Am I ruining my headphones?
February 6, 2017 6:56 PM   Subscribe

I listen to podcasts [sped up] on my commute and at the gym. After going through two sets of headphones in eight months, am I doing it wrong?

Headphone set 1 lasted from August 2015 until Sept 2016. Starting in June or July of 2016, I got frustrated with the slowness of the podcast presenters (and developed a big backlog of podcasts as my commute changed) and started listening at speed, typically 1.8x. A few months later, my headphones started making a crackling noise, which initially would resolve if I pinched the spot where the cable entered the jack, and then cut out entirely in the right ear. No visible damage to the cable/jack/earbud.

Headphone set 2 (same brand/style as set 1) lasted Sept 2016 until Jan 2017. Similar crackling then cut out in the right ear, but this time I can see a bit of copper wire poking out from the top of the jack. Used them mainly at the gym, occasional outdoor running, or in my coat pocket/bag always with the jack pointing up (i.e. no 180 degree bend).

I don't have the skills, interest, or tools to repair these headphones, so I just bought a new set. But I don't want to get myself in a cycle of buying new headphones every 4-6 months. These are just your regular in-ear noise-canceling earbuds, nothing fancy, but I'd like to minimize wasteful spending.

Could the fact that I'm listening to podcasts at speed be affecting the mechanical properties of my headphone wires? Too many electrons buzzing past, or something? If not, how can I best care for my new headphones? I'd rather not go back to 1x speed -- tried that today and found it painfully slow -- but if that's what it takes, I'll suck it up and start listening to podcasts in the shower to clear the backlog.
posted by basalganglia to Technology (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Could the fact that I'm listening to podcasts at speed be affecting the mechanical properties of my headphone wires?

Nope. Not at all. You just got a bad pair of headphones the second time (bad as in "badly manufactured", not as in "inherently crappy"). Maybe go to a different brand.
posted by Etrigan at 7:01 PM on February 6, 2017 [10 favorites]

Sometimes, you cannot afford a bargain. I would look for a pair of headphones with a slightly better build quality. Unfortunately, for me, the only way to judge that would be price. I would step up a level in price to a different brand and see if that works. The speed of the podcast makes no difference to the build quality of the headphone wires. The other solution might be wireless headphones.
posted by AugustWest at 7:05 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a runner, and that's about how long my headphones last, as well. I supposed I could get better ones, but I use the ones that are the most comfortable.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:05 PM on February 6, 2017

It's not the speed you're listening to. It's that most headphones are poorly made. The ones I like are $50 and I have to replace them every 6 months.
posted by radioamy at 7:12 PM on February 6, 2017

It could be gym sweat getting in there and making them wear out faster. A hat or sweatband will help keep moisture out of your ears / headphones.
posted by rossination at 7:12 PM on February 6, 2017

You want the JVC noise canceling earbuds from Amazon, they are $6 and last 4-5 months. I've bought other brands in the $15 range and they last only weeks sometimes. I usually misplace the JVC ones before breaking them.

I think it's these.
posted by jbenben at 7:29 PM on February 6, 2017

I went through headphones like gangbusters for years (as well as damaging my hearing from excessive volume). I eventually settled on in-ear monitors designed for stage musicians. These can be extremely expensive, but Shure makes them in a range of prices that start around $100. One thing I really enjoy about the Shure (and other) IEMs is that they are detachable from the cables. So that when the cable inevitably wears through at the strain relief or whatever I can just snap the drivers on a new one and away I go.
posted by deadbilly at 8:14 PM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Add me to the list of heavy users of my headphones who basically just budgets to buy another ~$20 set every 4-6 months. I get slightly longer out of them if I make the effort to try to carefully loosely wind them up and put them into a special spot in my bag instead of just shoving them into my pockets--but I don't think it helps enough to be worth the effort, largely. I try to have a backup pair waiting so I won't have any delay when one pair dies.
posted by Sequence at 8:28 PM on February 6, 2017

Could the fact that I'm listening to podcasts at speed be affecting the mechanical properties of my headphone wires? Too many electrons buzzing past, or something?

Nope. This is not a thing.

Consider switching to wireless sports headphones. They're water resistant so sweat won't trash them, and there is no cord to fray and break.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:32 PM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Something you have been doing is bending the headphone wire right where it ends at the jack, where it plugs into your device. Try maybe spending a few bucks on a right angle headphone jack extender, and then double over the wire toward where the wire's jack is and wrap a small rubber band or twisty tie to bind the wire to the jack extender, so it won't twist and pull as much.
posted by old_growler at 8:58 PM on February 6, 2017

Putting some sugru on the jack or buying slightly better built ones, like the lower end Sony ones, or buying the ones with the corded cables instead of plastic has fixed this for me.
posted by fshgrl at 9:00 PM on February 6, 2017

That's about my burn rate for cheap bluetooth headphones, which in aggregate has informed me that there's no such thing as cheap bluetooth headphones; only that there are disposable ones and quality ones. The quality ones A) feel better to me and B) sound better because of the quality that goes into the sonic indicators (e.g. "bluetooth connected" is a quality recording of an actress speaking with pleasant urgency, rather than a cryptic blip or, as in one pair, a brusk low-bitrate recording of an actress). They (Jaybird X2) have a better seal on the charging port and more options on the ear-grips or whatever you'd call them.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:02 PM on February 6, 2017

I disagree with some commenters here. No one should be going through headphones every 6 months. You're buying a bad brand/model, and/or not spending enough (quality lasting headphones will cost $50+.) If these don't work I'd go with something else. I use these Klipsch in-ear headphones which are currently $55. For me they last for years of daily use. They come with a 2-year warranty from Klipsch, so if you have this problem again, at least you'll know you can get a replacement from them.
posted by naju at 11:10 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

One word for you: Monoprice. Look it up on Amazon and buy the world's best $9 earbuds.
posted by spitbull at 2:21 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sport wireless Jaybirds. I've had them for a few years and use them running or at the gym.

You can either spend the money up front or spend more over the not so long haul.
posted by canine epigram at 2:38 AM on February 7, 2017

So I used to use $60 Klipsch S4s. $9 Monoprice buds actually sound *better* to me and I'm a lifelong musician and audiophile.

I also have Jaybird wireless buds at home and I don't like their audio quality much at all. Bluetooth audio just sounds crappy to me. Apparently it's improved on iPhone 7 but I wouldn't know.
posted by spitbull at 3:33 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I break headphones about once a year. Just yesterday I discovered that one of my running/commuting earbuds had stopped working.

It's likely the headphone quality combined with something physical. I carry my headphones in my bag where they inevitably get jostled by all my other stuff, and pull them out kind of carelessly when I need them. I also occasionally drop my phone while my headphones are in, which can't possibly be good for the wires. If I treated my headphones more kindly, I'm sure I'd get more life out of them. Any similar physical stresses you might be putting on yours?

Otherwise, I think with headphones it's a matter of trial and error until you find something that lasts a little longer but are also comfortable with replacing when needed. I might get more life out of $100 headphones than I do with a $20 pair, but probably not five times more life.

(Off to check out Monoprice, thanks y'all.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:51 AM on February 7, 2017

So glad you posted this question because now I know it's not just me going through multiple headphones/year. My bluetooth headset appears to be holding up better than previous wired versions, but the connection drops so often that I often switch back to the others, i.e., bluetooth is not "the answer".

I, too, am off to check out Monoprice.
posted by she's not there at 5:14 AM on February 7, 2017

I am an extraordinarily high user of headphones for podcasts and my burn rate for headphones (in particular older style Apple earbuds) was definitely around 6 months or so. I've since switched to Sony and Philips models that you find in Target that run in the $10-$15 range and I've easily gotten double the lifespan. They get lots of abuse. I exercise with them. They are always with me either in my ears or rolled up in my pocket. They are exposed to the midwest winter temperature changes of the outside vs. the inside. They are often on in while on the couch or in bed which means the cord is often getting rolled under an arm or leg. These things are tough.

I'll add that since I listen exclusively to podcasts with people talking I don't need earbuds that make the dynamic ranges of music sound great. If that is important to you, then your results will vary.
posted by mmascolino at 7:25 AM on February 7, 2017

My headphones seem to last longer since I switched to using dedicated sets for different activities. I have a wireless pair that's just for exercise, a wired one that lives in a designated spot in my backpack and that I use at school, and another pair at home. None are expensive, but they have all lasted me well over a year. It's a combination of less wear and tear and using a wireless set for the most vigorous activity, I think.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:25 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! Glad to see that this is just the expected burn rate for lower-end headphones. I've definitely been rougher on my headphones since I started commuting by public transit this summer than when I was driving to work. The original two sets were just the ones that came with the phone (basically these but with a straight jack) but the ones I just bought are these, and they have a right-angle jack so hopefully are a little more reinforced at what seems to be the weakest point, where the cable goes into the jack. I could probably stand to be a little more careful with them, too. If these bust, I'll check out the Monoprice ones or wireless ones next. At least I can keep my sped-up talk podcasts as is.

** toodles off to listen to the BBC World Service as read by chipmunks **
posted by basalganglia at 2:14 PM on February 7, 2017

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