Normally what kind of signal flows through the wire connecting the headphone jacket and the headphone?

I wonder whether there is a standard regulating them. And what wavelength, volts, watts, amps, noise acceptable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Audio ones, usually. As for the other things, no standard, wavelength is meaningless at audio frequencies (about 50km!), volts/watts/amps all depend on the headphones power rating, and noise is whatever the person that made them could get away with. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 21, 2016 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Usually there's a "volume control" that lets the wearer adjust the loudness (sound pressure level), so the output voltage is not regulated by a standard -- it's adjusted by the user. How much voltage amplitude produces how much perceived loudness at the listener's eardrum, depends on the headphones themselves as well as the signal frequency and the condition of the individual listener's cochlea. \$\endgroup\$
    – MarkU
    Feb 21, 2016 at 5:02

1 Answer 1


Usually audio frequency electrical signals flow through headphones cables. These get converted from an electrical current/voltage to acoustic vibrations by the speaker.

I say "usually" as it is possible to embed things like play/pause/answer etc. on to the cables - usually though this is only done on the microphone cable of the headphones not the speakers.

A standard 3.5mm headphone jack on something like a phone or media player will output an analogue signal which can drive a load of maybe a few 10's of mW (see this EE.SE question). That is pretty much enough to drive some small speakers as are found in headphones. Computers or laptop line-out ports will likely be able to supply a more power than that.

In terms of standards, I'm not aware that there are any (someone correct me if that is wrong). There are nominal voltage levels which range from \$500\mathrm{mV_{pk}}\$ to as much as \$2\mathrm{V_{pk}}\$, and they can be AC coupled, but beyond that will depend on the manufacturer.

Headphones cables are usually narrow gauge (low power rating!) with minimal if any shielding from noise, crosstalk or anything else. This is done to ensure they are light weight (the last thing you want is a heavy copper cable hanging off your ears!). How much noise this results in, who knows. Professional grade headphones will probably be designed with better shielded cables or whatnot, but the consumer graphe 'phones you buy for a few £/$ are probably not designed with noise in mind.

As for wavelength, well, a \$4\mathrm{kHz}\$ signal has an electrical wavelength of about \$50\mathrm{km}\$, so it's not really a concern :)


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