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There are many reasons you may want to combine multiple audio sources into a single headphone output. For example, you may be playing a game and want to hear an in-game sound, while also listening to a podcast or favorite music track from a portable MP3 player.
Perhaps you are listening to a playthrough of a puzzle, and following along in real-time. Having two distinct sources of audio playing at once can help make scenarios like this much easier on you.
In most cases, combining audio sources can be easily done with a variety of affordable and easy-to-find hardware. This includes line splitters, sound adapters, and audio mixers. Each piece of hardware will give you a different quality of audio return.
You can find these items in a variety of places. In most cases, any store that sells speakers or other audio/visual equipment will have an assortment of line splitters, various adapters, mixers of both budget and professional quality, and more.
If you find local selection limited on this hardware, you can always look to online retailers. Websites such as Amazon carry a wide range of different brands and styles of audio accessories to give you the best return when it comes to combining two sound sources.
If you are looking for a quick and simple solution that is easy on your budget, a line splitter may work just fine. On the other hand, if you want high-quality sound with little to no distortion, a professional-level audio mixer may be a better option but should be considered an investment piece of equipment.
Let’s take a closer look at the potential hardware solutions you can use and how they compare to each other as far as ease of installation, sound quality, and availability.
Table of Contents
Using Line Splitter Cables
Line splitter cables can come in a wide range of styles and types to handle different audio sources. The most common are the Y splitters which include two adapters on one end for different audio sources, and a single adapter on the other for your output device (such as headphones), but you can find splitters with many different configurations.
Splitters are the most affordable option and can be found at a wide range of stores and online retailers, but won’t provide the best return on sound quality. They can combine two audio sources into a single headphone successfully, however, which makes them a great option for enjoying background music while gaming, as long as audio quality is not the highest priority.
When purchasing a line splitter cable such as a Y splitter mini stereo, be sure it has the proper input and output jacks on both ends to fit your chosen audio equipment. There are male and female adapters, and some will work with your audio devices such as phones, laptops, gaming consoles, and MP3 players, while others will require an additional piece of hardware.
When it comes to the differences between male and female adapters, male adapters are usually jacks and plugs that will insert into a socket. Female adapters are the sockets that will accept the jack. These can be made from a variety of materials depending on the quality of the hardware, but gold, copper, and brass are both extremely common.
Once you find the right line splitter cable, you will be able to connect the double end to your two devices, while your headphones will plug into the single end. This will combine your audio sources together and allow you to enjoy unfiltered audio from both devices simultaneously.
Using USB Sound Adapters
These small external adapters are great for any device that has a USB port, such as a laptop, gaming console, or stereo system. They can be found in a variety of different sizes from small thumb drive dongles, to larger and more advanced desktop units.
USB equipment is becoming more and more common in today’s market, and you can easily find a variety of USB adapters for sale at most local audio stores, pawn shops, and even some generalized department stores. If you are unable to find them locally, sources like Amazon can carry a wide range of USB plugs for your needs.
The purpose of a USB sound adapter is to interface two different devices with separate sound cards into a single output, such as your headphones for music and gaming. While very similar to the splitter cables, a USB sound adapter can be quite a bit more versatile when it comes to the different devices it can interface with.
Once this hardware is connected to your devices, you will need to download a separate sound mixer software like the Cubase Pro version in order to control which audio is sent to which device. The output audio will be raw and unfiltered, so the quality may suffer, but in most cases, it will be a higher quality sound than what splitter cables can provide.
Using Audio Mixers
One of the more advanced options, an audio mixer can be a complex and intimidating combination of buttons, dials, and switches. However, while it looks confusing to use, audio mixers are extremely simple to understand and very intuitive once you learn the basics.
Audio mixers are considered investment equipment and are essential in a recording studio. Their prices can range into the thousands for a professional level and high-end piece of equipment. While you can still find more affordable and budget-friendly mixers, they will still be more expensive than if you were to purchase a Y adapter for example.
The biggest benefit to using a simple audio mixer is that you will get the highest quality return when it comes to sound. Mixers are able to not only combine two audio sources, but can also balance them properly to reduce peaking, shrill tones, and distortion. You’ll also have access to a volume control to adjust the audio inputs independently.
With an audio mixer, each of the audio sources is separated into its own channel. These channels for the audio sources then give you the freedom to adjust frequencies, bass depth, and midrange. If you are mixing music with game sound, but one is overpowering the other, a simple adjustment on the mixer audio inputs via a slider or dial can fine-tune the sound to your liking.
Potential Issues with Multiple Audio Sources
When you combine audio inputs from multiple audio sources into one headphone, you may notice there is some headphone cracking and popping, distortion, or unwanted noise. Unfortunately, with lower-end options such as a Y cable or dual headphone jack, this is a common audio issue one must learn to deal with.
Sometimes wiggling the plug or ensuring it is pushed in fully can help reduce distortion, but audiophiles and those with sensitive hearing can still notice some distortion in the line. While it may not disturb the listening experience of most people, it can be a huge nuisance for others.
When using a higher quality Rolls mixer to combine audio inputs, for example, you should not be hearing distortion in your headphones, even if you run one pair of headphones through a headphone amplifier. In general, the more hardware you are using, the higher the chance for distortion in the two audio signals.
Since mixers are a much higher quality piece of equipment than a Y cable, the amount of distortion you hear will be much lower. In fact, even some audiophiles are unable to hear distortion when running their audio through a high-end professional mixer.
When you first combine two audio sources, take time to listen to the audio in a quiet location. This will let you notice any peaking, distortion, shrill sounds, or undertones that didn’t translate well after you combine two audio sources into one headphone. Be sure to check the connectors and make sure the connections are solid, as this can sometimes take care of any minor distortion you notice at first.
If you are using a passive mixer, you may not have any options to adjust the sound quality on the hardware itself. Instead, you will need to download and install software to handle it for you. A quick Google search can help you determine which software will work with your particular hardware.
If you are using a mixer to combine two audio sources into one headphone, you may have a variety of dials and knobs. These are the adjustments for each of the audio sources. If you notice the bass is causing distortion, a simple adjustment of the slider or knob on the mixer hardware itself can balance it out.
Peaking is another common issue when combining two audio sources into one pair of headphones. This is most often seen from Y cable connections into headphones, but can also be heard in higher quality sound adapters.
When you hear peaking in your headphones, it may sound like a rattling when loud or booming audio is played. It can also be a robotic sound when high and shrill sounds are played. It is the audio hitting the maximum headphone impedance or peak of the range the two devices can handle.
Peaking with a Y cable cannot be adjusted in most cases, even with software. The best answer in this situation would be to adjust the overall volume of the audio source causing the disruption in sound output. Peaking between two audio sources with a mixer can be adjusted with the mixer’s built-in adjustment knobs and sliders.
While mixing two audio sources can have its own set of problems to overcome, they are usually not difficult. The best option for the highest sound quality would be to use a simple mixer such as the Rolls Mixer.
Not only can an audio mixer combine multiple audio sources into one headphone, but it also provides a range of built-in audio adjustment dials you can use to quickly and instantly adjust your sound on one computer with no hassles.
If you are looking for a quick fix that fits into a modest budget, using a Y cable is your best option. It provides similar results as a mixer, though may be prone to slightly more distortion which can be a nuisance to audiophiles, but may not be noticed by the average listener.