Why Are My Headphones So Quiet?

photo of Tom D'Agustino

by Tom D'Agustino on October 6th, 2021 in Learn

You’re craving that go-to workout song, you’re trying to listen to a voicemail from your mother, you’re trying to mix drum audio, and out of nowhere your headphones seem significantly quieter.

What gives?

When your headphones get quiet all of the sudden it can be excruciatingly annoying. No one wants to invest in an audio device that seems to work well until it starts doing half of the job you bought it for. As unfortunate as this phenomenon is, it is also quite common.

This article explores some of the reasons why your headphones have gone quiet and some ways to fix the problem.

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Why Are My Headphones So Quiet?

When examining the causes for quiet headphones, it’s important to look at the entire situation in which this issue is occurring.

In other words, definitely look over the headphones themselves to see if they are the cause of the issue but also examine things like the device you are listening to, the context in which you are listening, your own ears and connectivity.

One or all of these issues could be the cause. Make sure to rule out any of these causes before ditching the headphones for good.

(Side note: if you do have to dispose of them, check out our article on what to do with broken headphones).

Problem With My Audio Device

One of the most common reasons for your headphones to get quiet all of the sudden is a poor connection to your audio device.

For example, if you are listening to music on your iPhone and your headphones are not properly plugged in, the music will likely cut in and out or drop significantly in volume. Make sure your headphones are properly plugged in and see if the audio is still quiet.

If your headphones are plugged in properly and there is still a volume issue, the port or headphone jack could be damaged or clogged with dust. Try cleaning out the audio port on your audio device and make sure the headphone jack is in good condition.

If you have properly connected your wired headphones to your audio device after cleaning out any debris and there is still a level issue, there could be a structural problem with the port itself.

Problem With an Audio File

Another cause for quiet headphones may be the audio file that you are listening to rather than any of your devices. This could be the case if you are listening to an audio file that is unmixed and/or unmastered, with an overall level that has not been raised.

Make sure to listen to different types of audio files on your headphones to monitor any discrepancies.

Bluetooth headphones with smartphone on black.

Problem With Connectivity (Bluetooth)

If you are experiencing level issues with your wireless Bluetooth headphones, you may want to check your connectivity.

Bluetooth headphones are a convenient listening device but can often experience connectivity disruptions when there are barriers between the headphones and audio device.

If you are sitting at a metal desk that is between the device and the headphones, or if your device is in another room, you may experience quieter audio or audio that cuts out altogether. Make sure you are using your headphones at the appropriate distance and in the right context.

Problem With My Ears

Headphones and earbuds deliver sound to the inner ear through an intricate process that allows humans to hear and understand sounds.

If you are noticing that your headphones, audio device and listening context are all working properly but you are still having trouble hearing, there may be an issue with how your headphones or earbuds are fitting your ears.

If your headphones/earbuds are not fitting properly, this will inhibit their ability to effectively communicate sound through your ears.

If you find that your volume issues are not limited to your audio/listening device, but to the world around you, you may want to investigate signs that your hearing has been affected.

Problem With Settings

Some headphones come with buttons and dials that are used to adjust the volume, noise-cancellation and other settings on the headphones themselves. These settings may be the cause of an unusually low volume.

Noise-cancellation settings help you minimize unwanted ambient noise from your surroundings, but can also lower the volume of sounds coming from your headphones.

When you are troubleshooting your quiet headphones, make sure to turn off noise-cancellation or switch to a setting that allows you to hear ambient noise. If the low volume persists, then the settings are probably not the issue.

Familiarize yourself with your headphones’ settings and make the appropriate adjustments before checking to see if the volume has returned to a reasonable level.

Problem With Hardware

While the causes I have just mentioned are possible, you should obviously be on the lookout for any hardware damage to your headphones.

Make sure to examine your headphones thoroughly once you unbox them, looking out for any visible damage that may have occurred during shipping or at the warehouse where they were originally housed.

While outside forces could have contributed to hardware damage, the overall model you purchased may have some hardware defects baked in that are contributing to the problem.

If after giving your new headphones a first test listen you find that the volume is unusually low, try contacting the manufacturer or exchanging the headphones for another pair.

How To Prevent My Headphones From Getting Quiet

As with most tips on how to ascertain or fix a problem with any audio device, prevention is key.

Most listening experiences these days take place in transit, at home, or in some other location that is not always conducive to maintaining the durability of our audio devices.

We stick an earbud in while cooking dinner, we drop our phone on the subway platform, we wear headphones in the rain… All of these issues can affect headphone health.

Learning how to take care of your headphones and audio devices can increase their overall lifespan and help you avoid vexing issues like quiet volume.

cleaning, disinfecting, wiping music headphones with a hand in glove and napkin close up

Cleanliness

Keeping your audio device clean is an important prevention measure. If you are listening on an iPhone or other smartphone that has a headphone port, make sure to clean it out regularly.

Audio ports are a consistent receptacle for dust and other grime that can affect your headphones’ volume level over time. This is also true of your headphones and earbuds.

If you use earbuds to listen to audio, you should remember to clean the eartips regularly to eliminate wax build up or other substances that can degrade the hardware over time.

In addition to cleaning the eartips, some brands come with replaceable ear tips which are a great option for listeners that exercise or expose their earbuds to the elements.

Maintain Your Cable

If you have wired headphones, you are quite familiar with how tangled the cable can get even after a few listens. This tangling is a significant factor when considering wear and tear over time.

Headphone cables contain internal wiring that can become frayed or tangled to the point that your connection suffers. While this may not be apparent all of the time, you may notice that when you jiggle the cable around, your volume level decreases. This is a telltale sign that your cable needs to be fixed or replaced.

Make sure that you keep your cable untangled and store your wired headphones properly to avoid volume loss and hardware degradation.

Some brands even come with a detachable cable to curtail any exposure to wear and tear that the cable may suffer during regular usage.

Check the IPX Rating

There are a lot of different factors at play when considering the durability of your headphones and how to maintain them.

Water damage is a real concern for some brands of headphones with a low to zero IPX rating. An IPX rating signifies the extent to which a product can withstand exposure to hazards, mainly water.

If your headphones have a low IP rating, they are not as able to withstand exposure to water as higher ratings.

When considering prevention of sound loss, make sure your headphones have an IP rating that can withstand a reasonable amount of moisture (usually around IPX4), so you are not increasing wear and tear.

Conclusion

Having your headphones get quiet out of nowhere is an unfortunate reality for many. While this problem may very well mean your headphones are broken and you should find the proper way to toss them, there is a chance that there is a simple fix available.

Try to locate the problem directly and figure out your plan of attack from there. The problem may not even be your headphones at all!

If you’re on the market for headphones that won’t go quiet on you, make sure to shop for headphones that prioritize durability, portability and IPX rating so the chance of any hardware being compromised is minimized.

And remember, prevention is the best cure!