Are Headphones Input Or Output Devices? (Answered!)

Are Headphones Input Or Output Devices? Headphones are transducers that generate sound as they receive audio signals and are frequently used in conjunction with computers (laptops, smartphones, etc.).

In order to fully comprehend headphones, we must first comprehend audio signal flow in terms of inputs and outputs, as well as the definitions of input and output devices in computer systems.

Are headphones considered input or output devices? When headphones are plugged into a computer (laptop, smartphone, etc.), they receive data from the computer.

This means that headphones are a type of output device. According to the computer, headphones with built-in microphones are input and output devices. In this article, we’ll go over complete definitions of input and output devices, as well as discuss the role of headphones in the context of a computer system.

Are Headphones Input Or Output Devices?
Are Headphones Input Or Output Devices?


A microphone is an input device. This means it “takes in” audio information and sends (or input) it to your receiving device.

This could be your computer, phone, or someone else’s device. When you use a headset with a microphone, you are using an input and output device as it can receive and play audio.


Input device and output device are computer terms. An input device is a device that enters data into a computer for processing. An output device, on the other hand, is defined as receiving and reproducing information from a computer.

Headphones receive data from computers (think smartphones, laptops, tablets, and so on) and are thus output devices.

It’s worth noting that, by definition, headphone transducers are analog devices. As a result, a digital-to-analog converter must be installed between the computer and the headphones in order for the headphones to reproduce the output computer data.


The function of an input and output device distinguishes them. Input devices receive and transmit data to a processing device. The captured audio can be interpreted and reproduced by output devices. Most general-purpose devices, such as a phone or laptop, now have both input and output capabilities, whereas specialized equipment focuses on a single function.

Consider this: an input device takes information “in” and sends it to a processor, who then sends it to an output device, which pumps “out” the audio by reproducing the processed information.

Input devices are only designed to accept information/audio/data, whereas output devices can only reproduce that information. If you have a dedicated input device, such as a recording microphone, it will not be able to output the data it receives.

That would necessitate the use of a separate device. If you have a dedicated output device, such as a great set of speakers, it will only output the audio that it receives. There are, however, devices that can both receive and produce input. These are commonly referred to as I/O (input/output) devices.

Two of the most common I/O devices on the market are your computer and phone. There are also numerous apps that have made I/O conversion simple and extremely useful, such as text-to-speech software.

When you speak, the computer receives the audio through its input microphones and converts the processed data into text using software.

Other features of I/O devices include:

  • Receiving an email and sending it to the printer for printing.
  • Hitting the keyboard keys and seeing text appear on the screen.
  • When you take a photo with your phone, the camera serves as the input device and the phone screen serves as the output device. The list goes on and on.
Input Or Output
Input Or Output

Examples Of Input Devices:

The actual input device is a piece of hardware. The hardware input device takes in data from an external source and has the ability to process and send that data to another device.

This external input is sent to the internal processor and converted to raw data. This data has to be sent to an external processor before it can be interpreted by an output device.

The most common examples of input devices are:

  • The Computer Mouse – To generate spatial data, the computer relies on the user to move the mouse. Because the mouse cannot move on its own, it is an input device.
  • The Keyboard – The keyboard accepts user input (which keys you press) and sends it to the computer for processing and output. It is unable to receive or process information.
  • The Webcam – The webcam receives images and sends them to the computer. The webcam cannot output anything like a projector, and a projector cannot output sound unless it has built-in speakers; however, it is preferable to use external speakers; see my other post on how to connect a bluetooth speaker to a projector for more information.
  • The Microphone – The external sound is a source of input that the microphone receives and processes. The data is then interpreted by the computer, who either saves it as a file or sends it to an output device.
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Examples Of Output Devices:

Output devices are pieces of hardware equipment that have the ability to output information into a form that we are able to interpret.

The output can be in the form of text, visuals, or audio. It receives data from a source and is able to display or replicate that data in the way it was originally received.

The most common examples of output devices are:

  • The Computer Monitor – Your screen receives data from your computer and then displays it on the screen as text, images, or video. It cannot receive raw external data or transfer data.
  • A projector is a device that can display data visually when it receives it from a computer. It cannot accept external data or send data to another device.
  • Speakers – When audio data is received by your speakers, they can interpret it and convert it to sound. It cannot receive sound like a microphone and instead simply outputs what it receives from the audio device.
  • Headphones – Like speakers, headphones receive audio data and convert it to sound. The speakers in your headphones are unable to receive raw sound from the outside world and transmit it to your computer. To do so, you’ll need to add an input device to your headphones, such as a microphone.

Alternative Video: Input or Output Devices?

Input or Output Devices?



The primary function of a microphone is to convert sound waves into electrical signals using an acoustic-to-electric transducer. These electrical signals are then converted into digital audio data and sent (or inputted) into a computer.

A microphone must be able to capture and send audio signals to a computer in order to be considered an input device (or phone, or any other device).

Typically, this is accomplished by converting analog audio signals (AC voltages) to digital data that is computer-compatible. There are several methods for connecting microphones to a computer that will allow for analog-to-digital conversion. Each method has advantages and disadvantages:

  • Digital microphone: Better known as a USB mic, digital microphones have built-in ADCs and convert sound to digital data directly. The USB connection connects directly to the computer.

One of the most popular examples of a USB mic on the market has to be the Blue Yeti (Amazon link).  Most people, myself included, use it as a mic for conference calls, a home recording studio – think podcasting, and even gaming thanks to its supreme sound quality.


Headphones, as previously stated, are energy transducers. They do this by converting analog audio signals (electrical energy) into sound waves (mechanical wave energy). Headphones “input” audio signals and “output” sound in this manner.

So, headphones are output devices in relation to the computer, which is the most accurate answer to the question “are headphones input or output devices?” ”

However, if we use the headphones as a reference point, we can see that they both input and output energy. Drivers are used in headphones to convert energy. These are typically dynamic (moving-coil) drivers that operate via electromagnetic induction.

The electrical audio signal (an alternating current voltage) travels through a conductive coil attached to a movable diaphragm and is surrounded by a magnetic field. The magnetic field causes the signal to move as it flows through the coil due to electromagnetic induction.

This causes the diaphragm to move, resulting in sound waves emitted from the headphones. There are two distinct signals in stereo headphones.

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A signal from the left channel is sent to the left headphone driver, while a signal from the right channel is sent to the right headphone driver.


Moving-coil headphone drivers are essentially wired the same way as loudspeakers but smaller in design. Dynamic headphone and speaker drivers are wired in the same way as moving-coil dynamic microphones, with the exception that the signal flows in reverse.

As previously stated, headphones receive audio signals and convert them into sound via a moving diaphragm. Microphones, on the other hand, have diaphragms that move in response to sound waves.


These diaphragms have a conductive coil attached to them that moves with the diaphragm in a magnetic field. The movement of the dynamic microphone diaphragm causes a changing magnetic field in the coil, which induces an electrical AC signal across it.

This signal is essentially the signal from the microphone. Computers and input devices use microphones. However, similar to headphones, if we look at the mic, we can see that it has both an input (acoustic waves) and an output (electrical signals).

As a result, it stands to reason that a microphone could be set up and wired backwards to function as a speaker or headphone.

Similarly, a headphone could be configured and wired in reverse to function as a microphone. Of course, these devices aren’t designed to work in reverse, so they’d be useless. However, due to the way they are designed, they can be used in reverse.


Headphones are transducers that use analog audio to power their elements and generate sound waves. Computers, on the other hand, are digital devices that use digital audio instead of analog audio.

As a result, in order to properly use headphones as an output device, we must first convert the computer’s digital audio to analog audio. A digital-to-analog converter, or DAC, is used for this.

Fortunately, our computers have built-in sound cards that serve as DACs. This is why we can plug our headphones into the headphone jacks of our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other devices and listen to the audio that is being played by the computer.

Assume our smartphone lacks a headphone jack (as was the case with Apple’s iPhone 7 in 2016), and we connect our Lightning Earpods (link to check Amazon pricing) via the Lightning connector. The Lightning connector is digital, whereas the headphones are analog.

As a result, a DAC is located immediately after the Lightning connector in the Earpod. Similarly, Lightning or USB to 3.5mm (or other analog connection) adapters are not supported. To make the adapter work properly, a digital-to-analog converter is required.

Other DACs, on the other hand, may produce better results than built-in sound cards and consumer-grade headphones. These DACs are available in professional audio interfaces.

An audio interface is any device that connects a computer to audio devices. These audio devices, which include inherently analog devices such as headphones, monitors, microphones, and instruments, can be either input or output devices.

These audio interface I/Os have better sound quality and more versatility than a computer’s built-in sound card.


So far, we’ve discussed input and output devices separately, and rightly so, because they are, for the most part, distinct. A device can be both an input and an output device, but can it be both at the same time? Yes, the answer is yes.

Devices for Input/Output

To perform both functions, a device must be able to receive raw data from an external source or another device (input) and send data out.

Here are a few examples of input/output devices that we use every day:

  • The USB flash drive: Able to receive, save, and transfer data, the USB flash drive is the perfect example. When it receives data, it’s an input device and when we retrieve data from it, it becomes an output device.
  • A rewritable CD or DVD drive: We can easily send data to these devices and retrieve it again.
Headphones: Input or Output?
Headphones: Input or Output?


So, if CDs and USB flash drives can be both input and output at the same time, where does that leave something like a headphone with a built-in microphone?

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Headphones designed for listening to audio are examples of output devices. When you add a microphone, however, it becomes an input device. That is, it can both input and output data. While the speakers and microphone are separate, the dual functionality is linked to a single device.

So, even though the first headphones started with humble beginnings as output devices only, modern developments have given us headphones that can now take input and deliver an output. Generally, the output will be alternative audio signals (like when you’re chatting to a friend or playing an online game with chat).


Do headphones without a built-in microphone have any input functionality then? Just think about it, we’ve all had those sucky airplane earphones, and, yes, I considered taking them the first time I flew (don’t judge me).

However, you quickly realize that 1) the jack is strange and 2) you can’t use them for chatting because they lack input functionality. A pair of headphones without a microphone is only an output device.

They receive audio signals from a computer and send them to your ears. They are not designed to accept external input and convert it to electrical signals.

However, there is a hack that you could use to convert your speakers (headphone speakers may be a bit tricky, but who knows) into a microphone; however, don’t try this on your best speakers.


It is technically possible to turn your speakers into a microphone. It’s not for the technically challenged, but if you have an old set of speakers and want to mess around, why not give it a shot? Consider the following to get a sense of how this works:

To produce sound, your speakers have a cone that vibrates. It is analogous to the microphone diaphragm, which vibrates when it receives sound and converts those vibrations to electrical signals. You can make a speaker mic that receives external audio by reversing the function of the speaker cone.

You might be wondering how on earth that would work. Actually, it’s quite simple. Even though speakers and microphones appear to be very different (all in an effort to capture and produce great sound), the inner workings (along with a little wiring cheating) can produce the same results.

If you’re dying to try this out, follow these instructions:

What you’ll need to use a speaker as a microphone:

  • An old microphone (broken is fine)
  • A wire cutter
  • Electrical tape
  • An amp (working)
  • A speaker

Step-by-step guide on how to use a speaker as a microphone:

  • Begin by removing the microphone from the cable – you only need the cable with the output connector on the other end.
  • Strip back the wire a little to expose the cables. You’ll notice three inner wires.
  • Remove the protective covering from the red and black wires (about half an inch is fine). Remove the electrical tape from the white wire as you will not need it.
  • Take the speaker out of the protective box.
  • On the speaker, there are two pins: the left is generally the positive terminal, and the right is generally the negative terminal.
  • Connect the red wire to the positive terminal with pliers, and the black wire to the negative terminal.
  • Plug in your output connector to the amp and test out your new microphone!

CONCLUSION – Is It Output or Input?

Microphones are input devices. They receive external sound and convert it to electrical signals that can be sent through a computer to an output device. The output device can then either reproduce that sound or convert it to something else, like text.

Why Are Headphones Considered Input Device?
Why Are Headphones Considered Input Device?

FAQs About Microphone Output and Input

Is a microphone output?

Microphones are input devices because they transmit data to a computer via an audio interface, which converts the analog audio signal to a digital one.

What is the name of the microphone input?

The jack, also known as a mic jack, is an input connector that functions similarly to an electrical socket. When a microphone is plugged into a jack, it transmits its sound to a computer or other device.

What exactly is an audio output?

Similar to Android Q, Android 11 includes the ability to switch audio or video output to phone speaker, headphones, Bluetooth speakers, or other devices.

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