All Headphone Cables Break. But Do They Have To?

Feb 20 2014, 6:28pm CST | by

All Headphone Cables Break. But Do They Have To?
Photo Credit: Forbes Apple

I’ve owned a lot of headphones. I’ve reviewed even more. While only a few have ever stopped working, almost all that did were because of something to do with the cable. It’s easily the most fragile part of any headphone.

Can anything be done?

Before we get going, if you’re curious about the value of high-end headphones, or have questions about headphones in general, first check out Are Expensive Headphones Worth It? and What Are The Best Headphones?.
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It starts with a bit of scratchiness. Perhaps you have to wiggle or twist the connector in a certain way for them to work. These aren’t the signs of happy headphones. These are the signs of a headphone not long for this world. The cable, and by cable I mean everything that’s not the part that’s on/in your ear, takes a lot of abuse, probably more than most people realize.

Inside every cable are thin wires, almost always copper. These attach to connectors, either the plug that goes in your phone/iPod, or the other end, the part that goes into the earphone itself.

Stronger cables/stronger connectors

This is one area where we’ve seen a lot of improvement in the past few years. Cloth or braided cable coverings, rubber or even machined metal junctions between the cable and connectors, tangle resistant flat cables, and so on. These all help a lot.

The junctions are still the most-likely fail point, however. A flexible cable hitting a rigid connector is a recipe for friction.

Detachable cables

Some headphones, and not just expensive ones, are coming with detachable cables. This removes the junction as a potential issue (at least on one end), by letting the cable pull away if there’s too much pressure. Or at the very least, if the cable goes sour you can just get a new cable. This is a much cheaper fix, obviously, than replacing the entire headphone.

All high-end headphones should have this. The amazing Shure SE846 has this, as do the Audeze LCD 3, X, and XC, for example.

So why shouldn’t all headphones have this? Well, it’s an added cost for one. It may not seem like a lot, but with tight margin requirements every partial penny counts. Also, some in-ear headphone designs just aren’t conducive to the hardware required for a detachable cable. More headphones probably should have this feature, but all won’t.

Careful wrapping… maybe

Taking care while storing your headphones will almost certainly help. But how? If bending the cables is bad, how do you conveniently store them? Many headphones come with a case, so that’s generally good. Wrapping the cables so they’re not a tangled mess will also probably help. I use the method in the video below, and I’ve had pretty good luck with headphones, though YMMV:



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So it’s sort of a mixed recommendation. On one hand, it pays to take extra care of your headphones, specifically the cable. Every time you crush them in your bag, shove them in your pocket, snag them on a doorknob, it’s potentially weakening the connections or even the wires themselves.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely use that’s the culprit. Manufacturers need to take more care in designing the cable on their headphones. Detachable cables are cool, but not an ideal solution for every headphone. More robust connections, stronger cables, and so on are vital if manufacturers want repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations. “They sound great, but the cable broke after 6 months,” is a bucket of cold water on any potential sale.

After all, no one likes wasting money, or losing money.

What kind of luck have you had with headphone cables? I’m curious. Drop a line in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter and G+! You can also subscribe to my Forbes blog and check out my latest novel.

 

Source: Forbes Apple

 
 

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