At least once in our life, we have all encountered scenarios where our trusty old headphones just stopped working the way they were meant to (left earbud not working or right earbud not working). It is a frustrating and annoying experience to live through as it feels like all the invested money has been lost. However, more often than not, these broken headphones can be fixed rather quickly provided you know what you’re doing and have the tools to do it. Below is a detailed guide on how to fix your broken headphones.
Table of Contents
- Identifying the problem
- What you’ll need
- Fixing a short wire
- Fixing one side of the headphones
- Replacing the audio jack
- What to do and what not to do – some precautions
Identifying the problem
Before you start channeling your engineering skills to repair your headphones and identify why one side of headphones is not working, it is important to identify what the main problem is. The tools that you’ll need will often depend on that problem. Some possible (and fixable) scenarios include:
- Headphone wire being electrically short
- One side of headphones not working
- Faulty audio jack plug
- headphones only playing in one ear
- one earbud not working (in case of earbuds)
Plug your headphones in and listen to the audio. If the sound is not consistent i.e is getting cut out, try moving the headphone wire. Try squeezing and twisting the wire every ½ inch or so using your thumb and check if the cutting of the audio stops. If it does, your problem will then be isolated to a faulty headphone wire.
If your headphones are playing only in one ear, then that simply means that one of the earbuds is not working. Therefore, the second scenario is fairly easy to identify.
If none of these seem to be the cause of your broken headphones, try pushing the audio jack in the plug. Make sure to do it gently and not apply too much pressure. If the headphones start to work on either being pushed in or angled in then that means that you have yourself a case of faulty audio jack.
What you’ll need
Before you start the process of repairing your headphones, make sure you have all the essentials ready. Here’s a list of a few tools that you’ll be using to fix your broken headphones:
Cutter or a sharp blade
Heat shrink tube (optional)
Blow dry (optional)
Fixing a short wire
1. Locating fault in the wire
With your earbuds plugged in, use your fingers to turn the wire at a right angle to your thumb and continue to move down the wire. Try to be delicate with this as we do not want any further damage to the wires. As soon as you hear the sound properly and without any cut outs, mark that point in the wire. That is where the problem persists.
2. Strip the wire
With the faulty point in the wire located, place the wire down a table and hold it down firmly. Next, grab a cutter or a sharp blade and carefully cut through the insulating shielding. Use the tip of the blade to carefully pull open the shielding and expose the broken wire. This is where you will need to solder and mend the connection. Using the wire strippers, carefully pull off some more shielding so you have more room to work with.
3. Sorting by color
With the wires stripped off, you’ll find 2 or 3 wires. Red, green/white and black (in the case of 3 wires). Before proceeding further, you should know that red and green/white are for right and left earbuds respectively whereas black is for ground. Next, cut the cord in half and remove the faulty bit of wire. With that done, sort out the wires according to color.
4. Splicing and connecting
With the wires isolated, the next step is splicing the wires which basically is just connecting them. There are two types of splices: rat tail splice and in-line splice.
For the in-line splice, hold the two ends together in an X, with the copper intersecting at the midpoint. Use your thumb and forefinger to twist both the wires in opposite directions. Do this for all the wires of same color and splice them together.
And for the rat tail splice, place the two wires together and start twisting the copper. Rat rail splices are easier to do but leave a bigger bump, whereas in-line are slightly more difficult but easier to hide.
5. Soldering the connection
Fire up a soldering iron and use it to melt a tiny portion of the soldering wire. Do not let the tip of the hot solder iron touch the exposed copper. It can damage the wire, rendering it irreparable. After soldering a wire of one color together, use electrical tape to carefully shield it so it does not interfere with the other wires. Repeat and do the same for all two, or in some cases three, wires and solder them together.
6. Insulating the wire
The final step is protecting and insulating the repair you just made. You can either use electrical tape to join the wires together and properly have them insulated. However, a safer choice would be using heat sink tube. It is available at a very cheap price and is easy to use. Simply slide over the tube over to the soldered joint and use a blow dry or a heat gun to shrink and constrict it.
Fixing one side of the headphones
1. Identifying source of fault
Before you start prying open the faulty earbud and start repairing it, you should make sure that you properly identify where the trouble is. Try bending the wire over your thumb, as we showed in the first step of fixing a broken wire. If there seems to be a point where bending the wire fixes the sound in both the earbuds, then there is no need to open the earbud up. If that does happen, strip the wire up as shown in previous steps and mend the broken connection by splicing it and soldering it. If the right earbud is not working, most likely the red wire is broken at a point. And if the left earbud is not working, it’s the green/white wire that has the fault.
2. Opening the earbud
Before prying open the earbud, you should consult the manual provided to have a general sense of where you must apply the pressure. Some often have size 0 screws in them, so you’ll need to undo them. Once all that is done, slide in a cutter or a sharp blade in between the earbud and pry it open gently.
3. Inspecting the drivers and wires
When the earbuds are pried open, you’ll see the driver and wires connected to it. Thoroughly examine where each pin is connected to which wire. Gently tug on the wires too to see if there are any loose connections. If you’ve found a loose wire with a broken connection, next step is fixing that.
4. Soldering the loose wires
Grab a soldering iron and a spool of soldering wire. It is important that you the wires do not intersect and that the soldering iron does not directly touch the driver. The soldering iron is incredibly hot, and it can cause permanent damage to the driver. Next, solder just a dab of the soldering wire onto the pin and the speaker wire. You may need to consult a manual if there are multiple wires which have loose connections.
5. Replacing the driver
If there are no loose connections found in the third step and if the wire is perfectly intact, then you may need to replace the driver. Before knowing how to fix that, you should keep in mind that replacement drivers are not hard to come by. Not only are they expensive but it is important that the replacement match the original driver. An impedance mismatch can cause a very troubled stereo image which can ruin the sound experience for you.
With that being said, to replace the driver simply cut the rubber seal around the driver using a sharp blade and remove it. Place the new driver into the slot, making sure not to touch the diaphragm as it is very fragile. Add a tiny bit of blue around the slot to make sure the driver stays intact. Solder the wires, as they were on the original driver, and snap the earbuds back in place.
Replacing the audio jack
1. Removing the wires
Grab your wire cutters and cut the old audio jack off. Next, strip the wires about 3/4th of an inch from the jack and remove the enamel coating off to make soldering easy.
2. Sorting by color
Twist like colored wires together and make the necessary length adjustments if there is a mismatch.
3. Connecting the audio jack
With the like wires twisted together, slip the 3.5mm headphone jack into the sleeve of the wire. The parts that are to be connected with the wires must be facing the connectors on the plug.
4. Soldering the wires
Using the soldering iron, attach the wires to the pins in the audio jack. You should let one solder connection cool off properly before proceeding with the next. Repeat the same until all the wires are connected properly and firmly to the pins on the headphone jack. You can also use soldering paste and apply it on the pins to make the fix more permanent. Soldering paste will make sure that the melted soldering wire properly sticks to the pins.
5. Reassembling the headphone jack
Make sure that no wires or connections are touching each other. This can cause a short circuit and cause damage to the drivers. Next, assemble the newly replaced headphone jack by firmly screwing in the plug back into the sleeve.
What to do and what not to do – some precautions
Doing this on your own, especially if it’s your first time, is risky business. Therefore, you should carefully read these precautionary measures before fixing your broken earbuds.
- You should make sure all the wires are cut off in even lengths. Uneven lengths of wire can have different resistance levels and thus, cause damage to the headphones.
- Do not let the solder iron directly touch the naked copper or the driver. The tip of the hot soldering iron can damage them and cause damage that may be impossible to repair.
- Before going on to replace the driver, make sure you have thoroughly checked the wire and the connections in both the earbuds. If the left earbud is not working, you may find that the fault actually exists in the green/white wire (depending on your brand of headphones). Similarly, if the right earbud is not working, the problem might be that a broken connection in the red wire exists. Carefully twist the wire to make sure that you’ve properly checked that the fault does not exist in the wire.
- If you’ve opened your earbuds up, gently clean off dust or any such particles off of the driver. Do not put too much pressure as the driver is a delicate piece of hardware.