Can I use one set of headphones for two audio sources?
October 10, 2010 11:49 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to plug one pair of headphones into two sound sources, and hear one, the other, or both. Help me find a "headphone toggle"?

I've googled and newegg'd to no avail. What I'm looking for seems pretty simple, I'm just having trouble choosing the right search terms to find it. Please hope me, Metafilter!

I'd like to avoid having to constantly unplug my headphones from my laptop only to plug them into my digital piano, especially when I'm using both somewhat simultaneously (e.g. for music noodling and notation). Is there a little box I could plug my headphones into with two cables running out of it, one that I could plug into my laptop's headphone jack, and another for the piano? I'd love to be able to hear both outputs in one set of headphones, or to have a way to easily toggle between them.

Does anyone know if something like this exists? Or will I just have to buy another pair of headphones and try to wear both simultaneously?
posted by Zephyrial to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about this? First google result for "3.5mm audio selector".
posted by jrockway at 12:00 AM on October 11, 2010

You want a mixer. For the use you describe something really simple like this will be more than adequate. Actually, you could probably get away with just using a y-cable that will bring the outputs of your computer and piano together to one plug for the headphones. I don't see the exact one you'd probably need, but you can easily get it done with an adaptor or two added.
On preview jrockway's find looks nice and simple and cheap too.
posted by zoinks at 12:07 AM on October 11, 2010

You need a mixer or a selector. It is probably a bad idea to connect 2 outputs together with some adpters and a Y-cable, as one output could be damaged by the other.

Can't you connect the digital piano to an audio input of the laptop?
posted by Akeem at 12:52 AM on October 11, 2010

That can't be done passively. It requires power.

The problem is your "both" choice. A passive answer to that would be to hook both of the inputs to the headphone at the same time. Unfortunately, that necessarily means they're hooked to each other, too, and that can easily cause one or both to blow up. They're not designed for that.

In principle you could isolate them by putting a transformer in between each input and the place where the signals are added together. But it isn't possible to make a transformer that will conduct frequencies rangine from 20 hz to 20 KHz (the traditional audio range) without seriously attenuating some part of the range.

So you need a mixer, as Zoinks says. It will put a preamp in between each of the inputs and a circuit which can take the outputs of those preamps and mix them together. But that requires power. Either it'll have a battery, or it'll plug into the wall.

If you're willling to jetison your "both" choice, then it can be done with a simple switch.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:52 AM on October 11, 2010

Another option is to connect your piano to your computer (as though it were a microphone/line-in device) and allow the computer to do the switching.
posted by jrockway at 1:03 AM on October 11, 2010

I'd daisychain them, like jrockway suggests. Because I'm cheap.
posted by pompomtom at 1:50 AM on October 11, 2010

Depending on how your computer is set up, and what software you're using, running the piano into the computer and out to the headphones may result in perceptible delay. It also can result in pops and clicks as your computer fails to keep up (more precisely, when it schedules other tasks ahead of the audio transport).

A mixer will give you the best sound. But, your machine may be set up in a manner that will lend itself to high-quality daisy chaining. I'd try it out first, and then if it doesn't work for you, buy the cheap mixer.
posted by Netzapper at 5:43 AM on October 11, 2010

Another option is to connect your piano to your computer (as though it were a microphone/line-in device) and allow the computer to do the switching.

We do this with our Xbox 360. We have a VGA splitter that outputs the display to both the PC monitor and the TV, but for audio we just run the cable straight into the back of the PC, and then out to either the PC speakers or the hifi speakers (both of which are plugged into the PC as well), or to headphones in the front of the PC. Even when one of us is gaming on the 360 and the other is gaming on the PC we've never had delays or problems with the sound quality.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:43 AM on October 11, 2010

Something like this Behringer Micro Mixer MX400?
posted by mary8nne at 8:11 AM on October 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, you guys! Though a mixer would be the most fancy solution, I think I'm going to go with the selector that jrockway posted - I'd rather sacrifice listening to both at once than spend more on a mixer.

Incidentally, I do have my digital piano already hooked up to my laptop, but there is a very perceptible delay between pressing a key and hearing it through the laptop sound system, as Netzapper guessed.

Thanks again, all!
posted by Zephyrial at 5:48 PM on October 11, 2010

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