Why are headphones making cracking noises?

Crackling noises in your headphones can disrupt the flow of whatever you’re doing, from working to working out. So here are a few steps you can take to diagnose, and hopefully fix, any annoying crackling.

Is the problem the headphones or the device?

Your headphones might be fine, but the problem is with your auxiliary port, or headphone jack. Test your headphones on a few other devices to see if the crackling persists, and test your device with a few other pairs of headphones that you know are in good working order. This should isolate the source of the problem. If it’s the jack, check that the headphones are securely plugged in and stay plugged in; a loose fit will cause crackling due to a poor electrical connection. Also try cleaning the tip of your headphone jack with rubbing alcohol on a cloth; dirt may be getting in the way of your connection.

Loose Wires

One of the most common causes of crackling are loose wires inside the headphone cables. If there are loose wires at the points where the wires connect to the plug, or where the wires connect to the earbuds, you can reinforce these with the curable polymer Sugru or even wrap the joins with electrical tape for a quick fix. If wires are loose or frayed deeper in the cable, this is probably because they have been bent or wrapped in the same direction over time. It might be too late to save this pair of headphones, but here are some tips to extend the life of others in the future.

Read related article: How to Avoid Breaking Your Earbuds

Bad EQ

Do your headphones crackle at particularly loud or intense moments in a track? If the bass or treble settings are set too high for your media player to handle, the volume can cause cracking and popping and damage your headphone speakers. Try testing that this is the case by turning down the volume and listening again. You can also check any sound cards or drivers to make sure this is not a software issue on your computer or device.

If the problem persists, the sound card is fine and you’re not just listening at excessive volume (which can have the same blown out sound), It might be worth considering getting a headphone amp for better sound quality over a greater dynamic range. Read a related article here.
You probably use your earbuds all day, and know how gross they can get after they’ve been in and out of your ears, in and out of your bag, picking up dirt, wax and bacteria along the way. That gunk can also get inside the earbud speakers and distort the sound. Headphones also accumulate dirt and oil, and their pads need cleaning.

Remove soft tips and covers

First, remove any soft silicone tips or covers from your earbuds. You can wash them in mild soap and water, then leave them on a towel to dry.

Use a toothbrush

Use a soft, dry toothbrush to gently brush the hard surfaces of the earbuds  or ear cups and remove any debris. Be careful not to brush too hard around the ear openings or mesh surfaces; this can push wax and debris inside. Then dip a cloth in soapy water or isopropyl alcohol, and rub this over the surfaces to clean them. Make sure not to get liquid inside.

Deep clean the screens

If the screens are loaded with ear wax and dirt, use a small amount of hydrogen peroxide (maximum concentration 3%) to the mesh surfaces with a cloth, making sure no excess liquid gets inside. Let this sit for five minutes to soften any wax, and then clean with a cloth soaked in soapy water. Be careful with hydrogen peroxide and any cloth coverings of over-ear headphones; it can leave bleach stains.

For Headphones:

Use the same techniques to clean earbuds for over-ear headphones, but pay extra attention to avoid getting liquid inside the speaker through the screens. To clean leather ear pads, use leather cleaner and rub them on a soft chamois cloth to restore their supple finish.

Let them dry

Once you have finished cleaning your earbuds, let the parts dry on a towel for at least 10 minutes before putting them back together and using them.  It may be tempting to speed this up, but don’t use a hair dryer or fan; this could cause corrosion and ruin them. When they’re fully dry, reassemble and go back to listening.

Why are headphones making cracking noises?

Crackling noises in your headphones can disrupt the flow of whatever you’re doing, from working to working out. So here are a few steps you can take to diagnose, and hopefully fix, any annoying crackling.

Is the problem the headphones or the device?

Your headphones might be fine, but the problem is with your auxiliary port, or headphone jack. Test your headphones on a few other devices to see if the crackling persists, and test your device with a few other pairs of headphones that you know are in good working order. This should isolate the source of the problem. If it’s the jack, check that the headphones are securely plugged in and stay plugged in; a loose fit will cause crackling due to a poor electrical connection. Also try cleaning the tip of your headphone jack with rubbing alcohol on a cloth; dirt may be getting in the way of your connection.

Loose Wires

One of the most common causes of crackling are loose wires inside the headphone cables. If there are loose wires at the points where the wires connect to the plug, or where the wires connect to the earbuds, you can reinforce these with the curable polymer Sugru or even wrap the joins with electrical tape for a quick fix. If wires are loose or frayed deeper in the cable, this is probably because they have been bent or wrapped in the same direction over time. It might be too late to save this pair of headphones, but here are some tips to extend the life of others in the future.

Read related article: How to Avoid Breaking Your Earbuds

Bad EQ

Do your headphones crackle at particularly loud or intense moments in a track? If the bass or treble settings are set too high for your media player to handle, the volume can cause cracking and popping and damage your headphone speakers. Try testing that this is the case by turning down the volume and listening again. You can also check any sound cards or drivers to make sure this is not a software issue on your computer or device.

If the problem persists, the sound card is fine and you’re not just listening at excessive volume (which can have the same blown out sound), It might be worth considering getting a headphone amp for better sound quality over a greater dynamic range. Read a related article here.
You probably use your earbuds all day, and know how gross they can get after they’ve been in and out of your ears, in and out of your bag, picking up dirt, wax and bacteria along the way. That gunk can also get inside the earbud speakers and distort the sound. Headphones also accumulate dirt and oil, and their pads need cleaning.

Remove soft tips and covers

First, remove any soft silicone tips or covers from your earbuds. You can wash them in mild soap and water, then leave them on a towel to dry.

Use a toothbrush

Use a soft, dry toothbrush to gently brush the hard surfaces of the earbuds  or ear cups and remove any debris. Be careful not to brush too hard around the ear openings or mesh surfaces; this can push wax and debris inside. Then dip a cloth in soapy water or isopropyl alcohol, and rub this over the surfaces to clean them. Make sure not to get liquid inside.

Deep clean the screens

If the screens are loaded with ear wax and dirt, use a small amount of hydrogen peroxide (maximum concentration 3%) to the mesh surfaces with a cloth, making sure no excess liquid gets inside. Let this sit for five minutes to soften any wax, and then clean with a cloth soaked in soapy water. Be careful with hydrogen peroxide and any cloth coverings of over-ear headphones; it can leave bleach stains.

For Headphones:

Use the same techniques to clean earbuds for over-ear headphones, but pay extra attention to avoid getting liquid inside the speaker through the screens. To clean leather ear pads, use leather cleaner and rub them on a soft chamois cloth to restore their supple finish.

Let them dry

Once you have finished cleaning your earbuds, let the parts dry on a towel for at least 10 minutes before putting them back together and using them.  It may be tempting to speed this up, but don’t use a hair dryer or fan; this could cause corrosion and ruin them. When they’re fully dry, reassemble and go back to listening.

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