Get a Headphone Splitter to Share Audio

A simple $10 unit becomes really useful because of its separate volume controls for each listener.

I went on a 650 mile drive this week, accompanied by my teenage daughter and her friend in the back of the car.  Rather than enjoy conversation with me, they decided they wanted to watch some movies.  To avoid being subjected to the sort of nonsense they regrettably enjoy being played over the speakers, I gave them a headphone splitter so they could each use a set of headphones from the one output jack on their shared tablet.

Of course, sometimes this unit can be helpful not when you want to shut out someone else’s viewing/listening, but when you want to share it, too.  If you and your seatmate on a long flight are watching the same video, you can conveniently share the same audio by using a headphone splitter.  If you’re in a hotel room with paper thin walls and you don’t want to share your movie with the people in the next room, again this is a great way for two people to share one audio feed.

There are plenty of simplistic “Y-adapters” that can be used for this purpose, but they all have a potential problem within their limited design – controlling the volume each listener experiences.

Different headphones have different sensitivities – for the same amount of electric sound power, they will vary in the amount of actual sound level that comes out of the headphones.  If the two sets of headphones have different impedances, the difference can become even more extreme.  Add to that how some people prefer louder or quieter volume levels than others, and you’ve a situation that sees both people unhappy and uncomfortable.

Happily it is possible to get a headphone splitter that has two sets of volume controls (one for each listener), and for very little more money than a regular splitter.  We chose the iLuv Headphone Splitter, $10 on Amazon.

This was nicely packaged, and claims to be US designed, while of course Chinese made.  We tested it, and were alert for changes in volume level or sound quality depending on whether there were one or two sets of headphones plugged in, and whether the other set had high or low volume.

There was almost no perceptible difference at all.  The other person could plug or unplug, turn their volume up or down, and our listening experience remained unchanged.  There were no clicks or other glitches, and the volume wheels adjusted silently with no electrical noise or microphony.  The unit doesn’t require batteries to operate.

The splitter box is small (1.3″ x 1.4″ x 0.5″) and at the end of a short 3 1/2″ cord.  It weighs an imperceptible 0.4 oz.  Small, light, simple, and inexpensive.  As such, there’s no reason not to have one in your traveling bag of tricks.

If you are considering one of the many other similar seeming products out there, make sure of several things before buying.  First, make sure it is designed for splitting an audio output, not for joining two audio inputs.  Second, make sure it has the correct size plugs and sockets (for most of us, stereo type 1/8th” or 3.5mm).  Third, make sure it isn’t a “stereo to dual mono” or other variation on a normal splitter.

Two comments.  The first is, there’s no need to use this device if you’re not actually sharing the audio feed with someone else.  You are losing some of the sound power, meaning you have to use more battery to run the audio player, and will get slightly less battery life.

The second comment is that when you start using it, make sure you both have your volume levels set to maximum, then one of you – with the louder headphones/more sensitive hearing – should turn your/their headphones down, leaving the other set on maximum.  That way, the unit works most efficiently with most of the sound going direct into the headphones and only a little sound (and therefore battery power) being “wasted”.

The iLuv unit is simple, functional and inexpensive.  If you can ever foresee a situation where you or someone with you might want to share audio, you should get one.

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