Review: XIIVIO 2 in 1 USB C to 3.5mm DAC Headphone Jack Adapter with USB-C PD Charging
The story so far... Google decided to follow Apple in getting rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack, for the Pixel 2 range in late 2017. Perhaps just to play copy-cat, perhaps to genuinely make waterproofing more complete, perhaps to be more 'futuristic'? Who knows.
Some other manufacturers then followed suit, and while the trend to get rid of the humble and useful 3.5mm jack hasn't yet become mainstream, it's certainly a 'thing' to be aware of and to try to work around.
Why work around? Surely you can just use a USB Type C to 3.5mm adapter, and there's usually one in the box? For listening to music, absolutely, and these usually (HTC excepted) work well. But there's a catch. You can't charge your phone and listen to music on wired headphones at the same time. Ruling out listening while going to sleep, for example.
I guess you could use Qi wireless charging and hope your didn't knock the phone off the pad - or you could opt to listen wirelessly. Both are valid solutions, though not ideal.
However, the 'ideal' (short of bringing back the jack on devices like the Google Pixel 2 XL pictured) has now arrived, in the form of genuine USB Type C accessories with the necessary intelligence and circuitry to handle both charging and listening. Hey, it only took a year!!
By the way, don't be fooled by the ultra-cheap 'Type C to 3.5mm' adapters on eBay. These just pass through any analogue audio and most smartphones don't push analogue audio through their USB ports. So you'll come a cropper.
The adapters you get in the box with the likes of the Pixel 2 XL contain a DAC, a Digital to Analogue Converter, which takes digital audio (i.e. raw 1s and 0s, or at least bytes and kilobytes) and renders this to good old fashioned analogue audio that headphone membranes can reproduce and which your ears can hear.
Normally a phone would have a DAC built-in and then pass the analogue audio out through a 3.5mm jack, but in phones like the Pixel 2 range, the Razer, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro (and a few others), the absence of a 3.5mm jack means that the DAC has to be external.
But if you have this adapter plugged into the Type C port then how the heck do you also charge the phone?
Which is where this XIIVIO gadget comes in. It's the very first piece of hardware that I've seen (other than a Sony kludge) that fits the USB Type C standards and provides genuine high performance charging and high quality audio at the same time.
It does this by doing it properly, with a dedicated USB charging ('Power Delivery') controller and a dedicated 24-bit audio DAC in a solid metal pod. Which also means that this isn't dirt cheap. XIIVIO has had to design the electronics, do the testing and production, but I think £18.99 (in the UK Amazon Store) is absolutely fine, considering the (so far unique) job that it's doing.
I've been testing this with the Google Pixel 2 XL and Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro and it hasn't broken sweat. On generic phones it goes up to 5V and 3A charging, on PD-compliant phones (like the Pixel 2) it goes up to 9V and 2A, i.e. 18W. All the while providing high quality audio rendering to every pair of 4-pole and 3-pole headphones I've tried it with.
So thumbs up so far. I'll update this review if I find any gotchas, but so far, this accessory does exactly what it claims to do. And - possibly - marks a watershed moment for the new generation of jack-less Type C Android phones.
Yes, there will be copies and rebrands of this in time. But for now I'm sorted. And it's here on Amazon UK if you need one too.