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How to Replace a Stereo Connector and Salvage Audio Cables and Headphones

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A bad audio jack can cut your listening short and force you to buy new headphones. If you’ve got expensive cans or rare equipment, however, you can save money by replacing the connector yourself.

What You’ll Need

Aside from your headphones or cable, you’ll need a spare audio jack. You can find these online or at a local store like Radioshack.

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Taken apart, it’ll look like this. You can see that the contacts on the left piece here have screws. That’s right, no soldering experience is required! If have a soldering iron, definitely use it, but it’s not a necessity. See the section at the bottom of the page for more information.

You’ll also need a hobby knife and a lighter, and it’s a good idea to have some nail polish handy.

Wires in the Cable

The first thing you’ll need to do is cut the connector off of your cable. You’ll need to carefully strip the cable. A hobby knife works much better than a wire stripper, and you’d be surprised how well your own fingernails will work.

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Most audio cables and headphones have three or four wires running through them: a red one, a green/blue one, and a bare/copper one. If there’s four, odds are there are two bare/copper ones. The red one is the right channel, the green or blue is the left channel, and the bare wire is the ground. These colors can be different, but the right channel will almost always be red, and the ground is usually a copper-colored one if it’s not bare.

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Cheaper headphones won’t have a real casing on the individual wires. There’s a coating of colored paint instead, often with nylon thread woven into the copper wires. You’re probably better off just buying new headphones in this case. However, if you’re stubborn like me, you can still make these work. Take a lighter to them – carefully! – to melt the nylon threads and burn the paint off. Alternatively, you could use steel wool or a very fine file to remove the paint. Nicer headphones may also have paint coating the copper and you’re going to want to use the steel wool method with these, so as to prevent damage.

In any case, strip your wires, get the paint off, and try to keep them as straight as possible. It’s not as hard as it seems, it just requires a slow hand and some patience.

Audio Jack

Attaching the cable to the TRS connector – the technical name for this kind of jack – is pretty easy. First thing, slip the connector’s housing and the plastic sleeve onto the cable. If you don’t do this now, you’ll forget later. Trust me, it’s a real pain having to redo your connections because you forgot this step.

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There. Now, let’s look at a quick diagram of the actual connector.

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Wrap the appropriate wire to each connector, then tighten the screw to make sure things don’t slip.

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When you’re done, make sure no excess wires are sticking out and touching other wires. If you need to insulate each wire further, use some nail polish; it’s a quick but resilient fix. Screw the housing back on and you’ve got a fixed connector.

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Why Solder?

This is a really common question with non-audiophiles and beginners. In fact, by not soldering in this guide, I’ve probably made a host of people cringe and/or raise their torches. Soldering always works best. Always. The wires join better, your quality doesn’t suffer, and it’s a more professional finish. It’s not very difficult to do and takes almost no time.

So why skip the soldering? Well if you don’t have one and you don’t feel like buying one, for this particular project, you can get by without. I’ve found that the results don’t vary much between soldering and not when replacing TRS connectors. Other things, like splicing audio cables together, will give you a much more noticeable drop in quality. However, if you’re messing with digital cables, it really doesn’t matter. Soldering in this case only really makes the joint hold tight and look nicer because you can use shrink-wrap on it. Both of these you can do in other ways, and a digital signal won’t suffer in quality like analog signals will.


Done this before? Have some tips of your own? Think I’m an idiot for not soldering? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 05/12/11

Comments (24)

  1. Hatryst

    I agree. The screws are there for a reason. Soldering is an option, but not really recommended
    That’s a really useful DIY. Time to put it to use !

    P.S. It would be really appreciated if you do an article on repairing old headphones (i have a couple of them. In all of them, one side works perfectly, while the other doesn’t. Any solutions?)

  2. bac200proof

    this articles getting bookmarked…..every other day i read a D.I.Y. article involving solder i need to finally invest in a soldering kit save myself some money

  3. anon
  4. John

    I always make my own adapters for use in my church’s AV system. A few years ago before we installed LCD projectors, we would periodically borrow projectors to use for special events. I created a set of adapters that would let me send a VGA signal through our built in microphone XLR cables from the sound booth to a floor pocket in the front. Basically it split the signal between multiple XLR cables. Amazingly it worked pretty well. Later on when we installed our permanent system I put in a VGA splitter and amplifier in the back and then used a couple of CAT5 cables instead of buying overly expensive 100 ft VGA cables. The amp has enough power to overcome any potential interference, and the system has worked great for the past five years.

  5. Albatroscem

    Thanks I found this very helpful

  6. dave

    Bac200, do the CutePDF thing that they recommended last week. I’ve been turning all these articles into PDF’s and store them on a home server. I can access them from anywhere in the house. It’s great.

  7. Tom

    You gotta solder! I love the smell of solder in the morning, etc :-)

  8. Snert

    I always prefer soldering. Personal from experience.
    I was in Light Air Defense, 27F20, as a repairman during my Army days fixing radars and rocket parts many, many moos ago,and learned the reason for solder.
    Screw connections are quick and easy but oxide can build up degrading the signal and/or ruining the connector Under rotton condition. Vibrations can loosen screws. Probably not a factor in most audio gear.

    If you’re in a hurry or lazy. screw it!
    Solder eliminates the chance of oxide, won’t vibrate loose and makes a solid electrical connection if done right, and all is takes is a bit of practice to learn how.
    If you solder, make sure to get Electrionic solder, the other stuf has corossive elements that help bond sheet metal.
    A cheapo deluxe iron might cost $10-15 USD. I use a Weller dual-heat soldering gun.

  9. Snert

    Oops! I meant, “…many many moons ago,…”

  10. tashfeen

    I do solder, caz couldnt find one with screws…
    i wanted to repair my HTC headphones but it has integrated mic in it and I am unable to to
    differentiate the connectors on it….
    would appreciate any help….

  11. Akshay

    Where do I obtain it? eBay.in doesn’t have anything like that!

  12. Matt

    What if you need to replace the audio socket? It’s gone crappy on my soundcard and I don’t want to be buying a whole new card just for that..

  13. JackCrow

    Soldering FTW.

    “coating of colored paint”
    Place the wire on top of an aspirin, do not inhale the fumes by any means, put the soldering paste next, cover with solder alloy.

  14. Milad

    Great tutorial it worked just perfect i had a pair of Koss Porta Pros that had it stereo connector broken a couple of days ago :)

  15. Snert

    Hey Matt!
    First consideration is your level of soldering skills. I’t's really really easy to mess this up.
    The printed circuit boards in your sound card had automated equipment doing all the work and weren’t designed to be repaired. “Gimme your money for another’n!”
    Look at all the tiny trace circuits running all over. Very easy to break one and harder than you’d imagine fixing a broke one.
    Then you need to find the self-same audio socket since nothing else will fit. LOTS of luck there.
    Usually but not always, there’s four (4) solder points; right track, left track, ground (common) and a larger physical anchor which could be grounded, too.

    My advise, if you can possibly find the right socket and have the skill, is goferit!
    .
    Excuses me if I posted wrong here while giving some thoughts and advise about a subject, but don’t excuse me to hard.

  16. pandaSmore

    Couldn’t you just snip off a good audio jack from a old pair of ear buds and then use that on the headphones you want to repair?

  17. Brad

    Sorry but you are using incorrect terminology. The PLUG goes into the JACK. What is on the end of the headphone cable is the PLUG, not the JACK. Other than that, good information.

  18. Ian R

    I always find soldering on small items like those small plugs very difficult to do. They are very fiddly items and I can not get the plug and cable to sit right so the ends can be soldered together to the wires. You have to make sure the wires are pre-stripped to the right length and the solder and components you are soldering to are hot enough as well for the solder to stick. I either put too much solder on the item or not enough. I have a small magnifier with two small alligator clips to hold things in place so I do not burn my fingers but it is still very cumbersome. I do not know how some people do it so well all the time. But there again I have never been taught the technique. Maybe someone can give a tutorial on how to solder small items well?

  19. Kris

    Ok, im new to this..so I have a stereo plug ordered but it apparently doesnt have screw terminals like I see in this picture. Can I still just wrap the wires around the right spots and it’ll still work?

  20. Kris

    And I dont have any soldering equipment and no im not gonna be buying one.

  21. Laura

    Hey, I’m having a problem with my ipod, and maybe you can help. It works fine when I plug it in on the icraig, but it has a problem when I plug the headphones in. The headhones don’t go in all the way anymore, and there is nothing blocking the port that I can see. However when I try to force them in the rest of the way the screen goes crazy, and I figure it must have something to do with the headphone jack or hold switch or something. Then it stays like that, but if I put it on the icraig a little while later eventually the screen goes back to normal, and everything is fine as long as I don’t use the headphone jack, it’s just annoying I can’t use the headphones. I have tried other headphones, but I still have the same problem.

  22. Michael Romero

    Will this method also work on a pair of Dr. Dre Tour Beats?

  23. Aquinas

    Thanks a bunch! Just used this to breath new life into my special edition white Koss PortaPro which, though cheap and of the 4 wire variety far outperform more expensive headsets (IMO).

  24. Aquinas

    Oh, and I used the plug shown in the pictures, which I purchased at RadioShack for 4.19+tax. Model 274-0869 Goldseries 1/8″ Sterio Plug 24K Gold-Plated Connector, in case that helps.

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