How to Connect Headphones to a TV With Only Digital Audio Connectors

In 2011, a client presented me with a new problem. I devised a solution and wanted to share what I learned. My client bought a new Panasonic 55 inch flat panel TV, model Viera TVP55VT30. After he’d set up the TV in his home, he looked for a headphone jack and was surprised that he couldn’t find one. This particular model of TV only had a digital audio output connector!Update July 2014: This solution works for most situations, but not all. The source of the error in those situations is not known at this time. Be sure to keep your receipts in case it doesn’t work so that you can return the products. There is no guarantee this will work in your situation.

The new Panasonic TV did not have an old-fashioned analog audio connector, aka a mini stereo jack, which would accept the plug on his analog headphones. After spending time talking to Panasonic’s support staff and doing some research via Google, he was confused by the lack of a simple and affordable solution. Numerous people had directed him to find a digital to analog converter and the appropriate cables to connect everything, but nobody could identify exactly what he needed and the items that he found would cost over $100. I did some research and pieced together a solution that cost about $27.

We bought a $23 digital to analog converter and two cables which each cost about $2. The digital analog converter converts either coaxial or optical (Toslink) digital stereo audio signals to analog stereo audio. My client’s Panasonic TV had an optical Toslink connector, so we bought a 6 foot Toslink cable. Some televisions may require a digital coax cable. I list both cables below. Finally, we used a 6″ adapter which connected to the digital to analog converter’s dual RCA (aka phono) connectors and had a stereo mini jack on the other head which would accept his headphone’s plug.

Digital to Analog converter for $23 from Monoprice.com. See image below. On the Input side it has a Toslink digital audio connector with a hinged door. This connector is square in shape with two beveled corners. The other connector is used if you’re using the digital coax cable with a round RCA connector. The Output side has two RCA audio jacks and a plug for the AC power cord.

Optical Toslink cable for $1.94 from Monoprice.com. See image of connector below. The tip in this connector is 3.5 mm (1/16″) which is the same diameter as a stereo mini jack. The tip is typically surrounded by housing that is square in shape, but has two beveled corners. This housing pushes open the hinged “door” that commonly covers digital audio connectors on TV or other electronic equipment. I should also mention that there is a Toslink mini connector. It’s tip is even skinnier and typically not enclosed by any sort of housing. Monoprice sells a Toslink to Toslink mini adapter. I’ve never seen a television set that takes a Toslink mini connector.

 

Digital Coax cable for $1.28 from Monoprice.com. See image below. It has a round tip in the middle that extends slightly beyond its round housing.

 

Stereo Female to Dual RCA Male cable for $1.79 from Monoprice.com which looks like the 6-inch cable below.

I was very surprised that a TV manufacturer wouldn’t include an inexpensive analog audio jack for headphones. If you find yourself in this pickle some day, please know that there is an affordable solution.

Here are some additional pictures to help identify the type of connector on your TV, which should help you determine the cable you need. The left-hand image shows the two common digital audio connectors that you’d find on the back of a TV, a CD player or other audio-video equipment. The round digital coax RCA connector is on the left. The digital Toslink connector is on the right. Its outer shape is square and has two beveled corners. The round hole in the center often has a red laser beam light (fiber optic signal) inside, though there is often a hinged door which covers this central hole. This Toslink connector does not have a hinged door. Instead, if this connector is not used the stopper plug (object at bottom right of image) is inserted to block the laser beam. The image on the right shows a Toslink connector on the left with its hinged door closed. On the right is the digital coax RCA connector.

11 Comments

  1. Thanks I followed what you recommended. MonoPrice is a great website. I did use the Digital to Analog Converter and the Optical Toslink Cable. I also purchased the Digital Coax Cable but did not use it. The only reason I still ordered it was the price could not go wrong with it, but will use in a later project. The only thing that I changed was the headphones. I have pair of Nitro (BMW-FM) Dual Channel Wireless 915MHz Stereo Headphones. I use these in my truck. They use an fm signal and you can walk around the truck and they work great. I think that they have 100 ft range. I also purchased PYRAMID PS8KX 6 Amp Power Supply, since these headphones are for auto. I bought these because of my project. My kids have bunk beds. They each have a 32 in TV, Xbox360, WII and PS3. This drives my wife crazy. They constantly fight and complain they can’t hear what they are watching or playing Since these headphone have A/B signals they can now do that. Over all I did spend about $200.00 but I know have 4 of these headphone so they can use in the truck and at home. The headphones also have 3.5 headjack. All you need is a 3.5 male to male cable. The first headphones that I bought I spent $100.00, that was over 4 years ago. They still work and thats why I purchased the second pair but they are getting harder to find.

    http://www.gooddeals18.com/c=XlAcZT9LD71I04XsGSwwSCFth/product/BMWFM/NITRO-BMWX-FM-DUAL-Wireless-HEADPHONES–FM-MOD.html $54.99

    http://www.gooddeals18.com/c=XlAcZT9LD71I04XsGSwwSCFth/product/PS8KX/PYRAMID-PS8KX-6-Amp-Power-Supply.html $32.99

  2. Hi,
    I’m in the exact same situation that you mention, except I have a 47 inch panasonic Viera TV. Did your customer confirmed that the solution worked properly? With this setting, is it possible to control sound level in headphones or the converter line out has “fix” sound level ? And when I don’t use my headphones, do I have to unplug the whole thing from tv in order to have sound through tv speakers ? If so, this would be a bit of a pain in the neck since the tv optical line out is not easily accessible….
    Thanks !
    Dominic

    • My kids are using a 32 in Samsung and 32 Toshiba. They do not disconnect anything. The converter box does not have fix sound level. The headphones they use have a volume control on them so they control the volume with the headphones. All they do is lower the volume on the TV and listen on the headphones. Check your options for the sound preferrence. In my experiece with some TV’s they turn off the speakers on the TV when you activate the external sound or speakers. Try switching the sound back to TV speakers or turn off the external or surround sound option. My Sony Bravia I do not need to disconnect anything either.

  3. My kids are using a samsung and a toshiba 32in TV. They can hear the sound from either source TV or headphones. I do not disconnect anything. When they use the headphones they lower the volume on the TV. They can adjust the volume on the headphones. I know from other situations if you activate external speakers on the TV options the speakers on the TV do not work. Maybe you can just change the settings back to the TV speakers. This way you do not have to disconnect anything. If you do disconnect I would disconnect the converter, it is eaier to acces than the back of the TV especially if its mounted. The converter does not have a fixed sound level. The headphones will control the volume.

  4. Hi desaulnd,
    Yes, my client confirmed that everything is working properly with this setup. My client does not need to unplug his headphones (or any of the connectors) in order to use his TV’s speakers. He can use the TV’s remote control to switch between using the speakers and headphones. His original headphones did not have a built-in volume adjustment but since we set this up, he bought newer headphones that do have a built-in volume adjustment.

  5. I’m looking to do something similar. But I want to use some powered speakers as external speakers. The speakers have RCA in, a volume knob but no remote. I want to go TV>Optical>DAC>RCA>Powered speakers. Can I use the TV’s remote and volume levels to change the sound level output by the powered speakers? Or will I have to use the powered speakers volume knob exclusively?

    Here is the TV I’m using: http://us.toshiba.com/tv/lcd/46g310u/
    And the speakers I want: *outdated link removed by Tim*

    Note by Tim: The Emotiva Pro speakers have been replaced by the company with the 4s instead of 4. The link to the updated Emotiva Pro speakers is now http://www.emotivapro.com/products/airmotiv-4s

    • Will
      You would have to use the knob on the speakers to adjust their volume. I know this is not ideal but there’s no way that your TV’s remote would “know” about the speakers or have the ability to adjust their volume. Obviously. you could buy other speakers that have their own remote but I’m sure that’s apparent to you already, but probably not desirable.

    • I’m sorry, I can’t be sure why things didn’t work for you. Maybe one of the parts you ordered was defective, maybe there was a loose connection. Did you happen to have a second pair of headphones that you could try? It’s hard to speculate why things didn’t work for you. I offer my information in an effort to provide helpful guidance and because I couldn’t find any useful information when I tackled this problem for my client. It’s helpful to know that the solution I used may not work for all TV sets though I’m surprised it didn’t work fro you since you were also working with a Panasonic TV, just a different model than the one my client owned. You could contact Panasonic and ask them if there are any differences between your model and the model I mention in my article. Another reader mentioned that he didn’t have success with my solution either. In his case, the equipment worked but he heard a clicking noise or something like that. In his case his headphones were wireless so I could only assume that, for some reason, the “base station” of his wireless headsets didn’t like being connected to the digital to analog converter.

  6. In a customer review of a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) on Amazon.com, someone stated that digital cable channels had no sound with this method while other channels did have sound. Has anyone here found that to be true?

    A Best Buy worker said to buy Turtle Beach X42 headphones to solve this problem, but at $149, I’m hoping there is a cheaper alternative. Any help would be much appreciated.

  7. I can’t contribute much to this conversation, but the only time I need a headset for a TV is when we travel. My wife wants to watch TV and I want to use the WiFi with my laptop and watch a video or something else which conflicts with a lot of background noise. The small motel room we usually stay in has a TV with an analogue jack, but it took me a while to figure out that it only became active when the TV was muted.
    In the FWIW department, I do believe 3.5mm is 1/8th of an inch. :)

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