The anatomy of a headphone jack

Most of us live under the simple algorithm : Plug a headphone into the jack and move on with life. But the beauty of it is what happens during those instances when you insert the jack and the mobile/laptop recognizes the device to be indeed a headphone jack.

Most modern smart-phones and laptops detect a headphone using the following simple principle :

Establish a potential difference between the mic and the ground ( ~ 2- 3 V ) and observe the resistance. If its high, its air and probably nothing has been inserted. If its really low, then a headphone jack has been inserted.


And the fact that a potential difference is constantly being given between the mic and the ground allows us to plug in a led and light it up .

Corollary 😉 :

All that the phone is looking for low resistance value. You can very easily fool the phone to think that an aluminum foil is a headphone jack.

Older headphone jacks

This answer by Rick on stackexchange answers this question so accurately :


” Headphone jacks have extra contacts inside, which act as switches. The the drawing below, pins 4 and 5 are intended for sensing that the plug was inserted. They are not intended for audio signal. When the plug is not present, the switche, which are formed by 2 & 4 and 3 & 5, are closed.

When the plug is inserted, these switches are open. The plug flexes 2 and 3 slightly, and they break contact with 4 and 5. You could insert a 3.5mm plastic rod [a dummy] into the jack, which will open the contacts, and the phone might think that earphones are plugged in. ”


Headphone jack plugged in or not ? (Software end)

In a previous post , we talked in depth about the /dev/input directory in Linux.  This video talks about how the computer knows whether a headphone jack has been plugged in or not from a software point of view.

Lightning detector with a simple headphone jack

Okay, this probably one of those posts that is ecstatic to draft because of the shear wonder that it encapsulates. We captured lightning using nothing more than just a mere headphone jack and its so simple that anyone around the world with an access to an old headphone jack can do it too!



Take an old headphone jack and strip off the mic part and you are good to go OR if you have a dedicated USB sound card you can use that!



Sparks of any kind produce electromagnetic disturbances and it is these disturbances made by lightning that we will be detecting. That is the reason we are stripping off the microphone from the headphone jack and keeping only the wire.  The wire will act as an antenna to pick up the signal.

Just to be clear, this is NOT related to the sound of the thunder by any means.

Test with Gas Lighter

Before we test the headphone jack with lightning, we needed to know how the headphone jack reacted to sparks and how a spark looks like when recorded with a headphone jack.

Since gas lighters are capable of producing sparks, we thought that it would be a great place to start. Here’s what we observed:

** Although we use a USB sound card in our videos, this works with an ordinary TRS/TRRS headphone jack as well.

Capturing lightning

Now that we have a good idea of what is going on with a gas lighter, we can predict a similar pattern with a lightning as well. Why ? Well, because lightning is the same phenomenon but, at a much bigger scale.

How do you do it ? First things first, to state the obvious one needs lightning. But besides that the setup is similar to the previous one except that unlike the gas lighter, we have to use the human body as an antenna by holding the wire coming from the mic pin of the headphone jack in our hand

Processing the recording

The audio file that we acquired has been uploaded to Google Drive (links below) but we strongly suggest that you try it out yourself to get a feel for this powerful technology that many people disregard as quotidian.

This is how the raw audio file might look (recorded with Audacity):

Now we amplify this signal on Audacity. (Effect –> Amplify)



Now you see these three prominent peaks, now these are for sure caused by the lightning. How are we so sure? Well, we were able to visually validate the data. What are those other peaks ? They are lightning too (!!!), but ones that are happening at a distance (probably many kilometers away).

Now in order to be completely sure, we repeated the same experiment another evening.. And here’s what we got:

Screenshot from 2017-05-18 10:05:53

This was a much more dramatic day with lots of lightning! ( as is evident from the numerous peaks )

How cool is that you can something as simple as a headphone jack to procure information about lightning that is probably happens kilometers away. This was absolutely ecstatic!

What does one peak look like ?

Here is a close up of one peak that was recorded:


Sampling rate: 44100 Hz

Screenshot from 2017-05-24 12:43:23

Sampling rate: 384000 Hz

This resembles very closely to a Guassian Wave packet . ( In physics, a wave packet (or wave train) is a short “burst” or “envelope” of localized wave action that travels as a unit )


We believe that the electromagnetic disturbance that is detected during a lightning / spark is a Gaussian wave packet.  (If you believe otherwise let us know why by pinging us at or in the comments section)


Video Demo:

Will be uploaded soon! (subject to environmental weather conditions ;P)

If you found this post interesting, check out

Part- II-  Detect switching ON/OFF of Tube-light with a simple headphone jack

Part – III – Cigarette lighter spark detection using headphone jack

Part – IV –  The Headphone jack meets an actual spark gap!!!!!!

Thunder Audio file (44100 Hz): GoogleDrive link

Thunder Audio file (384000 Hz): GoogleDrive link

Don’t do this! – Headphone jack

Technically, one should not give more than 3V/3.3V (according to the Android Documentation) between the ground and the left/right/mic pin of the headphone jack. But there is this innate curiosity to know what would happen if one was crazy enough to do so.

We request you to not try this at home since doing this can damage your sound card! But nevertheless here is what would happen:

Testing basic headphone jack functions (Android)

In this post we will be trying to emulate basic functions as prescribed in the Android Documentation.  In order to understand the functions we first need to understand the circuit layout of the headphone jack which is as follows:

Screenshot from 2017-05-22 11:11:21

Now with this circuit in hand you can perform a series of tasks. This has been summarized in the table below.

Screenshot from 2017-05-22 11:03:00

This post will primarily focus on the Function A since that is the one that is commonplace in all mobile phones with a headphone jack. In the following video, we demonstrate how to emulate the following functions using a headphone jack

  • Play/Pause
  • Open Google Voice
  • Next song
  • Radio
  • Emulating Google voice

Every speaker is also a microphone!

Sometimes it comes as a surprise as a people to people when I tell them that every speaker is also a microphone. This is true because in a speaker you send in electrical signals to change the way a speaker cone moves. This in turn produces various sounds.


With the same setup, if one provides a mechanical vibration to the diaphragm, this will generate audio signals corresponding to that mechanical vibration.



We have made a video demonstrating this using a headphone jack and a phone. In order to loop the sound from the mic to the speaker in the video, we use the following command on Linux:

pactl load-module module-loopback latency_msec=1