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SoundChip unveiled SoundPort, an audio jack that supports digital and analog headsets, at this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo. Image: SoundChip

APEX Insight: It’s hard for any industry to keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation: Software, platforms and devices are constantly evolving. But SoundChip has found a solution for the audio jack that would enable airlines to continue using legacy headsets while they anticipate the arrival of digital audio.

SoundChip, the Switzerland-based provider of sound technology and audio solutions, has announced a future-proof audio jack that supports analog and digital formats, enabling airlines to continue using the legacy headsets distributed in first- and business-class cabins, while anticipating the next generation of digital audio.

Called SoundPort, the audio jack has a dual USB-C port configuration (one for plugging in the headset and the other for charging a device) that supports the newer digital audio headsets, as well as the legacy ARINC standard 2.5 mm and 3.5 mm multiprong jacks, using an adapter.

“It’s really just trying to streamline what’s been a messy situation.” – Mark Donaldson, SoundChip

“It’s really just trying to streamline what’s been a messy situation,” says SoundChip CEO Mark Donaldson, explaining the numerous audio formats airlines have adapted. “Rather than having a plethora of jack combinations … you have one jack that supports all of those formats and provides the airline with some optionality, without migrating in one fell swoop to a digital headset,” says Donaldson.

On the surface, SoundPort looks like a typical USB-C port, but it’s SoundChip’s patented electronics that delivers the multifunctionality. When a headset is plugged in, SoundPort identifies whether it’s analog or digital and sends a compatible audio signal. “With one USB-C connector and smarter electronics, we’re able to support all of those legacy analog formats as well as new digital formats with one physical interface,” says Donaldson.

However, SoundPort’s optimal performance is best displayed when used with Panasonic Avionics’ HD audio noise-canceling headsets: They eliminate the clicks and pops heard in analog technology and enable features such as “open-ear” that allow passengers to carry a conversation, even with their headphones on.

“It’s really something the industry has been calling for, for quite some time,” Donaldson says. But there’s another argument for moving toward digital audio when it comes to in-flight entertainment: a sounder audio experience for the passenger.

Caroline is managing editor at APEX Media.