Simple earphone repair saves a big chunk of cash

shure_earphone_repair

[Spode] has been rocking out with a pair of Shure E4C earphones for about six years now, and he has no intentions of buying another set any time soon. The earphones cost him £200, so when the right channel started acting up, he decided to fix them rather than toss them in the trash bin.

His first attempt was successful, but just barely so. He ended up damaging the earphone case pretty badly, and in time the same problem reappeared. Undeterred, he opted to fix them once again, but this time around he did things differently.

Upon disassembling them, he found that his repair job had become frayed over time. [Spode] desoldered both drivers from the wires and cut them back a bit to expose some nice clean (and structurally sound) cable. He spent a little more time carefully soldering things back together to mitigate the chances of having to repair them again before replacing both earphone shells with a bit of black Sugru.

Having saved himself £200, [Spode] is quite happy with the repair. We probably would have tied an underwriter’s knot in each cable before soldering them to the drivers in the name of strain relief, though the Sugru should help with that.

Comments

  1. Sea Shadow says:

    I too have a pair of E4Cs and I love them dearly. I have had the same concern, as the original strain reliefs have long since worn away. Glad to see someone has already repaired their set successfully. I will have to remember this hack for when I need to do some work to mine.

  2. HackJack says:

    A headphone worth £200 better comes with lifetime warranty.

  3. b1r6m4n says:

    I cannot believe that one person in this whole world would pay over 200 euros for headphones (of that type). I could *maybe* see it with the big over-ear styles with more proper speakers…

    For that price they should have a lifetime warranty, no questions asked.

    • M4CGYV3R says:

      The S4/PSM/SCL4/E4 series (same things, different names and packages) from Shure are actually extremely high quality headphones.

      If you go for the next model up, the E5s, you will be paying between $300 and $400 U$D for a pair – and they’re completely worth it. Like I said below, if you send them back they usually replace them for you if anything reasonable happens. I know people who have used them for >6 years and still swear by them.

      They also make some pretty extreme can-type headphones (SRH- 440 / 750DJ / 940) which are less durable than the pair of Sony MDR-7506s I have been using for 9 years, but have much better sound quality for studio and mastering purposes.

  4. Pete S says:

    Nice. Now we just need a DIY audiologist who can show us how to do the custom-molded-after-your-ear-canal-silicon-inserts so we get a really good fit and a really good sound.

  5. truthspew says:

    Another handy mod for most earphones is a drop of hot glue.

    People think duct tape holds the universe together, but they just haven’t come across hot glue yet. It’s how I modified a cheap pair of earphones. It stopped the wire from flexing at a certain point and moved the breakage potential out some so I could effect easier repairs.

    • smoker_dave says:

      You could try Polymorph (not sure what they call it in the US?). It’s plastic crystals that you melt in hot water, mold into shape, and then it sets like nylon. Should come in handy for replacing strain reliefs.

      Actually I may look at beefing up my laptop with some charger later, they seem to break very easy!

  6. Siciro says:

    Has anyone at HaD heard of Ironbuds? The modular repairable ear bud? Check out http://s376010601.initial-website.com/ for their website tha’ts still under development or their kickstarter page at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/legendary/earbuds-time-to-change-the-status-quo

  7. M4CGYV3R says:

    I have been using and selling these for almost ten years now under various names (E4, SCL4, PSM, etc) and by far the easiest and most thorough fix is to send them back to Shure.

    They will repair or replace them for you, usually for free if it’s normal wear-and-tear.

    They have some of the best customer service of any company I regularly work with, and they make rock-solid products.

  8. echodelta says:

    Silicone has the grip and flex for this sort of repair. Those elephant trunk like things moulded on the ends of wires are not strain reliefs, but cut offs for exposing a little bit of wire to reconect to. Unless they bend over a wide range of tension they’re useless. The right way to do this is to have the wire come out of a radiused edge hole.
    200 Pounds headphone, 2 cents worth of sound (mpee)!
    Great sound,free (flac).
    Ear buds have to have wire as heavy and strong as Al Dente vermicelli. Eventually you will need to spin some metallic frog hair to make new wire.

  9. aEx155 says:

    I took $60 worth of broken earphone pairs and made a single working set worth $30…I think I saved some money in there somewhere…

    A lot of times I find my headphones break the most at the audio jack, from sitting bent in my pocket too much. It’s easy enough to just cut off the molded rubber and re-solder the wires, but if I can get my hands on some sugru I’ll start using it instead of heat-shrink tubing.

    Sadly the one thing you can’t repair easily is having one of the drivers stop working, but it seems like that’s pretty rare. I was so sad when I cracked open my Sony headphones to try and re-solder something only to find that the driver itself was broken.

  10. Haku says:

    Whoa, £200 is some serious money to put down on some earbuds, the ones I use cost me under £5 and when I found out how good they are compared to others I went back and bought another set, Philips Eargear HE205, and years down the line bought two more off eBay because they’re not made anymore and similar model number Philips buds sound crap (no bass at all).

    I always listen to music whilst cycling (loud enough to hear but not loud enough to drown out traffic) and the only problem I have now with my earbuds is that the wire right next to the buds becomes stiff over time, so every so often I have to take them apart and cut off the stiffened wire, then eventually replace the wire entirely with that from cheap crap earbuds that cost almost nothing.

  11. Heh, I fixed some headphones a week ago with this trick.

    Also works well on notebook cables, if you use Polymorph mixed with black “Heat it Up” powder you can make something which is as strong as the original plastic.

    Using a silicone + heatshrink surround on the cable with all but the last 1cm embedded in the plastic makes sure that this repair lasts.

    (Heat it Up powder can be snagged from Oatlands over here!)

  12. David Gregson says:

    You think that is expensive you idiots, wait until you have to pay 500 to 3000 dollars each for hearing aids. Don’t use ear buds or head phones is my advice. Take it or leave it.

  13. Oh, and don’t forget that lead free solder is a total (insert vulgar word here) and takes multiple passes with leaded solder to finally melt it.

    Some manufacturers are now glueing the wires with silver adhesive directly to the pads to save a PCB, which is even more awkward to repair.

    Another common fault is an open driver, even if the lead is OK. I’ve only seen this twice but the fix is very difficult and requires a strong magnifier to find the break.

    • Whatnot says:

      This is a reason I’d not buy $200 plugs, I just know something will go foul and they will be theoretically alright but hard to repair but tossing out 200 smackers is just not acceptable.

      At least with a regular headphones the investment is more secure in my view.

  14. Pete says:

    Wow, perfect timing with this post! I’m cleaning out my home office, and came across my old pair of Shure earbuds. The case had cracked, but I paid so much for them that I didn’t want to just trash them. And I have a packet of Sugru lying around as well, so I can’t wait to try this. Thanks!

  15. aeiah says:

    ive had some shure e2cs for about that many years. two pairs if you count my girlfriends. the common problem with ours has always been at the jack end though. imagine how many perfectly decent earbuds and headphones get thrown away because of a break in the cable.

  16. Whatnot says:

    I would use strain relief but never a knot, that’s not good for such cables, a bit of hot glue or superglue to make a bump is an idea, or some small bits of heatshrink, or a combination thereof.

    Incidentally while talking headphones, I had a regular on-ear one lose one of the foam protectors recently, and the bare plastic hurt my ear like mad, so what I did is cut a piece from a bit of leftover fleece from a blanket, cut it to size, cut a hole in the middle, and glued it on with a few small dabs of hot glue, it worked like a charm.
    Of course replacement foam is better but when you are in a pinch that does work

    • saimhe says:

      About 15 years ago I used to buy $1 chinese headphones mainly for the foam (two sets of it usually included). They have disappeared for good, and I have yet to see a set of replacement foam. So now I cut kitchen sponge (heated wire works fair) into 3 mm thick sheets and sew them around the plastic.

  17. computer_freak_8 says:

    How can you tie an Underwriter’s knot with only one wire?

    • Mike Nathan says:

      Theoretically, each earbud has two wires running to it, unless they simply ran the ground wire on the outside of the signal wire. These two wires could be tied in an Underwriter’s knot, given some time and the appropriate amount of patience.

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