Unless you’ve paid close attention, every jack on the end of your headphones, earphones, or microphone may appear the same. If only life was that simple. While they may all appear identical, there can be some slight differences.
When you plug what seemingly is the same jack into a port, it is assumed to work. But it doesn’t. Some headsets use a single jack, and others split into two separate jacks. Now it’s getting really confusing?
Therefore, I decided to create this guide to give you a better understanding of the 3.5mm jacks commonly used for headphones, earphones, and microphones. So, let’s get straight into Using Headphone Jack as Microphone…
- Multiple Types of Jacks
- Port Compatibility
- Ports Commonly Found on PCs
- Your Microphone Still Won’t Work on a PC
- More Windows 10 Settings
- Need some quality Headsets or Headphones?
- Using Headphone Jack as Microphone – Final Thoughts
Multiple Types of Jacks
To the untrained eye, all 3.5mm jacks appear almost identical. However, for very good reasons, they are not all the same. There are various connection types, which allow for different types of transmissions between devices.
There are three types of the most common connections for 3.5mm audio jacks. They are known as TR, TRS, and TRRS. The T stands for Tip, R stands for Ring, and S stands for sleeve.
You won’t see many TS jacks anymore, as they can only transmit a mono signal. Although they are often still used on guitar and bass amplifiers. As the name suggests, a TS jack transmits using a connection via the tip and sleeve.
One of the connection points is in the tip of the jack, with the other being further back around the sleeve. Think of it as a positive and negative terminal. When you look closely, you’ll notice that there are no black rings around this type of jack.
These types of jacks you will probably be more familiar with. They are used for transmitting a stereo left and right signal between your audio sources. You will find these jacks on headphones, earphones, or a standalone microphone.
This jack can also be found on the headsets, which split into two separate jacks, with green for headphones and pink for the mic.
Looking closely at the jack, you’ll notice two small black rings around the sleeve area. This creates a separate ring, creating a tip, ring, and sleeve. The left signal works via the tip and sleeve like a TS jack, with the ring providing a signal for the right channel.
This is the most common type of jack on modern headphones, earphones, and headsets. They can also be found on other devices such as camcorders, tablets, and other audio/visual devices.
Just like the TRS jack, a TRRS jack also has black rings around the sleeve. Only this time, there are black rings, creating two separate sleeve rings. You now have a left channel (tip and sleeve), right channel (ring one), and microphone channel (ring two). These types of jacks are also capable of sending video signals.
There are always two sides to every story. Since I’ve covered how different headphones jacks work, it’s now time to cover how each port the jacks are inserted. Not all ports are compatible with every type of jack.
While all 3.5mm jacks can be inserted into a 3.5mm port, it doesn’t mean that it will function correctly. Furthermore, it can sometimes even cause damage. I will now cover which headphone jacks are compatible with what type of port.
These types of ports pose the biggest risk of damage when an incorrect type of jack is entered into them. Because they are designed for only accepting a mono signal, having an extra channel or two always creates the possibility of short-circuiting.
Only use TS jacks with TS ports, and don’t insert any jacks that contain any black rings around them. If inserted, you will still hear audio, but only from one channel or speaker. There is a chance of damaging your equipment as well.
Both TRS and TRRS jacks can be inserted into a TRS port, and both types of jacks will provide full stereo audio. If using a headset with a microphone feature, though, you will only hear audio, and the microphone will be disabled.
You should not use a TS jack inside a TRS port for the same reasons as just mentioned. Because nothing is separating the channels on the jack, there is a risk of short-circuiting your equipment.
Both TRS and TRRS jacks are compatible with TRRS ports; however, TS jacks once again are not. There is even more chance of shorting out equipment when inserting a TS jack into a TRRS port. This is because there are more channels internally, which could potentially cause issues.
Placing a TRS jack into a TRRS port will still allow for stereo audio and doesn’t pose any risk for damage. If you notice there are no rings on your 3.5 mm audio jack, then only insert it into a port you are certain is a TS style.
Ports Commonly Found on PCs
Newer desktops and laptops will have what’s known as a combination 3.5 mm port, which is essentially just a TRRS port. It can be used for both headphone and microphone functions. Even if there are two ports on newer PCs, they are both most likely TRRS ports.
Older desktops and laptops might have two ports, and probably with a green and pink color around them. These will be both TRS ports, with the green configured for stereo audio and the pink configured for microphone use.
What if my headset isn’t compatible?
A common problem faced is using older headsets with newer computers, along with using newer headsets with older computers. You could have a headset with two jacks, and only one port on your PC, or a headset with only one jack and two ports on your PC.
When faced with this issue, there are two different types of inexpensive adapters you can purchase that are easy and simple to use. One will convert a single TRRS jack into two TRS jacks, while the other will convert two TRS jacks into a single TRRS jack.
This adapter is for when your headset only has a single TRRS jack and your PC is fitted with two TRS ports. Simply plug your headset into the female end, and the male ends have color-coded rings for the stereo audio and microphone ports.
Performing the same as the KOOPAO adapter, this splitter has some great features. Constructed with dual shielding for reduced interference, an aluminum casing, and a nylon braided cable for strength and flexibility.
When your headset is fitted with twin TRS jacks and your PC only contains a single TRRS port, this is the type of adapter you need. Plug each of the TRS jacks from your headset into the two color-coded female ends. The male end of the adapter can then simply be inserted into your PC’s TRRS port.
Identical in function to the ENVEL adapter, the KINGTOP also offers some premium features for maximum performance. With 24-carat gold-plated terminals, durable rubber cable material, and aluminum casings, this adapter is sure to both last and perform.
Your Microphone Still Won’t Work on a PC
You might have gone out and purchased one of these adapters, only to be disappointed as there’s sound, but the microphone still doesn’t work. Don’t worry; using headphone jack as microphone is still possible. It is probably just the software settings.
Software Settings on a Windows 10 PC
If you encounter this issue when using a laptop or desktop running Windows 10, it can usually be addressed in a few easy steps. The process for how to check Windows 10 audio output settings is listed below.
- Make sure your headset is connected to your PC.
- Click on the [Windows] logo in the bottom left corner, then click on [Settings].
- In the Settings window, click on [System].
- After the new window opens, click [Sound] on the left sidebar.
- On the right-hand side of the window, check the drop-down box under [Input].
- Ensure that [Microphone] is selected.
- By clicking underneath on [Device properties], you can test your microphone and adjust the volume settings.
Software Settings for an Apple Mac
This same issue can happen when you are using an Apple Macbook or iMac PC running macOS. Once again, there is no need to panic as the software most likely requires adjusting. Here are the steps for macOS.
- Ensure that your headset is connected to your PC.
- In the top left corner, click on the [Apple] logo, and select [System Preferences].
- When the window opens, locate and click on the [Sound] icon.
- Once the sound window opens, click the tab at the top labeled [Input].
- In the box under the heading [Select a device for sound input], your headset should be displayed. Ensure that it is selected.
- Underneath the box, you can adjust both the input and output levels of the microphone.
More Windows 10 Settings
There are a couple more options to check if you are running a Windows 10 PC. It is worth checking the input device is selected correctly, or possibly you are having some issues with the headset drivers. I have included steps on how to check the settings for both.
Selecting the Correct Input Device
- Click on the [Windows] icon in the bottom left and then select [Control Panel].
- Select the [Sound] option within the Control Panel.
- Click on the [Recording] tab near the top of the Sound window.
- Ensure your headset is selected and has a green tick.
Checking Your Headset’s Drivers
- Click on the [Windows] icon in the bottom left and then select [Control Panel].
- Select from the Control Panel window [Device manager].
- Then click the small arrow positioned next to [Sound, video, and game controllers].
- In the expanded list, locate your headset and [Right Click] on it.
- Click on [Update Driver] and follow the on-screen instructions.
Need some quality Headsets or Headphones?
We have reviewed a large selection over the last few years, so check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones with Microphone, the Best Xbox One Headsets, the Best Bluetooth Headphones for Conference Calls, the Best Headphones with Google Assistant, and the Best PC Gaming Headsets you can buy in 2021.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Most Comfortable Gaming Headsets, the Best Gaming Headset, the Best Razer Gaming Headsets, and the Best Nintendo Switch Gaming Headsets currently available.
You might also like our helpful guides on How to Fix a Loose Headphone Jack, How to Use a Single Jack Headset on PC Without a Splitter, How to Use Two or More Headphones On PC or Mac, How to Connect Your Gaming Headset, and How to Fix Headphones When Only One Side Works for more useful information.
Using Headphone Jack as Microphone – Final Thoughts
You should now be armed with a better understanding of the different types of 3.5 mm audio jacks and ports. This will make troubleshooting any issues that arise much easier, as you can now identify key differences.
Even if you needed to purchase an adapter, there are many high-quality and affordable options available. I would highly recommend the ones listed in this guide. Hopefully, it was as simple as adjusting some settings on your computer.
Enjoy your newfound knowledge; you never know when it might be useful in the future.
Until next time, happy listening.