Can you play the electric violin with headphones?

Play an electric violin with headphones

When it comes to electric violins and headphones, the question that comes up most often is: can you play the electric violin with headphones? Many people are a little confused and doubt the possibility of being able to play the electric violin with headphones.

Let’s be clear! All electric violins can be played with headphones! No matter the brand, the pickup, the headphones… Electric violins can all be used with headphones but they do not all connect the same way.

How to connect your electric violin to your headphones?

The difference comes from the type of electric violin you have, there are two types of electric violins:

jack cables 3.5 vs 6.35

  • Those that can be directly connected to a set of headphones

  • These have a 3.5 mm jack (which may seem strange for a musical instrument). This is the jack typically used to connect headphones that is also found on mobile phones. In fact, these electric violins are built directly with a preamplifier designed for headphones.

  • Those who need an intermediate interface to be connected to a set of headphones

  • These electric violins only have a 6.35 mm jack. The one found on every musical instrument and which will allow you to connect the instrument to an amplifier or mixing console. On these electric violins, it is useless to try to connect your headphones directly to this jack, it will not work!

Where does this difference come from?

The difference is related to the impedance of your instrument. Impedance is the resistance of a device to the alternating current that flows through it. Musical instruments have an extremely high impedance, while headphones have a very low impedance. The electrical signal produced by an electric violin is therefore incompatible with headphones. Without an electronic circuit, headphones will not be able to control the impedance of an electric violin.

That is why it is necessary either to preinstall in the electric violin an electronic circuit that will control the impedance, or to position between the electric violin and the headphones an intermediate interface capable of handling the impedance. Hence the terms active electric violin VS passive electric violin!

Active electric violin VS passive electric violin

Active electric violin

A musical instrument is considered active when it requires an energy source to function. Most often, it is a battery, but sometimes there is a rechargeable battery or a power cable that can be connected directly to AC power (which is not very practical for the musician since this will limit his movements).

In our case, the active electric violin has an energy source (cell, battery, etc.) and an electronic circuit that will reduce the impedance produced by the instrument. Thus, it is possible to connect it directly to a set of headphones. The battery and the electronic circuit are integrated into the body of the violin.

A musical instrument is passive if it works as soon as it is connected to an amp with a cable. It does not need any source of energy other than the electric violin itself. The passive electric violin therefore has no battery or electronic circuit. Since no interface can control its impedance, it cannot work directly with headphones.

Why are not all electric violins active?

The use of a battery and the insertion of an electronic circuit inside the electric violin do not only have advantages. First of all, it increases the weight of the electric violin. The heavier the electric violin, the less comfortable it is. And on electric violins, every gram gained is a victory to get closer to the weight of a classical violin. You are also required to have a spare battery with you at all times in case your violin stops working! You can imagine the problem if it happens on stage!

It is also problematic in the event of a failure of the electronic circuit, only an authorized repairer or the manufacturer himself will be able to replace it… Finding a compatible electronic circuit is also a challenge! Lastly, it modifies the audio signal before its output, which does not give you full control over the sound. It’s a bit annoying if you’re a sound enthusiast and you want to have complete control over your sound system.

Currently, all 3Dvarius electric violins are passive electric violins. And it’s a deliberate choice!

How to connect a passive electric violin to a set of headphones?

All you have to do is use a device with a headphone jack that will control the impedance of your electric violin. Several solutions are available.

A mini amp for headphones

Mini amps are very small devices that you will connect between your electric violin and your headphones. You can fit the mini amps in your pocket or attach them to your belt. They are not excessively expensive, they cost approximately $30.

However, these mini amps often have a small disadvantage: they generate a very unpleasant white noise for headphones. Also, they offer very few settings. That is, usually, a simple volume and tone management.

Small amps

An amp

Most amps have a headphone output and have the advantage of having more advanced settings than a mini amp. You will therefore have the opportunity to work on your sound so that listening with a set of headphones remains pleasant.

More expensive than a mini-amplifier, an amp remains an essential purchase for any electric violinist. It is a convenient investment that will allow you to be heard by your audience and sometimes can serve you as a monitor on stage or during rehearsals. Check out our article on how to choose an electric violin amp.

Violin amp

An effects pedal

Every effect pedal has an output compatible with headphones. Just plug the headphones into the pedal and off you go!

They also have the advantage of providing you with dozens of settings to make the listening with headphones very pleasant. You can work on the sound with effects in order to make it warmer by adding a little reverb and echo.

Working on your effects with a set of headphones is ideal! You will be able to analyze and improve them until you get a perfect sound!

effects pedal

Other interfaces

Other devices can act as an interface between your electric violin and your headphones like a computer if it is equipped with a quality sound card.

Small digital interfaces for computers, mobile phones and tablets are also effective. They allow you to plug in your instrument, connect it to your tablet using an effects application and output the sound to a headset.

They allow you several things, to plug in your instrument, connect it to your tablet using an effects application and output the sound to a set of headphones.

Numeric Interfaces

Different sensations than with a classical violin

When a classical violinist first tries an electric violin, he will be destabilized by the change in the source of the sound. With a classical violin, the violinist is very close to the sound source of the violin: its sound box. By having the violin resting on his shoulder, the sound box is very close to his ears.

The source of the sound of the electric violin will be quite different. In the case of a set of headphones, the violinist will be slightly destabilized because the sound will be dry and immediate. The sound no longer travels through the air, it is sent directly from the electric violin to the headphones via the jack cable.

On the other hand, with an amp, the sound path will be longer than normal. The sound passes from the electric violin to the amp, then it must travel through the air until it is heard by the violinist. The journey is therefore longer than for a classical violin.

Other differences between an electric and a classical violin exist and can destabilize a classical violinist.

Tips for use with headphones

To limit this impression of dry and immediate sound, you can use some effects that will bring it closer to the sound emitted by a classical violin. Three effects can bring it closer:

  • Delay
  • Equalizer
  • Echo

Discover more tips to improve the sound of your electric violin.

Why play with headphones?

Play silently

This is the main reason for using headphones when playing the electric violin. You will be able to play for yourself and for yourself only. No one will ever have to share your tedious hours of practice again!

Improve your technique and your effects

If you are a music fan, and you listen to music often, you probably know that listening through headphones allows you to hear certain frequencies of the song that are inaudible with speakers. The isolation produced by the headphones allows you to discover some of the subtleties of the song. Of course, the better the headphones, the more you will hear these subtleties.

The same applies to playing an instrument with headphones. By using headphones, you will hear the full spectrum of sound and nuances that you will play. This is important to improve your playing technique, and to perfect your effects.

What type of headphones can I use?

All headphones will work if you respect the points mentioned above. Even your mobile phone headphones can work with a 3.5 to 6.35 mm jack adapter. However, they will have a lower quality, because their technical characteristics do not correspond to a musical exercise! Headphones for studio use will generally meet your needs.

Type of connection

The first point to respect is to that you should favor wired headphones. The response time will be immediate, which is not always the case with hi-fi headphones, and even less with Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth headphones do not correspond at all to music making, because the response time between the played and heard note is too long. You will have a time lag between these two, which will prevent you from playing in tune.

Headphones type

Then, you will have to choose between an open, semi-open or closed set of headphones.

  • Open headphones: You can hear both, your music and the ambient noise, and people close to you will also hear some of your music. They are not ideal if you want to play silently.
  • Semi-open headphones: They isolate better than the open headphones, but remains slightly audible for people close to you.
  • Closed headphones: They allow to limit the external noise and to isolate oneself. When using closed headphones, it is rare to hear the ambient noise. It is ideal for not being heard by people close to you.

Technical characteristics of the headphones

And finally, it is useful to check the technical characteristics of the headphones including its impedance, bandwidth and sensitivity (or SPL).

It should be remembered that the impedance is the resistance of a device to the alternating current that passes through it. It is expressed in ohms. The higher it is, the less static noise there will be, and the more it will need a powerful source to avoid a decrease in volume. For music making, aim for headphones with a high impedance.

The sensitivity or SPL (sound pressure level) corresponds to the sound intensity and is calculated in decibels. The standard is set at 100 dB and the current legislation governs this intensity.

The bandwidth corresponds to the range of sound frequencies reproduced by the headphones. These are the frequencies from the lowest to the highest that the headphones are capable of reproducing. For information, the human ear hears frequencies between 20 Hz (lowest frequency) and 20 000 Hz (highest frequency). The bandwidth of your headphones should get as close as possible to it, and if possible exceed it. The higher the bandwidth, the more you will be able to notice all the nuances of sound when playing.

Images: Freepik and 3Dvarius