Why do my headphones sound muffled? How to fix?
Here's an article to answer your question "Why do my headphones sound muffled?" and some tips on how you can fix it.
You already know that listening to the purest music files through wired headphones, FLAC files, DACs, and amplifiers is the one true path of the audiophile. Wireless headphones and TWS earbuds are better left for the normies who want to listen to some podcasts or put some background music into their mundane lives.
Unfortunately, the way of the wired headphone is not so straightforward, you have to contend with the cables, and due to their physical limitations, you might experience sound cuts while using them.
So, why is it difficult to set up wired headphones and hear sound through them?
There could be many reasons why your wired headphones’ audio may cut in and out. However, most often it is because of the audio cable. The internal wires can be frayed, damaged, or loose resulting in short circuits and audio cutting in and out.
In the following sections, I’m going to elaborate on this by talking about several related topics such as:
Let’s get to it.
The audio cables carry electric current; hence, if two cables (carrying two separate current signals) were to touch, they can create interference or a short circuit.
Manufacturers always try to keep connection points and wires insulated, but with damage, these cables can come into contact and create a short circuit.
For headphones, this can cause audio to cut in and out intermittently. On top of that, it can disable channels (such as the left and right earcups, microphone, etc.). So depending on the extent of the damage, you might be able to fix shorted cables by repairing the area where the short occurs.
That said, I recommend replacing the entire cable or getting a new pair of headphones, mending cables over and over is not sustainable, especially for casual users who aren’t skilled in DIY.
Headphone cables can also suffer mechanical damage due to wear and tear. The cables can get damaged when stepped on, stretched, or bent excessively. Although the insulation protects the headphone wiring up to some extent, they have their limits.
When the insulation wears down, it can tear off the sheath and expose the wires. These exposed wires can have loose connections or knots where they will disconnect when you tilt them the wrong way.
You can repair loose connection points or frayed copper wires by reconnecting them (using a soldering iron) and insulating them with electrical tape. However, as I mentioned previously, these are only temporary solutions, and you should get them fixed by a professional or replace them with a newer cable.
You already might know that water and electronics do not play nice. If you drop your headphones on the tub or sweat like Jordan Peele while working out, you are bound to get some water or sweat inside the headphones.
Water and sweat can cause short circuits. When that happens, you will have no choice but to get a new pair of headphones after that.
So make sure to keep your headphones safe from water or get ones that have waterproof IP ratings. (Unfortunately, most headphones are not designed to be submersible, but a handful of TWS earbuds have IP67 or higher ratings.)
Despite being made out of metal, the headphone jack connector (whether it’s a 3.5mm” or 1/4″ TRS jack) can get damaged if you are not careful. It can get scratched, bent, or have dirt (causing the TRS terminals to short each other).
On top of that, the headphone port in your streaming device (phone, laptop, DAC, amplifier) could also be broken. So if the headphone jack seems fine, try to troubleshoot the issue by connecting your headphones to a different device and checking if the audio cuts out in that as well.
Replacing a broken headphone port or jack is not easy, especially for someone who doesn’t know how to use a soldering iron or take apart consumer electronic devices. So I recommend taking the defective item to a repair shop.
If you want to replace the soundcard (in your mobile phone) by yourself, you can search for the parts and online guides. iFixit has several guides on how to replace a headphone jack/connector.
Most over-ear and in-ear headphones and headsets have an inline control panel or buttons on the earcups themselves. In most cheap headphones, these control panels are not very sturdy; they can get damaged very easily.
If you accidentally drop the headphones, step on the inline control panel, or even get it wet, the internal components can get damaged and create short circuits, which could cause the buttons to malfunction.
Replacing inline control panels or the controls on the ear cups is not an easy task. In most cases, you won’t get a suitable replacement for the controls where the wire connects and disconnects so easily.
For headset users (who use the superior USB digital interface for better audio and minimal latency) a proper functioning USB connection point/circuit board is essential, if not, this will cause your headphone to keep disconnecting on their own. If their laptops and PCs have faulty USB ports, it can also create other problems for the headset.
In most cases, the headphones would glitch out and reproduce a lot of crackling, popping noises. Sometimes, they can pause audio if the USB signal loses power.
There’s a reason why most brands advise you to update the audio drivers and headphone firmware to the latest versions, as most high-end headphones and headsets (that have their own drivers/software) can get buggy when working with newer software and protocols.
Also, the hardware drivers on your PC or laptop can get corrupted, which can be one of the reasons why headphones pause your music automatically.
You can troubleshoot this by plugging in a pair of speakers to your PC or laptop. If they face the same issue as the headphones, it’s probably due to buggy drivers or some other issue in these input devices.
When your headphones are placed near phones, Wi-Fi routers, and Bluetooth devices, they can run into interference. As a result, the audio quality degrades, and you start hearing static and other forms of noise.
Luckily, modern headphones are designed to avoid this since they have enough shielding to protect the audio signal. However, if you have modified the cables or are using headphones where there are too many radio frequency emitting devices, the shielding, and insulation on your headphones and cables might not be strong enough.
Try using your headphones in another room or take try them on outside. If you can keep listening to audio without static or other interference, it’s probably an issue with the radio waves inside your room or studio.
After you’ve fixed the issue or got a new pair of headphones, you can try carrying out these practices to keep your headphone cord safe.
This is pretty obvious: don’t step on the cord or run over it with the caster on your computer chair.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, especially when you have a four foot long cables that lie on the ground while you are gaming or working on the computer. I remember rolling over the cable at least twice a day whenever I was playing Skyrim or factorio the entire day.
So don’t step over the cord or run your gaming chair over it. The headphone cable may seem fine but after a while, it will start to wear down. Keep your cables well organized and if you have extra long cables, drop them over to the front of your desk, behind the monitor, and away from you.
To learn how to organize your headphone cables, check out our article on how to prevent headphone wires from twisting and tangling.
Don’t let the headphones hang from the cable after plugging the headphone jack into your computer or phone. It can put undue stress on your cable and eventually break them.
Although lighter earpiece-style earbuds won’t have this issue, it’s best not to let the earbuds hang from the headphone jack.
To prevent your headphone jack from bumping into the wall or other objects, you can get a cheap 90-degree headphone jack adapter. These adapters will allow you to use your headphones with your phone, laptop, or gaming controller without damaging them, as there’s a lower probability that you would break or bend the wiring inside your TRS port.
Wired earbuds are compact and easy to use. However, that doesn’t mean you can just ball them up and put them inside your pocket. Earphone cables will twist, bend and coil up inside your pockets. It can damage the wires and tear the cable sheath.
The best method to transport headphone cables is via a case or bag. It doesn’t have to be a sturdy case; even a fabric pouch will do.
We’ve all seen this happen in the movies: the actors would yank somebody’s necklace and it would come right off. Later we see that the necklace is fine and the actor would be wearing it without any problems.
Though it looks cool, it doesn’t mean we should try to emulate it in real life, especially with headphone cables. So whenever you are finished working with your headphones, always remember to unplug the cord from the headphone jack, don’t pull from the cables.
Although I’m not a huge fan of sleeping with headphones, some audiophiles have made it work. That said, wires can be dangerous while you are sleeping because they can wrap around your neck and perform a force choke without you even knowing it.
On top of that, the wires will get stretched out whenever you are tossing and turning. So I recommend getting dedicated sleeping headphones or threading the cable under your pillow (using a donut pillow or pillow with a hole), so it won’t sneak up around your neck.
Apart from the audio specs of your headphones, another thing you should be concerned about is the IP rating. Headphones without an official IP rating should never be used outdoors or for working out.
Meanwhile, headphones with an IPX4 rating will be fine for working out, but you should still be careful not to drop them in water.
Always be mindful of your headphones’ IP rating, especially when commuting or working out. Also, don’t take your headphones anywhere near the shower or in a sauna or steam room if they don’t have an IP67 rating or higher.
Despite their latency-free superior audio, wired headphones need to be handled carefully. The wires are sensitive components that can get damaged and cause the audio to cut out instantly. Thankfully, if you follow the tips outlined above, and are prepared to replace the components or repair them, you will be able to enjoy high-fidelity audio without ever entertaining the notion of going wireless.