Google's latest flagship phones, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, are getting an important upgrade that'll make them sound as good as they look. According to Google's vice president of engineering, Dave Burke, both phones will shortly get lossless audio over USB.
That's really good news for people who are serious about sound, because while the best wireless headphones are very good they can't deliver the same sound quality as cabled connections. Connecting an external digital audio converter (DAC) with a good quality pair of cabled headphones could be a serious audio upgrade.
Why cabled connections still sound better
The problem with wireless connections of any kind is that you only have so much bandwidth. aptX Adaptive can go up to 420kbps and Sony's LDAC tops out at a maximum of 990kbps at highest quality settings – but a CD is 1,411kbps. And if the signal strength isn't 100% the quality has to drop back or you'll experience buffering. You can get around that with larger buffers that download data in advance, but the bigger the buffer the longer the delay before you can listen.
That's not to say aptX Adaptive and LDAC aren't great. They are, delivering vastly improved sound quality compared to traditional wireless streaming. But they're still wireless, and that means they're still a compromise.
Support for lossless audio over wired USB connections was introduced in Android 14, and speaking on Reddit Dave Burke promised that it's coming to the Pixels. "I'm excited about this feature," he said, adding that "basically what it does is ensure 'bit perfect audio' so audio bypasses the audio mixer, any processing effects, etc. We've added OS support so the next step is for support from device makers and app developers." As for the Pixels, "Pixel 8... is expected to support this mode in their hardware abstraction layer (HAL) implementations in later releases."
For most people, wireless headphones are more than good enough. But for audiophiles, near-perfect sound is a must-have. If you'd like to plan an audio upgrade for your Pixel 8 or Pixel 8 Pro, check out our guide to the best headphone DACs here.