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rory's avatar

Why do my earbuds keep breaking?

Asked by rory (1277 points ) March 31st, 2013

I love audiobooks and podcasts. I listen to them all the time, on my way to work, at home, while shopping. I love in-ear earbuds, because they feel noise isolating but they also are not bulky. But I go through a gigantic number of earbuds. I buy and subsequently break a pair roughly once a month. The way they almost all break is that one ear stops working. At first I thought it was the brand I was using, Skullcandy, which isn’t known for being durable. But I switched brands to Sony and the problem persisted. I’m not super-gentle with my headphones, but I try to be careful—I don’t step on them or let them get tangled or anything. What am I doing wrong? Are there indestructible earphones out there for people like me?

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16 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

I would guess that sleeping wearing them is what’s breaking them.

gasman's avatar

The most common place for one of the wires to break is inside the cable at either end – where it enters the earbud or where it enters the plug. Be careful of these spots when taking it out or putting it away. If you’re in the habit of coiling it up for storage, don’t pull too tightly or put any stretch on the wires — neatness doesn’t count if the thin copper wires inside get strained.

jerv's avatar

If you yank them out by the wire, even once, they are toast. There are some I’ve had for years, and I handle mine the was @gasman recommends.

The fact that you get one ear stopping first tells me that you pull them out of your ear by the cord or are otherwise quite clumsy about removing them; something no earbud is made to handle.

rory's avatar

thanks guys! @gasman and @jerv, how do I remove them safely?
@Lightlyseared, I really don’t sleep with them in. I listen in bed but I take them out and set them on my bedside table when I’m ready to sleep.

gasman's avatar

The plug is designed to be grasped between thumb & forefinger for pushing or pulling. This is true of electrical plugs of all sizes.

jerv's avatar

@gasman Precisely so.

dabbler's avatar

@gasman and @jerv have nailed the diagnosis I think, the wires are breaking.
You have to grab the buds to get them out of your ear.

I don’t know why some enterprising company hasn’t made some earbuds with proper strain relief on the wires. Even if you insert them and remove them properly it’s so easy to snag wires on stuff while you’re wearing them. And they always seem to break just at a bud or the plug.
If you are very skilled at disassembly and good with a soldering iron you can repair them. But for most folks it won’t be worth the attempt.

gasman's avatar

I’m good with a soldering iron but it won’t help. You still can’t fix broken earbuds. The break is usually too close to where the wire enters the molded plastic bud or plug.

Even with enough length in the free ends, the wires are so thin that they’re practically impossible to work with. I’ve seen other electronics hobbyists say the same thing about earbuds – it’s a lost cause. When it comes to manufacturing earbud wires, I guess thin is both chic and cheap. Seems that a generation ago, using such thin wires for a personal consumer electronics product like this would have been considered a serious engineering design flaw.

Anyhow, if they’re anything like ones that came with my iPhone, which look like little shower-heads, my advice for removal is to first pry it loose from the ear by moving the back end of the earbud, where the wire is attached, at right angles to the direction of the wire rather than along the wire axis. It’s probably okay to yank on the earbuds once they’re already loose, just avoid excessive tension forces.

dabbler's avatar

Yep. “too close to where the wire enters the molded plastic” that’s where the “very skilled at disassembly” comes in. And the wires are fine and ridiculously fragile for such an application.
It’s not “worth it” in any rational sense, only if you need to win one against the gods of entropy.

SABOTEUR's avatar

I’ve purchased so many earbuds and headphones I should have stock in somebody’s company.

I came to the conclusion a while back that all earbuds/headphones have a limited lifespan.

* “Handling them gently” doesn’t help.

* The more you pay, the worse you feel since the higher priced units fail as frequently as the cheap ones.

* Cord size is irrelevant.

On the plus size, I’ve purchased cheap ($10) earbuds that sounded incredible…while they worked. Makes frequently replacing them a lot less painful.

jerv's avatar

@SABOTEUR That is why I like the old Koss Plugs; they have the frequency response I needed (10Hz – 20 KHz) for the music I like (Trance, House, and other things that require ”:earthquake to dog whistle” capability), are super-comfortable, never fall out of my big ear canals, have great noise isolation, and are only $15.

@dabbler The Koss Plugs I mentioned above are a bit better than many in that regard. Take a look at the picture and you will see that they are a little more reinforced where the cable meets the earbud than most sets.

dabbler's avatar

@jerv Thanks! That is definitely in the right direction. That looks like it could take a lot of the bite out of a sideways pull. If the wire can take a straight pull too then they are vastly superior to most. And at that price not much to cry over.

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jerv's avatar

You really don’t want one that can take that much of a sideways pull though, especially not something that goes in your ear like the Koss Plug. I’ve occasionally snagged the cord and had my head jerked. An earbud with enough stress relief to survive improper removal would snap your neck before it snapped the cord, so just do it right and stop yanking the cord!

rory's avatar

@jerv, I’m gonna check out the Koss Plug when the ones I have break, which is inevitable, because I’ve been following all of you guys’s tips, but they’re very cheaply made and were purchased at 4 am at Wallgreens out of emergency :]

SABOTEUR's avatar

Yeah, I’m gonna have to check out the Koss Plug too. This thread has made me realize that we’ve been forced to change our buying patterns concerning certain items.

In the old days, products like quality headphones were an investment for something the buyer expected to own for a long time. It seems that ever changing technology makes it more practical (and more profitable) to produce good quality earbuds that users must buy repeatedly. That’s “Marketing 101”...repeat sales.

The problem we have, I think, is many of us look back to yesteryear or don’t understand what we’re buying and we become confused

The electronic cigarette industry uses a more honest approach to sales. (The nature of the product probably influences how it’s marketed too.) Users know (or should know) they’re either purchasing a disposible e-cig (used a set number of times and thrown away) or a semi-permanent device consisting of a rechargeable battery and replacement parts…or consumables. The purchaser of these consumables carries no expectation that the product will last beyond a limited time period. In order to extend the use of his preferred electronic cigarette model, the user must plan on continually replacing “consumables”.

It seems to me that earbuds are consumables…they’re not meant to last.

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