Modern stereo earbuds and headphones are small enough and light enough to wear everywhere. Their sound quality ranges from acceptable to exceptional, depending how much you're prepared to spend. Unfortunately, the lightweight wire used in most headphones isn't very sturdy, and over time it will wear out. Most headphones are inexpensive enough to be disposable when that happens, but it's not difficult to replace a plug if you want to keep your current set. The process varies, depending whether your headphones use a single shielded cable or a pair of wires side by side.
Cut the plug from the end of your headphone cable, taking roughly 1 1/2 to 2 inches of cable along with it. That's usually enough to cut away the broken section.
Strip the outer insulation from the last three-quarters of an inch of your cable. Underneath you'll find two color-coded wires, inside a shield of braided bare copper wire. Twist the bare copper to make a third strand of wire. Some cables have a separate bare wire inside. If that's the case, twist it together with the braid.
Remove a quarter-inch of insulation from each of the two inner wires. Heat your soldering iron and hold it on one of the three wires for a few seconds, then touch the tip of your solder to the heated area. A small bead of solder will be left on the wire's end. Spread it evenly with the tip of your iron.
Repeat the heating and soldering process with your two remaining wires. This is called "tinning" the wires, and it makes them easier to attach to the plug's contacts.
Snip the old plug from the end of your headphone cord, using the wire cutter/stripper. Take an extra 1 3/4 to 2 inches of cord, to be sure you've removed the broken section.
Pull the two wires, separating the last inch to 1 1/2 inches. Carefully strip each side. Underneath you'll find that each side contains a braided shield or ground and a color-coded wire. Strip the color-coded wires. Twist the two shields together, making a single strand.
Tin each of the wires by heating it for a few seconds with your soldering iron, then touching the heated area with the tip of the solder. Spread the melted solder on each wire with the top of your soldering iron, then let them cool.
Connecting the Plug
Unscrew your replacement plug and place the pieces on your work surface. Most consist of an outer shell and the plug itself. Better-quality connectors have a flexible tube of insulating plastic inside. If yours doesn't, you can use a small piece of heat-shrink tubing to protect your electrical connections.
Drop the outer shell of the connector over your wire, then the inner insulator or heat-shrink tubing if you have it. Now, examine the three terminals inside your plug. One will be longer than the others. That's for your ground wire. One connects to an outer section of the plug, and that's where your red wire goes. The third connects to the middle of your plug, and that's for the remaining wire. It will usually be color-coded white, black or green.
Insert the tinned end of your red wire through the hole in its terminal. Heat the wire and terminal for a few seconds with your soldering iron, then touch the solder to the heated area. A small bead will form, bonding the wire to the terminal.
Repeat the process for the two remaining wires. The long terminal for the ground wire usually has two tabs on it, designed to crimp over the wire and hold it in place. Crimp those down with a pair of pliers.
Slide the insulator up over the plug, covering your soldered connections. If you're using heat shrink tubing, shrink it into place by waving a match underneath it or rubbing it lightly and carefully with your soldering iron. Slide the outer shell up over the plug and screw it back together.
- The best-quality replacement plugs have a spring, called a strain relief, to prevent unnecessary stress on the wire. It goes over your wire along with the protective outer shell of the plug.
- Before you start, take a moment to ensure that the plug is your problem. Try your audio device with a set of working headphones and wiggle the connector. If your audio cuts out, you need to replace the jack, rather than the plug. If the audio is fine with other phones, but cuts out with yours, the problem is likely in your headphones. Wiggle the wire near your headphone plug. If it cuts in and out, you've found your problem.
- Most electronics retailers sell a soldering aid with alligator clips at the end of flexible or moveable arms. These make soldering much easier.
- Headphone wires are very fine, and will break if roughly handled. If that happens, cut the end off and start over again.
- Soldering irons can cause serious burns. Protect your work area from children and pets. If you don't have a holder for the hot iron, find a heatproof surface to rest it on when it's not in use.
- Solder fumes can be toxic. Work in a well-ventilated area and avoid breathing the smoke as you work.
- Wire cutter/stripper
- Pencil-style soldering iron
- Replacement 1/8 stereo plug
- Heat-shrink tubing (optional)
- Match (optional)
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