Types of Headphone Cables

If you are beginning to dip your toes into the world of audio engineering or is simply a budding audiophile, you might be taken aback about how complex the landscape of the sound system industry truly is. Take, for example, the headphone cable.

A couple of decades back, buying one was as simple as going to your local RadioShack and picking up the closest one to you at the aisle. Nowadays, there are a couple more elements thrown into the mix that might leave you scratching your head.

To help you avoid getting tangled in the decision-making process, pun intended, we have compiled all necessary information about the different types of headphone cables as well as crucial aspects that should lead you to the best kind of cable that will suit your preferences.

Headphone Cable Materials

Headphone cables will either have copper, gold, silver, rhodium as its primary material. Copper headphone cables are the most affordable in the market and are the most common. Silver solid wire cables can be quite expensive, but a more budget-friendly alternative to this type of cable is the silver-plated copper wire.

Earphones Replacement Cable Yinyoo Golden Treasure Silver Plated Copper Cable HiFi Headphone Cable with 0.78mm Connector 3.5mm Plug Headphones Cable for KZ AS10 ZS4 ZS10 ZSR ZS6 ZS5 TRN V80(2PIN 3.5)
Silver Plated Copper Earphones Replacement Cable (Image: Amazon)

Headphone Cable Types

There are three different headphone cable sizes available in the market. Each size is designed to connect into different audio devices.

3.5mm Headphone Cable

This is the most commonly used and is found in MP3 players, CD media players, computer speakers, and computer desktops.

Headphone Extension Cable, CableCreation 3.5mm Male to Female Audio Extension Cable with Silver-Plating Copper, [10 Feet/ 3M]
CableCreation 3.5mm Headphone Extension Cable (Image: Amazon)

2.5mm Headphone Cable

The smaller diameter of this cable makes it compatible with smaller devices such as two-way radios and some mobile phones.

NEW NEOMUSICIA Replacement Cable Compatible with Hifiman HE400S, HE-400I, HE-400i(2.5mm plug Version), HE560, HE-350, HE1000, HE1000 V2 Headphone 3.5mm & 6.35mm to Dual 2.5mm Jack Male Cord 3meter/9ft
NEW NEOMUSICIA Replacement Cable 2.5mm plug (Image: Amazon)

6.3mm Headphone Cable

This size is used in home stereo systems as well as for amplifiers and electric guitars/bass. The 6.3mm jack is also known as a 1/4-inch jack.

Your Cable Store 15 Foot 1/4" (6.3mm) Stereo Headphone Extension Cable
Your Cable Store 6.3mm Stereo Headphone Extension Cable (Image: Amazon)

Check out this YouTube video by CSGuitars on the differences between Instrument and Speaker cables.

Headphone Cable Construction and Noise Elimination

Construction of headphone cables is a pretty standard affair. The essential factors that must be present revolve around its insulation and ability to prevent feedback noise whenever it’s coiled or bumped. A low-quality headphone cable will cause varying levels of distortion whenever it rubs to any surface.

Fortunately, this issue has pretty much disappeared even with budget-friendly headphones in the market. The exterior covering of the cable has less to do with preventing distortion. The quality of what is underneath the cable cord will be a significant factor when dampening distortion and noise issues.

Noise canceling headphones
Noise-canceling features are important when working | Photo Credit: Christina Morillo

Headphone Cable Tangling Issues

Tangling issues has always been the bane of headphone cable existence. Tangling not only causes the cable to look messy, but it can also damage the integrity of the cable over time. Construction and material used will be the primary factor to consider if you wish to avoid tangles with your cable.

Tangled headphone cables
Tangled headphone cables | Photo Credit: Bruce Reyes-Chow

Thicker cables will help reduce this problem. Thick cables with the outer layer wrapped in a fabric will further lessen tangle issues. However, new cable design is currently making the rounds in the market that has virtually eliminated tangling problems. The flat cables are designed to resist tangling issues. This is thanks to the naturally flat cables being innately resistant to tangles.

Now, while you might want to look for a headphone cable that offers a tangle-free experience, note that it does come with some downsides. Specifically, tidying up can be quite tricky when your headphone cable is naturally resistant to being coiled and keeps on straightening out.

Flat headphone cables will eliminate tangling but can prove to be difficult to stow away after use. The middle ground here is to get headphone cables that come with an extra layer of fabric wraps. A good headphone cable that I can personally recommend for those looking for a way to prevent tangles, but also does not like the look of a flat cable is the Syncwire 3.5mm Premium Auxiliary Cable.

Syncwire 3.5mm Premium Aux Cable (3.3ft/1m, Hi-Fi Sound), Auxiliary Audio Cable Male to Male AUX Cord for Headphones, Car, Home Stereos, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Echo Dots, Smartphones & More – Black
Syncwire 3.5mm Premium Aux Cable (Image: Amazon)

Headphone Cable and Compatibility with Smartphone Features/Control

An integral part of new headphone cables is with its smartphone control features. In the advent of smartphone and MP3 players, headphone cable manufacturers saw the potential for growth in the market. As such, they included vital features designed to improve convenience.

Rather than taking out your music player device to adjust the volume or skip tracks, headphone cables included a feature that allows you to those controls installed to the cable itself. Headphone cables have also included microphone functionalities with noise-reduction technology for answering incoming and outgoing calls on your phone.

This feature has also gone through a few tweaks in the last couple of years with some pretty ingenious ways to control your device via headphone cable. For example, pressing and holding buttons will cause two different results. You can find headphone cables with one-button to three-button controls in the market.

Headphone Cables: A Retrospective

Current headphone cables may appear almost identical to its previous generation iterations, but the construction, material, and performance have all improved. The headphone cable has evolved into a more sophisticated form, and that translates to better performance and quality overall.

Price may vary, but no mistake, a quality headphone cable is not based on price alone. In fact, it is essential to note that low to mid-range priced headphones can sometimes compete with high-end ones. It is all in the construction and material used, as long as those follow through with the industry standards, you can expect the headphone cable to deliver top-notch performance on all fronts.

Headphone cable
Tangle-free headphone cables can make life easier | Photo Credit: JÉSHOOTS

Final Thoughts

Headphone cables can come with a bunch of special functionalities, but you can also opt for the standard and straightforward version. Cable noise is a key factor that should always be considered when choosing the right type of headphone cable. After that, you can check the boxes on anti-tangle features and smartphone controls.

As you can see, choosing between the different types of headphone cables are not rocket science. As long as you got the basics down, it is pretty simple to pick the right one for your media playing device or your home stereo system.

Just remember that a high price does not equate to top-quality performance. Sometimes, even a headphone cable that costs half than those from well-known brands can meet desired requirements. Hopefully, this article has helped introduce you to headphone cables as well as a good grasp about the intricacies and importance of construction and material.

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