Odd-Sized Military Headphone Connectors, Tamed!

Military headphones, at least the older ones, are like few other sound reproducers. They are an expression of function over form, with an emphasis on robustness over operator comfort. Electrically they most often have high-impedance drivers and annoyingly proprietary connectors for whichever obscure radio system they were a part of.

[John Floren] has a HS-16A headset, the type used by the US military during the Vietnam war. It’s an antiquated design with a dual spring steel headband and on-the-ear ‘phones with no muff for comfort, and a quick bit of research finds that they can be had brand new in their 1960s packaging for somewhere around $20. Their connector is a pair of odd metal pins, and rather than doing what most of us would do and snipping the wire to fit something more useful, he hunted high and low for a TE Connectivity receptacle that would fit them. A short extension and a jack plug allowed him to use these slightly unusual cans.

This isn’t a special hack, but it’s still an interesting read because it sheds a bit of light upon these old-style headphones and reveals that they’re still available for anyone who wants their radio operating to have a retro feel. If you buy a set, you’ll probably still have them decades after more modern pairs have bitten the dust.

21 thoughts on “Odd-Sized Military Headphone Connectors, Tamed!

  1. Those “pair of odd metal pins” are not odd. They are what was known as “phone tips” and will fit nicely into Fahnestock connectors that you might have on a breadboard layout that you put together around 1960. IIRC they are about the same diameter as the pins on an octal radio tube, and thus you can use a tube socket (we all used to have bunches of them in our parts bin) to make somewhere to plug them in.

    My own parts bin was usually a scattered heap of things on my grandmother’s sewing-room floor.

    1. Thank you! I am not sure who would cut off one of the more versatile connectors out there and replace it with something else. Not to mention the phones are mono and decidedly lo fi. They work great with the equipment they were designed to work with, and as you states, they fit in Fahnestock clips, binding posts, tube sockets and even little pin connectors made just for them. Many of the ones I have are 70 to 80 years old. Not something I am in a hurry to deface.

    2. Phone tip to 1/4 inch phono adapters are not hard to get. At any given old radio meet, you can probably walk away with a half dozen vintage ones for very little money. There also show up on Ebay quite often. He apparently did not look all that hard.

    3. Yes, they’re great to use with Fahnestock clips – when I was a kid I had a set of ‘phones similar to those in the picture. The brand was ‘Brandes’, and I never thought of them as military gear, but they might well have been. I used them with, among other things, a home-made crystal radio built with Fahnestock clips on a piece of wood left over from a wood-burning kit that I only ever used for its ‘soldering’ iron.The headphones I had came with a Bakelite adapter – one end accepted the probe-looking bits you call ‘phone tips’, and the other end, IIRC, was similar to a quarter-inch phone plug, but smaller in diameter and a bit shorter.

  2. I have a pair exactly like these, and am sad to admit I just used alligator clips to attach to the pins. As far as durability goes, my dad bought them in an army surplus shop in Pasadena some time between 1958 and 1963, and they are still going strong.

  3. I had a pair from Hallicrafters that were for consumers but resembled those in the picture. They were nevercomfortable, and I can’t remember when I got rid of them. People talk about clamping the headphones on, those were like that.

    I still have a pair of surplus headphones, maybe from WWII. They at least have some padding, but even those weren’t comfortable after a while.

    Modern stereo headphones are much lighter, and don’t clamp you ears. A much better solution, though their abi!ity to reproduce a wide range of sound may let the hum and noise through.


    1. I have a pair similar to this but no so glossy, they really hurt the ears after a while but are very sensitive and ideal for crystal sets, I discovered by accident that by bringing the 1/4 jack plug near to a crt they pick up electrical noise.

  4. I have an Astrocom set with mic that flew on SAC bomber missions. They have crystal speakers, talk about high impedance. The mic uses U-173/U marked connectors, what I see here I think. The main plug was a real weird one. U-174/U is on it’s shell, somewhere is the plug I took off having to have access to the wires to check them out. They take nearly universal cushions available online. I am using the cushions now on a pair of Koss phones.

  5. I have a set of these (except in green ) that my grandfather used for his regenerative radio set. You can get the speaker to come off the headset . that way both he and my grandmother could listen at the same time.
    sat in my toolbox for awhile as they where great for 70 volt pa systems , or aligning music satellites.
    Worked great for the sons crystal set he had to make for cubs (small scouts in Canada)

  6. “High impedance drivers” a little over 500 ohms, so much higher than modern 8 or 4 ohm headphones, but considered low Z during WW2, where the usual was around 2000 to start. I’ve phones that are four times this as well. These were for use in signal corps training schools, and the headbands were tight enough to give a squirrel a headache.

  7. At one time, phone plug to phone tip adapters were common. But the only one I can still find is a Radiola UD 824 being sold as an antique for $99. I suspect that’s more than the headphones. Antique Electronics Supply or Playthings of the Past are possible siurces.

  8. I used to make odd connectors in a similar manner, but after the the connections, I would ‘pot” my home brew connector it a hot glue gun,using light coating of vegetable oil to keep the glue from sticking to the socket.

    1. I used a commercial version of that. It had a long nozzle to fill up the spaces between pins. I made many a mating connector with it, for those oddball multipin cannon connectors. Tape over the connector, find a matching pin, stick it in the connector through the tape, repeat, fill around the pins with goop. A mylar ring made a dam around the “new” plug.

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