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Everything I've Had to Buy to Live Without a Headphone Jack

I own a Pixel 2 that’s starting to show its age. Am I tempted to upgrade to a new high-end phone? Nope. I’m eyeballing the new, much cheaper Pixel 3A for one very important reason: it has a damn headphone jack.

I’ve been living without a headphone jack since late 2017. I was told back then that it was time. That I would adapt. This is just like the floppy disk. Things change, and the new way will be better than the old.


Well, it hasn’t been. Life without a headphone jack is measurably worse than life with it. I’ve spent more money to do the same things, and, bizarrely, I’ve ended up with more wires in my life. If you’re stuck in my same forced wireless hell, here’s all the stuff I’ve had to buy to adapt.

Cheap Bluetooth Headphones

Anker SoundBuds Curve
Graphic: Eric Ravenscraft

I walk a lot. When I walk, I like to listen to music. I don’t much care about audio quality, I just want something cheap. I used to use whatever $10 pair of wired headphones I could find. Going wireless at that price point usually meant getting something so crappy the music would cut in and out frequently. I finally found a pair of headphones from Anker that cost $27. That’s almost 3x as much as I usually spent on headphones, but it could be worse. For something reliable and relatively inexpensive, it worked for me.

A USB-C-to-3.5mm Dongle

USB C Headphone Jack Adapter
Graphic: Eric Ravenscraft

One of these came with my phone, so fortunately the first one was free. Though Apple has stopped including one with the latest iPhones, and the rest of the industry is likely to follow. In the situations where I still need to use a headphone plug—using older headphones, plugging into someone else’s auxiliary port, recording audio for work—this is the dongle I have to keep in my bag. The one downside is that these things breaks so easily. Wear and tear is inevitable on anything that you bend or flex, and any cheap cable will eventually stop working well. When that happens, you’ll need an $8 replacement.

A USB-C-to-3.5mm Dongle With Power Adapter

USB C To 3.5mm Adapter, 2-in-1
Graphic: Eric Ravenscraft

Of course, the dongle that came with my phone wasn’t enough for the thing I really needed it for: listening to music in the car. When I drive, I’m usually using GPS, which burns a ton of battery. Streaming music, even more so. And my car stereo doesn’t support Bluetooth. So I need a dongle that not only lets me plug into my own auxiliary cable, but a charger as well. Google sells its own adapter like this for a brain-melting $40 friggin dollars. There are cheaper ones on Amazon from brands I’ve never heard of, but if they’re not made properly, USB-C accessories can cause a lot of problems. The first dongle of this type that I bought (at an airport, which I wouldn’t recommend) caused a hissing sound whenever power was plugged in and audio wasn’t playing. I eventually settled on this $24 dongle, almost as expensive as the headphones I bought. But at least it’s been reliable. So far.

A Bluetooth Adapter


These dongles are becoming a headache. Okay, so why not use a Bluetooth adapter to connect my new phone to my old, wired gadgets? At first, I bought the BlueAnt Ribbon adapter. It worked okay. I could pair it with older headphones or my car stereo, even if those things weren’t wireless to begin with. There were just two problems. First, the adapter needed to be charged, and it dies after just a day or two of use. That meant I needed to have a charging cable for it almost as often as I needed one for my phone. Plus, it uses the older microUSB connector, so I couldn’t even use the same cable my phone uses.

Oh, and the other thing: the Ribbon has been discontinued. You can still buy one now, but you might be better off with the FiiO μBTR. It’s a little more expensive, but at least it charges via USB-C.


A Car Charger With Two USB Charging Ports


My car doesn’t have any USB charging ports, so I’ve had a car charger with one for a while. The key word there being “one.” Now that I’ve found myself charging a phone and a Bluetooth adapter, I had to upgrade to a two-port charger like this one from AmazonBasics for $9.

Please note that while using this method, I have three cables set up in my car—my phone’s charging cable, a Bluetooth adapter charging cable, and an auxiliary cable—as opposed to the two I had before.

My wireless future has led to more wires. Ugh. Maybe I should switch back to the dongle.


A New Car Stereo Head Unit


Most of my problems stem from trying to listen to music in a car without Bluetooth. I could probably get by with headphones that need to be charged and a dongle for work, but the car is the big problem. Why not solve it once and for all by upgrading my car stereo?

A cheap head unit just to add Bluetooth could cost as little as $80 or $90 depending on whether you have a single or double DIN unit (basically whether it’s the small or big kind). However, I’m already paying for not being technologically advanced enough. Should I upgrade to something with Android Auto and Apple Carplay? Sony’s XAV unit is a relatively cheap option in this space for $400, but some premium units like this one from Pioneer can get up to $730.

This is the one method I haven’t actually tried yet, because going this route is at least as expensive as buying a different phone. That’s a lot of money to spend on one nuisance. At this point, though, it seems inevitable.


If you’re similarly in the unenviable position I am where your phone decided you’re ready to ditch the headphone jack without consulting you, hopefully something above will help you. On any given day, some of them work pretty well for me.

But that Pixel 3a is looking awfully tempting.

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About the author

Eric Ravenscraft

Freelance writer for The Inventory.