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[How To] Turn Headphone Jack to a Microphone Jack in Ubuntu

I won’t beat around the bush: the integrated microphones on most laptops deliver sound with all the acoustic pleasantness of Rebecca Black singing a cappella.

The questionable quality means that most of us reach for a dedicated “microphone headset” for your Skype calls, FPS strategy talks, Google+ Hangouts, etc. But while most modern laptops and desktops offer a dedicated microphone or combo jack, not all do.

One reader of this ever-diminishing jackless-niché mailed in to ask if there’s hope. Well, there just might be.

Several years back developer David Henningsson created a small app that tries to turn a regular ol’ laptop headphone jack into a microphone input jack.

‘Retaskable’

How is this possible? David explained the digital mechanics behind his tool on his blog at the time:

Most of today’s built-in sound cards are to some degree retaskable, which means that they can be used for more than one thing.

That means you can turn your Mic jack into an extra Headphone jack.

The [Linux] kernel exposes an interface that makes it possible to retask your jacks, but almost no one seems to use it, or even know about it.

Wanting to put this right David created HDA-Jack-Retask – a small application that lets you “retask” your headphones jack with another audio function, like audio input support.

The application is designed to work primarily with HDA Intel sound cards, but you have nothing to lose (other than a few minutes) by testing it out on non-Intel sound cards.

How to Retask Your Headphone Jack in Ubuntu

Jack retask App in Ubuntu

First you need to install the application. It’s currently available for Ubuntu 11.10 through 13.04 through the developer’s PPA. As of Ubuntu 13.10, HDA-Jack-Retask comes with the alsa-tools-gui package, so you shouldn’t need the PPA for Saucy and up.

Once installed you should launch it from the Unity Dash (or similar) by searching ‘retask’. In the application window that opens you will need to select the appropriate codec for your hardware device, followed by the pins you want to override and what you want them to override to:

  • Headphones
  • Line Out
  • Mic
  • Line In

There are buttons for trying it out right away, and for making your override the boot-time default. And of course, a button for removing all overrides in case things did not go as planned.

Consider Jack Retasking beta quality for now. It’s one of those “won’t work for everyone” programmes owing to the complexity and variety of hardware and driver limitations.