Help me save my headphones from an early grave!
March 24, 2018 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I have come into possession of a pair of headphones that are perfect in all but one respect — the bare wire is exposed on the cable right where it connects to the earpiece. What can I do to make them sturdy enough to use?

The difficulty is that the cord connects directly in the middle of a flat part of the base of one of the earpieces — it basically goes in perpendicularly. So whatever solution I find needs to anchor well on both the cord and the earpiece and also effectively seal the base of the cord.

I’ve tried electrical tape (wrapping around the cord and anchoring on the earpiece) and the connection to the earpiece always comes off as the cord twists and turns with use, resulting in tape connected just to the cord, still exposing the wire and adding weight to the cord so that the risk of disconnection is greater rather than lesser.

I’ve tried Sugru, too — the issue there being that I need to use an elongated clump of it to both adhere to the earpiece with enough surface area and stretch down some of the length of the cord. A teardrop-shaped blot like that is very prone to cracking as he outside gardens while the inside is still soft. The hardened stuff isn’t pliable enough to deal with the movements of what is underneath. And once there is a crack it’s game over - as the cord moves with use it’ll deepen until the raw wire is exposed again.

I need something adhesive but also pliable and easily applicable to coat the wire and keep it covered, but also something strong enough to support the weight of the cord as it moves and pulls with daily use.

Something relating to superglue is where I’m thinking now. But then I’d need something more for support. Any ideas for strategies? (Photo available if it helps.)
posted by sesquipedalia to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Plastisol or plasti-dip? Like they use to dip tool handles in?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:38 PM on March 24, 2018

PlastiWeld Epoxy Putty is your friend here. Any epoxy putty would work, really. Use it like Sugru; you cut a chunk off the end of the stick with a knife you don't care about, and roll the chunk between your hands until the core and shell (which contain the resin and hardener) are completely mixed. You then have about five minutes to form it around the thing you want to protect. Lightly sand the area on the headphone that will come in contact with the putty, to help it bond. It will set up in ten or fifteen minutes but takes 24hrs to fully cure.

It is very strong, much stronger than Sugru; a very hard plastic, essentially. I've used it to make knobs and handles for all kinds of things, and to build up around awkward repairs like this one. I always keep a stick of it in my toolbox, it comes in handy.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:22 PM on March 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you don’t like plastic weld: Put on the sugru in three or five very thin layers; that should solve the sugru problem while retaining flexibility and bond.

Add a drop of cryanoacrylate (super glue) on eithter end of the patch to increase security, if you roll that way.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:04 PM on March 24, 2018

Possibly something like "brush-on electrical tape" (Permatex is the respected brand here) as described in this previously? You could perhaps coat the wire first, then use epoxy putty on top for anchorage.
posted by holgate at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

This technician's usual weapon of choice for this kind of bodge repair is hot snot. You can paint over it with a Sharpie once it's set to make it look almost as if it's supposed to be there.

If you haven't used hot glue before, practice with it on something that doesn't matter to you before trying the live repair on your earpiece.

You should find that you can squeeze it into shape to some extent before it sets provided you work very quickly and with plenty of spit on your fingertips; otherwise the stuff will stick to you and deliver a nasty little burn.

You will want to clean the whole repair area thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol to get rid any trace of oily residues left behind by previous attempts.
posted by flabdablet at 10:32 PM on March 24, 2018

Another trick for tidying up a hot snot repair is re-melting it with a small heat gun after application, to let it flow into the shape you want. But you have to be super careful to use only just enough heat to melt the glue, otherwise you'll destroy wire insulation and/or other plastic parts. Again, practice on unloved items is key.
posted by flabdablet at 10:42 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Figure out the smallest diameter heat-shrink (polyolefin) tube you can fit (pre-shrink) over the plug end. Shrink a sample to find the post-shrink diameter. Build up the exposed bit to just over the post-shrink size using hot-snot or any other technique you prefer. Slip a couple centimeters of the heat shrink tube over that, and shrink it for a clean-looking, sturdy strain relief.
posted by sourcequench at 4:40 AM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can you open the enclosure? In a well-built pair of headphones the insulation around the cable should be clamped to the frame of the enclosure, and it sounds like that clamp attachment has failed. If you can get inside the housing without destroying it you should be able to clamp the insulation back down and stop it from creeping back out. Even if there was no clamp, you should be able to crimp some metal around the insulation in such a way that the new cable + ring-of-metal assembly is larger than the hole it would need to pass through. All you have to do is cut a short segment of, say, a wire hanger and use a pair of pliers to pinch it around the insulation. You can test that by holding the crimped wire and pulling on the cable.

FWIW if you do open the enclosure you should make sure that wire itself hasn't degraded at or near the attachment point. It may be worth trimming the cable and soldering fresh ends. Open the enclosure first (to make sure you can put it back together), then cut the cable about an inch away from the headset, leaving the short end soldered to the terminals as an example. Strip the new ends of the individual conductors, and then work in sequence: using a soldering iron and desoldering braid, remove one conductor from its terminal, then replace it with the same conductor on your slightly shortened cable.

(Bonus: if you shorten the cable this way you can slide a new strain relief onto the end of the cable before you solder anything and maybe lessen the chance this problem recurs).
posted by fedward at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

As someone who salvaged some Sennheisers time and time again until cables were replaced with RCA jacks, I'd follow fedward's idea. It's not that hard, as long as it can be serviced (ie: things are screwed in place, not glued).
posted by lmfsilva at 10:47 AM on March 25, 2018

All you have to do is cut a short segment of, say, a wire hanger and use a pair of pliers to pinch it around the insulation. You can test that by holding the crimped wire and pulling on the cable.

A couple of zip ties in a 69 configuration will work better for this.
posted by flabdablet at 11:25 AM on March 25, 2018

A couple of zip ties

I am ashamed that I was thinking so literally this didn't occur to me. Zip ties are perfect for this.
posted by fedward at 4:02 PM on March 25, 2018

Like fedward says, if these are good phones, the right answer is to rewire them. You'll need a wire stripper, a decent soldering iron, electrical (conductive) solder, and maybe a cheap solder vac to clean the old terminals. Watch a couple youtube videos on good soldering practice and go to town.

This is something I'd happily do for a friend, so maybe you have one who'd be willing. If the phones are manufactured to permit recabling it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes for someone who knows what they're doing.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:05 PM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

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