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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, we explore the differences between aux and headphone inputs and outputs.

Though they have been somewhat phased out in recent years, there was once a time not that long ago when aux cables were a normal part of life. To the newer generation, however, it is just another thing that “old people” use.

Aux Headphones on The Table Read Magazine
Aux Headphones

So, what is an aux cable? How is it different from the jacks you would see with the average set of headphones? Read on to find out more about the differences between aux inputs/outputs and their headphone counterparts.

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What is an Aux Connection?

Auxiliary connections, or aux cables, are designed to connect any number of devices into what is basically a universal jack. In the early 2000s, you would have used an aux jack to connect your smartphone or MP3 player to your car. It could even be used to connect laptops to display videos and presentations.

You will generally find aux inputs in stereo receivers, active loudspeakers, audio amplifiers, car stereo systems, and even in clock radios. It became an easy way to bring all of your favorite music with you no matter where you were. Claiming the aux port was something of a feeling of pride when riding with friends.

What are Headphone Jacks?

Even years before the aux cable became familiar, there were headphone jacks. Aux cables look very similar to headphone jacks but there are serious differences. As the name states, headphone jacks work to send audio signals into headphones.

Though headphones are still very much prevalent today, the technology has changed a bit. Corded headphones are becoming less common, for instance. Headphone jacks may still be required depending on what kind of wireless headphones you have but they are becoming less necessary than they used to be even a decade ago.

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The Key Differences Between Aux & Headphone Inputs/Outputs

Comparatively speaking, aux outputs usually have low-level signals that are meant to drive high-impedance loads. Most of the headphones you will find out there have a lower impedance than most of the aux outputs you will find. That said, it creates a weak signal that could become distorted.

The major difference between the two is that headphone outputs are able to effectively send signals to the aux input. That said, an aux output won’t be able to easily push a signal to the headphone “input.” This has mostly to do with differences in voltages as well as impedances between the two of them.

Aux inputs have a substantially lower impedance than outputs (somewhere between 7 and 15 times). Outputs also have a nominal voltage level. Headphone inputs can go substantially higher in terms of impedance. However, the voltage requirements depend on what kind of headphone driver you have as well as the impedance level of those headphones. The higher the impedance, the more voltage is required.

The Similarities Between Aux & Headphone Inputs/Outputs

It also helps to know how the two are related. Both connection types are analog. This means that any audio signals are basically electrical AC voltages that go through some sort of conductive wires in a cable. Since most audio devices are digital, there are analog-to-digital converters that offer both headphone and aux ports.

The size, look, and wiring are also very similar, which is the biggest reason they are so often confused. So, if they look the same, how can they be all that different? Aux inputs are meant to accept a variety of audio sources while headphone jacks are meant for a more refined, specific purpose. They may look similar but there is a lot more at play with these plugs than you realize.


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