The USB 3.1 standard and its accompanying USB-C connector have been around since 2013 and 2014, respectively. They’ve been used in many phones, Windows computers, and Apple’s 12-inch MacBook over the last year. However, DJs have had little reason to pay attention to USB 3.1 and USB-C until recently.
On October 27, Apple unveiled its new MacBook Pro, which does away with the traditional USB ports and replaces them with four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports (Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C use the same connector). The elimination of the classic USB ports, which is the standard for most DJ equipment, has sparked panic in the DJ community. However, despite the concern, DJs have nothing to worry about.
USB 3.1 is the latest USB standard
USB 3.1 is the most recent USB standard. The fundamental difference between each specification comes down to how fast they can transfer data, and how much power they can draw from or send to a device. In the case of USB 3.1, that means up to a 10Gbps transfer rate (double that of USB 3.0). It also means enough power to charge a 15-inch laptop like the MacBook Pro, instead of just smartphones.
USB specifications are backward compatible
You can plug a USB 2.0 device into a USB 3.0 socket, and vice-versa (provided the ports match up). You won’t see an increase in data transfer –- the chain always defaults to the slowest link –- but you can still transfer data. The same applies to USB 3.1.
USB-C is just a type of connector
There are many different types of USB connectors, all of which support the same USB protocol. For example, there’s no reason that you can’t connect a Rane SL interface into a USB-C port on a laptop. However, you’ll need a cable with a USB-C on one side (for the laptop) and USB-B on the other (for the SL box). You can also use an adaptor.
However, the cables are reversible in a “pure” USB-C system. That means that cables must be designed to detect which way they are connected so that power and data flow in the right direction. Cables that aren’t designed with that capability could potentially damage your equipment. Because of this, we recommend only buying USB-C cables and adapters from known brand name vendors like Apple and Belkin.
Thunderbolt 3 doesn’t affect DJ hardware
One of the cool things about the new MacBook Pro is that its ports aren’t limited to USB. As mentioned above, they also support Thunderbolt 3. For example, you can plug a Thunderbolt 3 external hard drive into one of the ports and transfer data at speeds up to 40Gbps, depending on the cable used. You can even use a regular (good quality) USB-C cable in that situation. The connectors also support power, internet, and video (HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt). So, if your only concern is connecting an audio interface or controller to your MacBook Pro, you don’t have to worry about the port’s other capabilities.
At the end of the day, there’s no reason for DJs to freak out about the Macbook Pro’s new ports or any other computer with similar technology. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see new DJ equipment with USB-C anytime soon, it’s important to know that the MacBook’s new USB ports won’t impact your ability to connect to your existing USB gear. You might need some new cables or adapters, but that should be the worst of it.
Check out CNET’s recent article to learn more about USB-C and Thunderbolt 3.
Anthony Polis contributed to this article.
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