How do wired headphones get power?


Headphones or earphones depending on your personal preference are small portable devices that are designed to be used along with an electronic device to be able to listen to music or other audio output. These headphones can either be wired or wireless, but for this article, we will be focusing on the wired type of headphones/earphones. 

Headphones are nothing more than a tiny version of a standard pair of home stereo speakers. Quite simply they turn an electrical signal into ear-pleasing music or other audio input. How do wired headphones get power? The tiny amount of power necessary to operate the transducer circuit inside each of the earpieces of the headphones comes from jack being plugged into the source (electronic device). 

The purpose of this article is to help explain how the wired headphones/earphones work and how they will affect the battery life of your mobile device. We are hoping that by the time you get to the end of the article you will be much more informed about how they work. We also hope that you have a better understanding of why using wired headphones/earphones negatively affect your device’s battery life. For the remainder of the article, we will be using headphones alone which will represent both headphones and earphones. 

How do headphones get power?

As stated earlier in the article when you are wearing headphones you basically putting tiny speakers in close proximity to your ears. The biggest benefit of this type of arrangement is that you don’t have to worry about whether your music is disturbing those people around you. Whether you prefer the over the ear style or in the ear style, they both work in the exact same manner. 

So, let’s break things down and go into some details about how headphones operate. One of the biggest questions that we want to answer in this article is, how do headphones get power?  The short and sweet answer is that it gets its operational power from the device that it is directly plugged into.

The long and very detailed answer will take a while for us to go through in order to be informative to our readers. There are several different parts of the headphones that will need to be talked up in order to fully explain it.

Tiny little speakers

Let’s start with a quick explanation of how headphones work to produce the music or audio that we listen to. Before we get into the heavy details about headphones and power usage, let’s get a better understanding of how a speaker works and how a transducer circuit turns an electrical current that is flowing through a wire and changes it into the music that you hear in your ear. Each earpiece is its own transducer circuit which consists of three different parts; the magnets, a coil, and a cone. As the current flows through the wire into a transducer it is turned into sound waves that enter the ear and the brain interprets the sound waves as music. 

The Headphone Jack

Everything starts with jack end of the headphones and this is because it is the part of the headphones that connect directly into the source of the audio (smartphone, tablet or other mobile devices). The jack is actually made up of three distinct parts; the Tip, the Sleeve, and the Ring. For this reason, the jack used to be referred to as TSR. Each of the three parts of the jack is very important because if any one of the three parts does not function properly the headphones will not work at all. 

The Tip – The tip portion of the jack is connected directly to the wires leading from the left side earpiece. This is how half of the sound that comes out of the headphones is generated.

The Sleeve – The sleeve portion of the jack is directly connected to the wires that lead to the right earpiece. The other half of the stereo sound that comes out of the headphones. 

The Ring – The ring portion of the jack acts as the ground connection needed to complete the circuit so that the current will flow into headphones transducers. 

Headphone Jack (Sleeve, Ring, Tip)

Note: Each of the three metal layers is separated by a thin plastic coating to prevent a short circuit condition. The materials that the jack is made out of can directly affect the quality of sound that is produced by the headphones. 

Do wired headphones drain the battery of your device?

Do you have to worry about draining the battery of your mobile device (smartphone, iPod or other music devices) when you plug in your headphones? The very simple answer would be no, however, there is a negligible amount of power drain that is necessary to power the headphones. 

Now, exactly how much power your headphones will use depends on one very important thing; the amount of impedance (measured in ohms) or resistance. The lower the number the less power that is necessary to drive the sound out of the speakers. However, the lower the impedance level can also affect the quality of the sound that you will hear out of the headphones. 

Low quality or generic headphones

Most of your cheap or low-cost headphones will produce low-quality sound and that comes with the lower impedance level (usually <20 ohms). Due to its lower impedance level, it will also require less power to drive the speakers in order to create the sound. While these cheap headphones will definitely save you money (much lower purchase price) and will use less power, you will definitely sacrifice quality in order to save that little bit of power. 

High quality “audiophile” Headphones

On the other end of the spectrum, the high-quality audiophile type headphones are made with better quality materials that increase the amount of impedance (usually <36 ohms). This higher amount of resistance will naturally require more power to drive the current through the speakers. So, you will end up with a much higher quality sound, but it will come at a slightly higher battery drain as you can imagine.  

Does the volume of the headphones affect battery life on the device?

Everyone is different in how they enjoy listening to their music and other types of audio. However, the one thing that people do have in common is the use of headphones to hear the music and to prevent their music from offending the people around them. So, the next important question has to be, does the volume of the headphones affect battery life on the device? 

The answer to that question is definitely, it is simply a matter of science and cannot be avoided. However, the battery drain is still far less than most of the other functions that are commonly found in today’s smartphones, tablets, and even iPods and other mobile devices. The best thing that you can do is find a volume level that you can enjoy and see for yourself how it affects the battery life of your smartphone or mobile device. 

Does the type of headphones have an effect on the battery?

The last part of this article will focus on Wired vs. Wireless headphones and the effects on battery life. As we discussed extensively earlier in the article the wired type of headphones do not have a marked effect on battery life. This is definitely not the case when it comes to wireless headphones.

Wireless type headphones use a technology called Bluetooth to transmit and receive the audio sound from the source (smartphone or other mobile devices) to the receiver built-in to the headphones. While a tiny battery inside the headphones power the Bluetooth receiver and power needed by the transducer circuit of the headphones, the Bluetooth transmitter circuit inside a mobile device requires a much higher amount of battery power. 

Final Thoughts

The answer to the question, how do wired headphones get power is an important question in that it leads to several other questions. As we discovered early in the article all of the power that is required to generate the sound that we all hear coming from the earpieces of our wired headphones comes from whatever device we plug them into. 

Since all mobile devices require some sort of battery power in order for it to work and the headphones that you are using pull power from the mobile device you plug them into, you should know more about how that will affect the battery life of your device. Unless you are heavy into science you probably did not realize that not all wired headphones are the same and the wrong ones can and will have an effect on the battery life of your phone, tablet or other mobile devices. 

We hope that now that you have reached the end of this article that we have effectively answered all of the questions that you might have regarding wired headphones. We also hope that you have all the tools you need to make an informed decision on the best headphones for your needs.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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