Headphones and earbuds are decently robust despite their small, delicate size. A good set of buds can stand the test of time and last for years. However, sometimes things do go wrong, and easily the most common problem is when one side of the earbud stops working. What do you do when sound only comes from one ear?
It’s a massive problem, especially considering some high-end earbuds cost hundreds of dollars. When one earbud stops playing audio, it is not just annoying, but seems like the end of your earbuds. As is the case with many tech device issues, there are a number of potential causes for sound only coming out of one side.
In this article, we’ll go over the possible causes for one earbud not working, as well as some possible fixes.
Sometimes your earbuds will misbehave because of a problem with the connection between them and your device. For wired buds, this issue could occur on the cord as it enters the buds, or in the headphone jack and wire connector.
Simply fiddling with the cord can spring your one-sided earbuds back into life. Straighten, bend, and generally move around the cord to see if the channels come back on both sides. A lot of times this simple step will work, as will pushing and re-inserting the cord back into the headphone jack.
Note – While this can often work and get your earbuds working on both sides again, it will almost always mean there is a bigger problem. In other words, there is something wrong with the connection and twisting the wire is only a quick fix.
If the connection problems do become more regular, using some tape to hold the cord in a functioning position can help. Tape applies pressure on the part of the cord that is causing the problem, compressing the wire to keep them in contact.
Of course, these days many people do not have wired earbuds and instead have wireless Bluetooth sets. In fact, many smartphone manufacturers are removing the headphone jack entirely. Sometimes sound only coming from one side indicates a bad sync between the earbuds and music device. Try unpairing and then resyncing your earbuds to your device to see if this solves any issues with audio performance.
Clean the Earbuds
You’d be surprised how often dirty or wet earbuds can cause problems in the listening experience. One of these causes is easier to solve than the other. Check your buds to ensure they are thoroughly clean. Unfortunately, earbuds are susceptible to ear wax. That can sometimes clog your earbuds.
Give your earbuds a good clean to see if this improves the sound. You may have to remove the rear cover if you suspect wax or lint built up inside.
Unless you waterproof earbuds, wet earbuds often stops the earbuds from working, either on one side or altogether. However, don’t automatically think they’re broken.
Drying your earbuds out can get them working like new. To dry buds, use a microfiber cloth to soak up the liquid without leaving debris.
For completely soaked earbuds, place them in a cup of rice to sit for a day or two. The rice will draw out and absorb the moisture before it causes lasting damage. If you’ve ever seen rice in a salt shaker, it’s the same principle. Rice is fantastic at drawing in moisture.
It’s worth noting if you simply cannot get your headphones to play on both sides, you may be tempted by the DIY approach below. However, before getting to that you should check to see if your buds are still under warranty. If they are, you can almost certainly get a replacement set if one earbud stops working.
The DIY Approach
Trying a DIY fix is a last resort for earbuds that are not under warranty. Only do this if your alternative is replacing your earbuds altogether. It’s entirely likely that you’ll fully break your earbuds trying this method, instead of having just one earbud not working.
Here are the steps to fixing your earbuds yourself.
- Step 1: Find the area where the wire has disconnected. To do this, plug the headphones in and play audio. Bend the wires at ½ inch intervals up and down to find where the shorted section is.
- Step 2: When you bend a section that allows sound to come from both sides, you’ve found where it’s not working. You can use the tape method above to tape this section in place, but the following DIY approach offers a more permanent solution. It is worth noting the most common areas for a shorted cord are right before the headphone jack and around where the wire enters the bud.
- Step 3: Mark the area by placing tape around ½ inch from either side of the affected section of cord.
- Step 4: Using wire cutters, cut the shorted area of wire on either side of the affected region. You are essentially going to remove the damaged area of the wire.
- Step 5: Use wire strippers to remove the rubber sheath around both sides of the non-separated cord. You should now see the three wires of different colors.
- Step 6: Now reconnect each wire on both sides to its corresponding color (red to red, black to black, etc.). You can do this by hand or use a solder gun. Place electrical tape or shrink tubing around the fixed but exposed reconnection.
- Step 7: Test the earbuds to see if sound is coming from both sides.
The Break May Be in the Earbuds
Sometimes the broken connection will be in one of the buds or even in the jack connector. If that’s the case, you can follow a similar approach to above.
Remove the outer cover of the bud or the jack connector and inspect for a disconnected wire. If there is a broken wire, you will need to reattach it. Electrical tape won’t do the job this time so you will need to have a solder gun to solder the connection back in place.
Having one earbud that’s not working is a huge hassle and a drag on your day. For as durable as they are, earbuds can break really easily. Especially if you have an expensive set that cannot be replaced easily.
The best method after getting your earbuds working again is being extremely careful with them.
Try not to store them bent or with sharp objects, like your keys. Prevention is the best option to save you money in the future.