The $9 USB Audio Interface

Issue: The front panel motherboard audio on my desktop workstation has quality issues. The output audio has a noticeable hiss, and the microphone input quality is poor. I wanted a inexpensive and reasonable quality USB audio interface that would work with my headset with mic.

Solution: The Apple USB-C to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter has good reviews on Reddit, but it required some tweaking. Converting to USB A (from USB-C female) so it could be used on my computer case front panel, and strengthening the Apple Headphone Adapter, as it was very flimsy, and reviews had it failing after a short period, by using adhesive heat shrink.

Completed Ruggedized USB DAC with Apple USB-C Adapter
Completed Ruggedized USB DAC from the Apple USB-C Adapter

The Apple USB-C Headphone adapter works great on Windows 10 (no additional drivers / software needed), and on Mac OS X. It automatically detects TRS (Headphones), or TRRS (Headset).

Parts: (Total costs – $9 – $26)

Apple USB-C to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter – $9 – Get the US version, as the EU version has worse SNR and power. Reddit Review of the Apple Adapter by CH_JC

Apple USB-C to 3.5mm Adapter

USB-C female to USB-A male adapter – $7 – If you have an extra USB-C port where you want it then you won’t need this adapter. I wanted to connect it to a front panel USB A port, and thus used this adapter. This adapter also provides a flexible point since the Apple USB-C adapter is somewhat inflexible after adding the heat shrink tubing. It also provides a disconnect point for when I accidentally trip on my headset cord, and leave it not attached via heat shrink wrap.

USB-C to USB-A Adapter

Adhesive Heat Shrink Tubing Kit – $9.50 – You need 0.5″ (1/2″ = 12.7mm) diameter, so that it is large enough to go over the USB-C connector. This package with assorted sizes of heat shrink is great for other projects. Adhesive lined is nice, as it creates a more permanent and rugged protection of the adapter.

Heat Shrink Tubing Kit

How: Cut the heat shrink tubing to length. You want it to be slight shorter than the Apple adapter. Use a lighter or heat gun to shrink the adhesive tubing. I prefer having the Apple adapter removable from the USB adapter, as it allows separation of the two adapters for when I accidentally yank my headset’s cable. You could also extend the heat shrink to also extend to the USB C to A adapter so its not removable.

Full setup with 3.5mm TRRS Headset, Apple USB-C Headphone Adapter, and USB-C to USB-A Adapter

What else I tried: In order to diagnose the front panel audio problems on my desktop workstation case, I tried a new front panel audio connector and cable, making sure to avoid interference from anything inside the case. The audio problems persisted, despite the new audio connector and cable. Thus the issue was with the audio input/output in the front panel audio connector was caused by my motherboard. This adapter was cheaper/easier than replacing the motherboard. It also allowed me to avoid buying an expensive USB audio interface.

USB-C connector of heat shrinked adapter
Adapter after applying heat shrink tubing
3.5mm TRRS female connector of heat shrinked adapter

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