earphone Microphone
Earphones have been a longtime staple for audio professionals and amateurs alike. Almost every other studio (and house) has an extra pair just lying around. The same isn’t true for microphones, but considering the current and future trends of remote working, it’s only a matter of time before microphones become just as important as your earphones.

But here’s a trick that you probably didn’t know– you can actually use your earphones as a standalone microphone. This may sound like another one of those life hacks that don’t serve any real function, but it could buy you just enough time until your purpose-built microphone arrives. Granted we’d all look pretty silly singing karaoke into our headphones, but the quality should help you get by.

A repurposed microphone can get you out of a bind when you really need to speak your mind, make a statement, record something, or talk to a friend over Skype but you’re without a mic. However, you’ll have to really speak up if you want to get heard, the quality is simply not as good as a purpose-built microphone.

Here’s how you can set up your earphones to work as a microphone.


Your First Obstacle: 4-band Connectors vs. 3-band Connectors


Your first challenge is a design limitation that could prevent you from using your earphones on your PC at all. Most earphones and headphone mics feature a 3.5mm TRRS connector with 4 bands (with four parts separated by three insulators). The TRRS connector supports an additional channel such as a microphone input when connected to the stereo output.

The problem with PCs is that they feature separate earphone and microphone jacks, unlike laptops and mobiles which combine them into a single 3.5mm port. You may need an external microphone adapter to convert the 4-band TRRS connector to a 3-band connector (with three parts separated by two insulators).

But this doesn’t have to be your Achilles heel! Simply buy a cheap 3.5 mm audio splitter from Amazon to split the signals into two and work around the limitation. Here is a great device that works exactly in this situation.
 
The adaptor is generally color-coded to indicate which port serves what purpose. As a general rule, green is for the earphones and red is for the microphone, a useful rule if they don’t have icons indicating this.


Your Second Obstacle: Setting up the Repurposed Microphone on PC Windows


This should work regardless of whether you’re working on Windows or Mac. The choice of software doesn’t override basic science, after all! One of the first things you’ll need to do before setting up the microphone is to install any drivers. In most cases, Windows and Mac will automatically search and install the necessary drivers for you.

Here’s a step by step guide on how you can use your earphones on your Laptop or PC (on Windows):
  1. 1
    Find the microphone jack (also known as line-in or audio input) on your computer.
  2. 2
    Plug the earphones into the jack.
  3. 3
    Open up the search box and simply type in “manage audio devices”.
  4. 4
    In the search results, click on “Manage audio devices”. This will take you to the Control Panel for sound. 
  5. 5
    Click on the “Recording” button on the Sound Control Panel and look for green bars that respond when your earphone picks up sound.
  6. 6
    Once it is confirmed that your makeshift microphone is listed and working, select it and click on the “Set Default” button. Click on “OK” to exit the screen and now you are ready to use your earphones or earbuds as a microphone. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to adjusting the quality of input sound your makeshift earphone picks up:

Microphone Windows Settings
  • Open Sound Control Settings
  • Click on the “Recording” tab next to Playback
  • Right-click your device and click “Levels” next to Listen
  • Drag the slider until you’re satisfied with the quality of sound (you may have to max it out to 100)

If the above doesn’t work, try restarting Windows and repeat steps 1 through 4.

Setting Up the Repurposed Microphone on Mac 


Mac users can follow the steps below to test their makeshift microphone:
  1. 1
    Click on the Apple menu in the top-left corner of the screen and select System Preferences
  2. 2
    Double-click on the Sound icon
  3. 3
    Click on the Input tab to see if your earphone is listed as a microphone, click on it if it recognized
  4. 4
    Move the slider to the right to adjust the Input volume. Do this while you speak in a normal voice. You can stop moving the slider until you’re happy with the results. 

And you’re done!


If issues with the earphone persist, simply restart your Mac and follow steps 1 through 4 again.


If restarting doesn’t fix the issue, your earphone is probably not being recognized as a microphone. 

Tips For Using Earphones as a Mic 

Below are a few things you can do to improve the quality of your sound input:

  • Lower the EQ control to cut down the extra boominess from your voice, this will require quite a bit of experimentation to get it right.
    List Element
  • If your speakers have booth monitors, turn them off.
  • The larger surface area of your headphone means that it could pick up all sorts of noises, including a very annoying high pitched sound. You may have to reduce the mic levels down to make your voice sound bearable.
  • If you’ve got the time, install Audacity and choose the “Vocal Enhancer” preset. Experts claim it cuts out low bass and boosts the frequencies that matter.
With setup and configuration out of the way, let’s deep dive into the mechanics of why it works. We recommend you to carefully understand the technical information in this post to get the most out of it.


Basics of Earphone and Headphones: Why It Works

 
Microphones and headphones work using the exact same principles to manipulate sound waves, except they’re optimized to do their specific job well and can’t fulfill the other device’s role without sacrificing quality.
If you really get down to it, there are very few differences between the electromagnetic properties of earphones and microphones. Motor size, impedance (measured in ohms), and design are some of the factors that determine which direction the electromagnetic signals will travel.

Both have a diaphragm (or a transducer) that interacts with the air molecules that make up a sound wave. This diaphragm is connected to a coil of wire wrapped around a permanent magnet, or a motor. In an earphone, the motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy and makes the coil move. The coil starts to vibrate the air in immediate contact with it, creating sound waves that we hear.

The primary difference between a headphone and an earphone boils down to the direction in which the electric current travels. In headphones, the electric current is converted into sound to the world. Conversely, in microphones, sound from the world outside is converted into electrical signals which are then fed into the machine.
 

What are the Parts of an Earphone?


The parts of an earphone are:
  • The cone (this part vibrates the immediate air in contact with them and produce sound)
  • The suspension and the spider (these parts secure the cone in place while allowing it to freely move)
  • The coil and permanent magnet (the part that converts electrical energy to mechanical energy)
  • The pole and the top plate
  • And the body of the earphone that pieces everything together
Microphones have identical parts but they work in exactly the reverse way.
 

Can I Use My AirPods as a Microphone?


The good news is that you won’t have to jump around hoops to get heard from your AirPods and the quality is much better than a repurposed earphone.

AirPods have built-in microphones that automatically switch on for phone calls and to interact with Siri. The default settings are set to “Automatically Switch AirPods” so that either of the AirPods acts as a Microphone.
 
To change the rules on how you interact with your AirPods as a Microphone, do the following:
  1. 1
    Go to the settings app
  2. 2
    Click on Bluetooth
  3. 3
    Tap on the blue “i” icon next to AirPods under “My Devices
  4. 4
    Tap on “Microphone
Toggle the settings to left with “Always Left AirPod” or right with “Always Right AirPod” to ensure that only one of the AirPods. This holds true even if you remove the device from your phone or return it to its case.


Wrapping Up: The Quality is a Hit and Mix 


So there you have it, your earphones can serve the dual purpose of a microphone, albeit a bad one at that. But it’s a neat trick that could be a lifesaver when you really need a microphone and don’t have access to one.

The setup procedure is fairly straightforward to follow. You don’t have to be a ‘sound engineer’ or an expert to do this.


So what is the sound quality like on your makeshift earphone? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

I am the head author of ForTheSound. I want to bring you the best in-depth reviews of Headphones and earbuds.

Frank

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