Line Out Vs Speaker Out: What’s The Difference? Explained! - Vita Audio

Line Out Vs Speaker Out: What’s The Difference? Explained!

When it comes to working with audio gear, a lot of different terms can get thrown around without anyone ever really explaining them to you.

Sometimes, it can be a bit embarrassing to ask others for an explanation – after all, you don’t want to come across as a newbie when working with professional audio equipment.

Line Out Vs Speaker Out: What’s The Difference

So if you want to save face but still need some further explanation about certain audio related terms, then we have got you covered.

Two terms that are often used when working with audio are ‘line out’ and ‘speaker out’.

If you are not sure what these two terms mean or what they refer to, then keep on reading as we dive into the definitions of these two terms but we will be comparing their similarities and differences.

So save face and take a look below for all the information you need when it comes to line out and speaker out in audio.

What Does ‘Line Out’ Mean In Audio?

The term ‘line out’ refers to the audio output port that is used to transfer line level audio signals. This is usually done from one audio device to another.

It’s basically the opposite of a ‘line in’ which is when the audio port on audio devices receives line level input instead of sending it out.

Line level signals are the standard audio level that is used to transmit audio signals from one audio device to another without losing signal.

Line level signals are the standard output signal from lots of different electrical instruments like keyboards and synths, digital pianos, and even devices like amp and preamps.

Only line out outputs like these instruments and devices are capable of putting out line-level audio signals. These line level audio signals are output to other devices for further processing.

Line out is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘audio out’ which is why there is often a lot of confusion around these terms.

Because someone may refer to the same thing with different terms, it’s no surprise some people may mix these things up and assume they don’t know what it is.

It could be you already know what line out is, but just call it audio out instead.

What Does ‘Speaker Out’ Mean In Audio?

‘Speaker out’ refers to the port on an audio device where you connect the speakers to.

Speaker out is sometimes used interchangeably with speaker output, but both terms are used often by audio professionals so it’s very important for you to understand what the term means.

So basically, when an audio professional uses the term ‘speaker out’ or ‘speaker output’ they are referring to the port where you plug in the speakers on an audio device.

These speaker outputs are what transmit speaker-level audio signals to the speakers to play sounds and music.

Speaker level signals are audio signals that are amplified to drive speakers.

They are very strong audio signals that supply speakers with voltage to get them to work to their full capacity – but are they the same as line level signals?

Come to think of it, aren’t line out and speaker out both referring to basically the same thing?

Line Out Vs Speaker Out: The Differences

Although they sound very similar to one another on paper, the terms ‘line out’ and ‘speaker out’ both refer to very different things.

Although you can use line out interchangeably with audio out and speaker out with speaker output, that does not mean you can use line out and speaker out to refer to the same thing – because in reality, they have very different meanings.

Line out and speaker out refer to two different ports.

These ports transmit different signals as line outs transmit line level signals and speaker outs transmit speaker level signals.

These are two very different ports that emit very different signals – but that’s not the only difference between line out and speaker out.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the two so you can understand both terms in depth and have better knowledge when it comes to working with professional audio equipment and devices.

Audio Output’s Signal Strength

One of the main differences between line outs and speaker outs are the signals they transmit.

As we said earlier, speaker level signals are very strong signals that supply speakers with the voltage to work and emit sound, but line level signals do not feature the same kind of strength because they are not amplified like speaker level signals are.

Line outputs do not come with the same built-in amplifiers that speaker outputs do, so line outputs need to be connected to external devices for amplification.

This will increase the signal strength of line level signals, but line-level signals are known as pre-amplification signals.

This means that audio signals from line outputs are far weaker than speaker output audio signals.

Speaker outputs however are the opposite. They come with built-in amplifiers that strengthen the signal before it is transmitted.

It boosts the signal, making it stronger than line level signals.

For this reason, speaker level signals are known as post-amplification signals because they are amplified before they are transmitted and are the same type of signal as you get from your audio setup after the amplification stage.

So to sum this up, line outputs do not contain built-in amplifiers which makes their line-level signals a lot weaker than speaker level signals because speaker outputs come with built-in amplifiers.

Output Impedance

Impedance can be a big scary word that frightens a lot of new-time audio technicians but it’s really easy to understand.

It affects everything from amplifiers to headphones so it’s definitely something to need to have nailed down to be an audio professional.

Impedance is basically the measurement of resistance to the alternating current presented by an object or device.

It is measured in ohms (often represented in short by the Greek Omega symbol) measures the opposition to the current flow in an alternating current circuit – so when your audio equipment or devices outputs an audio signal, there is a resistance against it that is measured and called output impedance.

Basically, the higher the impedance, the less current flow from the output device. If an output has very high impedance, it will require more power to deliver higher audio levels.

Line outputs have an impedance of between 100-600 ohms depending on your device.

With speaker outputs, the impedance is much lower, measuring at around 2 to 16 ohms.

What this means is that devices using line outs require a lot more power to transmit the same kind of power as speaker outs.

Speaker outs are great for their low impedance while line outs are better designed to deal with high impedance loads, measuring up to 10,000 ohms in some cases.

This is a huge difference between the two outputs that is important for you to remember.

Voltage

Everything runs on power and when it comes to speaker outputs and line outputs, there is a difference in the amount of voltage they use and carry.

Like we said earlier, speaker outputs transmit the stronger signal of speaker level signals, hence why they are called post-amplification signals.

This kind of amplification requires a higher amount of voltage than the weaker line level signals do.

Without the higher voltage, the amplifiers won’t work and the speaker level signal will be weak.

On the other hand, speaker level signals are transmitted through speaker cables and so require less voltage and power.

This means that the audio signals from speaker outputs have a voltage that is far higher than the voltage of audio signals from line outputs.

Speaker outputs usually feature a voltage of 10 volts or even more, once again depending on your equipment and devices.

Line outputs only carry a voltage of 1 volt or a little bit more, sometimes reaching as high as 2 volts.

As you can see, this is a massive difference in power between the two.

Output Signal Purity

As we covered in the voltage and signal strength sections, line outs do not have built in amplifiers like speaker outs do and because of this, they deliver weaker and unpowered signals.

These differences also cause another direct difference between line outs and speaker outs – output signal purity.

Because the audio signals from line outs are unpowered and weak, they do not go through any kind of step-up transformation.

This means that the audio signal delivered through line outputs are very, very pure. This means that they do not have a lot of noise.

On the other hand, speaker outputs transmit amplified audio signals due to their built-in audio amplifiers.

While this makes the amplified audio louder, it also means that you will be able to hear some amount of hissing and distortion.

This can seriously influence the sound quality and make your audio sound less clean and precise.

So, although line outputs produce quieter audio, the audio is far less distorted and much more pure.

What Are Line Outs And Speaker Outs Used For?

What Are Line Outs And Speaker Outs Used For

So now that you know the differences between line outs and speaker outs, you should be able to draw some ideas regarding what each output is used for in audio.

Because a lot of people mistake line outs and speaker outs for the same thing, they also wrongly assume that you can use them for the same devices – however, this is not the case.

Line outs and speaker outs have very specific uses that mean you cannot just plug anything into their outputs.

Just because the slipper fits, doesn’t mean it goes with the outfit – so just because something fits into a port doesn’t mean it should be there.

So, let’s go through some of the devices and equipment you may be tempted to plug into line outs and speaker outs to try them out – and which ones you should definitely not do.

Headphones

If you want to plug your headphones into something, then you should always use the applied headphones out.

Plugging your headphones into a line out is not ideal and could potentially end up damaging your headphones.

This is because line outs do not have enough power to make your headphones work properly.

Plugging headphones into a line out will mean you get very weak and quiet audio through, so it’s basically useless.

Alternatively, speaker outs will provide your headphones with too much power because they use more voltage to power their pre-built amplifiers.

Headphones do not require the same amount of power as speakers do to function properly, so plugging your headphones into a speaker output will end up overpowering your headphones and potentially damaging them.

So – line outs are too weak, speaker outs are too strong. The perfect middle ground is the headphone output.

They are specifically designed to power headphones without damaging them and making sure you have an appropriate volume of audio.

So, always plug your headphones into the supplied headphone jack.

Microphones

Microphones are designed to transmit signals into audio devices, meaning that they need to be plugged into input ports to work and function properly.

Line out and speaker outs are outputs, not inputs. They are designed to send signals out of audio devices, not receive signals from them.

This means that plugging a microphone into an output instead of an input is a very mad idea.

Line outs and speaker outs cannot provide the necessary path for microphone signals to enter into audio devices like amplifiers and mixers – these ports are designed to send out signals, not receive them.

So what happens if you try plugging a microphone into an output instead of an input?

Well – nothing. You will get next to no sound. So save yourself the embarrassment of trying to use a microphone with an output.

Speakers

For a good speaker to work properly, it needs to receive speaker level signals.

This is why speaker outs are ideal for speakers – hence why they are called ‘speaker’ outs. They can provide the correct signal strength needed for speakers to function properly.

Line outs? Not so much.

Line outs transmit very weak audio signals, especially when compared to speaker level signals.

Because of this, line outs cannot give out the kind of power needed for speakers to work using its output.

Trying this method out will end up with little to no sound coming out from your speakers, and you may even end up short circuiting the output circuit.

This is why it’s such a bad idea to mess around with outputs and inputs – you can seriously end up damaging your equipment by trying to cut corners.

So when it comes to speakers, only use a speaker out instead of a line out or disk breaking your equipment.

Conclusion

And that is everything you need to know about line outs and speaker outs.

These terms are thrown around by audio professionals so much that it’s seriously important for you to understand what they mean and what the differences are between them.

This will help prevent you from making some huge mistakes that could end up damaging or breaking important equipment and devices.

So now that you know the difference between line outs and speaker outs, it’s time to get out there and put your knowledge to good use!

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy our post on ‘RCA Vs 3.5mm: What’s The Difference & Which Sounds Better?‘.

Jacob Stable
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