Headset Jack Confusion

small-earbud-headphone-plugs-and-jacksHeadset Jack Confusion: a reader asks…

I’ve recently gotten myself all messed up with headsets and earbuds. I have a cordless phone in the house, along with an older cellphone and both Android and Apple smartphones, plus our laptops. So at home we have several sets of earbuds and headsets to listen to music, use the phone and such. Sometimes the jack I’m trying to plug into is either too small or too big for the plug on my earbuds, and I waste a lot of time trying to find the right set to go with the right equipment. Can you please make some sense out of this?

I understand your frustration, the so-called ‘standards’ used for various types of jacks and plugs is crazy. No matter what you plug into where, you’re often dealing with something that’s much less than a standard jack & plug arrangement. Witness the various types of USB connectors (and I include the older 40-pin iPhone connector and the newer Lightning one). Would that all these manufacturers just agree to use one type or another, and the market for adapters would dry up. That’s partly what kept Radio Shack in business for so long.


amazondotcom-image-cellphone-plug-adapterIn the case of the jacks for headphones or earbuds, there are generally two popular sizes in use. Cordless phones generally use the 2.5mm size (aka ‘sub-mini’) with 3 conductors while smartphones, tablets and computers use the 3.5mm size (aka ‘mini’) with 4 conductors. So earbuds that came with your wife’s iPhone will work fine in the Android smartphone as well as any computer. If you want to use them on your cordless phone, you’ll need an adapter. But not just any 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter will work. Rocketfish makes one (sku #8977832 or model # RF-HPADI) and it’s available at Amazon.com (with lousy reviews) or Best Buy (but shown as out of stock).

Personally, I’d be more inclined to buy a handful of these adapters to keep around instead of separate earbud/headset gear that fits the smaller jack. If only a quality product was available!

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  1. Thanks , I have recently been looking for info about this subject
    for ages and yours is the best I’ve came upon till now. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the supply?

    • Thanks for your comment/question! When I wrote this, there were no really good solutions, hence no clear conclusion. Unfortunately, there still isn’t. The best one out there I can see is the Headset Buddy: 3.5mm Smartphone Headset to 2.5mm Adapter (you can get it for $6 at http://www.amazon.com/Headset-Buddy-Smartphone-Telephone-01-PH35-PH25/dp/B003VAF7VI). It isn’t a perfect solution, but the mic works and you hear sound out of the right earbud. I should note that this doesn’t work with all smartphone earbuds, notably it doesn’t work with the current version of iPhone EarPods. See the complete compatibility list at https://www.headsetbuddy.com/3-5mm-female-headset-to-2-5mm-male-adapter/ before you buy. Amazon says the item is in stock, so you should be able to get one without problems (this is an improvement over the situation when I wrote the article).

      Apparently there isn’t much of a demand for this capability, otherwise there’d be more and better solutions.

      The technical aspects are part of the problem: The smartphone jack has 4 connectors, tip, ring1, ring2 and ring 3. These correspond to left earbud, right earbud, common, and microphone, respectively. Your typical cordless telephone has 3 connectors, tip, ring 1 and ring 2. These correspond to microphone, speaker, and common, respectively. Plus the physical length of the jack, and the exact placement of each of the rings.

      The headsetbuddy does re-route the wiring connectors correctly to convert – going from the jack (for your smartphone earbuds) to the plug (for inserting into the cordless telephone): ring3:tip for microphone, ring1:ring1 for right earbud and ring2:ring2 for common. The smarphone jack side’s tip (left earbud) isn’t connected through to the cordless phone plug, but some owners have reported bleedthrough (they hear sound through the left earbud but lower volume).

      If you use Apple EarPods, the above won’t work for you, I think primarily due to the length of the jack being different than older earbuds, hence the placement of the connectors different as well. And the above earbud adapter is pretty cheap, so the specifications and tolerances might be different enough to make a solid connection less likely. I should note that you can buy an earbud for the cordless telephone for about $8 (see an example at http://www.amazon.com/Panasonic-KX-TCA60-Hands-Free-Headband-Cordless/dp/B00007M1TZ), so you might want to just bite the bullet and use a separate earbud for the cordless phone.

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  6. got a cordless panasonic kx tg 4391 AL and the link you gave specifically says it wont work for panasonic kx tg etc. Do you know of an adaptor that will work with the 4391? https://www.headsetbuddy.com/3-5mm-headset-to-2-5mm-phone-adapter/

    • Hi J, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I have still not found a product that will work. It seems like the manufacturers don’t want to make things cross-compatible. There are adapters that will let your earpods function as a mono speaker, but audio input isn’t an option so you can’t use Apple Earpods (or any 3.5mm corded headset with microphone) with any cordless phone that has a 2.5mm headset jack – you have to use a dedicated headset jack (one ear and a microphone). Sorry, cordless phones are ‘old’ technology and it seems all the development investment is in wireless aka Bluetooth. FYI, the Panasonic KX-TG9382T has Bluetooth capability so it should work with cordless smartphone earbuds like the Airpods (but I haven’t tested this out yet).

      • Thanks. I am getting static crackle on the TX, fine using normal phone so not the house. It is the TX. After I isolate it is fine for about 10 calls then starts its crackle again. Is TX Panasonic low quality? Past warranty now. Any ideas to rid the noise?

        As for the jack see this for rewiring it https://www.ozbargain.com.au/node/181739

        And annoying as i bought a Panasonic headset and have lost it somewhere in storage. Dont like the mono. Know any you can buy that cover both ears even if not stereo by sending same mono signal to both ears.

        • Cordless phones use the same radio frequency band as Wi-Fi networks and microwave ovens, so the static you hear might be interference (even a neighbor’s Wi-Fi can cause that). It might also just be the Panasonic phone system. The only way they have to deal with interference is to unplug the base unit, remove batteries from all handsets, the replace and plug back in – and hope the system chooses a frequency within the band that’s less crowded.

          The only way to get mono audio to both ears is to take apart one of the available adapters and rewire it. I’ve found nothing on the market that does what we all want it to do (let you use your smartphone earbuds with a 2.5mm cordless phone system).

  7. how much would you charge to wire an adaptor up and post it to me? That prior post had some ideas how to do it. i am not tech savy.

    • Hi James, I’m sorry but I don’t do that sort of work, I’m really just in the advice game. I think you could purchase an adapter and have a reputable electrician in your area (AUS) re-wire it so the contacts work correctly. Here’s what info you’d need to give the electrician:

      The 3.5mm smartphone headset jack has four contact rings in the port. For the male jack, those contacts are:
      tip: left channel
      1st ring: right channel
      2nd ring: ground
      sleeve: microphone

      Your standard 2.5mm cordless phone jack has three contact rings in the port. For the male jack, those contacts are (from the tip inward:
      tip: microphone
      1st ring: speaker
      sleeve: ground

      You can see a visual representation of these jacks at https://enpfvioj5m4.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/iphone-cordlessphone-jack-pin-assignments.png

      Since the 2.5mm jack only has mono sound, you might be able to get sound in both ears by connecting both right and left-channel wires from the 3.5mm side to the speaker wire on the 2.5mm side, but the volume may be low. It’s probably safer to just use either the left or right channel for the mono speaker connection.

  8. Hello,
    I wanted to install some new headsets to several Panasonic phones operating in our call center.
    The Panasonic Phones are: KX-TS840MX / KX-TST80MX / KX-TS880MX.
    Currently i am working in Beirut, Lebanon and couldn’t any compatible headset, what headphone or adapter do you recommend me to use ??

    • Hi Ray, thanks for your question. If you need headsets, you might give http://www.hellodirect.com a try, they offer a wide range of headset styles, both wired and wireless. The website has a chat box so you can talk directly with sales and they can help you zero in on exactly what you need and would work with your systems.

      I don’t think using standard smartphone earbuds and an adapter would work for you, I’ve tried several adapters and haven’t found one that works decently.

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