Good USB headphone adapter - or other solution?
June 9, 2015 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I have a computer with a headphone jack on the back. Is there a good way to plug in headphones from the front - USB or otherwise?

I thought about getting a USB audio adapter, but the ones I've started looking at all have at least a few reviews saying the sound quality is terrible.

I don't want to leave an audio extender cable plugged in all the time; that would turn off the regular speakers, and I'd like to be able to hear the audio through the speakers most of the time. I just want a way to quickly and easily plug in headphones when I want to.

Can you recommend a good USB headphone adapter, with decent sound quality - or suggest another solution I haven't thought of?

posted by kristi to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:00 AM on June 9, 2015

On a modern computer I don't think you need to unplug your headphones to use your speakers. On my Linux box I switch between them (with both plugged in at the same time) using the standard volume control panel. There must be something similar for Windows and/or OS X.
posted by Poldo at 10:12 AM on June 9, 2015

I would get a Y cable and call it a day. (Two links there)
posted by deezil at 10:18 AM on June 9, 2015

Do you have a spare 3.5" or 2.5" bay on the front of your computer? If so, you could put front panel audio jacks in there and connect them to your motherboard (assuming you have a motherboard with a connector for that, but any reasonably modern board should). Something like this.
posted by selfnoise at 10:29 AM on June 9, 2015

If you're open to replacing your speakers, many have a headphone out (example, no personal experience with these).
posted by sageleaf at 10:39 AM on June 9, 2015

How good are your headphones? If better than iPhone earbuds, it might be worth it to spring for a USB DAC/headphone amp-- I have and really like the previous gen of this one.
posted by supercres at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2015

I have one of these Plantronics audio switches, which means I can leave the headphones AND speakers plugged in simultaneously and just press a physical switch on the top to choose between them.

I haven't noticed any drop in sound quality, but my setup is quite cheap to begin with.
posted by Solomon at 11:56 AM on June 9, 2015

Sorry, I think I could have done a better job describing the setup:

* it's a Mac
* the existing speakers I use most of the time are internal speakers, so the existing audio jack is empty
* the headphones are pretty good, better than earbuds

Thanks for the suggestions so far - any additional ideas much appreciated!
posted by kristi at 12:51 PM on June 9, 2015

Why not just get a pair of USB headphones?
posted by platinum at 1:59 PM on June 9, 2015

Admittedly, people's idea of 'pretty good' headphones vary widely, but I'd still nth the USB DAC recommendation. The Audioquest Dragonfly and the Audioengine D3 are tiny, and get good reviews.
posted by box at 4:26 PM on June 9, 2015

As far as I can tell, the internet thinks this is not possible (i.e., having a headphone extender plugged in while still playing audio through the internal speakers) with Macs.

You're probably more likely to get the results you want by finding external speakers with a headphone jack and leaving those speakers plugged in all of the time.
posted by Aleyn at 6:17 PM on June 9, 2015

I used something like this for the same sort of thing. The one I bought was more like $7, but it looks just like that one. I did not find the sound quality lacking, but maybe my old ears don't care. In any case, it'd be a cheap experiment.
posted by chazlarson at 9:55 PM on June 11, 2015

I'll probably try chazlarson's suggestion first. Thanks for all the ideas!
posted by kristi at 3:50 PM on June 20, 2015

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