Headsets can connect to phones, computers, and other audio devices in many different ways. This is a good thing, since you can always find a headset for any connection type you can think of. This is also a “bad” thing, since you have to keep track of these connections. Below, I’ll give you a short look at the most common ones.
To state something rather obvious, there are two broad ways to connect a headset to a phone or a computer: wired and wireless. We’ve already looked at the two main wireless standards in our earlier “DECT vs. Bluetooth” post.
But what are the major types of wired headset connectors? Well, let’s take a look…
Wires used to be the standard way to connect headsets to other devices, until Bluetooth headsets and other wireless technologies came about. Wired connections rely on a physical cord between devices, but the connectors, plugs, and jacks involved can be quite different. Here are the ones you’re likely to come across:
RJ9 (aka RJ10, aka RJ22)
What is it?
This one’s a bit tricky. “RJ” stands for “Registered Jack,” so now you know that piece of trivia. You may come across headset vendors that use one of the following terms: RJ9, RJ10, or RJ22. So, these are three different types of connectors, right?
The short answer is: No. The terms are used interchangeably to talk about a headset that plugs into a desk phone’s standard handset port (potentially via an amplifier). The headset then essentially replaces the handset.
The longer, more technical, and pedantic answer is: These headset connectors all refer to the same, four-contact 4P4C handset plug, and they shouldn’t even use the “RJ” terminology, because they’re not connecting directly to a public telephone network and zZZZzZZzzzzzz. You can read more here, if you so choose.
The main takeaway here is: RJ9 = RJ10 = RJ22
Most older, fixed-line desk phones have a square, modular handset port. Headsets with RJ9 connectors can use this port to take over the handset’s function. Some newer desk phones have a dedicated “headset” port, which can be used with RJ9 headsets without taking up the “handset” spot.
To make things even more confusing, it’s not always guaranteed that a certain headset will work with a certain desk phone, even if both of them use RJ9. That’s due to fun things like pin alignment, and there are adapters and amplifiers that help bridge these connections.
What is it?
You know what USB is, but for the sake of anyone stumbling into the 21st century without any prior knowledge of personal computers:
USB is short for “Universal Serial Bus,” and it’s the most commonly used computer port – one could even say it’s universal. It’s used to connect all sorts of stuff to your computer, from functional things like a keyboard or a mouse to weird things like USB-powered miniature lava lamps. Some smartphones also use USB/mini-USB/micro-USB connections to transfer data. USB headsets are made to take advantage of this universal connectivity.
USB headsets plug into the computer’s USB port and usually automatically take over all audio, including Skype conversations and the like. This procedure is typically plug-and-play, so you can be up and running within seconds. Many USB headsets also have control units with buttons that let you do things like change volume and mute calls directly.
3.5 millimeter plug
What is it?
The 3.5 mm plug should also be familiar to you. It’s a widely used way to connect music gadgets to audio output like headphones and headsets. A headset’s 3.5 mm plug goes into the corresponding 3.5 mm jack on whatever audio device you’re using.
Computers, portable music players, and newer mobile phones.
The 3.5 mm jack is pretty versatile and used in a lot of different audio appliances. By far the majority of new smartphones have a 3.5 mm jack that lets you plug in a 3.5 mm headset. You can then listen to music and use the headset for calls. The same goes for tablets and music players (except music players aren’t usually built for phone calls).
New computers work in a similar way, but some of the older ones actually have two separate 3.5 mm jacks – one for the microphone and one for the headphones. That’s why some headsets actually come with two separate 3.5 mm plugs – one for the microphone input jack (red or pink) and one for the audio output jack (black, blue, or green). You can also buy special conversion cables that let you use headsets with these older computers.
2.5 millimeter plug
What is it?
The 2.5 mm plug is the older yet smaller brother of the 3.5 mm plug. It’s quite outdated nowadays, but it works in pretty much the same way as the more modern 3.5 mm version.
Typically older mobile phones and some desk phones
The 3.5 mm plug is quickly becoming the go-to standard, but older mobile phones have a 2.5 mm jack for connecting headsets. You can find equally outdated headsets with 2.5 mm plugs, but even then, some of them may need an adapter to work with a 2.5 mm mobile phone. Confused? Don’t worry, so am I.
There are also a few select desk phones that come with a 2.5 mm headset port instead of the more commonly used RJ9. But you can find conversion cables that let you connect any wired headset to these phones.
Special mention: Quick Disconnect
What is it?
The Quick Disconnect (QD) concept isn’t quite like the rest of the above connections. There’s no dedicated “QD” port on your computer or phone. You can go check, I’ll wait.
Instead, a QD cable consists of two modular parts – one that plugs into the computer or phone, and one on the headset itself. Together, they form a QD connection between them. This lets you quickly unplug the headset without dropping the call you’re on. Then you can walk away and pretend your headset is wireless (except you won’t be able to actually hear or say anything).
This is useful if you have to move around and look for things while talking to someone but don’t want to take off the headset to do so. Once you come back to the desk, you just plug the headset back in and continue the call. Neat!
Desk phones (via RJ9) or computers (via USB or 3.5 mm)
Because of the modular design, you can have a QD headset that connects to either RJ9 or USB or 3.5 mm ports. All you need is to exchange the part that connects to the desk phone or computer, and you’re ready to go. You can buy separate cables that have whatever type of connector you need and then use them with your existing QD headset. Just make sure they’re compatible, as each vendor tends to have its own set of QD cables.
Because USB and QD connectors look quite similar, you’ll be forgiven for trying to cram a QD plug directly into your laptop’s USB port. But you’ll need a QD-to-USB adapter to actually make it work.
It can sometimes be difficult to find the right headset with the right connection options, so you can always contact Jabra’s sales team for advice.