How do I keep headphone wires from fraying at the plug?
March 4, 2006 1:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep headphone wires from fraying at the plug?

Almost every set of headphones I've ever used with portable players ended up dying because the wires would come out at the jack. Now, I just got a pretty fancy pair of earbuds, and I'd like them to avoid that same fate. Somebody once recommended wrapping the end in electrical tape--any other advice on how to keep the wires from breaking?
posted by muckster to Technology (8 answers total)
Do you ever coil up your headphone wire like a length of rope in order to store it?

Do you ever do it while the headphones are still plugged in?

If so, you're twisting the wire, which causes exactly the sort of fraying you're seeing. Cut it out! — or if you must coil, start coiling at the plug end and not the headphone end.

(I learned this trick from a guy who sells heart monitors. The monitor wires in our ambulance were wearing out in just the same way your headphone wires are. If you just find an expensive enough product, someone will have thought of a good way to make it last.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:04 PM on March 4, 2006

It does sound like you're doing something you shouldn't. I've owned a large number of (mostly cheap) headphones over the years and I don't think I've ever had this happen.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2006

If you do coil up wire, you need to add a half twist to it while you coil it.
posted by shepd at 2:41 PM on March 4, 2006

No, I've had this happen repeatedly, almost always with headphone cables that are a single tube with everything inside, as opposed to two separate-but-connected channels, one for each side. Apple's iPod headphones are like this, and are notorious for fraying at the base. As are these otherwise amazing-for-the-price Sony in-ear buds.

I'd love to hear a solution as well. I'm tempted to get a nice pair of Shures, but don't want the cable on a $150 set to fray.
posted by mkultra at 2:46 PM on March 4, 2006

I confirm that the poster's problem is not unique or usual.

Back when Walkmen were the thing, I used to wrap the heaphone cable around the device to avoid stress on the plug.

PS: do those barrel-like structures in computer cables exist to avoid the issue being discussed here?
posted by ParisParamus at 2:54 PM on March 4, 2006

It's a mechanical problem. If you take a piece of wire and bend it back and forwards repeatedly, in the end it will break. That's what is happening to your headphone cable, very very slowly but just as inevitably.

The trick is to spread the stress over as much wire as you can. Most headphone jacks have a complicated plastic sleeve like this to ensure that the most vulnerable part of the cable, where it enters the jack plug, is supported, but they don't really work very well.

Basically short tight turns are bad, long gentle curves are good. You can improve matters with some insulating tape, wrapping it tightly around the first couple of inches of cable closest to the jack. The idea is to spread the stress by stiffening through additional plastic support. It's just delaying the inevitable though, if you find headphones with replaceable flex, like the better Sennheisers or Etymotics, then it's a real point in their favour.

For related reasons, a 90 degree jack like this is usually a much better bet for portables, the flex won't have to turn around since the jack has already done the work. It also reduces stress on the socket.
posted by grahamwell at 4:11 PM on March 4, 2006

It really is not very difficult to buy a new plug from Radio shack and attach it.

Radio Shack probably carries right angle plugs and right-angle adaptors.

All for about $2 I guess.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:21 PM on March 4, 2006

Two words: duct tape.

3M has recently started making a clear version that looks fine on wire.
posted by KRS at 5:27 PM on March 4, 2006

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