How to Wire a Mini Jack for Headphones

by Fred Decker

    Headphones are one of the most intensely personal audio accessories. From the tiniest earbuds to the largest traditional headphones, most listeners have a very distinct preference. Unfortunately, mini headphone plugs are fragile and not all headphones use them. You can switch from one size to another easily with a snap-on adapter or permanently install a new plug to fit your mini jack.

    Replacing the Connector

    Step 1

    Snip the old connector from your headphones. If the current connection plug has failed, remove an extra inch or two of wire to be sure you've also removed any weakened or broken sections of wire.

    Step 2

    Carefully remove a half-inch of the outer insulation from your headphone cable with a stripping tool or hobby knife, taking care not to cut into the braided shield underneath. Peel back the braid to reveal the inner insulator and remove one-quarter inch to reveal the two inner wires carrying your signal and a bare copper ground wire.

    Step 3

    Unscrew the mini headphone connector. Slide the outer casing and strain-relief spring (if present) over your cable. If the connector has a clear insulating sleeve covering the connectors, slide that over your cable as well. Look at the terminals. There will be one at the center of the connector and a second to the side. A third, longer terminal will stretch from the outer ring of the connector.

    Step 4

    Locate the bare copper ground wire or wires inside the cable and twist them together with the copper shield. Strip the insulation from the color-coded wires -- usually red and green -- with a fine stripping tool or by burning it off with a match. Heat your soldering iron and place your iron and solder nearby.

    Step 5

    Insert the green wire into the tiny hole of the center connector and solder it in place. Solder the red wire to the second, side connector, then solder the bare copper wire and shield to the long third connector. The third connector might also have flanges that can be crimped over the cable to hold it in place more firmly.

    Step 6

    Slide the inner insulating cover over your solder joints, if present. Slide the mini plug's outer cover into place and screw it back onto the threads on the connector. Test the headphones in your audio device to ensure you have signal on both the left and right channels.

    Use an Adaptor

    Step 1

    Compare your existing headphones with the ones you'd prefer to use. If they're stereo, the plug will show two darker lines dividing it into three separate sections. If they're mono, they'll have just one line. If you don't have the older headphones, assume for now that they are stereo.

    Step 2

    Purchase a quarter-inch to one-eighth inch adaptor online or at a local retailer such as Radio Shack. If both the old and new headphones were mono, buy a mono-to-mono adaptor; if both were stereo, buy a stereo-to-stereo adaptor. If you're using mono headphones on a stereo source or stereo headphones on a mono source, the adaptor you choose will need to make that conversion for you. Ask store staff for help, if necessary.

    Step 3

    Snap the adaptor onto the end of your headphone cable, changing its size. Plug it into your audio device, turn down the volume and press “Play.” Turn up the volume until it's audible, and listen to ensure you have a signal from both ears. If you don't, and your headphones are stereo, the device was probably mono. Exchange your adaptor for one that makes the mono-to-stereo conversion.

    Tips

    • If you aren't comfortable with basic soldering skills, ask store staff to recommend a solderless connector. Some simply crimp into place, while others use small setscrews that require a jeweler’s screwdriver.
    • The best headphone connectors have solid brass shells, often gold-plated for maximum connectivity and corrosion resistance. Chromed stainless steel also works well.
    • If you need a refresher on basic soldering skills, they are readily available online (see Resources).

    Warnings

    • Soldering tools can cause serious burns. Use them with care, and ensure that pets or children are kept away from your work area. Avoid inhaling the fumes from your solder, which can be toxic.

    Required Items

    • Wire cutter or hobby knife
    • Wire stripping tool
    • Matches or lighter (optional)
    • Pencil-style soldering iron
    • Solder

    About the Author

    Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer who has written and blogged on food-related topics since 2007. Previously he sold computers, insurance and mutual funds. Decker was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images