Earbuds are small speakers designed to be placed directly inside of the ear. Earbuds are growing in popularity in part because of their portability, but they actually have several other advantages over traditional headphones. First, they are smaller and more discreet than traditional headphones, allowing their use to go undetected in more formal settings. Second, they deliver sound directly to the ear so the volume can be lower which may decrease hearing loss caused by exposure to high volume. Finally, they have noise reduction features that make them better at blocking out outside sounds that could detract from the listening experience. Unfortunately, because of their compact size, they are made of more delicate materials than larger headphones and are more prone to damage and deterioration. The best way to maximize the lifespan of your earbuds is to perform regular maintenance and provide proper care for the devices starting the day you purchase them.
History of Headphones
Headphones were first developed in 1910 by Nathaniel Baldwin, a student at Stanford. He designed and patented a variety of communication devices and electronic gadgets, including the headset. The invention was largely ignored until World War I, when pilots began using the devices to hear important transmissions from military commanders. After the war, commercial pilots began looking for ways to make the devices smaller and more comfortable. That trend has continued, spawning the creation of smaller and smaller listening devices over the course of the following decades. This led to the creation of earbuds in the latter half of the 20th century. Earbuds are the smallest, lightest, and most discreet wired audio transmission device available.
Care and Maintenance of Earbuds
If earbuds are handled roughly or if they are not maintained properly, the sound quality emitted from them will deteriorate over time, or they will break down completely. There are several dos and don’ts to follow when trying to preserve a set of earbuds for the long term. Putting these basic tips into action can significantly improve the life of every pair of earbuds you own.
These are things that should be done with regularity. Failure to do any one of these things will shorten the usability lifespan on your earbuds significantly.
Do Clean Your Earbuds
More expensive sets of earbuds come with cleaning equipment, but that does not mean that inexpensive sets will not benefit from regular cleaning. To clean your earbuds, begin by moving any rubber or foam comfort pieces, and soaking them in alcohol. Wipe the surface beneath them with a lint-free rag, and then swab with a cloth or cotton swab soaked in hydrogen peroxide. Finally, use a cotton swap or a toothpick dipped in hydrogen peroxide to remove all the wax, dead skin cells, and other dust from the inner areas of the earbuds.
Do Keep Your Earbuds in a Case
Buy a case designed for keeping your earbuds in. It should have a place to secure each earpiece, and an area for the cord. This will prevent your cord from tangling, which can damage the delicate metal cord inside, and it will also protect the speakers from damage that can be caused by impact, like being dropped or smashed. When the metal mesh over the speaker is bent, it not only risks damaging the speaker elements it covers, but distorts the sound produced. Make a habit of putting the earbuds back in their case after every use.
Do Roll the Cord
Keep the cord rolled up when not in use. Use a bread tie to tie the loops together. This will keep the cord from being bent at an angle that could cause damage, and also prevents tangling. Some cases have a coiler that does this for you. If yours does not, take the time to coil the cords by hand.
Do Clean Your Ears
Earwax that builds up inside your ear can not only get packed into the speaker opening on your earbuds and diminish the sound quality, but can also become impacted in your ear and increase your risk of ear infection. Clean your ears regularly to prevent damage to either your ear or your earbuds.
Do Unplug the Speakers from Your MP3 Player or other Audio Devices
Earphones that remain attached to the MP3 player when it is stuck in your bag or your pocket are significantly more likely to get damaged. The cord can be pulled suddenly from the jack, and the connector damaged, or the cord can get tangled up and the copper cord inside broken. Simply unplugging the earphones from the device will protect the audio connector, and the delicate area where the cord connects to the jack.
Do Replace the Foam Tips Often
As the foam or rubber end on the earbud wears down it will lose its noise resistance and will store a buildup of dead skin cells that muffle sound. While this will not actually prevent the earbuds from working, it will degrade the sound quality they are able to transmit. Replace these pieces when they become noticeably worn, or when you find that you cannot easily clean them with a damp cloth.
These are things that pose a significant risk to your earbuds. Simply avoiding these behaviors can greatly extended their life.
Don’t Carry Them in Your Pocket
Don’t carry the earbuds in your pocket, unless they are in a hard case. In addition to the risk of tangling, they can be seriously damaged by the dust, lint, and other debris in your pocket. If you do carry them in your pocket, clean them regularly with a dry toothbrush to brush away the dust and lint, but be aware that once the dust enters the interior of the speaker there is no effective way to get it out. This buildup will diminish sound production and quality over time, and may eventually put enough strain on the speakers that the earbuds quit working entirely.
Don’t Wrap the Cord Around Your Audio Device
The copper wire inside the earbuds’ cord is very delicate and light. Wrapping it around your device will often cause little fractures in the copper wire. The first symptom of copper damage in your earbuds is a popping sound. Eventually this damage will cause one or both earbuds to stop transmitting sound entirely.
Don’t Share Your Earbuds with Others
Don’t share your earbuds with others. First, you cannot guarantee that your friends will take care of them, and the wear and tear they put on them can be detrimental. Second, earbuds are designed to be used internally, and the risk for sharing disease-causing germs is very high.
Don’t Turn the Volume up High
Keep the volume down, especially when listening to music with a heavy bass line. Turning the music up too loud will eventually cause the speakers to blow, which will not only ruin your earbuds, but could cause permanent hearing loss.
Don’t Let Them Get Wet
Alcohol, water, and all things liquid will damage the electronic components of your earbuds. If you accidentally get your earbuds wet, put them in a container of rice and allow them to dry out for several days before trying to use them again. The rice will absorb the moisture from the earbuds, and may prevent more serious damage.
Don’t Leave Them Places Where the Magnets Can Get Damaged
Never leave your earbuds in direct sunlight or any environment where they might experience extreme heat. Over time this will damage the magnet and destroy the speakers internally. Similarly, exposure to large magnets, larger speakers, or electronic equipment can also cause serious damage to the magnets.