All headphones break. We’re talking about a delicate device with lots of intricate internal components. Those components will get jostled and wear down with time, leading to an inevitable malfunction. You can postpone it, but you can’t prevent it.
But if your headphones always die within a year, you’re doing something wrong.
I’ve worn my fair share of headphones, from $10 pieces of junk to $250 beauties, and they’ve all lasted me at least two years. Some of them still work, stashed away as backups. As long as you take proper care, you can double or even triple the expected lifespan of any pair of cans.
Here are 10 mistakes that’ll kill your headphones before their due time.
1. Rolling Over the Cord
Cord lengths for headphones can be pretty long. The ATH-M30x, SRH440, and MDRV6 all have a cord length of 10 feet. Even cheaper headphones, like the Sades SA902, come with a length of 7 feet. Gone are the days of 4-foot cords, unless you drop to bottom-dollar options.
You may be tempted to let such a long cord hang out on the ground instead of coiled up elsewhere. If so, take extra care that it can’t ever be stepped on — or worse, rolled over by the casters on your computer chair. It only takes one severed point to render it useless.
2. Letting the Cord Dangle
Here’s another way to damage long-cord headphones: letting the cord dangle off the edge of a desk, either when resting or while in use.
A dangling cord is basically being bent at a 90-degree angle, and that puts undue stress on the internal wire at that point. Think of it like a staple: bend it back and forth, it will break. Plus, if you ever press or pinch the cord against the edge, it could sever the internal wire.
3. Forgetting They’re on Your Head
This happened to me several times back in my gaming days. I’d play an hour-long match of Counter-Strike or Dota 2, and as soon as the match ends rush off to the restroom — but forget to take the headphones off first. Snap, clatter, facepalm.
Snapping a cord like that puts a lot of sudden tension on the internal wires and the connection points of the cans. The headphones may not break on the first, second, or even third time it happens, but the damage is cumulative. Every cord snap is one snap closer to a malfunction.
4. Winding the Cord Into Knots
Have you seen those “lifehacks” that show “ingenious” ways to wind up cords so they don’t tangle? Well, ignore them. Especially the ones aimed at earbud users. Most of them involve tight loops and knots that speed up the wearing down of internal wires.
Never tie knots. Avoid tight loops. Looser is always better.
For earphones, wrap the cord around a toilet paper roll with notches for the plug and the buds. For headphones, use the “roadie wrap” method in the video below. You can then push two ends of the circle together to form a figure eight and secure it with a rubber band or twist tie.
5. Traveling Without a Case
Stop tossing your headphones and earbuds into pockets, backpacks, purses, or what have you. No matter how careful you are, the container contents will get jostled. This will cause the cord to get pulled, stretched, twisted, bent, pinched, crushed, and damaged.
And if you leave the cord plugged into your phone, for example, then heavy objects can bump into and damage the connection point. An L-shaped jack can mitigate this somewhat.
Whenever possible, use a case. My Brainwavz HM5 came with a hard case. Earbuds can be kept in something like this HiGoing Carrying Case. If your headphones have a detachable cord, you can also keep that in a hard case for earbuds. Worst case, a soft pouch is better than nothing.
6. Pulling the Cord, Not the Plug
Remember what we learned in Mistake #3: tension on the cord can damage the internal wires. But in this case, you’re also putting extra stress on where the cord meets the plug. Over time, pulling can cause the internal wire to break and separate from the plug.
But this is also true for earbuds. When you’re done, do you tug on the cord to pop the buds out of your ears? Due to unequal stresses, one of the internal wires will break before the other, leaving you with earbuds that only play audio out of one side.
Never pull the cord! You can force yourself into this habit by switching to a cord that has an L-shaped jack, which is impossible to unplug with the cord.
7. Exposing to Sweat and Moisture
Electronics and water do not go together. Just as it can fry your smartphone or laptop, water can get into your headphones and fry the electronics within. Namely, the audio drivers.
Sweat can be a huge problem, especially if you listen to music while exercising. A headband can reduce the risk of sweat, but you’re better off getting headphones for sport or exercise, which are designed with sweat in mind. The audio quality may not be top-notch, but at least it’ll last.
Avoid using headphones when you’re in the rain or directly out of the shower. Water can run down from wet hair and into cracks. High humidity may also speed up deterioration of internal components over the long run.
8. Sleeping With Them On
It comes down to this: you can’t control how you move when you’re asleep. You roll around, flop about, and twist and turn. At the very least, there’s a good chance you’ll snag the cord. You might also cause damage to the cans themselves as you sleep on them with a heavy head.
Ideally you should skip the headphones and listen to whatever you’re listening on speakers. If that’s not an option and you must sleep with headphones, consider grabbing a pair of wireless earbuds like these Soundmoov Bluetooth Earphones.
9. Cranking Up the Volume
All noise-producing devices do so by creating sound waves. Sound waves are produced by vibrations, and the louder the sound, the greater the vibrations. Because headphones components are delicate, excessive volume can warp the sound-producing parts.
At first, you’ll stop hearing certain frequencies. The audio will shift and degrade, losing its full-bodied qualities. As it gets worse, sounds may start to feel more “tinny” than normal. Over time, you’ll hear buzzing and other irritating artifacts.
10. Skimping on the Price Tag
First, paying more does not guarantee a better product (e.g. Apple and Beats). Second, products with small price tags can be well-made and built to last (e.g. Panasonic ErgoFit Earbuds). But in general, you get what you pay for.
I’ve managed to make cheap headphones last for years, but don’t be surprised when your $20 overseas knock-off headphones kick the bucket in three months. Robust materials, smart designs, and quality control all come at a cost. To pay less, you have to make sacrifices.
See our guide to buying the best headphones within your budget.
Consider the Benefits of Wireless Headphones
You’ll notice that most of the mistakes above involve the cord, not the headphones. If you can eliminate the cord from the equation altogether, your headphones will probably last a lot longer with no extra effort. So, consider going wireless!
But before you do, check out our tips for buying wireless headphones because there are some nuances you’ll want to know about. You should also check out our guide to in-ear vs. on-ear vs. over-ear headphone styles.
How long do your headphones usually last? What’s the worst mistake you keep making? Know of any other tips that have helped prolong lifespan? Share with us below!