USB Headphone Hack!




Introduction: USB Headphone Hack!

I've had many different jobs in my life, but I've discovered my passion: Mental Health Counseling...

OK. Before we get started, let me say this: I KNOW about impedences in different audio devices (guitars, XLR microphones, etc.), and by electronic standards, this DIY SEEMS as if it SHOULDN'T work very well. It does, however the exact opposite, and works very very well, especially considering the ease of implementation and the quality of sound recording! Perhaps one of you EE types can illuminate on this and my theory as to why it DOES work.

That being said, I present to you the USB Headphone Hack!

Step 1: What We'll Do

The original idea was much more complicated than this, but I decided to try this out first as it would be easier for the majority of people who wanted to try it. The addendum (last step) will have my full idea (which I'm DEFINITELY doing =) for those who wish to try a slighty more compicated hack.

Basically, we will be attaching a 1/4" mono jack to the microphone input pads on the controller PCB to allow connection and recording of just about anything that uses that type of jack, including guitars, bases, microphones, etc.

Take a 1/4" female jack cord and cut the wires above the jack, leaving about 1-2". Strip about 1/2" of the covering, twist together the braided shield, then strip about 1/8" of the single wire inside. Tin these with solder if you desire to do so at this stage.

Step 2: Determining the PCB Layout

From what I've seen of USB headphones, the basic control scheme and layout appears fairly identical. The particular USB set I used was an inexpensive Gigaware USB Headset sold at Radio Shack. Earlier models of this headset were complete garbage, so ask the dealer if these are the new revisions or not. The newer ones apeared to address all the customer complaints of the originals, and actually perform very well.

Use a small jeweler's flat head screwdriver to gently pry the top of the controller box off. It merely is snapped into place in this model.

Inside, we can see where the twisted shield and single wire from the headset mic are attached to the PCB inside the controller.

Step 3: Adapting the Cover for the 1/4" Jack

This is fairly straightforward. I used a circular file to notch the cover to accomodate the 1/4" jack cord. Take your time and repeatedly test fit the cover until it JUST seats snugly. This will apply pressure to the jack cord to hold it snugly to avoid slippage. For added protection against accidentaly pulling out the 1/4 inch jack, you could alternatively use some hot glue inside around the jack cord to create a makeshift slipage stop (somehting I do quite frequently =).

Step 4: Finished and Testing!

That's it! pretty simple... now you can plug in your guitar or other musical instrument and enjoy MUCH cleaner sound and wider frequency response than plugging directly into your PC's soundcard. I created a couple of MP3 Files that you can right click and download from my website (not very big) that demonstrate the difference in quality. RIght click and save as, and then give these a listen.

Audigy - Analog
USB Hack - Digital

Step 5: My Theory on Why It Works Well

The ADC is designed simply to convert the signal from analogue to digital before passing the data to the USB port. Signal Hum is eliminated because the PC component interference is largely blocked by the PC case. As for the signal quality, I believe that impedence mismatching is not nearly as large an issue with the ADC chip in the headset controller, as it merely takes the signal it recieves and converts it to digital data and into the PC, where digital to analog conversion then takes place, and amplification is applied by the drivers and software in the PC.

Step 6: My Ultimate Plan for This

I want to create a breakout box with a 1/4" jack AND an XLR microphone jack with the +5 volt microphone power being provided by the USB port. I also want to add two stereo jacks into the box for connection of ANY analogue headset in lieu of the USB headset. I plan on incorporating a 1:1 isolation transformer between all teh breakout box connectors to make the signal absolutely the cleanest and interference free as it can possibly be. PLEASE feel free to build on this idea, or post questions or comments!



    • Metalworking Contest

      Metalworking Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest

    29 Discussions

    Does anybody know where to get replacement pads for these? I really like them but the pads have turned to dust.

    My cellphone uses an enhanced mini usb plug (emu?) , which has the same form factor as the 5 pin mini-b usb connector, but contains 10 pins. I'd rather not hack up the only headphones I have for it, but I haven't been able anywhere that sells something with an EMU connectoron on end!

    2 replies

    Dude! go to the zoo, you will find the EMU your looking for.

    If you have an android phone or tablet you can plug this in with an OTG cable. I use one I made from a logitec singstar mic

    Great idea, I also find PC-Audio inputs dissatisfying. But you could save yourself a lot of work, if you just buy a "usb soundcard" over the Internet. Which is basically like what just built - only without the hassle of soldering & ready out of the box!

    4 replies

    first of all, i m a electronic student and i think this was a great instructable. kronner, man you are a consumerist, this page is instructables the idea here is to Do It Yourself, obviously it´s easier to buy it, but then you earn no experience! neither the pleasure of say i am the one who made it :B haha

    Yes I totally agree. I would rather make something like this than buy it, even if it only costs $5.00. People who just find it easier to purchase shouldn't be here. I just hacked a laptop hard drive with no case to work for my WII. Obviously it would have been easier to order an external case off ebay but where's the fun in that?

    Do you know how a microphone wires into USB?

    Do you know how a microphone wires into USB?

    Very helpful, thanks!

    is that a soldering iron

    DUDE! This is an awesome hack/Instructable,. we need to try to get it to featured status. I have a sneaking suspension this will give as good a quality as any of the cheaper USB audio interfaces available for easily half the price. I would like to offer some possible additions however. On the recording you posted there was obvious background noise,. which should not exist when you are plugged straight in with your instrument. I'm guessing this is because you left the headset mic wired in parallel to the input jack. The outcome of this setup is that when you turn up you mic volume in the software not only does it raise the volume of the instrument,. its raising the volume of the headset mic as well, to the point your picking up useless ambient noise. One workaround here is to use a stereo input jack as a switch. When placed inline with the mic it will effectivly disable the mic when an instrument is plugged in. Another would be to place an actual SPST switch inline with on of the headset mic wires allowing you to turn it on and off. Doing it thisway will allow you to use the headset as a vocal mic while your recording the instrument at the same time. Although you would probably also want an inline level control as well. At this point setting up a breakout box starts to become appealing. It would allow you to have multiple outputs each with there own level adjustments. You could also put in a headphone jack, which would be nice because the headphones on these USB headsets are far from "quality". Thanks again for the great idea!!!

    3 replies

    This project sounds a little like killing a mosquito with a gun! Why go for a USB headphone set and then pry it open and cut wires and solder them to the 1/4 inch jacks (I forgot the filing bit to allow for the thicker wires) and then keep the headsets hanging in mid air while you plug in a guitar into the jack? It is a mindless excercise; I have an alternative suggestion, which I am sure will be cheaper and neater. Just go out and buy an external USB sound adapter (these are approximately the size of a USB pen drive). It will definitely be cheaper since it does not have any headphones attached to it. Now buy a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter and plug the 3.5mm plug into the USB sound card input and your guitar or whatever you have into the 6.35mm jack. Thats it. Of course do not forget to plug in the sound adapter into a USB port in your PC! You shall have all the benefits of the above hack without hacking.

    this is nifty and creative aproach to getting stuff recorded. HOWEVER-i wouldnt recomend it if you are planning on getting good sound quality, mind you--my idea of good sound quality is different than yours-- and on impedence...well a quarter inch will work like a guitar, or bass but xlr with an impedence adapter will be even less quality sound, an adapter is just more junk on the signal chain. If you are a true home recording enthusiast go spend 100 dollars and get you a used firepod or other imput device, and try to stay away from usb to 1/4 inch cables as i have found them to seriously chop up the sound of my good guitars. i use an inspire gt--cheap small and four tracks on firewire..if you are just looking to get something recorded so you dont forget it and you dont worry about sound quality, then go ahead and hack away--but you could also just use a tape recorder... although with the rise in popularity of mp3's (they sound terrible) i can see tons of people using something like this with audacity and what not-- dont try and post this on gear sluts cause they will talk shite to you ... its still cool.

    1 reply

    Actually, if you got a bit of money to splash around, you may as well lash out on something like the zoom multi effects units which have a usb interface as standard. The fancier models even let you set up and store your patches via usb...