Sunday, 14 August 2011

How To Use Your Headphones as a Microphone


Quick tip today for those situations when you find yourself without a microphone. Say you come up with a cool idea and need to get it down quickly. You just want to beatbox or sing it into your computer but you've got nothing to record your voice with... or so you thought. Chances are you've actually got something hanging around that will do the trick in a pinch...

That's right your headphones! A speaker is designed to take electrical audio signal and run it through a coil in a magnetic field. Changes in the magnetic field produce movement in the speaker cone which turns out to be the vibrations you hear as sound. A microphone works in the opposite way; Movements of the diaphragm cause fluctuations in the magnetic field, forming electrical currents in the coil, which are then amplified and recorded as audio. Essentially they are the same things, just flowing in opposite directions and optimized for different tasks.

What this means is, you can take your headphones and plug them into a mic port on your computer for recording! Just speak into one of the cups at a decent volume and you should be getting signal. Don't go expecting boutique tone here though, you won't really be using it for finished productions and they won't be as sensitive as a proper mic, but if you just need to sketch down an idea so you don't lose it this is perfect. Your results will vary with the headphones you choose and generally speaking, the larger the speakers in them, the better. You probably won't be able to get much sound out of iPod buds for instance, without screaming into them.

The only downside here is, unless you have a second pair of headphones, you won't be able to listen at the same time. If you're trying to record in time with audio playing, you can probably get away with using speakers since the headphones aren't going to pick up that much background noise. Another quirky bonus is that with two ear cups, you get two mics. If you're going for some crazy sound design you could record something in stereo with the headphones placed on either side of it. When playing back it should sound like the recording is inside your head! Try flipping the phase of one channel for a different sound.

So the next time you have an idea you need to get down quickly, give it a try. Once you've got that rough sketch recorded, it's a lot easier to reproduce it in your audio workstation without having to worry about forgetting it.

60 comments:

  1. A great way to get ideas down quick; another quality post!

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  2. Damn man i would have had no idea. Good tip

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  3. Wow, never thought of that before, but it does make sense on how it works!! Thanks!

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  4. Hell yeah, done this before to impress some friends, works quite nicely.. great tip.

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  5. Doesn't work on both sets of my headphones, only the left one??

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  6. I found this out by accident when I plugged my headphones into the wrong plug. :P

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  7. dude I'd never think of it! nice blog

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  8. Never realized you could do this! Nice!

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  9. Works really well, thanks man! :D

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  10. Dude, I didn't know that was possible :O. Thanks!

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  11. I tried it and it does work with my headphones, but i have to yell at it... + I have a decent enough mic on the same headset XD

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  12. Thanks again for the knowledge! I always learn things here!

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  13. OMG this is very interesting. Good tip
    + followed

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  14. Discovered this as a kid, has come in handy a couple of times. Not the best quality unless you have GREAT headphones, but it still gets the job done.

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  15. You sir, are a scholar and a gentleman. I'm going to win a lot of bets, thanks to this information.

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  16. no waaaay. this really works?!...are you a wizard? haha

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  17. haha i've done this wayyy wayyy back in the day. cheap walkman headphones seem to work the best.

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  18. Woah. I find that almost hard to believe.

    Check out my math blog.

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  19. Accidentally discovered this by plugging the headphones into the mic input on my mixer one day. Very handy if u don't have a mic.

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  20. I've done this before. it's a neat trick

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  21. That is very interesting! I have the perfect set to try these out on too! I'm gonna freak some people out!

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  22. Great tip and very appropriate to what I'm currently doing. Thanks!

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  23. Really nice tip, especially that my mic broke down recently.

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  24. Nice tip but I hope I'll never need to use it.

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  25. *Grabs headphones*
    Time to test this out!

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  26. The whole universe works in reverse though when you do this. Be careful.

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  27. What? Nice tips man, ! really useful =)

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  28. I tried this once and it didn't work so well

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  29. yeah people get mad confused when you pull it off...priceless party trick!

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  30. Me and my friends used to do this when we were kids! :D

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  31. Great post and nice picture!
    +Follow

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  32. Wow, didn't know that. Cool tips! +follow

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  33. awesome will use this in the future. following

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  34. tried it. it worked. awesome!!

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  35. wow i never knew that. thats interesting stuff thanks!

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  36. i need em to be louder though

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  37. Okay, so can I use my microphone to listen to music?

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  38. Not many things compare to finding the right headphones when you spend hours wearing them!

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  39. Haha - you´re right about that; too many goodies! Never enough money to get them all, but I guess it´s good to long for them too... *Sigh* :-)

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  40. I knew that, but i've never tried...

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  41. Now, if only I could turn my MiniDisc player into...well, anything more useful than a technological paperweight.

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  42. cool, nice idea!
    +followed

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  43. thanks for the tip. i can use it today/ :D
    - Romance

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  44. Wow, I had no idea you could use headphones like that! Awesome!

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  45. What kind of headphones do you use? I know it's off topic, but you seem to know what you're talking about.

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  46. Always good to have a back up plan.

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  47. Brilliant! I'm going to have to try this sometime :D

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