Many laptops now include a combined headphone and microphone jack instead of two separate audio jacks. This trend started with smartphones and tablets, but has spread to MacBooks, ultrabooks, and convertibles like Microsoft’s Surface Pro.

If you have a headset with two separate 3.55mm audio connectors for the headphone and microphone, you don’t have to buy a new one. You can pick up a fairly cheap adapter if you know what to look for.

What You’re Supposed To Use

If you’re shopping for a new headset and you have a laptop, tablet, or smartphone with a combined audio jack, you’re supposed to buy one of the following:

  • A headset with a combined audio plug. For example, Apple’s iPhone headsets have this type of plug. Headsets for Android devices and other types of mobile phones should work, too. This connector is generally only found on headsets intended for mobile use; you likely won’t find them on larger pairs of headphones.
  • A USB headset. If your headset has a USB connector, you can plug it into any device with a USB port. With a USB headset, you can bypass the device’s audio jack completely, so the type of audio jack your device has won’t matter. This is a good option, but it means you won’t be able to connect your headset to a smartphone, tablet, or anything else without a USB port.
  • A Bluetooth headset. You could pair a Bluetooth headset wirelessly with any Bluetooth-enabled device, from laptops to smartphones. Unfortunately, Bluetooth is fairly power-hungry. These headsets are generally designed for cell phone use, not laptop use.

If you’re buying a headset for a laptop, you’ll probably want a USB headset. If you’re buying a headset for a smartphone or tablet, you’ll want either a wired headset with a single plug or a Bluetooth headset — it depends on whether you want a wireless connection or not.

Connecting a Headset With Separate Audio Jacks to a Combined Audio Jack

Luckily, there’s a fourth option. Some manufacturers sell adapters that can convert a headset with separate headphone and microphone connectors into a single, combined connector, allowing you to connect it to modern laptops that only have a single audio jack. This would also allow you to connect speakers and a microphone to the same 3.5mm audio jack — it doesn’t have to be a headset.

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This adapter can be hard to find. You’ll find a lot of headphone splitter adapters when searching for it — you don’t want a headphone splitter adapter; that won’t work. We purchased the StarTech MUYHSMFF adapter from Amazon and successfully tested it on several devices, from Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 to Apple’s latest MacBook Pro.

Using the adapter is simple — just plug your microphone and headphone connectors into the appropriate jacks on the adapter, and then plug the the adapter into the combined audio port. Note that you’ll need to plug your headset into the adapter before connecting the adapter to the device. If you don’t, you’ll have to unplug the adapter and plug it back in so the microphone and headphone connections are properly detected by your device.

We tested this adapter with several popular devices and it worked well, but there’s no guarantee that it will work with every single ultrabook out there. But, for a few bucks, it’s worth a shot if you have a nice headset or microphone you want to use with your new laptop.

Of course, all of this only matters if you want to connect a microphone for audio input. If all you need is audio output, you can plug the headphone connector on your headset into the audio port normally. Your mic won’t function, but your headphones will work normally.

Image Credit: Jeff Keyzer on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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