Trying to figure out how to connect an audio mixer to a headphone amp splitter? In this article, we’ll show you 4 different ways to do just that and explain which of these methods we don’t recommend and why.

Quick Answer: The simplest way to connect your audio mixer to a headphone amp splitter is a balanced (TRS) cable from the headphone jack. Stereo or monitor outputs work too, but we don’t recommend using the aux output as it will only give you audio in one ear.

Why Connect A Headphone Amp / Splitter To A Mixer?

Mackie HM4 Headphone Splitter

There are 3 reasons people typically want to connect a headphone amp or headphone splitter to a mixer.

  1. Split the headphone output 4 ways
    Commonly required for podcasts with more than 1 host or bands with an in-ear monitor setup. Allows everyone to set their own volume.
  2. More volume
    Some audio mixers don’t have very good built-in headphone amps, meaning you need an external headphone amp to get the required volume from hard to power headphones.
  3. High-end preamp with other features
    You want to use a high-end tube preamp that adds tonal coloration or other features that you need for your headphones.

Mixer & Headphone Amp / Splitter Equipment

Mackie ProFX10v3 Audio Mixer

We use a Mackie ProFX10v3 audio mixer with a Mackie HM4 headphone amplifier splitter in the accompanying video, but these methods will work with a wide range of equipment.

The Mackie HM4 is a pretty simple, inexpensive device that does its job well. It takes a signal via 1 x 1/4″ input and splits it 4 ways to 4 x 1/4″ outputs. Each output has its own volume control. 

Balanced Vs. Unbalanced Cable

Before we jump into how to connect a headphone amp splitter to a mixer, there are 2 pieces of theory you need to know. The first is the difference between a balanced and an unbalanced 1/4″ cable.

  • Unbalanced cable
    Unbalanced cable connectors have a tip and a sleeve. They are also known as TS or instrument cables, as their primary purpose is connecting guitars to amps over a distance of around 15′. They carry an unbalanced mono signal.
  • Balanced cable
    Balanced cable connectors have a tip, a ring, and a sleeve. They are also known as TRS or tip ring sleeve cables. Balanced cables have 2 different uses; they can carry a balanced mono signal or an unbalanced stereo signal.

Balanced Mono Vs. Unbalanced Stereo

As we mentioned a moment ago, a balanced cable can carry 2 different types of signal. Let’s take a closer look at each one. 

  • Balanced mono signal
    In simplified terms, a balanced mono signal consists of two versions of the signal, one of which is phase inverted. When the signal reaches its destination, the inverted signal is flipped again to sync with the polarity of the other, canceling out any cable noise.
  • Unbalanced stereo signal
    This is perfect for headphones requiring a stereo signal over a distance of up to 15′.

Method 1: Headphone Output To Headphone Amp

Headphone Output > Balanced (TRS) Cable > Headphone Amp Input

Pros

  • Stereo signal
  • Headphone volume control independent of the main mix level
  • Simple single cable setup

Cons

  • Mixer headphone preamp can introduce noise/hiss

We recommend not exceeding 50% on the mixer’s headphone volume control to limit the amount of noise and hiss introduced. Add any further volume using the more noise-efficient headphone amp.

  • Balanced 1/4″ Cable: https://currentprice.io/trs_cable
  • Method 2: Aux Output To Headphone Amp

    Aux Output (FX Send) > Balanced (TRS) Cable > Headphone Amp Input

    Pros

    • Set a custom mix for your headphones
    • Simple single cable setup

    Cons

    • No Stereo
      The headphone splitter can’t process the balanced mono signal from the mixer’s aux out, leaving you with audio in only 1 ear.

    We don’t recommend this method as you don’t get the stereo mix and lose one ear from your headphones. However, it could be useful for musicians or podcasters who need a separate headphone mix and don’t mind if it’s only in 1 ear.

  • Balanced 1/4″ Cable: https://currentprice.io/trs_cable
  • Method 3: Control Room / Monitor Output To Headphone Amp

    Control / Monitor Outputs > Insert Cable > Headphone Amp Input

    Insert Cable

    An insert cable comprises 2 x unbalanced (TS) connectors at one end that merge to a single TRS connector at the other. This results in an unbalanced stereo signal entering the headphone amp splitter.

    Pros

    • Stereo signal
    • Additional patching options on some mixers
    • Independent volume control on some mixers

    Cons

    • Uses 2 cables instead of 1

    We found there was no noticeable difference, in terms of quality and usability, between this and the headphone output method.

  • Dual 1/4″ TS to 1/4″ TRS Cable: https://currentprice.io/14_2ts_trs
  • Method 4: Stereo Out To Headphone Amp

    Stereo Outputs > Insert Cable > Headphone Amp Input

    Pros

    • Stereo signal

    Cons

    • No independent on-mixer volume control
    • Uses 2 cables instead of 1

    The stereo outputs work in much the same way as the monitor outputs, but you lose independent volume control as adjusting the main level will affect your speakers too. You still have the additional volume controls on your headphone amp splitter, but it’s something to be aware of.

  • Dual 1/4″ TS to 1/4″ TRS Cable: https://currentprice.io/14_2ts_trs
  • How To Connect Audio Mixer To Headphone Amp / Splitter Pricing & Specs

    How To Connect Audio Mixer To Headphone Amp / Splitter Topics

    • 0:00 – Introduction
    • 0:20 – Why Connect Headphone Amp
    • 1:10 – Equipment We Use
    • 1:35 – Pricing & Specs
    • 2:00 – Balanced vs. Unbalanced Cable
    • 3:00 – Balanced Mono vs. Unbalanced Stereo
    • 3:48 – Headphone Output To Headphone Amp
    • 6:40 – Aux Output To Headphone Amp
    • 8:03 – Control Room / Monitor Output To Headphone Amp
    • 10:08 – Stereo Output To Headphone Amp
    • 10:58 – Summary
    • 11:36 – Final Thoughts

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