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It is sometimes possible to plug one's own headphones in an airplane's headphone plug. Can this pose any risk, such as damaging one's headphones?

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    Is there any security risk? Modern ANC headphones probably have enough processing in them to be hacked, maybe infect other devices? – popctrl Mar 16 at 0:29
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    That part of the aircraft is separate from the aircraft controls, in case you were wondering about serious damage to the aircraft. – Andrew Morton Mar 16 at 11:29
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    This was never a concern when aircraft used... you guess it... air pressure to deliver sound over headphones instead of wires. I have 2 pairs of those headphones... now I just need to find an aircraft that still has output jacks for them. Another nice feature was that they didn't cause any problems with metal detectors, as they had absolutely no metal in them. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Mar 18 at 5:46
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No.

I have designed headphones for airplane use and there is no difference from designing connectivity for regular consumer electronics use.

Physical connectors vary from airline to airline and from aircraft to aircraft and some will require an adapter, at least to get a full stereo experience.

There is some "normal" mechanical risk: airplane seats are often cramped and headphone connectors can be at awkward locations and angles. There is a risk that you (or someone else) bumps into them and damages your connector or that the cable snags somewhere and gets yanked.

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    I have broken a couple of pairs of headphones by getting up to use the bathroom and forgetting they were plugged in. – ajhfedorec Mar 16 at 9:22
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    I don't think "No" is the correct term/summary answer (even based on the rest of what you wrote). It's more like "There is no more risk than plugging the headphones into any other device" – PhilippNagel Mar 16 at 13:41
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    @PhilippNagel: Maybe that's just semantics. Nothing in the world is entirely risk free, so I interpreted this as "higher then compared to other applications" – Hilmar Mar 16 at 18:06
  • I'd add a sentence after the initial "no". Standards exists to allow electronic devices from different manufacturers to interoperate. The 3.5mm audio jack is a standard, and exists for this very purpose: to allow any headset to work with any jack plug – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Mar 18 at 15:20
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It depends. The sockets are not well maintained, so you may get a bent sockets which may damage your plug. So if your plug doesn't enter easily, just don't use the socket.

If you hear some white noise, you may not want to use such socket. For short time it should not be a problem, but on long term white noises (and "scratches") could ruin the membrane of your headphone.

I tend to move and break plugs, so I recommend you to use a cheap adapter (and possibly cable) so that you can use your headphones but without risk to break your plug.

In general: you can use your headphone. Some headphone have the double pin plug adapter in the original box, but you can use also a single pin in one of the two sockets without problems. I usually prefer my noise cancelling headphones.

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    White noise isn't ever going to hurt anything, & any kind of loud crackling or bad signal would make you take the headset off long before it was vaguely any danger of damage to the speakers. – Tetsujin Mar 17 at 15:51
  • @Tetsujin: right, for the second part (but I know people which prefer crackling then nothing). White noises: it depends on frequencies and volume (passive headphone rarely have protection filters). – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 17 at 15:57
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    White noise by definition is all frequencies at equal power- but that aside, there's nothing that could damage your headset before being loud enough to make you take it off. – Tetsujin Mar 17 at 16:01
  • @Tetsujin: OK. I just remember than when one test speakers and headphones, one should not keep very low frequencies for more then few seconds, or the membrane could break on standard and low quality headsets. But I'm not an expert on such technologies (I'm just a traveler, and so I know to be on safe side on trivial things). – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 17 at 16:06
  • Do you have any references for white noise or very low frequencies ruining headsets? It's contrary to my experiences, but maybe I've just been lucky. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Mar 18 at 6:17
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No. As far as I can tell from previous flights, they're just normal headphone jacks. I've used my own headphones in these the past without any issue.

On older planes, you see twin audio jacks, separating left from right audio channels. This was used to improve the quality (and, cynically, encourage passengers to buy special headphones).

So we used to see shops in airports selling these widgets to let passengers use their own headphones.

enter image description here

As the audio systems on planes improved, the twin-jack outlets were dropped.

If the sockets (of either type) were somehow damaging to personal equipment, then you'd assume that the plugs and sockets would be physically different to prevent damage, or there would be more specialised widgets, or very visible warning signs.

Personally, I can't be sure that the headphones supplied by the airline are clean or don't have the audio quality of a pair of tin cans, so I use my own.

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    It wasn't because of audio quality. The only argument for splitting the channels is so that you can reduce crosstalk by running independent ground lines for each channel. For audio frequencies, this simply isn't required - for sensitive instrumentation, maybe, but not for headphones on an already noisy aircraft. The primary reason for the odd jack was to deter people from stealing the headphones (which would not otherwise connect to anyone's home audio systems). – J... Mar 15 at 16:13
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    my recent flying experience suggests that they have not been dropped. Nor have I seen any such adapters in airport shops. Instead, on many flights in the past few years, the crew has passed out headsets with adapters. – WGroleau Mar 15 at 17:09
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    @WGroleau Plenty of older aircraft are still in the air, keep in mind. The twin-jack is being phased out in new aircraft, but plenty of older ones still have the old twin jacks. Headphones are cheap as dirt now, and everybody already has a favourite pair, so the motivation to steal the cheap crap they give away now is effectively zero. They're so cheap the airlines don't even want them back anymore. In the old days, though, a set of headphones was a pricey item to have go missing. – J... Mar 15 at 19:51
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    @J... Poor quality headphones are cheap as dirt, and most people don't care because either they listen to poor quality audio (e.g. heavily compressed MP3 files or they are hearing impaired anyway after too much listening at high volume levels. Decent quality headphones can cost anything from $100 to more than $1000. – alephzero Mar 16 at 16:45
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    @alephzero Yes, but the point is that now airlines have the option of supplying cheap headphones that they don't care about losing while in 1977 they did not. Ryanair is not gifting you a reference set of Grados with your economy ticket, I assure you. – J... Mar 16 at 17:13
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Define "any".

There may not be any in practical terms, but in theory a defective/damaged headphone amplifier can send out-of-spec voltage to the headphones and that could damage them. In theory, a malicious actor could even sabotage the jack to do that intentionally, though in an airplane the risk of that surely is infinitesimal.

I don't use USB charging jacks in hotel rooms though, for that very reason; 99.94% of the time they are fine, but there's not an practical way to ensure that some jerk who stayed in the room previously didn't modify the outlet to leave a surprise for someone else. Easier to just use my own charger that uses the regular outlet. See e.g. https://hackaday.com/2015/10/10/the-usb-killer-version-2-0/ for the reverse version of this attack (that one kills the USB host, but someone could wire up a USB power outlet easily enough to do the same thing to USB devices plugged into it).

I don't worry about it on an airplane though. My headphones aren't that expensive to start with, and the odds of there being any problem using them with the airplane seat's equipment is slim to none. If the headphone jack is defective or damaged, by far the most likely outcome is that you just won't hear anything.

Even if the jack did damage your headphones, I'd expect you'd have a valid claim against the airline for their faulty equipment, though I admit it'd probably be an uphill battle getting them to pay off a claim like that. They might even have fine print on the ticket that disclaims "suitability for use" for any customer-facing equipment on the plane.

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