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This Is Why Your Headphones Keep Breaking

By Joel Lee2013-04-10

why headphones breakI can’t be the only one frustrated by the constant breaking of my headphones, earbuds, and pretty much anything else that has wiring, right? There are few feelings in the world that are worse than sitting down with a nice cup of java and putting on your headphones to listen to your favorite album when, suddenly, one side doesn’t work.

There’s a difference between headphones breaking and headphones breaking all the time. If your headphones break every three years, you really have nothing to worry about. That’s just entropy in action. But if your headphones are breaking every three months, you’re likely doing something wrong. If that describes you, then here are some red flags you should be looking out for.

Improper Care & Protection

The first, and most obvious, reason for frequent headphone breakage: not taking care of them. “Just take care of your headphones” might be nothing more than sheer common sense, but you’d be surprised how often we (myself included) overlook the simple fact that we’re abusing our headphones day in and day out. Some headphones may be built for durability, but each headphone still has its own breaking point.

One of my biggest problems with headphones? Forgetting that I have them on. We’ve all been there when someone wants us to come downstairs (or upstairs), or we get up to use the bathroom, only to have the headphone cable snap them off our heads and they crash to the floor. You may accidentally roll over your headphone cable with your wheeled office chair. Or, God forbid, throwing them at your wall in frustration (sound familiar, gamers?).

Headphones are more than just speakers and padding. They contain a good deal of intricate wiring and electronics, like drivers that translate electrical signals into quality sound, so take care of them. Treat them well and they’ll last you a long while.

Poor Storage Methods

why headphones break

This may go in line with “improper care” but I think it’s important enough to warrant its own special section. Even the most expensive headphones will experience general wear and tear over time regardless of how well you work to prevent physical damage. This wear and tear will have an even greater impact on cheaper headphones.

Where does most of this wear and tear occur? The cable. Don’t wind up your cables into a tight loop or a ball. For example, I see a lot of people who wind their earbuds tight around their iPods when they aren’t actively listening. This may be convenient for fitting into your pocket, but the tightness causes undue stress to the internal wiring, which leads to fraying.

Similarly, don’t let your earbuds or headphones dangle. Ever. The dangling causes a lot of stress at one particular point in the cable. Plus, it increases the chance that the cable will be pinched, which can sever the internal wire. Think of it like a staple: if you keep bending it back and forth, it’s eventually going to break.

Poor Storage Locations

why headphones stop working

A point that may be equally as important as proper cable management is putting your headphones in their proper place when you aren’t using them. In other words, a safe place.

Back in high school and through college, I used to toss my earbuds (and sometimes my headphones) straight into my backpack between classes. It’s no wonder that I would quickly lose audio in one ear, rendering them useless within months. Along the same lines, if you bunch up your earbuds and stuff them into your pocket, you’re doing a ton of damage that will eventually catch up to you.

For earbuds, you can purchase cases that will keep them safe so you can put them pretty much anywhere. For headphones, your choices are far more limited. As long as you’re keeping them in a spot where they won’t face too much abrasion, jostling, or physical damage, you should be good.

Extreme Volumes

why headphones stop working

Maybe your headphones are still operational in both ears, but when you play music or video you hear a constant buzzing noise. You might think it’s a problem with the source, which it could be, but if it’s happening all the time, then you know that the issue is with the headphone cups (or earbuds).

Buzzing can be caused by excess volume. Due to the way that speakers are designed, when you play sound at extreme levels, the size of the sound waves gets bigger and causes more of a disturbance to the internal equipment. If you do this too often, some pieces can come loose, eventually causing a buzz and a reduction in audio quality. This can also happen when you crank up the bass too high.

Of course, higher quality headphones may be more resistant to this sort of problem due to higher quality construction, but it’s always something of which to be wary. And that brings me to my last point…

Low Quality Construction

why headphones break

At the end of the day, sometimes your headphones break simply because they weren’t constructed well. Ever wondered about the difference between $50 headphones and $500 headphones? Higher quality audio, improved comfort, faster customer service, etc. Of course, there are affordable headphones that aren’t bad, but in general, the durability tends to improve with higher price points.

If you bought $10 earbuds from eBay or any of the eBay alternatives (which I’ve done before without regret) then they’ll probably last you as far as $10 earbuds will take you. So what can you do about it? If you’re taking care of them to the best of your abilities by following the tips outlined above, then there’s little else you can do, in my opinion. Fork out a little more for higher quality materials next time and they should last you quite a bit longer.


Headphones have a reputation for being an electronic piece that warrants regular replacement, but truth be told, that reputation is both unfair and undeserved. If you just take a few extra steps in your care and handling of headphones, you can actually prolong the lifespan by a noticeable amount. I’ve bought numerous headphones and earbuds from $1 to $100 and they’ve all lasted me at least three years thanks to these steps.

Have any other tips or tricks for keeping your headphones alive? Share them with us in the comments! I’m sure all of our headphones will thank you for it.

Image Credits: Handheld Headphones Via Shutterstock, Jumbled Cords Via Shutterstock, Pocket Earbuds Via Shutterstock, Loud Headphones Via Shutterstock, Frayed Headphones Via Shutterstock

Topics: Hardware

Tags: headphones


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