I fixed a pair of headphones with some soldering, and you can too!

Here’s the thing: I have this sweet pair of headphones that I got from a friend a gazillion years ago. I’ve always liked them because they were free and they look super quirky but it turns out they were a limited edition done for Ed Banger Records, which is the label that produces Justice and Mr. Oizo. It also turns out the wire on the side is getting a little fuckety, and is probably going to break soon, and my sweet, free, limited edition headphones are going to be busted. 🎧

Here’s this other thing you need to know: I am clumsy, and pretty shit at “fixing things”. If I could do it, you could do it, and I’m gonna tell you how.

Step 0: you should figure out what’s wrong

I think about 4 things can go wrong with headphones:

  1. one of the cables attached to the headphones speakers is broken
  2. the jack is broken
  3. there’s a hole somewhere in the middle of the cable, most likely because your asshole cat went to town on it
  4. the speakers are completely busted

№ 4 is A Hard Problem™, and it requires a level of skill I don’t have. № 1 involves re-attaching wires to speakers, and that’s what this post is about. № 2 and 3 are basically a combination of buying a new cable and re-attaching it to the speakers, which is № 1 again. Which means you can basically fix 3/4 problems with headphones 💖.

Step 1: pop the trunk

After you’ve figured out which side of your headphones is broken, take the squishy earpad off and figure out how to get inside. Some headphones have little lever things you need to pop. Mine have 3 little screws. Unscrew them, and place them somewhere where your asshole cat can’t eat them.

This is what it looked like inside: inside of the headphones ## Step 2: the wires

Hopefully just one of the wires came loose, so that you don’t have to guess about which wire goes where. If it’s just the one, move to the next step. If, like me, you have to cut the whole cable and resolder all of them, you probably (definitely) should write down what order the wires came in, because you’ll forget. I had this (if you look at the post-soldering photo, this might even make sense):

// i had a thicker and thinner cables.
// thick-orange means the orange wire of the thick cable.
// thin-orange is the orange wire of the thinner cable.
    ------------- speaker ---------
    [ ]         [ ]       [ ]    [ ]         soldered together
     |           |         |      |              |        |
     |           |         |      |              |        |
thick-orange thin-orange   Ø thick-red     thick-blue thin-blue

I also took a picture. It ended up being blurry and useless, so the written bit was 👌.

Step 3: cut some wires

If the cable you’re trying to solder is too frayed, you might have to shorten it. You might also have to strip the cable if there isn’t enough available.

After you’re done, you should have a bunch of wires fairly similar to the ones already attached to the speaker. I stripped mine with a kitchen knife because I don’t own any tools, and it looked like this [read: pretty pro]:

stripped wire

Step 4: they see me solderin’, they hatin’

And that’s because I’m hilariously bad at it.

Anyway, here’s a super verbose video on soldering. It basically involves heating the iron, melting some copper into a liquid ball (if there isn’t already enough on there), and using it to attach your wire to the speaker end it needs to be in. While it’s hard to be really good at soldering, it’s surprisingly easy to be averagely bad at it.

The good news is that if you fuck it up, you can just unsolder the bit you just did with more heat, and start again. Just practice a little on some spare wires before you go full out on your headphones, and don’t burn yourself.

You’re going to first unsolder the old wires off the speaker, and re-solder your new wires on. Here’s what mine looked like post soldering. You’ll notice it’s messy and that nobody cares, because it’s all hidden inside the headphones anyway. All you care about is your wire making contact with the speaker.

photo of speaker after soldering

Step 5: the reckoning

You should plug in your headphones. If everything went great, then sound should come out of them!

If sound isn’t coming out of them, it could be that your connection is loose and you need to debug your soldering (which means repeating step 4), or that it wasn’t the wires after all 😓

Important bit I missed the first time: The cable sits in a little rubber casing at the edge of the headphone like this:

cable rubber casing

When I first took apart the headphones, I thought it was annoying the cable was glued to this rubber casing, because it meant I couldn’t use it, and had to find a new one (hoarding broken headphones helps with this). Spoilers: this was intentional. You should ALSO super glue your cable inside the rubber casing, or else when you invariably tug on the cable, it will totally break the soldering you just did. Possibly just before you’re about to demo your amazing new fixed headphones to your friends.

To be honest, the most annoying thing was putting the little earpads back. After serious struggling, I discovered there’s a little wedge on the headphones base, where you can slip a bit of the earpad in, and then slide it all the way across. Yours might have this too!

You did it! Yay!

If everything went right, you’ve just fixed a pair of headphones. High five, you hardware hacker you! I’m so proud! 👍💖