Line outputs and headphone outputs are two identical audio ports that are often confused with each other. This is not surprising since there is little information about them on the net. This article is going to shed more light on the two and the differences between them.
but what exactly is the difference between a line out and a headphone out?
Reading: Difference between line out and headphone out
line-out (or line-out) is an audio port used to send line-level audio signals from one audio device to another. on the other hand, the headphone output is an audio port that provides an amplified line level signal destined for headphones.
what is line output?
line out (or line out) is an audio port that outputs a line level audio signal. line out is also known as audio out or sound out.
many people associate line outputs only with keyboard, bass or guitar amps. and that’s because those line outs are usually labeled “line out”. however, technically, you can think of any audio output that delivers line level signals as a line output. this means you can think of the output of a mic preamp, mixers, keyboards and synths, and more.
line output allows you to send a line level signal from one device to another for further processing.
For example, you can connect the line output of a keyboard or guitar amp to the input of a mixer, and then apply equalization, compression, or other signal processing to the signal. and this is actually the most common way many people use line output. Or as we discussed in our article on connecting a guitar amp to audio interfaces, you can connect a line output to an audio interface and record the audio from the amp.
This is a port that allows you to connect external speakers, headphones, and other output devices to your audio device. basically it allows you to transfer generated audio signals to these external devices so that you can listen to the sound output.
The Line Out provides an audio signal output and is the music industry signal transfer standard and the level expected for recording and driving amplifiers.
what is a headphone output?
A headphone output is an audio output that is primarily used to control headphones. the headphone outputs have a built-in amplifier that boosts audio signals to a level that makes them audible in headphones. Although this is rare, some headphone outputs have watts of output power that are also enough to drive powerful speakers.
a headphone output is derived from the line out audio stream. you can think of a headphone output as an amplified line output. what do I mean?
basically what a headphone output does is it takes a line level signal and routes it to a built in headphone amplifier. This headphone amplifier amplifies line level signal. and then the amplified signal is sent to the headphones. this means that the headphone outputs have a stronger signal strength than the line outputs.
difference between line out and headphone out
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Line-outs and headphone shelters are very similar, and most people can’t tell the difference between the two. but there are some key differences between the two. let’s take a look at them.
amplification and volume regulation
The line outputs do not have built-in amplifiers and are not designed to drive headphones. a headphone output, on the other hand, has been built in with built-in amplifiers. some headphone outputs are even designed to have stronger amplifiers and are capable of producing a higher voltage. this allows the headphone outputs to provide more power with little distortion.
When you use the line output of a device that has a built-in amplifier, the line output bypasses the device’s amplifier. however, when you use headphones from these same devices, the built-in amplifier works to amplify the strength of the signal being transmitted.
The line outputs are designed to be connected to external amplifiers. and this external amp could be a headphone amp with a headphone output. or it could be a power amp connected to a set of speakers.
therefore, the volume of the lines can only be controlled from the external amplifiers. with line outputs, you may not be able to adjust the volume of the audio, as this must be done by the external amplifier it is connected to.
This means that line outputs have a fixed volume on the device they are on. on the other hand, you can regulate the volume of a headphone output.
output signal purity
As I mentioned earlier, the headphone outputs are amplified line level signals. because of this, the audio coming out of the headphones will be subjected to another amplification step, which can color the sound or add noise to it.
some of these integrated headphone amps are of poor quality. therefore, since a headphone output uses this amplifier, it can introduce another layer of noise and even distortion to your signal.
As a result, the sound from the headphone outputs is often slightly muffled compared to the clean sound from the line output. however, this noise can be quite difficult to notice depending on the quality of the headphone output’s integrated amplifier.
on the other hand, the line level output signals are very pure. they are optimized to produce little to no noise and distortion. this is because they are not subject to any type of amplification that could introduce distortion into the audio signal. In theory, since line-out signals have low signal strength, they are less likely to degrade.
Line output signals have a source impedance in the region of 100 ohms and above. they are intended to drive loads that have a high input impedance. line level outputs are optimized for low noise and distortion when used with high impedance loads.
Unlike the line outputs, the headphone outputs have a low source impedance. they come with impedance between 16 ohms and 600 ohms. the headphone outputs are designed to drive the lower impedances posed by headphones. the headphone outputs are optimized to generate high current with reasonable distortion and noise at low impedance loads.
In conclusion, a headphone output is optimized for lower impedance loads and is capable of delivering more power to these loads. a line output, on the other hand, is optimized to drive higher impedance loads.
can I use a headphone output as a line output?
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You can use the headphone output of your device as a line output. a headphone output can be used to send line level signals to other audio devices, as long as the volume is not set too high. this will help prevent distortion and reduce noise.
The headphone outputs can be used as substitutes for the line outputs. some audio devices like keyboards etc may come with only a headphone output with no line output. As the owner of such a device, you would have no choice but to use the headphone output as a line output.
Although the headphone outputs are not as pure as line output signals, they can be used as line outputs without significantly reducing the quality of the final sound produced. this simply means that it can give you good sound with just a little bit of noise and distortion in performance. however, this result varies from device to device.
but, as a general rule, keep the volume low. That’s because, as I explained, the headphone output provides a much stronger audio signal than the line output signal. therefore, reducing the volume will ensure that you get an audio signal close to the volume of a line output. this will prevent any distortion and reduce noise.
Although a headphone output can be used as a line output, you may experience some noise and distortion in the final sound output. this means that you are more likely to get better, cleaner results with a line output. Although you can use a headphone output as a line out, I wouldn’t recommend doing so if you have a fully functional line out.
can I connect the headphones to the line output?
You can connect the headphones to a line output, but the audio will be barely audible, if heard through the headphones at all. That’s because the audio signal through the line out is usually not strong enough to drive headphones.
Line outputs carry line-level signals that are strong enough to be transmitted from one device to another with little or no signal loss. however, this is not strong enough to cause the headphone’s voice coils to move back and forth to produce a sound.
This means that when you plug a headphone into a line out, you probably won’t hear any sound. and even if you do, you’ll barely hear a thing. even if the audio is loud enough, the bass will be greatly reduced. Of course, all of these different issues will vary depending on the headphones you’re using and the line-out of the device you’re connecting to.
but simply put, the line out doesn’t provide the necessary amplification that headphones require to work.
what does headphone line out mean?
headphone line out is a name given to a headphone output that can serve as a functional replacement for a line level output. a headphone line output allows you to connect headphones, external speakers, and other output devices to your speaker.
technically, a pure line out will produce slightly better sound output than a headphone line out. however, today, the difference is practically insignificant. this means the headphone line outputs can be used to drive headphone and line level output loads.
a line out is a port for a line level output signal. one line output is designed to connect to external amplifiers, while the headphone outputs are designed to drive headphones. a line output provides an audio signal intended for further amplification by an external amplifier, while a headphone output amplifies a signal before it is transmitted.
In short, use a line out when you’re not using headphones, and use headphone outs to drive headphones.
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