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.

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!