Practising bass guitar without an amplifier just doesn’t sound the same. All you can hear is an annoying twang and not the deep bass sound we all know and love.
But with more of us living in apartments or wanting to practice late into the night, using an amplifier isn’t really an option. This leaves many people asking: “can you plug headphones into a bass guitar?”
Unfortunately, you can’t plug regular headphones directly into your bass guitar. However, there are several solutions available that will allow you to play bass guitar through headphones, such as:
- using an amPlug headphone amp,
- using special amplifier headphones,
- plugging headphones into an amp,
- plugging into a laptop via an audio interface
- plugging into your smartphone or tablet using an adapter
In this article, I will explain briefly these different methods which will allow you to here your bass through headphones.
Why Can’t I Plug Headphones Directly Into My Bass Guitar?
It is simply not possible to plug a pair of headphones directly into a bass guitar and expect to hear anything. This is because the signal is not amplified enough.
This is why electric bass guitars rely on some form of amplification to make the sounds audible. This could be a classic bass amplifier or perhaps the pre-amp built into an audio interface.
Regular headphones do not have the necessary hardware within them to amplify that bass signal.
Bearing this in mind, are there any ways we can get around this problem to allow us to listen to bass guitar through headphones?
Luckily the answer is yes! And I have a few different solutions for you to try.
1) A Bass Headphone Adapter
These little devices are amazing and solve the problem of plugging in headphones instantly, without you having to spend a tonne of money or fill your studio with extra equipment.
These tiny things are basically battery-powered, pocket-sized amplifiers that plug directly into your bass guitar output. This allows you to busk in the street without the need for a power generator but it also has a standard ⅛th inch (3.5mm) headphone output allowing you to plug in virtually any pair of headphones and listen away.
The Vox AP2BS amPlug 2 is very affordable and currently available for under $50. And although it isn’t quite the same as playing through a real amp, it does a very good job. Perfectly acceptable for practicing at home.
The AP2BS even comes with 3 different amp modes too so you can change the tone of the bass without the need for pedals.
The battery life is pretty good too and the 2 AAA batteries should give you about 15 hours of playing time.
There are many different options available at different price points. I recently did a review of three of the best-selling bass headphone amplifiers which you can read by clicking here.
2) AmPhones – The Headphones With a Built-in Amplifier
Vox has also taken the idea of portable amplifiers one step beyond the mini amplifier by producing a pair of headphones with built-in amplifier!
So if you buy these, technically you can just plug your headphones into your bass guitar output and start rocking out.
The headphones are actually manufactured by Audio-Technica who are a big name in the headphone industry and so the combination of themselves with quality amp producer Vox, means you have a good product on your hands.
The headphones are specifically designed for playing the bass and so have features to try and recreate the resonance of a bass amp and cabinet.
They aren’t the cheapest option on this list though and if you already own a good pair of headphone then one of the other options may be a better option for you.
3) Plug Regular Headphones Into Your Bass Amp
If you already own a bass amp then there is probably an even easier way to play your bass through headphones and that is by plugging headphones directly into your amp.
On pretty much every bass amp from the smallest to the largest, there will be an output labeled as ‘headphones out’ or ‘speaker out’.
On larger amps, the likelihood is it will be a ¼ inch jack socket and so if you don’t own a pair of studio headphone which already have that jack type you will have to get yourself an adapter. However, on many smaller models like my Peavey Max 158 shown below, you can see there is an obvious ‘phones’ output for you to use.
If your amp only has a ¼ inch output, then a simple ¼ inch (6.35mm) to ⅛ inch (3.5mm) adapter such as the one pictured below will allow you to use any pair of headphones to listen to the output of your amplifier without annoying the neighbors.
4) Plug into your laptop or computer
You can connect your bass guitar to a laptop or computer using an audio interface.
Depending on if you record much music at home already, you may or may not already own this piece of equipment. They are amazing pieces of kit that connect to your laptop or computer usually via USB allowing them to receive signals from guitars or microphones amongst other things.
The built-in pre-amp inside the audio interface will amplify the signal from your bass guitar and then convert that audio signal to a digital signal your laptop or computer will understand. Here is a step by step guide of how to get this to work with your bass guitar.
- If you haven’t already got one, buy yourself a decent audio interface. I have an entire page where I explain my current favorite audio interfaces available here. But if you can’t be bothered to read through all that I recommend the Focusrite Scarlett Solo as a great option for the beginner.
- Plug the audio interface into your laptop or computer using the USB lead provided. Some audio interfaces have other connection types such as firewire which may make connecting trickier, so double-check this before buying one. It is likely the USB interface will get it’s power from the laptop although some may have their own power supply so will need plugging in.
- If it is the first time you have connected it will probably prompt you to download some drivers for your computer, or there might be a disk included in the box. You must install these drivers to get it to work.
- Plug in your bass guitar to an input on your interface using a standard instrument cable.
- Most interfaces will have some sort of indicator light such as the green one shown here. This should light up when you start playing the bass to show that a signal is being received by the interface from the bass.
- If you plug your headphones directly into the headphone monitoring socket on the interface you should be able to hear a clean signal from your bass.
- If you want to add any effects though you will need to use the computer. On Windows go to Control Panel > Hardware & Sound > Sound. There you should be able to select the audio interface as the playback device. On Mac head to System Preferences > Sound and select the interface as the input device.
- You will need to get yourself an ‘amp simulator’. Some amp simulator plugins come pre-installed on recording software. If you have a Mac, for example, the free software ‘Garageband’ comes with many built in effects for you to try. If you don’t have access to recording software, you can download some amp simulator software this one from Cerberus is worth checking out to give a very realistic sound.
5) Plug Into Your Phone or Tablet.
This final option shows how far technology has advanced in recent times. The thought of being able to play bass through your phone just a few years ago would have sounded ridiculous, but now it is entirely possible.
To do this, you will need a piece of kit known as the iRig 2. (shown below). It is basically a tiny audio interface and so carries out the same function as the audio interface I talked about in option 3 but on a smaller scale. These are cool pieces of kit which are very cheap to buy.
Simply plug the iRig into your phone or tablets headphone slot.
The iRig comes with an app you can use which has various amp sounds, but to be honest, it isn’t great and so I recommend checking out the apps ‘Tonebridge’ and ‘Amplitude’. If you have an iPad or iPhone you can use it with Garageband which is free recording software that often comes pre-installed on their devices.
Once connected simply plug your headphones into the headphone output on the iRig device and you are good to go!
Note: This is designed for use with Apple products (iPhones and iPads) and so if you have an Android phone there is a change it may not work. More expensive models such as the iRig 2 HD come with ‘lightning’ adapters meaning they only fit Apple devices, so stick to the iRig 2 if you have Android. It is worth checking with the manufacturer prior to buying to check if it will work. If you are running Android 5 or later then it should work.
What Type of Headphone to Use When Practicing Bass?
If you just want a way to practice bass at home then spending loads of money on expensive bass headphones is probably not required.
Yes, you are never going to get a great sound out of those iPhone headphones. This is mainly due to their size, you will simply never be able to create a true bass sound with speakers that can fit inside your ears. This is why bass ‘sub-woofers’ are usually so large.
There are other things as well as the sound quality you probably want to consider:
- If you are planning on wearing them for extended periods of time, comfort is very important. Some cheaper headphone will make your ears hot and uncomfortable, which isn’t going to encourage you to get practising!
- The cord length should be a decent length. There is nothing more annoying than having to sit 1m away from your bass amp because you only have a short headphone cord. You want a good few metres of cord so you can stand up and move about a bit without getting tangled or disconnecting suddenly and waking up everyone in the house!
I personally recommend getting a decent pair of over-ear ‘studio’ headphones. These are designed to be worn for long periods of time and to always have long cables. They might not give you the ‘best’ bass but they will give you a good sound as they are designed to be able to play most of the frequency spectrum. You will also then have invested in a great pair of headphones that you can use for other home studio applications.
I have a page with some of my top studio headphone recommendations here. However here are a couple to get you started:
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones
I have owned these studio headphones for a few years now and they are one of the best purchases I have ever made! They sound amazing, have a long cable and are so comfortable I can wear them for hours and forget I even have them on.
They give a good representation of bass too and I often use them for practicing and recording bass late at night.
AKG K240STUDIO Semi-Open Over-Ear Professional Studio Headphones
If you aren’t looking to spend quite that much money, then for around half the price you should look into the AKG K240’s. These headphones are amazing value for the level of comfort and sound quality.
I’ve seen bass players all over the internet swooning over these!