Yet another iPod question
April 10, 2006 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Yet another iPod question: before I send in my iPod for expensive repairs, I thought I'd check here...anyone else ever experience their iPod only playing the instrumental track? Was it fixable?

Suddenly my iPod will only play the instrumental track (as in, no vocals except for background) on all of the songs...very weird. I checked to see if it was the headphones, and it's not. I will pay to get it fixed if necessary (warranty is long expired), but I just wanted to see if anyone else had experienced this phenomenon.

It's an iPod mini, purchased about a year and a half ago.
posted by elquien to Technology (18 answers total)
This is quite the bizarre bug, I have a hard time believing such a thing can happen.

That having been said, I very much want to know how to enable "instrumental mode" on my iPod...
posted by crickets at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2006

There's no such thing as an "instrumental track", so it sounds as if your iPod has accidentally discovered the same trick used in "karaoke mode" in cheap boom-boxes everywhere.

Because the lyrics of most tracks are the same in the left and right channels, while the musics pans around in stereo, if you flip one channel and then mix the two together, the singer can "disappear" and leave the music behind. It doesn't work on all tracks though.

But, getting back to the point, your headphone socket, or your headphones, are faulty. First, try different headphones. If it's the same, take it back. You need a new socket.
posted by Mwongozi at 12:05 PM on April 10, 2006

This is not possible as such, because music is not distributed in vocal/instrumental tracks: it's distributed in left/right channels.

Now, it's conceivable that you've been listening to music where the lead singer is all on the right or left channel, and somewhere that channel has been disconnected (loose headset is the most likely culprit). But even this is a bit of a stretch.

The other possibility is that somehow, you've set up an equalizer profile that tends to mute whatever frequencies the lead singer is singing at. Again, seems very unlikely that it would be so specific.
posted by adamrice at 12:08 PM on April 10, 2006

Weird. One thing to try is using the iPod updater to reinstall the firmware, or even a full format & reinstall (don't do this if you have music on the iPod that isn't also stored on your computer)
posted by Good Brain at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2006

(OP here)...apparently I'm totally out of date when it comes to modern musical tracks. Anyway, it's definitely some sort of underlying "instrumental" track that's playing...and it's the same on all songs. It sounds like it is probably the headphone jack - is this expensive to repair?

I didn't modify anything on my iPod, as it suddenly started doing this while I was listening to a song. Maybe I will have to take it in...but thanks for all of the suggestions!
posted by elquien at 12:18 PM on April 10, 2006

It depends whether the damage is to the socket, or to the mainboard it is connected to. If it's the board, it's probably not repairable at all.
posted by Mwongozi at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2006

Do you have an iPod dock? Try playing through the line out on that. If that play's fine, then you know the headphone jack is the problem, otherwise, it's the innards.
posted by Capn at 12:21 PM on April 10, 2006

Yeah, it's probably something wrong with the headphone jack causing weird problems with the signal. It should be easy for an electrician to repair, simply by replacing the headphone jack. Even then the labor would be expensive.

If it's still under warranty, I'd say send it in. They'll know how to fix it and test it.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 PM on April 10, 2006

i know this sounds fatuous, but check the headphones/speakers(if you haven't done so already), I had the exact same issue with my ihp120.
posted by killyb at 12:33 PM on April 10, 2006

if it's the same on all songs, then you might be picking up the local classical radio station. I have a set of speakers that pick up one specific FM station that plays classical, depending on how I have the volume set. if it's doing that then you've probably got hardware problems. I can't imagine the headphones would be at fault, though, but I'm not an electrical engineer.
posted by mrg at 12:52 PM on April 10, 2006

Also, you might want to try a different pair of headphones...
posted by nevercalm at 1:43 PM on April 10, 2006

I checked to see if it was the headphones, and it's not.

check the headphones/speakers

Also, you might want to try a different pair of headphones...

Yeah, but have you checked the headphones? Because, you know, it might be the headphones.
posted by jjg at 2:02 PM on April 10, 2006

I had this issue with my iPod when listening to music in my car.

I replaced the cable that plugs from the iPod to the stereo, and it fixed it.
posted by Sheppagus at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2006

couldn't it be the eq? if it would have mid-ranges blocked out (on a certain mode), you might just hear the instruments.
posted by willmillar at 2:48 PM on April 10, 2006

elquien, where are you located? I know a guy in NYC who will come to your door, fix your iPod for you, and not charge you and arm and a leg. I've had him fix three iPods. He's reputable.

Oh, hell... for anyone who wants to hire him, he's

I'm not affiliated with him in any way, but he's always treated me (and my iPods) well.
posted by grumblebee at 3:41 PM on April 10, 2006

Here's how this happens. It's not specific to iPods; any device with a headphone output is capable of this.

The vocals in most tracks do, indeed, occupy the "centre" channel - that is, the vocal signals are identical, and in phase, in the left and right channels.

Headphones have three connections: tip, ring and sleeve. Tip and ring connect to left and right channels (I forget which is which) and the sleeve is a common return (ground) for both channels.

If the sleeve gets disconnected while the tip and ring remain connected, the common return disappears. Both the earphones are still connected together via the wires connected to the sleeve, though. So the circuit ends up looking like two earphones connected in series, strung between the left and right channel outputs.

That means that the only signal available to drive the earphones is the difference between the left and right channels - and since the vocal signals are common to both, they get cancelled out.

You'll also notice that the stereo imaging is all wrong. The left and right earphones are now reproducing the same signal because they're wired together, but they're out of phase; some people still hear this as a "centre" channel of sorts, others hear bizarre spatial effects.

Most of the bass will have disappeared too, because bass, like vocals, is usually common to both channels.

The most likely cause for a missing sleeve connection is a broken solder joint where the headphone socket is fitted to the PC board. If you can open your iPod up (I don't have one, so I don't know how to do this) you should be able to fix it just by resoldering the headphone socket connections.
posted by flabdablet at 5:04 PM on April 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

That means that the only signal available to drive the earphones is the difference between the left and right channels - and since the vocal signals are common to both, they get cancelled out.

I was about to post something vaguely like this, but the difference is, you clearly know what you're talking about. I ran into a similar quirk in encoding audio files ("joint stereo"). Thanks for the great explanation!
posted by pzarquon at 5:16 PM on April 10, 2006

Really fantastic explanation, flabdablet.
posted by odinsdream at 7:50 PM on April 10, 2006

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