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I need music to work. It can really help your productivity. I’ve even gone so far as to build my own Streaming Smart Speaker with a Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, for some reason, it’s seen as socially unacceptable to play music late at night — the hours when I’m most productive — so I’ve been using my now-broken headphones.
Rather than replace them, I decided to repair my headphones. Most of the time the cable breaks rather than any of the important internals. I knew that replacing the headphones’ cable would give me a good chance of getting my cans working again.
You’ll need basic electronics skills but otherwise it’s a really simple project.
Step 1: You Will Need
For this project, you obviously need a broken pair of headphones. We’re going to replace the cable which is the most common cause of failure, but if the issue is with the headphone drivers themselves this solution probably won’t fix it. You won’t know until you try though, so open them up and see what the problem is.
You’ll also need:
- A replacement cable ($15)
- Sugru self-setting rubber ($20 for an 8 pack, so you’ll have lots to spare)
- Solder and a soldering iron
- A solder remover
- Fine grit sandpaper
- Wire strippers
Step 2: Disassemble the Headphones
First you need to take your headphones apart. For every set of headphones the process will be slightly different. For my Sennheisers, the ear cups could be removed just by pulling on them. This exposed four screws which, when removed, allowed me to access the headphones’ internals.
Use your common sense, very little force and the tools you have on hand to carefully disassemble your headphones.
Step 3: Removing the Old Wire
Most headphones fail at the wire so we’re going to totally replace it. It’s always a good idea to keep track of how things were before you got “handy” so use your phone to take a picture of how the inside of the headphones looks.
Using your clippers, snip the wire where it is soldered into the headphones. You can throw it in the bin.
With your soldering iron, heat the old solder on the headphones’ contacts until it bubbles, then use the solder remover to get rid of it. Do this for all four contacts.
Step 4: Prepping the New Wire
The new wire I ordered was designed to connect to a high-end pair of headphones. Clip the jacks off the end that plugs into the headphones. Strip the outer casing to reveal the internal wires.
In most headphone cables there are two sets of wires: one is coloured either red or green, the other is copper. Separate the two sets of strands from each other and twist them together. There may also be some white insulating strands. You can trim them away.
The colouring on the wire is insulation. Use the sandpaper to remove it from the ends so there will be a good connection when you solder it in.
Step 5: Attaching the New Wire
Insert the replacement cable into the headphones.
Referring back to the image you took of the headphone internals (you did take a photo, right?) — match the green and red cables up to the correct contacts. Apply solder to the contact and then connect the coloured wire. Solder the corresponding copper wire to the other contact.
Connect the other end of the cable to your smartphone or computer and check that the headphones are working. If not, check your solder connections.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
With the headphones working, the only thing left to do is seal everything back up. Solder has very limited mechanical strength so use Sugru to attach the new wire securely to the headphones. I also used Sugru to replace the rubber join where the wire meets the headphone body. For more on working with Sugru, check out Kannon’s article on using it to make a smartphone case.
Re-assemble your headphones, test they still work and you’re done.
Headphones are a deceptively simple piece of technology and generally break in the same way. For $30 and 20 minutes of soldering you can easily repair them yourself. If you’ve invested in a nice set of cans, this can extend their lifetime by years.