I have recently begun teaching myself how to solder with the hopes of crafting my own DJ controls in the near future. I had many, many questions when I was getting started from what type of iron I needed to how to actually apply the solder to a fixture. Know that I have a good understanding of the basics I thought I would answer all my early questions for everyone right here!
This is important. I know that a new set of headphones/earbuds can be super cheap, so if you are looking for a quick fix that doesn’t require time, patience, and an investment in some tools, than this isn’t for you. My goal is to teach you soldering with a hands-on & practical activity aimed at beginners which also happens to fix a common problem.
I think learning how to fix a broken set of headphones is ideal for learning to solder for a couple of reasons. Broken headphones are common so either you, or someone you know, probably already has some to practice on. Plus, they are already broken; no harm, no foul if you can’t fix them.
Also, beyond the soldering equipment, which you will already have or will be using a lot in the future, the only component you need to buy is the headphone jack which is easy to get and very cheap. Everything else should be in your house.
Another great thing about beginning with this project is the durability of the headphone jack. You can burn, solder, de-solder and otherwise beat it up and it should still function if you do things right. Perfect for learning! Expensive electrical components that can short or get damaged if you do things incorrectly are not where you want to begin.
Watch the video overview showing how to fix broken headphones here:
What you will need:
- A broken set of headphones. Like the ones that came with your phone. (We will only be fixing the earbuds themselves not the microphone or the volume controller, that is for a different tutorial. If your set of broken phones has a microphone don’t worry, we can still get the audio pumping through the buds. You just need to be aware that the microphone won’t work.)
- TRS (Tip-Ring-sleeve) headphone connector (more on this later)
- Soldering iron. 25w is great (20w or 30w will work too). A little pencil style that is really cheap will do the trick.
- Solder. I used a 60/40 solder, again very cheap. (60% tin, 40% lead)
- Solder pump, to de-solder any mistakes you might make.
- Wire cutters.
- Matches or a Lighter.
- Wet sponge.
- An exhaust fan. A regular fan blowing the smoke out of the way is fine.
What Would Help:
- Something to Help Hold the Jack (Vice grips, helping hands, playdough)
- Sandpaper. (The Finer the better)
- Magnifying glass.
Exposing the Wires
Cut the old headphone jack off as close to its base as you can. Then take off about a quarter of an inch of the protection sleeve to expose the wires.
Now, depending on the manufacturer, you will have 3 or 4 wires (headphones only), or 5 wires (microphone/controller).
I have 3 wires. Blue (sometimes green), Red, Copper (x2 copper is you have 4 wires).
The copper wire(s) are the ground(s).
The colored wires are the audio wires. Usually Red is for the right, but as there is no standard for wire coloring (DERP) around the world so that isn’t always the case. You will know that you have mixed up the wires if you complete the project and your left/right stereo field is switched. If that is a big deal, you can go back and switch them by desoldering the joints, cleaning them, and repeating the process.
The coloring of the wires is actually a protective coating. We need to remove that coat in order to get proper connectivity between the wire and the new plug (jack). There are a couple ways of doing that. I think the simplest way is to burn it off and then remove the remaining soot with fine sandpaper. However, you can go with just the sandpaper route or alternatively burn the coating and use your fingernails or something similar to remove the soot.
REMEMBER, SAFETY FIRST!
Important: Make sure you put the protective housing/case onto the wire now, threads facing towards the plug, as you won’t be able to do this after you being soldering the wires onto the new plug.
TRS Headphone Plug
Now. Let’s take a look at the headphone connector. We will be using a Tip-Ring-Sleeve (TRS) connector. For headphones with a microphone you would want a Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve (TRRS), but like I said, we can still use a TRS plug to fix the phones for any set!
TRS Plug Exposed
If you look at the exposed diagram. We are going to connect the red wire to the ring, the blue/green wire to the tip and the ground to the sleeve.
We need to feed the proper wires through the proper holes. You can do them all now, but I suggest doing them one at a time as they tend to not want to stay threaded.
Start with the ground wire(s) and feed it through the sleeve from the inside. You may need to bend the exposed wire in half if the end is badly frayed. You could also try the to trim it with the wires cutters. Once you have threaded it through the hole in the sleeve it is time to solder.
REMEMBER, SAFETY FIRST!
If you haven’t already, you should plug the solder iron into the power supply to begin heating up. Each iron will take a different amount time, but 4 minutes should do the trick if your iron doesn’t have a helpful ready light! This tool is going to be extremely hot, like melt metal hot, so be extremely careful.
Important: When you actually being to solder some smoke will be created. Make sure to have a fan blowing or sucking that smoke away from your face as it is poisonous.
Important: While you are waiting for the iron to get to the right temperature look at the wire. You need to make sure that while, during and after the soldering process the wire remains touching the sleeve itself. That connectivity is everything!
Once your iron is hot enough take it and apply it to the wire and the plug for a second. Then touch the solder to the iron, plug and wire at the same time. You may need to hold it there for a short time. You will see the solder bubble and some smoke being expelled. Keep touching the solder to the iron until there is just enough covering the wire and the plug. You don’t want too much, because if you do the plug’s housing will not fit onto it later on.
Important: Lift the solder away first. This will allow the applied solder to remain liquid. Then you can remove the iron.
The applied solder should dry very quickly. Wait a minute, as the plug will be hot, and try to gently tug on the wire. It shouldn’t move.
Now, it might be a good idea to test things out. Wait for the plug to cool down, put it into your phone, and play some music. Then take the two remaining wire and touch them to the tip and the ring joints. You should hear the audio coming through the phones.
If you hear something, you will be very excited!! All you need to do now is repeat the threading and soldering steps for the remaining wires.
If you can’t get any sound, thread the two remaining wires securely and move the ground wire around. If that gives you sound, it means you lost connectivity while soldering the ground and you will need to heat up the solder and remove it with the solder pump or wick. Then you will need to try again.
Once you have all your wires soldered to the plug and you’ve tested it to make sure everything is working you should pat yourself on the back. The rest is easy!
Make sure all the wires are snug inside the plug, because we need to tighten the strain relief clamp. Also, try not to let the audio wires touch the ground wires. You can do this with your fingers or a set of small pliers.
Now you should be able to slide the housing/case over the plug and tighten it. It will be a tight fit, but shouldn’t need to be forced too much. If you need to really try you might have too much solder on a joint, maybe the ground joint. If there is a big mound prodding anywhere you will need to remove some, but test that everything still works after you do that.
Once the housing is successfully screwed tight, you are done!!!
I like to add a bit of hot glue in the back side to keep things from moving too much, but that isn’t necessary.
Credit: Photos/Video filmed by https://www.facebook.com/equipemlfotografia/?pnref=lhc