These days, it’s not uncommon to think about earbuds as disposable objects that can be easily replaced when something goes wrong. After all, a quality pair of earbuds can cost as little as 10 dollars. But chances are that you’ve put a bit more money into your audio gear, and you don’t like the idea of having it go to waste. If that’s the case, you’ll be pleased to know that we have a good news for you: most broken headphones can be easily fixed with just basic soldering skills.
This article will teach you how to find the cause of your problem, what tools you’ll need, and to exactly you go about fixing the issue.
A Few Words of Warning
While soldering is relatively safe and you shouldn’t run into any safety issues, it’s still a good idea to take basic protective measures. Always keep your eyes covered with safety glasses to protect yourself against splashes of solder, make sure you work in a well-ventilated environment, and never leave your soldering iron running when you are not around. Don’t hesitate to ask somebody with more experience to assist you when you are not fully confident in your ability to perform the repair.
Finding the Problem
We estimate that approximately 95 percent of all problems with earbuds are related to following three areas: audio connector wiring, audio cable as a whole, and driver to cable wiring. These issues commonly manifest by the loss of connection to one or both earbuds. Often, music will start playing when you move the cable around a little bit but stops or skips shortly after.
Your goal is to figure out exactly where the connection is broken and fix it. The simplest way to do that is to just try moving different parts of the cable and carefully monitor for any changes. If the broken earbud starts playing again, go back and repeat what you’ve just did until you are sure that you’ve found the problem. Start where the cable meets the audio jack, move up to check the Y-splitter, and, finally, try moving the cable in the place where it goes into the earbud housing.
A more technical way of going about this would include a simple multimeter with continuity testing functionality. Using a sharp knife, expose the wires inside the cable on two or three different places along the length of the cable. Place the black lead on one exposed wire, and place the red lead on the same wire somewhere else on the cable. The multimeter will beep if current can flow freely between the two points. That means that the problem has to be somewhere else. If you locate a stretch of the cable with the interrupted connection, make a series of additional cuts to expose more wire and precisely locate the problematic section.
Repairs described in this article can be done on cheap with just a basic soldering equipment. This includes a soldering iron, solder, some shrink wrap to cover everything up, and wire cutters. You can also get some desoldering braid while you’re at it, but you’ll be fine without it.
Broken Earbud Connection
If you discover that the connection problem is inside the earbud housing, you’ll have to find a way to open it. This can be rather tricky and downright impossible with some sealed models. It’s a good idea to look online and see if there aren’t any tutorials already available.
Once you have the housing opened, it’s time to figure out what’s wrong. Look for a loose wire or one that seems like it’s about to fall off.
You need to solder this wire to the terminal it came from. Use your own judgment to determine which one it is based on where the second cable is connected to the PCB board.
All that’s left to do is to solder it back. Use a very fine soldering iron tip and apply solder in a controlled manner.
When you’re done, use your multimeter to check for continuity. If you hear a beeping, you’ve done a good job and it’s time to put the earbud housing back together.
Problems with broken cable can be solved in three different ways based on their exact nature. You can either replace the audio jack, splice in a new cable, or completely replace the cable with a brand new one.
We would actually recommend you replace the entire cable whenever you can. Why? Because it doesn’t take more time than soldering new audio jack or splicing in a new cable, and also because it will look the best and cleanest.
To replace the cable, you’ll need to take apart both earbud housings, desolder the cable from the PCB board, and replace it with a new one.
There are many great-looking aftermarket audio cables to choose from on eBay and Amazon. You can choose the exact length, color, and shielding. In some cases, your earbuds will be even better than before.
Should I Just Buy a New Pair?
Sometimes it’s really better to save yourself the trouble and just buy a new pair. Unless you welcome any opportunity to practice your soldering skills, it really doesn’t pay off to spend any time repeating ultra-cheap earbuds that were included for free with your smartphone or tablet. Just can get a new pair from Amazon for less than the cost of a single cup of coffee.
You’ll probably also want to avoid messing with your high-end earbuds and possibly ruining their sound quality with bad soldering job. In such case, it may be worth to spend a little bit more money and let the manufacturer do the repair.
Finally, there’s no real reason to take the repair upon yourself if the earbuds are still covered by a warranty. Even if they aren’t, many manufacturers will recognize a faulty product and offer a free replacement.
The vast majority of earbud and headphone repair jobs comes down to a broken cable. Cables can break in many different places, but the solution is always the same. Some earbuds are very repair-friendly and will allow you to perform a tidy job that will look just like the original, but others are a complete opposite. Whatever your case may be, we encourage you to give it a shot. After all, it’s hard to break what’s already broken.