Should You Plug Headphones Directly Into Audio Interface?

When you have a home studio, buying the right components is only half the battle. The other half is knowing how to use what you have. For example, a question we often get involves using headphones through audio interface. Should you plug headphones into your audio interface?

You should plug your headphones into the audio interface as it usually gets good results. Occasionally it is necessary to use studio monitors instead, but some form of audio output will always need to be plugged into the interface. This allows you to hear the sound which you are recording.

Of course, if it were as simple as plugging your headphones into the jack, you probably wouldn’t be asking this question. For the rest of this article, I’ll look at the whys and hows of plugging headphones into your audio interface. I’ll also review the alternatives which are sometimes appropriate.

Headphones connected to audio interface

How to Use Headphones Through an Audio Interface

When people ask if they should plug headphones into an audio interface, they often think of monitors. 

The truth is that monitors are also headphones. They just work a bit differently. They are used to get a more complete and accurate reproduction of the sounds as they are recorded. By contrast, standard headphones are less precise in the way they produce sound. Either way, you can plug them directly into the audio interface.

Check Hardware Compatibility 

One of the reasons people might not think they can plug headphones into an audio interface is compatibility. If you have the wrong combination of cables and jacks, then the headphones won’t work correctly. So as you choose equipment, check to see what the system requirements are.

Your “Monitor” Output Also Works for Headphones

Next, knowing how to use headphones through audio interface requires understanding where they should be plugged in. On most consumer-level audio interfaces, the “monitor” jack and the “headphone” jack are the same. You’ll even see the familiar “headphone” icon next to the hole.

Realistically, many people who record audio at home start with just a standard pair of headphones because they’re often cheaper and have a more straightforward setup. With vocal recordings like a podcast, this may always be enough.

Ensure You Won’t Have a Latency Problem

Latency is a fancy word for that “delay” between when the sound enters a device and when it comes back out. 

If you have latency issues, you’ll hear something similar to an echo while performing music. The first part will be your actual sound input and the “echo” coming from your headphones. This problem is annoying and frustrating.

Reducing latency is easier if your audio interface has a “direct monitoring” option. This feature allows you to hear the sound in real-time but lower-end interfaces often won’t play back special effects. However, this isn’t a major issue because those effects can be added and adjusted during the editing phase. 

Use TRS, Not TRRS, Plugs for Your Headphones

According to Focusrite, two kinds of plugs can fit into a standard audio jack. One of these has three rings and is called a TRRS plug. 

Manufacturers use these for headsets that are equipped with a mic, such as gaming or office headsets. You might use one of these for a hands-free device on your phone, as well. 

Unfortunately, TRRS plugs don’t make proper contact with audio interface headphone jacks, and the sound quality will suffer. This could include buzzing, humming, or volume problems.

Instead, be sure to select headphones with a TRS plug. These are intended for output only and will simply carry the sounds from your audio input to your ears. Audio interfaces are all designed with a TRS jack to avoid confusion.

It’s Usually Best to Plug Headphones Directly Into Your Audio Interface

In most interface models, the headphones are plugged directly into a headphone/monitor jack, which is found near the other inputs on your unit. By doing this, you are keeping the amount of electronic resistance to a minimum. Plus, the audio interface converts what it “hears” into digital signals. If you plug directly into the interface, you’ll get the most accurate representation of what’s being put into digital signals with minimal effort.

How to Plug Headphones Directly Into Audio Interface

You should always turn the volume on the “monitor” or headphone dial to the minimum for safety. Then, insert your headphones into the jack. Since monitors are a particular kind of headphone, the plug is the same.

From here on out, the volume adjusts from your audio input. First, turn everything on, and then slowly increase the volume until you can hear correctly. This prevents damage to your hearing while also having the sound loud enough to hear. You are now ready to record.

Different Way of Connecting to the Audio Interface

While most people will want to plug their headphones directly into the audio interface, there are exceptions. These situations include the need for multiple people to use headphones, your headphone jack being incompatible with your headphones, and the use of Bluetooth headphones.

Connecting Two Headphones Simultaneously 

If you are recording music with backup singers, or doing an interview for your Podcast, then it might be necessary to let multiple people use headphones. This is needed because each person must know how they sound to the audio interface. In addition, being able to hear the other artists is key to their ability to adjust the music as they go along. 

Here, it’s typically best to use a headphone amp rather than an audio splitter. The biggest reason for this is that it allows each person to adjust their headphones for proper volume. What’s more, some audio interfaces can’t deliver stereo sound to both pairs of headphones without a separate amp. 

Fortunately, it is easy to use one. Simply connect them with cables to the amplifier jack. Your interface owner’s manual should give the exact instructions.

Your Headphone Jack is Incompatible With Your Headphones

Sometimes your headphones have a connector that doesn’t fit into the line-out jack on your audio interface. This can happen for many reasons, including when a set of headphones is also designed to help record sound (think cell phone headsets). 

In this case, you can use a simple jack adaptor. However, keep in mind that you may not get the best sound quality and will likely struggle with latency issues. Use a fully compatible set of headphones whenever possible.

You Want to Use a Bluetooth Headset

There’s a lot to be said for reducing the wires and cables during music recording. Unfortunately, audio interfaces don’t have the ability to connect wirelessly to any output devices. And to get the best possible experience when monitoring your voice, instruments, or other people’s voices, it’s best to have a pair of wired headphones.

However, there might be a workaround: Bluetooth transmitter/receiver dongles.

If you choose a quality, low-latency dongle you can send your interface’s signal to your headset.

Doing this is really simple: 

  1. Connect your audio interface to your computer as normal. 
  2. Plug the dongle into the headphone jack on your audio interface
  3. Pair your headphones with the dongle, and you’re ready to go. 

A few dongles even let you connect more than one set of headphones at a time. Just remember that many Bluetooth headphones may cause some delay.

Conclusion

With most audio interfaces, and in most use cases, you can plug headphones directly into the audio interface. There are several reasons for doing this:

  • Audio interfaces convert sound into digital signals and then play back the resulting music.
  • Most audio interfaces come with headphone jacks.
  • Plugging your headphones directly into the audio interface helps control latency.
  • Most troubles people have when plugging the headphones directly into the audio interface are due to compatibility issues.

Using other equipment, such as headphone amps and Bluetooth receivers, is only necessary in certain situations.