Headphone jack issues: "Garble garble foofoofooo." "Exactly right, Rose."
March 31, 2007 2:23 PM   Subscribe

The main headphone jack on my computer has a huge distortion (to the point of making words incomprehensible) for higher pitched voices and instruments. Why?

To describe the effect, imagine watching a TV show, and most of the sound was ok, except that most of the voices of female characters are distorted. This also goes for high-pitched instruments (some synthesizers, some guitar solos, sometimes even drumbeats, etc).

(a note before I describe it: I know nothing of music, so I'm probably using the wrong words all over). The high-pitched elements of a song or video become really thin and squeaky, and sounds like they're coming from a room full of echoes. It's like something was stripped from the sound, and then what was left was duplicated, except with the time slightly off. It's very garbled.

Now, some technical notes:
1) This happens no matter what program is used. The same videos etc. work fine on other computers.
2) When connecting speakers to the computer, then headphones to the speakers, everything sounds fine: so it's not the computer or the headphones, just the jack.
3) It started suddenly a few months ago.
4) It happens at every level of volume.

I normally wouldn't care (since I could use the speakers as a fix), but recently the volume control of the speakers went haywire, blowing out my ears while trying to watch or listen to anything.

So: what the heck is up with my headphone jack?
posted by flibbertigibbet to Technology (11 answers total)
Do you get any change in behavior with different headphones?

You say this happens at every level of volume: so if you lower the internal master volume to 10% or so, you still hear the distortion?

Does it happen when you play back a CD from the drive?
posted by cortex at 2:33 PM on March 31, 2007

Seconding trying a different pair of headphones. Usually does the trick, especially if your speakers didn't produce the same effect.
posted by jmd82 at 2:56 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: Nope, different headphones produce the same effect (when plugged directly into the front jack, different headphones have the same garbling; when plugged into the speakers' jack, they're all fine). Whether iPod earbuds, or different better-quality headphones (tried 3 sets), a plug-in to the front jack is awful; to the speaker jack is fine.

Internal volume level changes to any (audible) level doesn't stop the distortion.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:04 PM on March 31, 2007

Just to make sure I'm clear:
You have 2 different 3.5mm jacks: one labeled headphone and one labeled speakers?
The headphones work in the speaker jack, but not the headphone jack, right?
If I've read this correctly, the next step would be to plug speakers into the headphone jack and see what happens. It's possible the jack itself is structurally screwed up.
posted by jmd82 at 3:18 PM on March 31, 2007

Usually there is a "master" volume and a "wave" volume, and output amplitude is the product of the two. If "wave" is railed and "master" is tiny, you could get distortion. Try changing them both.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:19 PM on March 31, 2007

jmd82: I believe he means that when he plugs headphones into the "headphones out" jack on a pair of computer speakers which are themselves plugged into the headphone jack on his laptop, he does not have the trouble. There is no separate "speakers" jack on his computer.
posted by cortex at 4:05 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: Cortex gets it. Yup, my speakers are plugged into my non-laptop computer, and I (in all my girly, non-male fineness) can plug my headphones into the 'headphones out' jack on the speakers.

Sorry for not being clear!
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:11 PM on March 31, 2007

also flib is a girl, apparently
posted by cortex at 4:14 PM on March 31, 2007

Okay I'm confused: what do you plug the speakers into? Is it the same headphone jack, or a line out?

If it's a line out, you can just plug the headphones into the line out. The sound will be a lot quieter, though.

Headphone jacks can go bad sometimes.
posted by delmoi at 4:50 PM on March 31, 2007

But second the comment about sound outputs having multiple 'volume controls' that affect the signals at different points in the path between raw digital data and analogue sound output. It's quite possible to amplify the sound at one point in the path to the point that a later stage will clip or distort horribly.
posted by pharm at 5:49 AM on April 1, 2007

This sounds to me like the headphone jack, for a reason I definitely can't identify, has developed phase issues. Midrange frequencies getting amplified while the highs sound thin, like they're coming from a room full of echoes? That's classic phase interference.

Basically, it sounds like the left and the right signals are combining somewhere in the electrical path, and because of that, the frequency response is changing dramatically. The only way I can think of to confirm/disconfirm my theory is to listen carefully - are the signals in the left and right ears the same? I think that if they were combining, they'd be identical in each ear. I'm not 100% sure about that, though.

The downside is, if I'm right, it'd be hard to justify the cost of fixing it, if you could find someone to do it.
posted by god hates math at 9:14 AM on April 1, 2007

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