LeEco is one of those rapidly growing Chinese companies that takes a renaissance-man approach to tech development, doing everything from autonomous cars and smart bicycles to more conventional stuff like TVs and smartphones. In the latter category, it garnered some extra press for itself recently when it introduced three new handsets with not a single 3.5mm headphone jack among them. With Apple expected to also ditch the standard headphone port on its next iPhone, LeEco's launch propelled it to the front of the consternation and conversation around the demise of the trusty old 3.5mm.
This week, I got the chance to put the question of why LeEco made the change that it did directly to the company's president of R&D, Liang Jun. At the heart of LeEco's reasoning is the belief that the digital USB-C connection provides better and cleaner audio reproduction. That doesn't really answer the question of why remove the old jack and break compatibility with existing headphones, but LeEco seems to believe that we should be buying new and better headphones anyway. Coincidentally, the company has two USB-C models, one in-ear and one over-the-ear with active noise cancelation, to sell us. Read on for Jun's full responses.
What prompted you to remove the standard headphone jack? What's the benefit?
Liang Jun: We chose to discontinue the 3.5mm audio jack in our second-gen phones to create a better quality audio experience for everyone to enjoy. With the 3.5mm audio jack, the stereo sound was compromised due to poor sound channel separation and the sound quality was compromised due to a mismatch between phone and headphones. By replacing the 3.5 mm jack with a Type-C port, it introduces a new approach to mobile audio transcoding and transmission and delivers what we believe is a much better overall audio experience for consumers.
How much internal space is saved with the removal of the headphone jack? Does it simplify the design of the circuit board?
Using the USB Type-C port design is actually very complicated and doesn’t necessarily impact or simplify the design process on our end. The purpose of using USB Type-C is to provide the best audio experience for consumers when they’re watching or listening to content on our devices, not to save space or simplify design.
Couldn't the advantages of a digital USB connection have been achieved without dropping compatibility with all the headphones people already have?
We’ve found that phones and headsets that are compatible with the USB Type-C port provide a higher quality audio experience. We certainly understand that consumers have existing headphones that they may want to use with our devices and have provided a 3.5mm earphone adaptor with our second generation phones so that consumers can use those headphones if they’d like. However, we believe the best audio experience is delivered when using Type-C headphones.
What have initial sales of the USB-C-only phones been like? Has LeEco received any consumer feedback yet?
Judging by early sales results in China, we’d say that our customers are excited about the technology. In China, the Le Max2 sold out in 57 seconds while the Le 2 sold out in 8 minutes and 22 seconds, with the total sales volume for the two phones combined reaching 750,000 units. In total, sales from all three phones garnered RMB 1.22 billion in one day, cleaning out our inventory at the time, and breaking sales records on one of the e-commerce sites that the phones were sold on.
What are the broader trends in personal audio that the company is observing? What are people's priorities when it comes to portable music?
With the ability to stream HD content on smartphones with stunning displays, whenever and wherever, consumers are looking for an audio experience that matches the visuals. It’s time for mobile audio to take the next step and catch-up to the visual experience. People are using their phones to watch a large amount of video and consume more and more content, so they want a great all-around entertainment experience on their mobile devices. Removing the 3.5mm audio jack and utilizing USB Type-C is a big step in delivering great audio for consumers.