getting fed up with headphones.
February 22, 2009 9:57 AM   Subscribe

HeadphoneFilter: I keep breaking my headphones at the jack end -- suggestions?

So I've gone through 3 sets of SkullCandy headphones for my MP3 player in the last year because of this problem -- the headphones themselves are perfectly good but the wires seem to break at the jack end. This pair is going in for warranty work, but I think I need to figure something else out, probably a different brand. At this point I think I could use some collective help here.

I know it's because the headphone cord is getting bent and roughed up a bit, but frankly there's no helping that. I was already putting them away in a case when they weren't in use. Fitting the mp3 player in my pocket with the headphone jack attached shouldn't be too much to ask, is it? Please don't put any patronizing tips about looking after them in this post, unless it's about reinforcing that area of the cord or something similarly helpful.

I don't think I'm fixing this pair by myself -- not just a simple splicing of wires and electrical-taping them together, i tried that on my last pair which broke further up on the cord (worth a shot). It probably needs soldering and I'm just going to send them in for warranty replacement. But if anyone knows something on this aspect, I would love to hear it.

It was recommended to me to find headphones with an L-shaped jack instead of the straight one, but as I've found out for myself, those aren't exactly common. But I've seen a pair that comes with an extension cord with this connection, so I might just have to go that route - an adapter of sorts. Some headphones (like the uncomfortable buds that come with the ipod) seem to have a better flexible casing around the jack end. Does this help more? The skullcandy ones go from hard jack to wimpy cord straight up.

If you have suggestions for some more durable headphones, please share. Those skullcandy ones were supposed to be tough once-upon-a-time though, so I want tried-and-true brands. I know the ear-muff style headphones would probably be more durable but I am loyal to the in-ear bud style mainly for comfort reasons. Suggestions under $100 are requested, under $50 are preferred (I've already laid out way too much money on this).
posted by lizbunny to Technology (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would reinforce the bit of cord were the jack and cord meet with a little bit of hockey tape.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:07 AM on February 22, 2009

Sennheiser CX-300 earbuds have an L-shaped jack and can be had for ~$17 on eBay. They're not heavily built, but they do sound good.
posted by jon1270 at 10:16 AM on February 22, 2009

They always seem to break (for me) where the cable goes into the plug. So I'm with Penguin (above). Reinforce that bit so the cable can't bend so much. Good luck!
posted by JtJ at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2009

I've always used Sennheisers, and have never had a problem with the jack end. One pair I've had since the late 80s. Two other pairs from the last few years have also been very resistant to damage.

And as far as I know (seconding jon1270) all the Sennheiser buds have L-shaped jacks.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:48 AM on February 22, 2009

Another inexpensive option would be the Philips SHS5200 wraparound phones. The sound processing's decent and slightly bassy, and the line is reinforced at both ends to allow for flex during sudden movements, like exercising or accidental jostling.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:16 AM on February 22, 2009

I used to have this problem, and when I had expensive headphones I would replace the jack. If you don't mind having tape on the cord before the headphones break, this is also helpful. I wrapped black electrical tape around the cord and the jack (right where they meet) and this would at least double the life expectancy of my headphones.

If you can find headphones that you like with the L-shaped jack, this is probably the best thing. I used to replace my headphones every month or so, with the L-shaped jack I have never had a pair break next to the jack. I think that the cord bends funny with a straight jack when you put the player in your pocket.
posted by jefeweiss at 11:22 AM on February 22, 2009

Check out HeadRoom's selection of in ear headphones. I have the ER-4P headphones, and I love them. The ER-4Ps are out of your price range, but they do have a replaceable cord and a 90 degree connector.

The trick for reinforcing cables is to make a flexible transition from the hard plug to the cable. (If the reinforcement is just as hard as the plug then the cable will break at the reinforcement.) Go to Radio Shack and buy some heat shrink tubing. I would cut 4 pieces of the tubing (use the smallest diameter heat shrink tubing that will fit over connector) from 1 to 4 inches long. Take the longest piece and slip it over the connector. Then wave a lighter under the heat shrink tubing and it will shrink (surprise!). Repeat with the remaining 3 tubes. When you are done you will have four thicknesses of tubing at the connector. Now cut a short piece of tubing and have half of it go over the end of the connector and the other half go over the reinforced cable.

If the tubing doesn't shrink down enough to be snug on the headphone cord wrap a bit of electrical tape around the cable then use the heat shrink tubing.
posted by gregr at 11:35 AM on February 22, 2009

You could buy this small cheap extension cable so that when you wear out the plug, you're only out a $1.60 adapter, not a whole pair of headphones.
posted by zachlipton at 11:53 AM on February 22, 2009

The cheap extension cable is a good idea, as is some electrical tape at the joint. However, you can also get a right-angle jack adapter. This will put most of the strain on the adapter, and not the headphones.
posted by spiderskull at 1:51 PM on February 22, 2009

The Replug breakaway connection was designed to solve exactly this problem.
posted by spasm at 2:23 PM on February 22, 2009

I've never had a pair die at the jack. Do you wrap your headphones around your player? Do you put your player in your pocket or bag without the jack pointing to the opening in the pocket or bag? In the winter I wear a coat with a "cell phone pocket" (thin and tall) in it that holds my iphone. In the summer, I use a bag that has such a pocket (Freitag is my brand of choice). This keeps the jack pointed up and the unit snug so it doesn't roll around with books and other stuff.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 2:25 PM on February 22, 2009

Seconding gregr's idea about heat shrink above. Plus, heat shrink is a neat material that, once you're familiar with, you'll find lots of uses for (padding eyeglass temples or renewing shoelace ends).
posted by werkzeuger at 2:56 PM on February 22, 2009

thirding jon1270. the sennheiser ear phones are a good value, re: build and sound quality. definitely better soundQ than skullcandy.

the heat shrink tubes sounds like a good alternative, as well.
posted by vaguelyweird at 7:48 PM on February 22, 2009

Ok, so... I can't tell you anything you want to hear. If you are breaking your headphones because of how you use them, then you need to change how you use them. Sorry, its that simple. No headphone manufacturer is currently constructing their cords out of unobtainum, which means that the stress and strain you put on them will eventually do them in. That means: if you fold a cord over at a sharp angle, you are going to weaken and break the wires inside (hence strain reliefs built into the cord where they are most vulnerable. If you tug at the cord (such as pulling them out too quickly by the cord and not by the fatter part, you will eventually disconnect (internally) the wires from the adaptors. If you smash them between your ipod and you sneakers in your gym bag... put them in a case. so there is some additional level of protection...

So... ultimately if you are unwilling to take better care of them, I present you two options. 1. Find the cheapest set you can. OR 2. Find the best warranty you can. Unfortunately, I cannot provide any specific company names as I have a professional bias in the brand I would reccomend.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:16 PM on February 22, 2009

Just wanted to add that I stupidly broke the termination on my Grado SR60s, and while they hovered over the trash I realized that with some DIY spirit they can easily be salvaged--and actually improved!

I have found a true haven of extremely helpful and awesome audio enthusiasts at who will gladly walk you through every step. A little bit of searching in their forums and you will probably find someone in your shoes. It's not perfect, but I've got this bookmark showing the inner workings of the wires around the plug and how to add one onto a wire.

I know it's not a quick fix, but if you are feeling adventurous and don't mind getting some soldering tools, you can install an amazing jack that will last you the rest of your days. (Hell, maybe you'll want to re-wire your headphones entirely!) Plus, as the folks at head-fi are quick to note, you usually become obsessed with your new powers and start improving all of your audio equipment in short order.
posted by BenzeneChile at 9:00 AM on February 23, 2009

Thanks for all the tips! I think I'll look into those sennheisers for my next purchase - pending this warranty work it might be sooner than later. Wish I'd have kept some of those older pairs now, so I could DIY the repairs with this helpful advice. The heat shrink tubing is a great idea too. All together I think I can buy a better pair this time round and be prepared to make sure they don't get trashed.

P.S. Nanuk, put a sock in it next time: Please don't put any patronizing tips about looking after them in this post, unless it's about reinforcing that area of the cord or something similarly helpful.
posted by lizbunny at 10:55 AM on February 23, 2009

I ended up buying some Bose in-ear headphones because they were available in a local store (I got impatient) and they have the angled plug. I also like the amount of bass i can get out of them. A tad more expensive than I was wanting to spend, but I bought a two year warranty to go with them this time - the store will refund me the purchase price of the headphones if the line breaks on me like it did before (see OP above).

BUT I did give this page to a friend who fixed his own headphones with the same problem, so thanks for the help!
posted by lizbunny at 1:40 PM on March 24, 2009

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