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Best USB-C headphones
After most smartphone companies followed Apple in removing their headphone jack back in 2018, the headphone market found itself in abrupt chaos. Users were accustomed to always being able to use wired headphones, but now were forced to grab a pair of wireless headphones. An alternative presented itself in USB-C headphones, but after limited adoption, compatibility issues, and poor available options, the connector fell out of favor on headphones. But as the years went on, it became apparent that wireless audio just wasn’t cutting it for some folks. USB-C headphones have quietly made a comeback in the form of headphones that can do it all, rather than offering only one connection method.
After five years in the woods, USB-C headphones are back. But this time, they’re ready to compete.
- This post was updated on November 16, 2023, to remove and replace outdated text.
Why are the Shure AONIC 50 (Gen 2) the best USB-C headphones?
It was hard to imagine how the Shure AONIC 50 could be improved, but the Gen 2 version have managed just that — without jacking up the price. Now listed at $349, they offer an even better bang for your buck.
Dethroning their predecessor, the Shure AONIC 50 (Gen 2) easily claims the title of the best USB-C headphones. Like the first generation, this model maintains their position of being primarily Bluetooth headphones with a handy USB-C passthrough feature. The flexibility remains—you can swap from wireless to wired listening without skipping a beat.
However, Gen 2 takes it up a notch with improved comfort, durability, and, most importantly, sound quality. Including a wider array of Bluetooth codecs and a more intuitive PLAY app for customization makes these headphones versatile enough for the audiophile and casual listener alike. These aren’t just excellent noise canceling headphones; they’re a holistic audio solution that should be at the top of your list for all-around performance.
If you’re choosing between the Gen 1 and Gen 2 versions of the Shure AONIC 50, here’s the quick lowdown. The Gen 2 offers improved noise cancelation, battery life, and a more responsive touch control system. While both models deliver premium audio quality, the Gen 2 tweaks take them a step beyond their predecessor.
As for the older model, they has seen a price drop since the release of Gen 2. If budget is a concern, the original Shure AONIC 50 still deliver a top-tier audio experience, just without some of the newer enhancements.
The Focal Bathys are our premium pick for the best sound
Though they’re easily the most expensive option on this list, the Focal Bathys are the best-sounding headphones when it comes to USB-C connectivity. They 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 on headphones but still want what the Focal Bathys have to offer: the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless are really close replacements for just under half the price. Though they don’t quite sound as good as the Focal Bathys, they’re very much worth the money. Additionally, they’re lighter, have a much better battery life, and about the same ANC performance.
Though $380 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 Audeze Maxwell for gaming
Gaming headsets are a logical choice for USB-C audio, given they’re generally chained to a desk or console. Gaming headsets typically have pretty extreme demands set upon them, including zero latency, extreme battery life, high-quality microphones and comfort for long gaming sessions. The Audeze Maxwell check all these boxes, but also have USB-C audio. This provides a performance edge over other closed-back gaming headsets.
Of course, the Audeze Maxwell doesn’t only connect over USB-C: it can hook up to your PC or console via Bluetooth, a traditional TRS plug, or its included RF dongle. Really, the only reason you’d ever find yourself being unable to connect this headset is if you picked the wrong version for the console you’re using (PS5 vs. XBox).
The Beats Studio Pro: ANC meets high-fidelity USB DAC
The Beats Studio Pro enters the USB-C headphone arena with its internal USB DAC feature, allowing users to enjoy wired listening over USB-C — a capability not found in many other headphones, including Apple’s own AirPods Max. This feature sets it apart, offering a different wired listening experience.
The headphones come equipped with active noise canceling (ANC) capabilities which reduces ambient noise, making commutes and travels more enjoyable. Features like head-tracked Spatial Audio and Transparency Mode are added bonuses for Apple enthusiasts.
However, potential buyers should be aware of the design considerations. The smaller ear cups might not be ideal for everyone, especially those with larger heads or glasses. But for those who can achieve a snug fit, the Beats Studio Pro offers a commendable audio experience with the added benefit of USB-C connectivity.
Google’s USB-C to 3.5mm Audio Cable turns any headset into a USB-C headset
There’s not much to say about Google’s USB-C to 3.5mm Headphone Adapter ($7.99 on Amazon) 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.
What about the Apple EarPods?
You may be tempted to point out that Apple released a cheap pair of USB-C earbuds not too long ago, but both those earbuds and Google’s USB-C earbuds suffer serious design setbacks that will have you looking for new ones in short order.
By not sealing your ear, the earbuds won’t be able to perform consistently, nor will they be able to block outside noise much at all. Because of this, you’ll be listening more loudly than you should, and it will sound worse. There’s a reason that none of the similar models online have stuck around very long.
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. Much of the remaining models of USB-C headphones are actually just cheap Amazon dreck meant only to soak up impulse buys.
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’s move to USB-C still hasn’t solved the interoperability problem. For example, the EarPods will not work on an Asus Zenfone 10, even though both the newest iPhones and the aforementioned both have a USB-C port. The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.
How we select candidates for the best USB-C headphones
The absolute bare minimum criteria we use for our best lists aren’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 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 people hoped for. It wasn’t until 2023 that ANC headphones were on the market in any appreciable capacity for this category, so you can see how slow-moving this is.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
USB-C headphones offer a wired alternative in a market that’s seen the decline of the traditional headphone jack. While the segment has been slow to grow, there are quality options available, such as the Shure AONIC 50 and the Focal Bathys. However, the market is still developing, and the choices are limited compared to Bluetooth or traditional headphones.
Yes, there are USB-C headsets available, but not all of them are good. We’ve highlighted the best, such as the Shure AONIC 50, Focal Bathys, and the Audeze Maxwell. These headphones offer various features, from noise canceling to high-fidelity sound, catering to different needs and budgets.
They’re being forced to! But so far, the only model of USB-C audio product they have is the EarPods, which aren’t very good.
Apple has integrated USB-C into some of its products, like the MacBook series, due to its versatility and fast data transfer capabilities. While Apple’s mobile devices primarily use the Lightning connector, potential legal changes in the EU might push the company towards broader USB-C adoption.
There are several theories, but a cynical read is that it helped them capture almost half of the yearly income from headphone sales.
There are USB-C headphones available, but the market has been slow to develop. The dominance of the 3.5mm jack and the rise of wireless audio solutions contributed to the slow adoption. Additionally, the period from 2019 to 2022 saw minimal new releases in this category, indicating a lack of momentum for USB-C headphones.