The Bose headphone plug in question, with reverse-engineered schematic of the filter overlaid.

This 3.5mm Cable Distorts Signals, Hides Audio-Filtering Circuit

[Avian]’s dad got a new ham radio transceiver with a 3.5 mm jack, and his pile-of-cables got him a headphone cable from Bose headphones. He built a DB9 to 3.5 mm adapter with that one – and it failed to let data through, outputting distorted garbage of a waveform instead. With a function generator and an oscilloscope, [Avian] plotted the frequency response of the cable, which turned out to be quite far from a straight line. What was up?

Taking the connector apart was a tricky job. A combination of blunt force and a nail polish remover soak didn’t quite get them all the way, so [Avian] continued to apply blunt force and took the jack apart with minimal casualties. Turned out that there was more to the 3.5 mm plug indeed — a whole PCB with a few resistors and capacitors, reverse-engineered into the schematic seen above.

Looks like Bose decided to tweak the audio characteristics of a specific pair of headphones, and an in-plug filter was, somehow, the most efficient solution. We probably shouldn’t expect to see this often, but it bears keeping in mind: next time your repurposed 3.5 mm cable doesn’t behave as expected, it would be prudent to do a capacitance test with your trusty meter or oscilloscope.

With how small MCUs have gotten, you can easily hide more than just a few capacitors! We don’t often see circuits built into cables, but when we do, it’s for malicious purposes.

Know Audio: A Mess Of Cables

We’ve now spent several months in this series journeying through the world of audio, and along the way we’ve looked at the various parts of a Hi-Fi system from the speaker backwards to the source. It’s been an enjoyable ride full of technical detail and examining Hi-Fi myths in equal measure, but now it’s time to descend into one of the simplest yet most controversial areas of audio reproduction. Every audio component, whether digital or analogue, must be connected into whatever system it is part of, and this is the job of audio cables, sometimes referred to as interconnects. They are probably the single component most susceptible to tenuous claims about their performance, with audiophiles prepared to spend vast sums on cables claimed to deliver that extra bit of listening performance. Is there something in it, or are they all the same bits of wire with the expensive ones being a scam? Time to take a look.

What Makes A Nearly Good Cable

In a typical domestic audio system with digital and analogue signals you might expect to find two types of cable, electrical interconnects that could carry either analogue or digital signals, and optical ones for digital signals. We’re here to talk about the electrical cables here as they’re the ones used for analogue signals, so lets start with a little transmission line theory. Continue reading “Know Audio: A Mess Of Cables”