How long do headphones keep working? Well, definitely not forever. Each set of headphones will eventually break. It’s a fragile device with a lot of complicated parts, and those parts will get bumped around and wear out over time, causing it to break down. You can postpone it, but you can’t prevent it.
That sounds pretty bad, so you might be wondering how long headphones should last. There is no clear end date or, more accurately, breaking point. We’ll just say that you’re doing something wrong if your headphones always break within a year.
You can use a pair of headphones for up to three years, and if you take good care of them, you can double or even triple that amount of time. Why do your headphones and earbuds break so often? Here are some common mistakes that will shorten the life of your headphones.
1. Rolling over the wire
The cords on headphones can be quite long. For example, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and the Sony MDRV6 both have cords that are 10 feet long. Even cheaper but still high-quality headphones can come with cords that are 5 to 8 feet long.
You might be tempted to just let a cord that long hang on the ground. If so, be extra careful that it doesn’t get stepped on or, even worse, rolled over by your computer chair’s wheels. One broken point is all it takes to make the whole thing useless.
2. Leaving the Cord Drooping
Another way to damage headphones with long cords is to let the cord hang over the edge of a desk, whether the headphones are in use or not. Even with the best wired headphones, it’s a risk.
A cord that is hanging down is stuck bent at a 90-degree angle, which puts too much stress on the wire inside at that point. Imagine a staple pin. If you bend it back and forth, it will break. If you accidentally press or pinch the cord against the edge, it could cut the wire inside and make the headphones unusable.
3. Getting used to having them on your head
Even the best of us have done this: spent hours playing games or watching a game on our laptops, then had to run to the bathroom but forgot to take the headphones off first. Snap, clatter, facepalm.
When you snap a cord like that, you put a lot of sudden stress on the wires inside and where they connect. Even if the headphones don’t break the first, second, or even third time, the damage keeps getting worse. Every time a cord breaks, something goes wrong.
4. Making knots in the cord
Have you seen those “lifehacks” that show “clever” ways to wind up cords so they don’t get tangled? So, forget about them! Especially the ones that are for people who use earbuds. If you’re wondering why your earbuds break so easily, this could be why: tight loops and knots make the internal wires wear out faster.
If you’re not sure, here are some general rules: Never tie knots. Avoid tight loops. The more loose, the better.
If you need a hack for your earbuds, wrap the cord around a toilet paper roll with notches for the plug and the buds. Use the “roadie wrap” method shown in the video below for regular headphones. Then, you can push two of the circle’s ends together to make a “8” shape and secure it with a twist tie or rubber band.
5. Going on a trip without a case
Stop throwing your headphones and earbuds into your pockets, bags, and backpacks. No matter how careful you are, the things inside the container will move around, which will pull, stretch, twist, bend, knot, pinch, crush, and damage the cord.
And if you leave the cord plugged into your phone, heavy things can hit the connection point and break it. You can stop this from happening with an L-shaped jack.
Use a case whenever you can. Most good headphones these days come with hard cases, so that’s one less thing you have to worry about. Cases that are easy to carry can hold earbuds. If your headphones have a cord that can be taken off, you can also put that in an earbud hard case. Even if all else fails, a soft pouch is better than nothing.
6. Not Pulling the Plug, but the Cord
Here’s another big reason why your headphones keep breaking: pulling on the cord causes stress where the cord meets the plug. Over time, pulling on the plug can cause the wire inside to break and come loose. Or, if you pull on the cord, the cable could come loose from the connector and get stuck in the audio port of your device.
Earbuds are the same way. Do you pull on the cord to get the buds out of your ears when you’re done? Due to different stresses, one of the internal wires will break before the other, leaving you with earbuds that only work on one side.
For many of us, the left earbud is the one who gets hurt. No one seems to know why, but here’s a good guess. Most of us are right-handed, so it makes sense that when we want to take out an earbud, we reach for the other one, which is on the left. If you’ve ever wondered why the left earbud always breaks, you now know the answer.
Don’t pull the string! The main reason your headphones break is because of stress. You can break this habit if you switch to a cord with an L-shaped jack, which can’t be unplugged by pulling on the cord.
7. Being exposed to sweat and water
Water and electronics don’t go together. Water can damage your phone or tablet, and it can also damage the audio drivers in your headphones.
Sweat can be a big problem, especially if you are working out and listening to music. You might sweat less if you wear a headband, but you’ll sweat more if you don’t get headphones made for sports or exercise. These headphones are made with sweat in mind. The sound might not be great, but at least it will last.
Don’t wear headphones in the rain or right after you get out of the shower. Wet hair can let water run down and into cracks. High humidity could also speed up the wear and tear of internal parts over time. But if you really need a pair of headphones or earbuds that can handle water, check out these ones made for swimming.
8. Getting to sleep with them on
When you’re asleep, you can’t choose how you move. You move around by rolling, flopping, and twisting and turning. At the very least, you’re likely to catch the cord. You might also hurt the headphones if you sleep on them while your head is too heavy.
Skip the headphones and use an Amazon Echo, which you can turn on and off with your voice, to listen to whatever you want. If you can’t do that and have to sleep with headphones, you might want to get a pair of wireless earbuds.
9. Increasing the sound level
Another thing that can cause headphones to break is using them a lot at really loud volumes. All things that make noise do so by sending out sound waves. Vibrations are what make sound waves, and the stronger the vibrations, the louder the sound. The sound-making parts of headphones are fragile, so turning the volume up too high can bend them.
At first, you won’t be able to hear certain sounds. The sound will change and get worse, losing its fullness. As the problem gets worse, sounds may start to sound tinnier than usual. Over time, you’ll start to hear buzzing and other noises that are annoying.
10. Being cheap about the price tag
Why do cheap headphones break so easily? Because they don’t cost much. You don’t always get what you pay for, but in general, you get what you pay for. Paying more doesn’t mean you’ll get a better product, and cheaper products can be well-made and last a long time.
You might be able to make a cheap pair of headphones last for years, but don’t be surprised if your $20 knock-offs from overseas die in three months. Strong materials, smart designs, and making sure the quality is good all cost money. If you want to pay less, you’ll have to give up something.
So, if you want a high-quality product, check out the best Beats headphones for iPhone users.
Think About the Pros and Cons of Wireless Headphones
Most of the mistakes above have to do with the cord, not the headphones themselves. If you can get rid of the cord completely, your headphones are likely to last a lot longer. So, you should think about getting wireless headphones.