Connecting Headphones to an LCD TV Without a Headphone Jack
By John Lister
Not all modern televisions come with a headphone socket. In most cases, however, you'll find some form of audio output sockets, usually designed for connecting to a surround sound receiver or other audio equipment. With the right adapter or converter, which is often relatively cheap, you can still connect your headphones to this output. The range of options can be confusing, so don't be afraid to ask store staff or online retailers if a product is right for your specific needs.
Analog Audio Output
An analog audio output normally takes the form of two sockets, one red and one white. Make sure to check that the socket is for audio output rather than input. To use headphones with these output sockets, you simply need a physical adapter. The key terms to look out for when choosing such an adapter are "twin or 2x RCA male" and "1x 3.5mm." RCA refers to the type of stereo audio plugs (with two sockets) found on televisions, 3.5mm refers to a standard single plug connection for stereo audio, and male and female are terms (with a crude origin) for plug and socket, respectively. You may also see the term "Y cable," which refers to the adapter having one socket and then splitting into two wires to the plugs. Such adapters should only cost a few dollars.
Large Headphone Plug
Some headphones use a large-sized plug known as 1/4 or 1/4 inch. If you have such a model, you have two options. One is to look for a specialist adapter with terms such as "1/4 female to twin RCA male" -- these exist but are harder to find, as most 1/4 to RCA adapters are single plug to single socket only. If you can't find one, you can use a 3.5mm socket to RCA plug adapter, then get a separate 1/4 socket to 3.5mm plug adapter. The set up will be your headphones plugged into the 1/4 to 3.5mm adapter, which in turn is plugged into the 3.5mm to RCA adapter, which is plugged into the TV. This will work, though it may be a little unwieldy. Again, these types of adapters should only cost a few dollars.
Digital Audio Output
If your television only has a digital audio output, you will need some form of digital-to-analog audio converter rather than a mere physical adapter. You can choose between a wide range of converters with different options, so you'll need to check the socketry included on both sides of the converter. Firstly, make sure the input socket on the converter is the same type as the digital output socket on the TV: the two types are known as optical (or TosLink) and coaxial (or simply digital). Secondly, check the output sockets on the converter and make sure you can either plug your headphones in directly or find a suitable adapter. Digital-to-analog audio converters vary significantly in price; you may find you do not need to buy the more expensive models, which are often designed for professional audio use.
Several online resources suggest ways of rewiring the audio/video sockets on your television to provide headphone access. Do not attempt to modify the ports and internal wiring of your television unless you are an experienced and trained expert. Such actions will invalidate any guarantee or warranty on the set, and may pose a fire or electrocution hazard.
- Vetco Electronics: How to Hook Up Wireless Headphones to an LCD TV
- Amazon: Digital Audio to Analog Audio Converter
- Amazon: C&E 30S1-01260 2 x RCA Male, 1 x 3.5mm Stereo Female, Y-Cable 6-Inch Gold Plated Connector
- Amazon: RCA AH216 Stereo Headphone Adapter Plug
- Musician's Friend: Hosa Mono 1/4" (Female) - 2 RCA (Male) Y Cable
A professional writer since 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, John Lister ran the press department for the Plain English Campaign until 2005. He then worked as a freelance writer with credits including national newspapers, magazines and online work. He specializes in technology and communications.