Silly ten foot headphone cords!
March 9, 2005 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I have a pair of headphones that I like, but the cord on them is ten feet long. As it is I have to wrap them up with an elastic band. Is there a way to cut the cord, remove a bit of the wire, and put it back together?

Basically, I want the cord to be quite a bit shorter so it comfortably goes from my iPod in my pants pocket up to my ears without me having to mess about with wrapping the wire. I'd prefer not to buy new headphones, but if it matters, the ones I have are the Sony MDVR300.
posted by synecdoche to Technology (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes. You can cut the wire, strip the plastic off an inch of the wires, put some heat sensitive shrinkwrappy kind of stuff on one end of the cord, twist the wires together and heat up the shrinkwrappy stuff to keep it all together.

I would be concerned if these were expensive. You could mess them up like this. I'm sure you'll lose some interference protection, too.

Good luck.
posted by ajpresto at 3:08 PM on March 9, 2005

I did as ajpresto suggested once (after my roommate's kitten bit through my headphone wire), and the headphones were never really usable after that. Maybe you should try it with a cheap pair of headphones before you do it to your MDRV300s. Wal*Mart sells 99-cent earbuds that would make a lovely sacrifice to the interests of science.
posted by vorfeed at 3:26 PM on March 9, 2005

You should be able to do it without sacrificing quality, but I've never personally done it. Remember there are 2 wires you need to individually reconnect after the cut. I tend to use "butt connectors" for reliable connections on car stereos, but they are probably too bulky for your application. Maybe the heat shrink stuff is a better idea. You will definitely sacrifice sturdiness.. a reasonable tug on the wire would probably disconnect your handiwork.
posted by knave at 3:34 PM on March 9, 2005

Twisting the wires together is not going to be even slightly reliable. You'd be better off soldering them. Unfortunately, headphone cord tends to be braided wire (not solid) and very thin. It's possible to solder it together but I wouldn't recommend it as a learn-to-solder project. Definitely practice on some other wires first.

I'm sure you'll lose some interference protection

Not significantly. Headphone wire isn't typically highly shielded (if at all), unless you're looking at some seriously hifi stuff. And the splice should be pretty small.
posted by xil at 3:41 PM on March 9, 2005

Also: this page indicates that some headphone cables have weird insulation that's difficult to remove. (Search for the word "splice".)
posted by xil at 3:44 PM on March 9, 2005

If you want to do this the right way, you need a soldering iron and a couple pieces of heat shrink in two different diameters -- one for each of the wires inside the cable, and one of the cable itself.

Cut the cable at an appropriate point, away from any strain areas, and put the large diameter heat shrink on one end, sliding it a bit away from the area you're going to be working on. Strip back the insulation an inch or so on each side to expose the wires within. Strip the insulation off half an inch off each end of each wire. Slide a small length of heat shrink over one end of one wire, solder the two ends together, move the heat shrink over the join, and hit with a heat gun. Repeat on the other wire. (The one thing to be careful with here is that if you leave the heat shrink too close to your solder join, the heat conducted through the wire will prematurely shrink it; if you run into this problem, you might have to settle for electrical tape.)

Once this is done, if you had to cut away any shielding to get access to the wires, you might want to put a thin piece of aluminum foil around your work; but I doubt you'll find any shielding within.

Then slide the larger heat shrink over the entire join, and give it a good blast of heat. This will protect your joins and help give everything some strength, and looks alot better than a big pile of PVC tape.

Another possibility you might consider, which might be easier to do right, would be going to an electronics store and buying a stereo plug of the appropriate size, You could then just cut the headphone cord to the length you want, and attach a new plug to the raw end.
posted by jammer at 3:51 PM on March 9, 2005

Get this. It'll shorten the cable without cutting, and it's cheap and easy (like me!)
posted by Coffeemate at 3:53 PM on March 9, 2005

Getting a good splice is highly difficult, since there are actually 3 or 4 different wires that need to be reattached: left channel, right channel, and either a common ground or 2 individual grounds. The problem is, the ground(s) is/are often an uninsulated wire wrapped around both individually insulated left and right channel wires.

Here are some diagrams to help you visualize what you'll be dealing with.
posted by pmbuko at 3:54 PM on March 9, 2005

in other words, don't cut the wire.
posted by pmbuko at 3:56 PM on March 9, 2005

Yeah, don't cut it.

There will be three or four wires, depending on if they share the common or each ear has its own. They will probably be braided, very thin wire. It will never work right again, and even if it does it will probably wear out and you'll have to do it all over.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:25 PM on March 9, 2005

You don't want to splice the wires, you want to cut the cord to the length you want and solder a new end on the wire.

Not the most difficult soldering job by any means, but you do want a fairly fine-tipped soldering iron to pull it off.
posted by davey_darling at 5:32 PM on March 9, 2005

Although this thread is full of doom and gloom, I've done this many times. It's never easy, and not a good project if you've not soldered, but it's only 4 wires, and half an hour if you're experienced with an iron. I'm just saying this to temper the taste of this thread- you should probably just get a cable wrap if anything. If you are determined to do it, email me and I'll try to help where you need it.
posted by fake at 5:33 PM on March 9, 2005

oh, and davey_darling has a good plan.
posted by fake at 5:33 PM on March 9, 2005

Yeah, twisting the wires together won't work since the strands are probably enameled. If you have any friends that can solder it's only a twenty minute job, so that's the way to go.
posted by cillit bang at 6:02 PM on March 9, 2005

half the time when I've done this the strands are coated in enamel (which needs to be scraped or sanded off) and the other half there are plastic fibers intertwined in the wire (they're there to improve the strength of the otherwise flimsy wire, but aren't very good things to be melting on your soldering iron). the wire-with-fibers kind means you've gotta fan out the individual wires and seperate the plastic from the metal and cut it off. not hard, but it's a pain. (I found out about this once when I soldered a new plug on some headphones and it just plain out didn't work - enamel is easy to spot [ooh, green and red wire!] but the plastic wasn't.)
posted by mrg at 6:46 PM on March 9, 2005

I've done this several times as well - I thought it was pretty painless.
posted by sluggo at 8:23 PM on March 9, 2005

I second Coffeemate's suggestion, unless you're comfortable with the other tips. It's proven useful for me!
posted by kimota at 8:36 PM on March 9, 2005

Last time I did this, I had a friend of mine who is good with a soldering iron do it for me in return for beer.

I suggest leeching off of talented friends.
posted by mosch at 12:13 AM on March 10, 2005

Actually, a nice pair of headphones usually gives you access to the wire going into the earcups. You can probably disconnect from there.. shorten, and reconnect. (Solder of course!)

that or davey_darling's option would probably be your best bet.
posted by defcom1 at 9:29 AM on March 10, 2005

Note too, that radio shack has recently paired back its electronic parts line drastically. They tend only to stock the blinged out gold plate plugs for $5-6 a piece.
Just 3 years ago they sold the more plebian chrome plate models two for $1.49
The problem is, who else can you turn to for little electronic parts like this anymore?
posted by Fupped Duck at 1:45 PM on March 10, 2005

The problem is, who else can you turn to for little electronic parts like this anymore?
posted by Fupped Duck at 1:45 PM PST on March 10 [!]

Mouser Electronics
posted by cellphone at 4:47 PM on December 15, 2005

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