Can you really plug headphones into a bass guitar and practice without an amp? This burning question has probably existed since the invention of electric basses and amplifiers but hasn’t been addressed enough to provide clarity, especially to beginners of the low end.
Not to disappoint the novices who have just bought a bass but can’t afford yet to obtain an amp, but headphones won’t really work when plugged directly into your instrument.
The primary reason for this is because the impedances are not compatible and the pickups will only work with the help of an amplifier. Not to mention that your bass guitar uses a TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) for its output instead of a ¼ jack connector like in most headphones.
Fortunately, there are a number of effective ways that you can try out so you can still play bass guitar for hours without disturbing the neighbors.
Do you need special headphones for bass guitar?
One of the challenges of pursuing bass guitar greatness is the loud thumping noise that can annoy neighbors and impede your learning process. Instead of hopelessly plugging in your headphones to your bass, the much better solution is to use a pair of decent headphones to keep your grooves to yourself.
A quality pair of headphones is a necessity if you want to practice in peace, regardless of your setup. While there are headphones that are designed for bass guitars, there are many models out there that will work perfectly fine as well.
Here are some points to consider when hunting for the perfect pair:
Make sure that the bass response is good
Purchasing a pair of headphones that don’t live up to low-end expectations can be very disappointing. Choose well depending on your needs, since some headphones – especially the ones that DJs use – may have very good bass response, but the accuracy isn’t what you might be looking for.
Studio headphones that engineers use for mixing and mastering music are more accurate, so if you are into recording and don’t have money to buy different kinds of cans, a Beyerdynamic or a Senheisser can be versatile options.
If you have the budget, of course your best choice would be a pair of headphones that are intended for bass guitars such as the Phil Jones Bass Guitar Headphones. Just don’t expect them to be the perfect tools for live or studio mixing.
Get a high-quality closed-back headphones for bass
Since you are going to play in a silent environment, a good closed-back is a necessity to prevent the annoying sound of your bass guitar strings from intervening in your jams.
Avoid earbuds (also known as earphones), as well as cheap headphones since they are not built to handle your rumbling low frequencies. These earpieces will not provide you the full sound that you would expect from your bass and worse, they could get overwhelmed easily if you turn your bass and amp all the way up.
In-ear monitors for the pros
Even though in-ear monitors are not designed with large cups, they go a little deeper into your ear canals, making them an onstage favorite for even some of the loudest bands out there.
Avoid bluetooth headphones
Studio experts and professional musicians will always remind you to avoid anything wireless, especially one that relies on bluetooth technology, since they could create some latency problems. This is the main reason why, despite the messy environment that cables provide, they are the standard for most music studios.
How can I practice my electric bass quietly?
Although it is not viable to plug your headphones into your bass guitar, there are a number of gears and devices that you can plug your guitar and headphones into for your silent jams. Here are the most effective ones:
The most common and probably the best way to practice silently would be to use your bass amplifier. A vast majority of amps today are equipped with a headphones output which you can easily plug into.
Headphone amps and pocket amplifiers
Headphone amps and pocket amplifiers are your cheaper option if you don’t have the budget to buy a bass amp yet. These are also portable gadgets that can be attached to your bass guitar or strap, giving you the option to practice anytime, anywhere.
Multi-effects processors such as the ones popularized by the likes of Zoom, Digitech and Boss, can also be used for quiet practice since they can accommodate headphones as well. The advantage of this setup is that you can use the features of the pedals including the tuner, amp modelers and effects. Turn it up loud, put in some heavy distortion and wah, do whatever you want, the neighbors will not know about your wild bass exploits.
The advent of digital recording made a lot of audio devices more affordable nowadays. The improved memory on most laptops and PCs has almost eliminated latency issues, making it possible to play live without any delays in sound.
An audio interface is one of the basic devices that you will need for your home recording setup so it is only practical to have one. Using a USB or Thunderbolt cable, connect the interface to your computer and install the required drivers. Now that your interface is compatible with your system, you may now plug in your bass guitar and headphones to commence jamming.
Most tablets and smartphones today are powerful enough to accommodate guitars with the help of a digital guitar interface such as IK Multimedia’s iRig HD2. Once you have acquired this interface, you can connect it to your tablet or smartphone the same as you would on your laptop or PC and then plug in your guitar and headphones to the device.
Together with this interface, you will need some amp and effects simulator apps for more tone flexibility. If you are using an iPad, you can also connect directly to GarageBand and record your bass parts.
Be reminded however, that just like you can’t plug headphones into a bass guitar, you shouldn’t, in any way, attempt to plug in an instrument to your phone or tablet.