The advent of USB-C: the universal connector


In just a few years, USB-C has become the standard on most devices. This connector is found on smartphones, tablets, DAPs, portable Bluetooth speakers, and the latest generation of computers. USB-C can be used to charge devices, transfer data and even stream video up to 16K UHD. The considerable advantages brought by USB-C tend to make it a universal connector. Only Apple is still resisting this format, but things may soon change with the next generations of iPhone.

USB-C is establishing itself as the connector of choice on mobile devices like this Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP. It will soon be mandatory in Europe, even on Apple equipment.

For more information about the USB-C port, discover the guide: USB-C, the future universal audio and video connector. In this guide:

  • USB-C: a major improvement
  • The different USB standards
  • The USB-C connector will replace the Lightning port
  • USB-C: Europe’s universal connector
  • USB-C and Thunderbolt
  • USB-C: the end of HDMI cables?
  • USB-C: fast charging
  • USB-C for music playback

From Lightning port to USB-C

Apple inaugurated the Lightning port in 2012, with the release of the iPhone 5. When it was launched, this connector was revolutionary, particularly because of its symmetrical design. Two years later, the USB-C port made its appearance and began to be widely used on various mobile devices. Apple became increasingly isolated by its proprietary connector and closed software and hardware ecosystem. In addition, USB-C has evolved faster than the Lightning port and now offers much higher transfer rates, whether for transferring very large files or for charging equipment more quickly. In addition, Apple is under pressure from Europe, which wants to standardize the charging ports of smartphones, tablets, headphones, speakers and game consoles. A regulation that will come into force from 2024 and should oblige the Cupertino firm to abandon the Lightning port in favor of USB-C. The iPhone 15, which will be released in the second half of 2023, is expected to be the first to feature this port and mark the advent of USB-C.

After the integration of USB-C on Macs and iPads, the Lightning port on iPhones should also give way to a USB-C connector so that the Cupertino firm can continue to sell its equipment in Europe.

The long history of the USB

The USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector appeared in 1996, then became widespread in the 2000s as a replacement for the DIN connector for mice, keyboards and computer peripherals. Over the years, it has undergone many changes to adapt to technological advances. A lot of peripherals are equipped with a USB-B port. It is still present on many USB Audio DACs and DAC-amps. It allows you to connect a computer with a USB-B to USB-A cable such as the NorStone Arran USB. With the development of compact devices, the USB-B connector became smaller and was superseded by the mini USB-B on mobile equipment. As mobile devices became smaller still, even the Mini-A and Mini-B connectors were too big. In January 2007, the Micro-B connector was announced. The latter is still used on some devices, including external hard drives or the Chord Electronics Mojo 2 DAC.

The Audioquest Cinnamon USB A to micro USB cable ensures an optimal connection of the Chord Electronics Mojo 2 DAC with a computer equipped with a USB-A port.

USB Type-C was introduced in 2014 with the USB 3.0 standard. It was intended to replace all previous connectors. It has the advantage of being symmetrical, so it can be used in either orientation. It increases the load capacity and allows the transmission of audio and video signals using DisplayPort technology. Advantages that allowed the USB-C port to establish itself well beyond the field of computers. In 2021, USB-C was upgraded to a version 2.1 to improve performance and meet the USB 4.0 standard.

The QED Connect USB-A to USB-C cable is ideal for connecting a portable DAC or DAP to a computer with a USB-A port.

The different USB standards

In addition to the different connector formats, USB is classified according to several standards that determine the authorized performance. The latter have greatly improved with each version, with speeds increasing from 1.5 Mbit/s for version 1.0 to 40 Gbits/s for USB 4.0. Here is a table showing the increasing data rates of USB connectors over time:

USB 1.0USB 1.1USB 2.0USB 3.0USB 3.2 (Gen 2)USB 4.0
Year 199619982000200820152017
Data rate 1.5 Mbps 0.19 Mbps12 Mbps 1.5 Mbps480 Mbps 60 Mbps5 Gbps 640 Mbps20 Gbps 2.5 Gbps40 Gbps 5 Gbps

With exponential growth in the data rate allowed by the latest USB standards, it’s only natural that this connector, and more specifically USB-C, would be the future standard. In comparison, Apple’s Lightning port offers a maximum data rate of 480 MB/s versus over 40 Gbit/s for USB 4.0 Type C. Not only can data be transferred faster, but it also increases fast charging capabilities.

USB-C as a replacement for HDMI?

For a long time, digital video signals have been transmitted via HDMI cables. All A/V receivers, Blu-ray players and 4K UHD TVs still use HDMI for video inputs and/or outputs. Like USB, the HDMI standard has undergone several important evolutions, especially in terms of data transmission rate. The latest standard is HDMI 2.1, which allows a 48 Gbps data rate to transmit video streams up to UHD 10K at 120 fps.

If HDMI is still omnipresent in the video world, it is now disappearing in computing to make way for the USB 4.0 standard. The latter was initially imposed on some computers, including those with a Thunderbolt 4 port. Recently, DisplayPort was upgraded to version 2.0 to meet the requirements of the USB 4.0 standard. Many gaming displays like the LG 27UP850-W have therefore dropped the usual HDMI input in favor of a USB-C input. With the latest generation of USB-C cables (USB-C 2.1) starting to become more common, it is possible to handle audio and video signals up to UHD 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels) at 120Hz with 10-bit HDR encoding or a 16K display at 60Hz over 10 bits. USB-C is thus establishing itself as a strong competitor to HDMI cables and seems to have already won the battle in the computer world.

USB-C in tomorrow’s chargers

Today, it’s possible to charge almost any piece of equipment via USB, from portable Bluetooth speakers, to DAPs and computers, to DIY tools and kitchen accessories. USB has become the most common solution for powering consumer electronics and mobile systems. Power strips with USB ports such as the Taga Harmony PF-400USB are becoming more and more common, as is its implementation in vehicles and wall outlets.

The Cayin N8ii DAP uses a USB-C port for battery charging and data transfer.

The new USB-C 2.1 standard increases the current capacity of this connector from 100 watts to more than 240 watts (48V/5A). With such power, it becomes possible to power larger devices such as game consoles, desktop computers, but also TVs and gaming monitors. This means that future TVs may only have a single USB-C cable for power and audio/video streaming. A concept that Samsung has already introduced with a proprietary cable on its Samsung The Frame TVs, ensuring a more discreet integration once the TV is wall mounted.

The high power of 240 watts enabled by the latest generation USB-C connector will also help speed up the charging time of mobile devices. To deliver this high power, USB-C 2.1 uses the USB Power Delivery Extended Power Range (USB PD EPR) protocol. The latter began to appear in the second half of 2021. However, it is essential to use a USB-C 2.1 and EPR certified cable to take advantage of this high power.

With 240 watts of power, the latest generation of the USB-C connector can quickly charge and power many home devices.

With its considerable advantages, USB-C is increasingly popular and is becoming the universal connector for charging and powering our equipment, transferring data, and connecting various devices, including the TVs and displays of tomorrow. You can find out even more about USB-C through the guide: USB-C: the future universal audio and video connector.

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