A good pair of headphones can be like music to your ears when they’re working properly, but a real pain when they’re not working. The 3.5mm headphone jack that comes with your favorite pair of cans is one of its weakest points. So how can you replace a 3.5mm audio jack when your headphones stop working?
Please note that this guide is for 3.5mm headphone jacks only. Combo jacks with microphones have an extra set of solder wires to operate.
How does a headphone jack work?
Before we explain the work you need to do to repair your headphones, it makes sense to explore how a 3.5mm audio jack works. This will help you determine the problem you are trying to solve.
3.5mm headphone connectors consist of three contacts with strips between them. Each contact plays a different role, as shown in the diagram above. The tip handles left-side audio, the ring handles right-side audio, and the sleeve serves as the ground. Headphones will usually still work to some degree when one of these wires is disconnected.
What do you need to fix a broken 3.5mm headphone jack?
You will need a few tools to perform a headphone jack repair. A soldering iron, heat gun and a set of wire cutters/strippers will make the job much easier. Along with that, you also need consumable parts.
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Rosin/petroleum jelly flux
- A piece of heat shrink
Step 1: Troubleshooting
Before you can replace and repair your headphone jack, you’ll need to find the fault. It will be easy to determine where the problem lies if your headphone jack has external damage. If the damage is inside the cable, however, you will need to locate the location before you can begin.
You can do this by connecting your headphones to a device and moving the cable with audio playing. If you move the cable and get feedback, you’ll know where the break is. In our case, we have a broken headphone jack and a perfectly working cable.
Step 2: Remove the broken 3.5mm jack
Our headphone jack is quite bulky, with a chunky body that houses the wires inside. This means we couldn’t get into the connector itself and had to cut it.
If you have a soft rubber 3.5mm connector on your headset, you may be able to peel it off to see the wires inside. Being as gentle as possible, use a set of wire cutters to cut through the rubber or plastic covering your headphone jack. This will eventually expose the wires inside. As long as you pay attention, you may be able to see which wire connects to each part of the headphone jack.
Those with metal or other hard 3.5mm headphone jack housings like ours will need to remove the connector and rely on the wire colors as a guide.
Step 3: Determine the correct wiring for your headphone jack
You will be able to see which wires connect to each piece of headphone jack you are working with if you removed the outer layer. Label each wire to make sure you remember them later before removing the headphone jack.
If like us, you’re dealing with a 3.5mm headphone jack that can’t be opened, you’ll have to figure out the wiring on your own. There are several standards used for coloring 3.5mm headphone connectors. This means that it is impossible to guarantee the type of wiring you will find, with some 3.5mm jack wires being a single color.
The following chart shows one of the most common 3.5mm jack wiring color configurations, but yours may vary.
Step 4: Adding heat shrink tubing to your cable
Before you do any soldering, you need to add heat-shrink tubing to your headset cable. You can slide it along the cable, but don’t use a heat gun on it yet, as that will be done later.
We also had to slide our headphone jack housing and an internal insulating tube into our cable, but your 3.5mm jack might not have that.
Step 5: Wiring the headphone jack sleeve wire
The first wire to solder is the ground wire. This wire connects to the sleeve connection inside your headphone jack, and it’s usually furthest from the end of the connector.
Strip the ground wire you determined earlier by about 3mm, before tinning the end with a small amount of solder. You can also add a small blob of solder to the sleeve connection inside the headphone jack. You will need an accurate soldering iron with a fine tip for this job.
Press the two drops of solder together and apply heat to join the two pieces. A small amount of rosin flux will help form a strong bond.
Step 6: Wiring the headphone jack ring and tip wires
Wiring your left and right wires follows the same process as wiring the ground wire. It’s crucial that you leave as little wire and solder exposed as possible, as there won’t be much space inside the 3.5mm jack to prevent short circuits.
In our case, we started by soldering our straight audio wire to the ring connection inside the 3.5mm jack. We followed this by soldering the left audio wire to the tip connection.
Step 7: Apply Heat Shrink and Test Your Helmet Repair
It makes sense to perform a quick test on your headphones before sealing them. Using a stereo test app with your smartphone’s 3.5mm jack, you can make sure sound is coming from the correct sides of your headphones.
The heat shrink reinforces the solder connections you’ve made while protecting the inside of the 3.5mm connector from short circuits. Simply slide your heat shrink tubing over the cable, apply heat, then attach the main housing for the 3.5mm jack.
Troubleshooting 3.5mm headphone jack repairs
It can be difficult to get the wiring and soldering right the first time with a repair like this. If you’re having trouble with your repair, you can use the troubleshooting tips below to make it easier to find the right solution.
- Left and right: Soldering the tip and ring connections the wrong way will cause left and right audio to switch. This is resolved by properly resoldering these connections.
- Blurred audio: Hearing blurry or distorted sound in your headset may be a sign that one or more of your connections are bad. This could be due to dirt or bad soldering, and you can fix it by resoldering the connection.
- No sound: Just like blurry audio, no audio is a sign that you have a bad connection. If your solder looks good, you can also check the headphone cable to make sure it doesn’t have a break.
Do a DIY repair on a 3.5mm headphone connector
Fixing your own headphones can be a great way to save money and keep your gadgets alive. You just need to make sure you have the soldering skills to perform your 3.5mm headphone jack repair smoothly and cleanly.
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