Line Out vs. Headphone Out: What’s the difference?

by Alex.   Last Updated On September 7th, 2022.
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Headphones are an excellent audio device that allows people to listen to music privately without having to sacrifice on sound quality. These output devices are compatible with most modern smartphones as they don’t require much power to be operated and other additional accessories; just plug them in, and you can listen to any audio stream you want.

To hear any form of music from any device, you must first plug them into your devices; the two types of audio ports used are the line outputs and headphone outputs. These identical audio ports allow the device to convert the input signal to sound.

The line output is a type of audio port that is primarily used to deliver line level signals from one device to another audio device. Meanwhile, the headphone output audio port provides amplified line level signals to drive headphones.

In this article, we will tackle the two different audio port types, their differences, and many more.

Let’s get right into it.

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What is Line Out?

Line out is also known as audio out or sound out, and they are used to deliver line level signals, and many people associate Line outputs with keyboards, bass, and guitar amps. However, many more devices still use the Line output type port for other musical instruments, such as a mic preamp, keyboards, synths, an audio mixer, and many more.

Many audio engineers like the Line output type port because you can plug a keyboard or bass’ Line out into the mixer input and apply other signal processing procedures you want, such as using EQ, compression, and many more, to make the sound quality better.

This audio signal output type allows you to transfer generated audio signals to external devices such as external speakers, headphones, and other output devices that will enable you to listen to the sound output.

The line output is the music industry’s standard when it comes to signal transfer and is the level expected when it comes to recording and driving amplifiers.

What is a Headphone Out?

Headphone outputs are audio signal output types used to drive headphones and are used on a phone’s headphone jack. Think of headphone outputs as an amplified Line output as headphone outputs are installed with a built in headphone amplifier that allows them to boost the audio signal, making them audible in the headphones.

A headphone output works in a manner wherein it takes the line level signals and then reroutes them into the headphone amp. Once they are in the headphone amps, it will then make the line level signals into an amplified line level signal which are then sent to the Headphone.

Headphone outs perform at a much stronger signal strength than the first audio port type, and some headphones even have a feature of watts of output power that provides enough energy to drive speakers.

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Difference Between Line Out vs. Headphone Out

Line out and Headphone out are pretty similar when it comes to looks but are different when it comes to sending out output signals. Here are some differences between the two different output types.

Amplification and Volume Regulation

As mentioned earlier, line outs do not have some form of built in amplifiers which means they are incapable of driving headphones. However, since headphone outs have the features of amplifying the standard line level output, it allows them to drive headphones. Adding to this, some headphone outputs, especially ones on the high end, are made for stronger amplifiers enabling them to produce a higher voltage, resulting in a higher power magnitude headphone output with reasonable distortion.

When you use a line out of a device with an already installed amplifier, the Line out bypasses this amplifier, but the Headphone out works by rerouting the signal to the amp, which allows them to produce an amplified line level signal.

In simpler words, line outs are made to be plugged into an external amplifier, and this external amplifier will then act as the Headphone out’s built in amplifier to produce amplified line level audio signals. Also, they could work as a power amp connected to a set of external speakers, which means that volume control can only be accessible from the external amp.

Ultimately, this means that line outs have a fixed volume on their device. However, volume control is easy on the headphone output.

Sound

The sound produced by these different audio ports is quite similar to the average person, but there are some subtle differences between the two based from sound engineers and music producers. Since headphone outputs located in headphone jacks go through amplification because it’s built in amp to make them audible, the sound they produce might be of louder volume, but it’s more likely that the sound produced might have some low noise added to it.

The reason for this added noise is that most built in headphone amps are of low quality, which means the pure line output will be added with some distortion to the signal. This means that the sound produced from headphones outs are slightly muffled. Despite this, the noise will practically go unnoticed by average music listeners.

This is the reason why music producers and engineers much prefer line outs; line outs produce pure line level signals that are not subjected to any form of amplification, making their line input less prone to sound distortion and added noise. They can be optimized more quickly, and since their signal strength is less than that of the headphone outs, they are less likely to get degraded.

Impedance

Line outs have a source impedance ranging within the regions of 100 ohms and more. Adding to this, they are made for driving loads with a high input impedance, and they are also optimized to produce signals that aren’t distorted or added with some noise when used with high impedance loads.

Headphone outs have an impedance that typically range between 16-600 ohms; they have a low source impedance and are meant to drive lower impedances on most headphones. Unlike line outs, headphone outs are optimized to drive high currents with some sort of distortion and noise due to the low impedance loads.

This means that the sound produced by line outs is slightly better because their line level out signal is not muffled with noise and distortion.

Can I use a Headphone Out as Line Out?

Yes, you can still use the Headphone out as a line out as they can still send a line level signal to other output devices. However, volume control must be emphasized since headphone outs are amplified, and the volume must be not too loud to minimize distortion and add unnecessary noise.

Some audio devices, such as keyboards and mixers, might not come with line outs, so you might be forced to use your headphones to operate your device. Although the line level signal they produce is not pure, they are still a great substitute as they only reduce the signal quality to a level that is not easy to detect.

Added noise and distortion while using a headphone out is something that cannot be avoided, but you can minimize this by keeping the volume down because the line level signal produced by headphone outs is already amplified.

However, you should avoid using headphone outs as a line out if you want to produce better, clearer, and cleaner sound.

Can I plug Headphones into Line Out?

As mentioned, headphone outs produce an amplified line level output to make them audible in the headphones, so if you plug in headphones into a line out, the audio will be inaudible; this is also because line outs are not meant to drive headphones.

Headphone outs produce level signals that are powerful enough to cause the headphone coils to move back and forth, producing sound, but line outs do not have this capability, making the sound they produce inaudible.

Many issues stem from plugging headphones into a line out, such as low bass, low range, and low volume (if the sound isn’t inaudible in the first place).

What Does Headphone Line Out Mean?

A headphone line out is a name for headphone output that can produce line level output signals. A headphone line out allows external speakers, headphones, and other output devices to be connected to your speaker.

In theory, a headphone line out will produce better sound quality than a regular headphone out, but the sound difference, as mentioned earlier, will become virtually impossible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Headphone go in Line in or line out?

The headphones will connect to the Headphone out port, while the microphone and other sound inputs will connect to the Line in port. To quickly identify this, the sound in port has been colored a shade of blue with an arrow pointing into waves.

Is Line out the same as aux?

No, line out, and aux have some slight differences, such as their impedance and connector (see also our guide to types of audio connectors), but this is not necessarily a huge difference between the two as Line out and aux as the Headphone out is usually the stereo out of one cable. The line outs are separated into L and R, but some can still be connected to the Headphone out port.

What is line OUT used for?

Also known as audio out and sound out, the Line out jack is found on most computer sound cards, and it allows external speakers, headphones, and other sound output devices to be connected to the computer and transfer the computer audio generated to the external devices which will enable them to be heard.

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Can I connect a subwoofer to line out?

Yes, your speaker system might have a set of line outputs that can be easily connected to a subwoofer.

What makes a subwoofer hit harder?

You can add filters or phase shifters to make your subwoofer hit harder. Adding to this, you should also make sure that you are using the correct amplifier, get a bandpass box, tweak the settings on your amplifier and stereo unit to improve the overall sound quality, or you can also tweak the settings of your subwoofer itself by playing audio with low frequency sounds or thumping noises via bass guitars.

What Hz is best for deep bass?

As professionals recommend, the best Hz for deep bass is typically between 60-250 Hz. These frequency ranges consider protecting the speakers from damage but also optimize the best listening experience for the user. Additionally, listening to music at a much lower frequency will negatively affect your hearing.

How can I improve the vocals in a song?

To make the vocals in a song clearer, you can start by cleaning up the vocals, such as removing some background noise and other unwanted mouth sounds. You can then open up your equalizer and meddle with the setting, such as eliminating nasal, plosives, and esses. You could also control the vocal dynamics, adding warmth and clarity via the device’s EQ.

Also, you can mildly distort or saturate the vocal to make the vocals sound bright, or you can also try an exciter to add harmonics. Lastly, you can also employ a short reverb and delay to make the vocals in a song sound clearer.

Conclusion

Internal audio signals are nothing if you can’t hear them, and to make them audible to the human ears, external audio output devices are utilized, such as headphones, speakers, and many more. To convert these audio signals to the sound we know and hear, they must be plugged into audio ports.

To make things easier to remember, the Line out port is made for line level audio signals, and they are created to be used with a complementary external amplifier. Contrary to this, a headphone out is made with a built in amplifier to produce amplified line level signals that vibrate the coils enough, making the sound they produce audible to humans.

We hope this informative article has helped you become more knowledgeable about the two different audio ports and their differences.