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How to fix headphone wires without soldering

A tedious, delicate process that's rewarding and effective.
By

Published onFebruary 10, 2023

Wired headphones break for a variety of reasons — maybe they took one too many tumbles off a desk, were exposed to water, or any other mundane distater. If your headphones aren’t working and it’s due to a broken cable, you may not need to buy a new pair. Instead, you just need 30 minutes, along with some basic tools and supplies, and you can have your headphones reproducing good sound again. Here’s how to repair and fix headphone wires and cables without soldering.

QUICK ANSWER

To fix headphone wires and cables, you will need an army knife, a lighter, and heat-shrinking tubing. To complete the repair, you'll have to strip the cable, remove the wire coating, rejoin the wires, and use the heat-shrinking tube or electric tape.

Before starting, check to see if you headphone cables are removable. It's much easier to replace the headphone cord, than repair it. Oftentimes, manufacturers supply extra cables.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

What do you need to fix headphone wires?

We’re covering the most basic headphone wire repair, which happens to be rather cheap. While you can purchase a soldering iron for a more sophisticated, clean headphone wire fix, we suggest buying just a few things.

  • An army knife, either with a dedicated wire stripper or a bottle opener opposite the blade.
  • A lighter.
  • Optional: heat-shrink tubing or electrical tape.

The heat-shrinking tube is only necessary if you intend to use your headphones outside of the house. If they never leave your at-home workspace, then you can just cover the fixed headphone wires up with electrical tape. Again, we’re taking a “function before form” approach here.

How to fix wired headphones

There are only a few steps from start to finish. The worst part is how tedious the process feels. Before you start, clear the space of flammable objects. It’s unlikely anything dangerous will happen, but let’s just be extra safe. The bathroom is a good, controlled environment.

Step 1: Separate the cable

Everyone’s headphones will be broken a bit differently. If your broken headphone wires are still a bit attached, make a clean cut to separate them into two pieces. Tip: practice on the longer piece first. You can always chop off the mistake and try again if you mess up. If the cable is already in two parts with the wires exposed, you’re ready for step two.

Step 2: Strip the cable

A cable locked into place by an army knife for repair.
Lily Katz / Android Authority
Push down the bottle opener against the handle. Then, push the blade against the cable jacket.

Now, we need to strip the cable jacket to expose the wires underneath.

Insert about two inches of the cable into your knife’s wire stripper or bottle opener notch. If it’s an actual wire stripper, this piece may lock into place at a 90-degree angle. If it’s a bottle opener, lower the piece while keeping the cable in place. Continue lowering until the cable is wedged between the knife handle and bottle opener (pictured above). Now, sink the knife down, so it’s just cutting through the sheath.

Hold the longer side of the cable steady as you rotate the knife in a complete circle. It helps to add a bit of pressure on the handle as you rotate. Be gentle: you don’t want to push too hard and damage the internal wiring. Of course, accidents can happen. In the instance that you mistakenly cut through some of the headphone wire, start over. Just chop off the damaged piece and repeat step 1 and step 2 to get to this point. It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s why we started with the longer piece of cable.

Gently separate the cable jacket from the headphone wires.

Pull the knife and excess cable in opposite directions once you’ve rotated the blade around the jacket. This will slide the sheath off, revealing three or four wires. In the case of the Razer Kraken X, there are four color-coded wires: red, blue, green, and copper. Set aside this section of the original cable and repeat this for the other section of damaged wiring.

If you’re working with a flat or ribbon cable, an X-Acto knife is more effective than an army knife. This is a more delicate process. Make a two-inch lateral incision running down the cable. You can then lift the flaps to reveal the wires. Pluck each one out individually, either by hand or with tweezers.

Step 3: Remove the wire coating

3.5mm cable with wires stripped and separated.
Lily Katz / Android Authority
After stripping each end of the separated cable, the pieces should look like this.

Once you’ve pulled each wire from the jacket, you need to remove the outer colored coating to reveal the copper. Keep some of the colorings at the base of each wire to identify them. This way, you’re not guessing and checking when you attach red to red, green to green, and so on.

Burn each wire one at a time. The exposed wire only takes one or two seconds to reveal itself beneath the melted coating. If the flame begins traveling down the wire, blow it out. Push each completed wire off to the side as you move on to the next. Once you’ve burned away the coatings, clean the ash off. Set aside this section of the cable and repeat with the other section.

Step 4: Rejoin the wires

If you went the extra mile and picked up some heat shrink tubing, slide it away from the exposed wires onto each cable piece. Let it hang below the section of cable that you’re actually working on. Now, it’s time to reattach each of the headphone wires.

When wrapping the wires together, start from the inside of the cable core and move out.

Wrap the corresponding wires together (i.e. red goes with red, green goes with green). This is the most tedious step. Wrap the wires gently; you don’t want to create frayed strands. Bear in mind, the wrapping should be tight so the wires don’t detach. Technically, it doesn’t matter what order you go in to wrap the wires, but it’ll save you a headache to start from the inside wires and move out.

Step 5: Use electrical tape or heat shrinking tube

If you’re going for that dressed-up headphone wire repair look, then you only need to wrap two of the wires in a thin piece of electrical tape. This keeps all the wires insulated from each other. Then, slide the heat-shrinking tubes down over the covered wires. Hold a lighter below the tube and allow it to slowly shrink over it. Avoid touching the flame to the tubing. This will cause the tubing to contract and tighten too much around the wiring.

If you don’t want to use heat shrinking tubing, individually wrap each repaired wire with a thin piece of pre-cut electrical tape. Wrap all three tape-covered wires in a single piece of electrical tape.

That’s it. You fixed your broken headphones’ wires, and can now enjoy music just as you could before. If you’re still not getting sound out of your headphones, you may need to redo the repair. This took me a couple tries to get right. During the first attempt, I accidentally matched the wrong wires together. After trying again, if you’re still not getting sound from your headphones, make sure your phone’s headphone jack is working.


FAQs

Headphones will have three or four wires — red, blue or green, and a copper or copper-colored wire. If you see four wires, the fourth will be another copper wire. Usually, red is the right channel, blue or green is the left channel, and copper wires are ground. When connecting split wires, make sure that you join wires that are the same color.

If you’re buying all of these tools and supplies new, it will cost you about $25 to repair your headphone wires.

A good way to avoid frayed or torn wires is to stop the cable from twisting. Cables twist naturally when everyday use, so it’s a good idea to straighten them occasionally to keep them in good working condition. Hold the wire with your thumb and index finger, and slowly pull the cable through with a little pressure to straighten it out.

You will have to be careful when using your headphones to stop the wires from twisting. Keep the headphones on a stand and let the cable hang. Don’t forget to straighten the wires occasionally.

You can get a cable extender. However, this might create some noise and reduce the audio quality of your headphones.

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