Soldering headphone wire

Many people find themselves frustrated when working with headphones. The tiny coated wire can be a real pain to work with. They are so very very small, and usually coated.  We generally just end up doing a quick “sand and tape” which just isn’t very high quality.  [Alex] sent in some tips that can really help you get those repairs or modifications going.

50 thoughts on “Soldering headphone wire

  1. I have one of those mini torches, and it is sweet! Comes in handy for all sorts of things, specifically removing good parts from old circuit boards…

    1. I tried burning the wire with lighter and wrap it around, but the burn coating stayed on.
      So i used a nail filer to sand the burnt wires, and fab it works. Wrap them around and use a bit of transparent take to keep them distanced individually.

  2. if you take a small metal tray , put a blob of solder in it and use a variable temp soldering iron at 300 degrees C , then metl the blob of solder and pass the wire through it slowly it takes the coating off it and tins the wire

  3. Soldering audio cables is in general always tricky First thing I’m always doing is burning the coating of then solder them work like a charm :D

  4. the what? i just put a blob of solder on my soldering iron, tin the enameled wire (usually with some nylon fibers and whatnot in there), and burn the whole thing off. this is typically how these wires are meant to be used, and almost certainly how they do the joints during manufacture. The stuff that burns off just kinda floats on top of the solder blob on your iron, and you wipe the iron off easy, and the enamel gets tinned with solder. After that, solder the wire as you normally would. I wouldn’t be concerned at all about organics damaging your soldering iron (more concerned about breathing it, but that’s another issue)–hell, there’s burnt flux on it most of the time, anyway, and it tends to float to the surface.

    I see no point to the whole pencil torch nonsense, unless your iron isn’t high enough power, in which case it is possible to melt the rest of the insulation since you won’t be able to do it fast enough. the thin tiny wires they use aren’t very good thermal conductors, and don’t melt the rest of the cable that quickly. i’ve fixed quite a few headphones without that extra nonsense.

    there’s always also the possibility that non-solderable enamel was used (basically the burning/melting temperature of the enamel is too high for the soldering iron), but i haven’t encountered that in headphone wires at all. in that case, using a pencil iron makes sense.

  5. step 1: touch headphone wire to hot soldering iron
    step 2: you’re done.

    why do we need an entire article for that? i do this stuff all the time and never gave it a second thought. you don’t need a torch, and you don’t need to read that article.

  6. I agree with andrew. I just turn up my iron a little and solder it. The coating and fibers inside just burn off while you make the joint.

  7. I think it depends, I found it quite hard to repair a friends iPhone cable because the wires disintegrated so easily. I ended up doing it with a sratch from a knife followed by running it through molten solder. It surprised me how tough the enamel was and maybe using my butane torch would have helped things along.

  8. I’ve recabled and reterminated a few pairs of headphones. The coating comes off easily with a lighter.

  9. I used a torch like that on thicker wires so when I had a need to solder some wires as described I tried it, and no that didn’t work, it carbonised the insulation AND the wires instantly, even a lighter did, they were too thin and there’s too much insulation vs material to use a torch.
    I guess some get lucky though.

  10. with high temperature enamel (not usually found in headphones, and usually clear instead of red or green from my suppliers), you can’t really use the soldering iron. Your two options are basically a really expensive specialized (motorized) stripper for the job, chemical stripping, or a torch. The chemical stripping uses some nasty chemicals, and I don’t think they sell it as a stripping product anymore.

    A torch does leave the burnt insulation on the wire, but usually it’s easily removable with sandpaper or the green scotchbrite stuff they have on sponges for cleaning metal surfaces. I’ve successfully soldered high temperature enameled wire using this method.

  11. This is exactly the trick I would use when I was building custom surveillance gear back a few years ago.
    Interfacing different audio gear brough me right up against this stuff, and i handled it the same way.

    (it helps when you’re already using a butane-fired iron too)

    Great how to!

  12. I have to replace or shorten the wire on my headphones 3-4 times a year because it gets stiff right near the buds, must be something to do with cycling a lot with them on. You just can’t buy the buds I use anymore & all the other cheapie ones I’ve tried suck, so I managed to hoard 4 pairs of the ones I specifically use in case mine get broken/stolen.

    I use a cigarette lighter every time to burn the coating off, doesn’t have to be one of those ones that does an impression of a miniature after burner either.

    BTW if you want to talk fine soldering: http://www.haku.co.uk/pics/CasioThermoscanner.jpg
    Broken miniature ribbon cable meant having to solder 5 individual strands of wire, and that was back when I had a crappy soldering iron.
    The watch & thermoscanner still works, but the strap disintegrated long ago.

  13. After a few projects involving audio wire, i decided to build a solder pot for myself.

    I took a 15w soldering pencil from RadioCrap and mounted it vertically, tip up, in metal electrical 2-gang box as a base. i then wedged an aluminum ‘bowl’ on the pencil tip. This bowl was from my local head-shop, where they are sold as replacements for those metal screw-together pipes that seem quite ubiquitous.

    it can keep a ball of solder molten that it large enough to tin any wire, esp. headphone/enamel coated wire.

  14. I’m a radio engineer, and often fixing HP’s for careless ops. But yes, those tiny strands are a pain.
    Also, that 3rd wire isn’t always expendable. Usually it’s the ground cable and is definately required.

    The sure fire method:

    Liquid Flux
    (available at most hobby/hardware stores.. Canadian Tire for one ex, and not very expensive)

    Use just a little bit on the tip of the stranded wire and it’ll absorb into the cabling.
    Get some solder on your iron
    Briefly touch the iron to the tip of the wire, and the solder will quickly and smoothly flow over the tip of the wire.
    Once you tin both ends like this, you can then attach them.

    The key is to be quick and not use too much liquid flux, so you don’t burn too much of the wire away. You’ll find that tinning wire ends with liquid flux, especially stranded cable, works excellent since it practically pulls the solder into place.
    Yes, there’s solder with a flux core, but trust me when I say this works better.

    WARNING
    Liquid flux is an acid. Don’t get any on you. If you do a lot of work with it, keep some solder remover handy. (the remover is a skin irritant, but better than acid)

    To apply, I suggest either long stemmed Q-tips, or even easier, get a small glass bottle with a plastic cap and applicator brush. (Metal lids will quickly be corroded)

  15. i’ve revived almost a dozen sets of earbuds now just because people are so willing to hand over a set of $30-50 headphones that can be restored in about 20 minutes.

    a few things that have made life much, much easier when working with earbuds/fine audio cable:

    — don’t sweat the solder! its actually the least important issue when i work with earbuds. your main concern should be properly removing the stubborn coating. the problem with simply using the heat from your iron is that you will often end up with a very thin layer of acrylic coating the wire instead of burning it off. it is also resistant to displacement by normal flux and an incredibly effective insulator.

    –specifically with headphones, the old burn n’ twist method works better than you would expect for an audio job. however, i realize that downplaying solder around electricians is a blasphemy.

    –heat sink with needle nose or regular pliers *about halfway up on the exposed wire* (not on the outer insulation like in the article!). this means that no matter how you get the wires, the coating will never burn off where they rejoin, and that you can be as thorough as you please with your flame

    –clean after you burn. no matter how hot you get your wire, you’ll still end up with carbonized coating on the wire, and it’s always made my connections crappy. i’ve gotten away with soapy water to gently remove the soot.

    my way is certainly not the most ‘professional’ way to do it, but it’s the most reliable way when short on resources/skills. i think the author’s method was a tad roundabout. if you want ‘best’ i would use dave’s above.

  16. lol i just use a lighter spin the two ends together and if im feeling generous and caring ill put some tape around it

    pff shrink wrap is for non resistant people :D

    god im gonna go to hell for this

  17. dudes heres my method…
    1. take ur headphone wire
    2. put some soldering flux on the tip of the wire
    3. put some solder in the tip with the flux
    …the solder should automatically grab onto the headphone wire, replacing the colorful coating with solder :D

  18. This article is useless… but the advice on here is gold.

    I tried to flame method – useless since it leaves so much soot behind that by the time you get rid of it, half the wires will be pulled off.

    Here’s what you need to do. Set your soldering iron to 500 degrees C and just touch the tip to the insulated copper wires. The insulation will melt off in less than a sec and the connection can be easily tinned.

  19. PS: after you burn off the coating with your soldering iron (not fire), there is NO CLEANING REQUIRED unlike this crappy article.

    Like other’s have said, if your iron is hot enough, dab a bit of solder on before you put it on your insulated wire and the wire should be tinned as you burn the insulation off. This is the BEST method. Please don’t waste your time with the fire.

  20. All you who have posted and said, “should work” I have to toss out. I need something from those who have had success. Rubbing the stuff off with fine emery cloth or fingernail file is a pain and way to time consuming. Acetone doesn’t work. MEK don’t work either. Burning is a crapshoot and makes a mess and how many of us have a 500 degree iron or a soldering pot.

    Daves solution, Posted at 1:52 pm on May 25th, 2009, looks to be the easiest. Acids are not recommended for electronics but when you are banging your head on the wall what else can you do?. Specifically what liquid flux do you use Dave?

  21. Many thanks for all the info above. I have a pair of Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pros. HiFi and electronic repair shops wouldn’t touch them saying it requires a solder machine as wires are too fine…

    After reading all the advice I above, I plumped for simply putting a blob of solder on the iron, dipping the lead in to it, then placing it on connection and rubbing the iron (with some solder) over it. No flux, heat sink, torch, etc

    This was inside the ear bud so I don’t expect the joins to be stressed

    Works a treat – Thanks again!

  22. I’ve found that lighters (or any intense heat) hardens up the wires and makes them break very easily. Maybe I’m lucky, but my lab has coating stripper (Someone mentioned they don’t sell it anymore). You dunk the ends in that stuff, and leave them somewhere to hang for a bit, and scrape it off with a razor blade (do NOT angle the blade in the direction you’re pulling! blade: / pull: =>)

    Cleans them right up, although with the gold grounds it can be tough to tell when you’ve got them fixed. You can do them without the chemicals, it just takes time and care. I can’t imagine you’d ever need to do this quickly, so I honestly feel it’s the best way. (I originally tried burning the coating off with solder and the joints were always terrible.)

  23. @elmer

    I’d imagine since it’s been a year you’ve figured out something that will work, but I fix/mod up headphones for my friends/a living if I can get anyone to come through with the dough they promised :) and a straight razor blade is cheap, accessible and always works, although you CAN’T and I stress CAN’T be in a hurry or you’ll slash up the wires.

    I’ve never tried an emery, but it seems doable. I can’t imagine a situation where its so time critical it needs to be done in a hurry, do it on a Sunday afternoon and take some time to make sure you make yourself good headphones.

    Assuming you’re just a hobbyist, I think scraping is the easiest most accessible way to go about it.

  24. my vote goes for pre soldering the wire ends like you might do with bare copperwire. if you do this right, the joints are beautifult(if you would ever consider a well made soldering joint to be beautiful and could master doing one) i have tried some of the lighter / scraping-methods mentioned above, they do work too, but i’ve found the simplest way to be the best way…

  25. I think this step is not required. I agree with other who say just solder the wires as if the coating wasn’t there. I twisted the strands I was connecting together, put a tinny bit of flux on it, and applied the solder. The coating came off and rose to the top of the solder. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the connections. This wire is meant to be soldered on quickly in the factory so I guarantee it doesn’t require the added step of burning the coating off.

  26. the only reason they are made that small is so that they break easily and the manufactures make more money it goes with all the other shoddy crud out there i have noticed over the years how the quality of things have gone down or its sealed and comes as one unit most things are over complicated here is a good example—flux magnet signal generator amplifier cam sensor coil pack ecu —-all of that to get a spark to the plugs when all you need is a simple set of contact points for 2 quid does exactly the same job as all of that junk WHY???BECAUSE JOE PUBLIC CAN FIX THAT AND THEY DONT WANT YOU FIXING ANYTHING THESE DAYS but it has,nt stopped me trying before i give up my cash to the man

  27. I’ve been using aspirin method for years: take an aspirin pill, place the wire on it and touch with soldering iron. Isolation then comes off easily.

  28. I must say that you have made a very good post and would love to add a suggestion. What I have been doing for all of my acrylic wire soldering projects. But first let me say not to knock on the flame idea because it is the very idea I used before this one. I found the wires tend to get brittle and charred and because the wire is so small the heat distribution makes the fall off so abrupt the usable area is also brittle so for maximum strength I came up with this.

    1. I tin the tip of my soldering iron and form a small puddle (1-2 mm ball) of solder on the tip

    2. Then as I am holding the wire (BEFORE ANYTHING IS ATTACHED) I take it and rest it in the puddle until you see the acrylic boil to the edge of the solder

    3. Now because I form the puddle of solder the acrylic waste does not stick to the soldering iron and you just have to tap the excess into a ashtray or bowl or your soldering station waste tray

    What you accomplish by doing this is you tin the wire wherever you are connecting it to make for faster soldering once your working with your component to keep down on heat damage for the wire and component (as we all know brittle wires and burned up plastic sucks when your working on those “one shot” projects). you also benefit from have the acrylic coating all the way up-to your solder joint.

    Things I have repaired:

    Xbox 360’s
    Turtle beach Gaming Headsets
    Touchscreen car dvd players
    Car stereos
    LED TV’S
    Projection TV’s
    Laptops
    Desktop Computers
    Standard Earphones
    Police Lighting Equipment
    Surveillance camera Equipment
    ECT….

  29. Why not just put the wires in electrolyte solution (salt water) and run a voltage across it for a few seconds.. I use this method to remove tin of wire sometimes. You should put the wire in the anode side as the surface actually corrodes off that pole.

  30. do i need to solder the wires before it starts working? i burned the coating off and twisted the wires together but it doesnt work… i would really appreciate a reply.

    1. Before I figured it out I tried sanding, burning, scraping, an acid dip and such but what works every time is a variable temp, 650deg HOT, solder iron. First dip the problem wire in a solder paste then hold the wire in a puddle of melted solder on the hot iron. The coating melts away as the wire is tinned. After that it will solder like regular wire. Works every time.

  31. I’m not a Pro, and I don’t know anything about soldering, I have the Beats By Dr, Dre Studio, and suddenly they stopped working, so I opened them to see if I could find what was wrong with them and found out that both sides have a loose wire. How can i figure out where the wire goes?, and also who can i take them to to get them fix, could a phone repair store do the job?

  32. Thanks for all these tips and to the OP for bringing it up. I went more or less with threepointone’s approach (from May 24, 2009 at 5:01 pm) and it worked quite well. My goal was to remove the coiled part of the audio cable for the SHURE SRH 440 headphones to make a lighter set with just enough wire to reach an ipod nano in my pocket (or even mounted on the head set!). I used a backup cable I had lying around that had been slightly damaged but was still useable. Otherwise would have been an expensive risk to take.

    I just twisted the tiny wire’s together in their coating using my fingers, clipped the ends into a helping hand setup, tinned the iron, went over the wire twist a few times with the bead, trying to apply the solder and heat evenly and replenishing the bead with more solder as needed (it might fall away before the wires are hot enough but it is still doing the job of melting the sheath). Heat shrinked them all separately and then together – done! Happily using my modded headphones right now!

  33. The tiny wires in the earbuds usually break due to continuous twisting inside the earbud. The best way of preventing that twisting is by adding a drop of glue and stick the wire to the interior wall of the earbud.
    I dont like opening the earbuds just to do that when they are new, but once you have to open them to fix them first time , it is worth doing. You will not have that problem again in that side ¡¡¡

  34. Those irritating audio cables are not only a minute CSA, but they invariably have strands of plastic fiber inter-wound with them. There are 2 methods I use prior to soldering;

    1) Wrap the core wires in a little tissue or cotton wool, and soak it with cellulose thinners.

    2) Heat a little liquid paraffin or vegetable oil in a spoon and dip the wires into it.

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