How to choose 3.5 mm audio cables and adapters
Connect a phone, computer, or portable music player to home, car, and pro audio gear
You’ll find a 3.5 mm headphone jack or audio output jack (also known as a “mini” or 1/8" jack) on phones, computers, tablets, portable music players, and other devices.
Want to connect these devices to a home stereo, car stereo, or pro audio mixer? You may need a special cable or audio adapter.
Below I’ll show you some of the most popular and useful 3.5 mm audio cables and adapters. But first, let’s look at the different types of 3.5 mm connectors and parse the lingo used to identify them.
Different types of 3.5 mm connections
TRS (aka stereo mini) is the most common type of 3.5 mm connection. TRS stands for “Tip, Ring, Sleeve.”
The tip of a TRS plug is for the left channel signal. The ring is for the right channel. And the sleeve is for the ground wire.
TS (aka mono mini) plugs have a tip for the audio signal and a sleeve for the ground.
3.5 mm TS cables are often used for 12-volt trigger connections between audio components.
TRRS — The tip is for the left channel, and the first ring is for the right channel. The second ring is for the ground, and the sleeve is for a microphone channel.
TRRS connections are used in headsets or earbuds that include an inline controller and a built-in mic.
When shopping for 3.5 mm cables and adapters, make sure you properly match the plugs to the jacks at hand.
How do you know which type of 3.5 mm jack you have? Look for a pictogram next to the jack.
The TRRS icon depicts a headset with a microphone.
The TRS icon depicts headphones only, and it may be color-coded green.
You probably won’t see pictograms on cell phones that have headphone jacks. Don’t fret. They will work with both TRS and TRRS plugs. If you use a TRS headphone connection with a cell phone, you won’t have a microphone, but you’ll hear stereo music just fine.
Now, let’s take a look at some very handy cables and adapters.
3.5 mm connections for home and car stereo gear
Need to connect a device with a 3.5 mm headphone jack to a home stereo or car stereo with RCA inputs? There are a couple of ways to do that.
If you already have a standard RCA patch cable, you can use an inexpensive adapter. If you don’t have a patch cable, it’s best to buy a cable with a 3.5 mm stereo plug on one end and a pair of RCA plugs on the other end.
What if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack? There’s an adapter for that.
iPhone aux cord – Lightning to 3.5 mm stereo male
Belkin’s Lightning audio adapter cables are for the newer iPhone and iPads that don’t have a headphone jack. They let you plug your iPhone into a home stereo, car stereo, powered speaker, audio mixer, or any other device that has a 3.5 mm stereo input jack.
Available in 3- and 6-foot lengths, Belkin's Lightning to 3.5 mm adapter cables are Apple MFi-certified (Made for iPhone). They include a tiny built-in digital-to-analog converter.
Stereo mini female to RCA stereo male breakout adapter
Say you want to connect your iPhone to a stereo system that does not have a 3.5 mm input jack. Plug the iPhone aux cord into this adapter. Now you can connect to the stereo’s RCA input jacks.
This inexpensive breakout adapter is a great companion to your iPhone aux cord.
USB-C to 3.5 mm audio adapter
Do you own an Android phone that doesn’t have a headphone jack? This USB-C dongle has a 3.5mm jack built-in. Use for headphones or connection to a stereo system.
This dongle is compatible with TRRS headphone plugs for the mic and hands-free call functions.
Stereo mini male to RCA stereo female adapters
Need to connect an Android phone to a stereo system’s aux input? You can get a 3.5 mm male to RCA female adapter like the one shown below, connect it to the USB-C dongle, and then run a standard RCA patch cable between the adapter and the aux input.
This adapter is about 8" long. If you're looking for something more compact, try this one.
Or, instead of the adapter and a patch cord, you could use one of the mini-to-RCA cables shown below.
3.5 mm TRS male to RCA stereo male cables
Are you connecting a portable high-res audio player to a high-end audio system? Then you’ll want an audiophile-grade cable, like this one from Audioquest.
If you’re not using audiophile-grade gear, a more affordable cable like this Hosa model will get the job done.
3.5 mm connections for pro audio gear
New to the world of pro audio gear? Maybe you’re using a small audio mixer to create a podcast. Or maybe you’re using a powered PA speaker or two for neighborhood Karaoke parties. You may find that you need a 3.5 mm adapter to complete your kit.
Stereo mini male to 1/4" TRS male
Need to connect a phone or computer to an audio mixer? Does your mixer have a 1/4" stereo input jack, like the ones shown below?
Then you need a 3.5 mm to 1/4" cable like this one.
A lot of small mixers have a 3.5 mm stereo input. Like the one shown here.
For those, you just need a 3.5 mm TRS cable.
Stereo mini “breakout” cables and adapters
If you don’t have a 3.5 mm stereo input or a 1/4" stereo input on your mixer, you can use a “breakout” cable or adapter to put the left and right channels on two different stems. Here are three different ways to do that.
This adapter is a good choice if you already own a couple of TS cables or you need a length you can’t find in a breakout cable.
3.5 mm headphone adapters
Want to feed two pairs of headphones from a single output? Headphone Y-adapters come in a variety of configurations.
Headphone extension cables
Headphone extension cables also come in a variety of lengths and configurations. I included the 1/4" versions in the table below to give you options. You can use them with adapters for 3.5 mm plugs or jacks. The Grado model is the best choice for audiophile-grade headphones.
|Hosa||10 feet||3.5mm TRS male to 3.5mm TRS female||979MHE110|
|Hosa||25 feet||3.5mm TRS male to 3.5mm TRS female||979MHE125|
|Hosa||10 feet||1/4" TRS male to 1/4" TRS female||979HPE310|
|Hosa||25 feet||1/4" TRS male to 1/4" TRS female||979HPE325|
|Grado||12 feet||1/4" TRS male to 1/4" TRS female||786XTNSN12|
3.5 mm cables
Finally, you may find that you just need a 3.5 mm stereo (TRS) cable. Here are some options:
|Scosche||6 feet (flat, right angle plug on one end)||142AUX6FBK|
3.5 mm to RJ45 adapters
If you need to send the audio signal from a phone or computer over a long distance (up to 150 feet), you can use CAT5 Ethernet cable and one of these 3.5 mm to RJ45 adapters on each end.
These adapters are often used in commercial audio systems or whole-house audio systems. If you have a building with a wired network, you can put the audio source component in one room and the amplifiers in another.