leaked products that weren’t even released yet. We did find a handful of products out there—some by reputable companies—but the line-up is still too thin for our liking.
How we test the best USB-C headphones
After buying whatever we could find, getting pre-orders in, and begging for help: we were able to build a corpus of candidates to assess. Considering the compatibility issues with USB-C at the moment, the first bar to clear was “the product has to work on modern, popular smartphones.” We thought that’d be an easy one to clear, but we were wrong. Despite my gut feeling that I should skip the low-end in-ears on Amazon, I forged ahead anyway… and wasn’t surprised when I got more enjoyment out of watching paint dry than the most of the bunch. Some models were actually painful to use.
From there, we assessed sound quality, features, and comfort in that order. Obviously, that’s not a scientific test, but we did have more than one person testing these things. Over the last few years, we’ve been able to test hundreds of products—but only a few have the USB-C audio connectivity that people were hoping for. It wasn’t until 2023 that there were ANC headphones on the market in any appreciable capacity for this category, so you can see how slow-moving this is. It’s so dire, that this article exists solely because it would be dishonest to not say the segment is currently incomplete.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We make sure to perform objective tests to measure the battery life, isolation, and frequency response of the headphones and earbuds that we get our hands on. We want each of you to enjoy the earbuds that you choose, and none of our writers may benefit from directing readers to one product or another.