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I want to listen to white noise using headphones to help concentrate while coding, but I've been constantly plagued by crappy connectors which end up losing contact and muting one of the sides (or both).

Granted, I never spent more than 30$ on a head jack, but my SO did and it seemed to have the same fate.

Is it inevitable? I thought it was the fault of the headphone, but it happens on desktops and laptops as well. Are expensive headphones worthy and resistant to wear and tear? Or it's useless if after all I'll have to use the company's computer with a cheap connector anyway?

Are USB audio jacks any better in this sense? Or USB audio cards? Gold-plated connectors? Or I just have to get used to the idea of buying a new headphone every 1-2 years?

Edit: I am not talking about sound quality. I don't have a very fine hearing, so I don't care much about the overall quality of the sound. I just want to be able to hear it, without having to turn and fiddle with the connector every time I bump it. I expect costly headphones to invest in sound quality, but do they also ensure very lasting connectors, unlike the one my SO had? Also, if there is a way to avoid the limitation given by the lack of choice concerning my work hardware (such as USB, if it works), I'd like to hear about it.

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From my experience, most of the time it's not the jack that breaks but one of the wires, usually near the plug:

Jack plugged into a laptop with an arrow pointing to the fragile part of the cable

The issue is very common if you use the same pair of headphones with pocket devices.

This (and broken jack too) can be repaired if you don't mind using soldering gun. New jacks can be bought at very low prices. You can cut the old one along with about 1 cm of cable (it can be already damaged and will fail sooner), remove another 1 cm of insulation and solder wires to appropriate jack leads.

Typical headphones without a microphone have 3-contact 'TRS' jacks like this one...

TRS jack

... but four wires in the cable. Two of them (usually of the same color) should be connected to the center lead (which corresponds to the sleeve). Other two cables should be soldered to left and right lead respectively. After soldering a new jack you should check if stereo isn't reversed, in that case you have to swap left and right wire in the jack.

  • Bingo, it does seem this is the source of the problem. Seems silly in retrospect that I didn't think of it. Lightly touching the wire and pushing it aside seems to result in better contact. Anyway, I'll probably try a USB headset soon, and see if it suits me more. I hope there won't be driver issues with Linux... – DanGar Jan 7 '14 at 16:34
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I have never had an issue with a male end of a 1/8" jack. However the female ends of 1/8" jacks do wear out over time. The pins inside that close the circuit will lose their tension over time. The solder points that hold the jack in place to the motherboard may crack.

For my PC, I have switched to USB based headphones/microphone. USB jacks seem to be far more resilient to wear and tear. Quality USB headphones have a decent cable as well, thick and less likely to wear out. Plus they dont twist in the jack, causing a crackle like some 1/8" jacks do.

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This is (obviously) a connector issue: the rings on the male connector must line up with the contacts inside the jack.

The two obvious potential problems are:

  • housings around the jack which interfere with full plug insertion;
  • casing on the plug which interfere with insertion;
  • the opposite (i.e. things that allow over-insertion).

Additionally, the plug acts as a lever which over time can break the connectors which attach the jack to the circuit board. If you are already having issues, constant fiddling and attempts to forcibly insert the jack to get a better connection can speed this breakage.

The solution is to find any headphone with a jack that fits properly. One can use tools to carve away plastic housings to allow proper clearance.

If the jack has come loose from the circuit board, it can sometimes be re-soldered.

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I have used headphones on computers for years and have only run into this problem on a very occasional basis. But, I don't leave the headphones plugged in for days at a time, I unplug at the end of the day and plug in again the next morning. The act of unplugging / plugging cleans the connector (it is designed to do that).

I have usually used higher end headphones (cost over $75) and I am not sure how much that is a factor. The majority of the computers I have used them on have been Mac laptops.

A factor that will affect the degree that a dirty or bad connection has on the sound is the impedance of the headphones. If you are using low impedance (less than about 50 ohms) you are much more likely to hear the affect of a bad connection, high impedance headphones (200 ohms and higher) will reduce the affect of a bad connection.

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