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Getting only half the audio experience? Here’s your one-stop guide to fix your headphones that only work in one ear.
Headphones are excellent for immersing yourself in music, podcasts, or video games. They let you enjoy your audio without noisy distractions while ensuring you don’t disturb anyone around you.
Unfortunately, you can instantly lose that immersive listening experience if one speaker fails. This can be a huge hassle, especially if you rely heavily on your headphones for entertainment or productivity.
Luckily, there are various solutions when one headphone speaker won’t work. This includes everything from tweaking your sound settings to soldering damaged wires. So, read on as we go through each fix for wired and wireless headphones below!
Headphones Only Work in One Ear: How to Fix Audio Source Issues
When audio problems crop up, like static noises or hearing sound in only one ear, it’s easy to assume the problem lies with your headphones. However, issues like these are usually due to incorrect audio settings or a temporary (and easily fixable) device malfunction.
So, before discarding your headphones or attempting to repair them yourself, go into your device’s settings and see if tweaking them will solve the problem of one-sided audio.
Here are some simple settings-related fixes you can try on your audio source device:
- Try another pair of headphones
- Restart the device
- Adjust the sound balance
- Disable Sound Enhancements
- Update the software and drivers
- Clean the headphone jack
Try another pair of headphones
The quickest way to confirm the source of your audio issues is by getting a pair of perfectly working headphones or earbuds and connecting them to your device.
If they’re working as they should, you’ll know that the problem truly lies with your headphones. In this case, follow the tips in the sections for fixing wired and wireless headphones.
However, if the functioning headset also starts playing only in one ear, you’ll need to fix them using one of the solutions in the following sections.
Restart the device
Another simple fix is restarting your device. The constant sleep-wake cycle swamps your device’s RAM with unnecessary logs, cache files, and background processes. This eventually causes a memory leak, leading to errors and system slowdowns.
Restarting your device shuts down all running programs and deletes all caches, effectively refreshing your device. This could be especially helpful if your audio issue occurred after a software update since specific components are removed or replaced during this process.
Once you’ve done this, check whether you can hear from both headphone speakers. If your headphones are still playing in only one ear, check your device’s audio settings by following the steps in the next section.
Adjust the sound balance
Windows’ sound balance function lets you adjust the left and right audio output so that both signals are equally loud and clear. Sound becomes unbalanced when the audio signals are directed more towards one speaker than the other. When this happens, you’ll have noticeably softer or no sound at all in one speaker.
To remedy this, ensure both channels are equal by adjusting the sound balance. Here’s how to do that on Windows:
- Go to Settings.
- Select Sound.
- Click on More sound settings under Advanced.
- Double-click your audio output device in the Playback tab.
- Select Balance in the Levels tab.
- Adjust the sliders for left and right audio until they’re identical, then click OK.
Disable Sound Enhancements
When you have Windows’ audio enhancements feature enabled, your sound undergoes additional processing to improve its quality further. These enhancements (or audio processing objects) include bass boost, surround sound, loudness equalization, room correction, etc.
As great as that sounds, these extra enhancements can affect playback on your headphones because they manipulate the different audio frequencies. This sometimes causes no sound output on one side.
To fix this, simply disable the audio enhancements with these steps:
- Go to Settings.
- Select Sound.
- Under Advanced, click on More sound settings.
- Double-click your audio output device in the Playback tab.
- In the Advanced tab, uncheck Enable audio enhancements, then click Apply and OK.
Update the software and drivers
Outdated software and drivers can cause errors in how your system’s sound card functions. This can lead to various sound problems, from your headphones not being detected by your computer to hearing audio in only one ear. To avoid this, ensure your Windows OS and audio drivers are updated.
Here’s how to update your Windows OS:
- Go to Settings.
- Click Windows Update.
- Select Check for Updates.
- Once the updates are downloaded, you can proceed to install them.
To check and update your audio drivers, follow these steps:
- Right-click on the Start menu icon in the taskbar and select Device Manager.
- Double-click Sound, video, and game controllers from the list.
- Right-click your audio output device and select Update driver.
Clean the headphone jack
People bring their phones everywhere-from their bedrooms to the rugged outdoors. Eventually, lint and dirt get trapped in the headphone jack. This loosens the connection between the plug and jack, thus affecting audio output.
That said, consider cleaning your device’s headphone jack if your headphones play in only one ear when plugged into your device but play the usual way when connected to other gadgets.
One way to do this is by using the pointed tip of a brush toothpick (or an interdental brush) to loosen any dirt, then using the brush side to scoop it out.
Wired Headphones or Earbuds Only Working in One Ear: What to Do
Headphone wires are notoriously fragile due to their thinness. As such, it’s one of the most common reasons we find ourselves with one headphone that’s stopped working. This is even more true for those who habitually wad up their headphone wires at the end of a listening session.
If you suspect a wiring issue is causing your headphones’ audio problems, there are three ways to solve them.
- Fix exposed or damaged wires near the plug
- Fix shorted wires
- Solder faulty wires inside the defective headphone or earbud
Fix exposed or damaged wires near the plug
When hurrying, some people yank out their headphones by tugging the cord instead of the plug’s plastic base. This motion strains the weak spot where the plug meets the cord.
Over time, this wears down on the protective rubber casing, exposing the wires to damage and making them prone to shorting. Doing this with enough force can sometimes even result in a bent headphone plug.
So, if you’re only getting audio in one ear and seeing signs of wear and tear near the headphone plug, you’ll need to fix the damaged portion of the wire. To do that, follow the steps below:
- Using a knife or cutter, slice through the protective plastic base around the earphone plug and the cord near it.
- Locate the section with the damaged wires and cut it off.
- Remove the plastic cable around one end of your headset cord.
- Use a match or lighter to burn off the wire’s insulation briefly.
- Solder the wires to the earphone jack following the illustration below.
- Cover the newly joined section with a heat-shrink tube or electrical tape.
Fix shorted wires
Unlike damaged wires that show external signs of breakage, it’s not always easy to tell if there’s a short in your headphone wire.
Shorted wires occur when a powered wire touches a neutral wire, exposing it to excessive electricity and causing it to short-circuit. This problem typically happens in wired headphones and earbuds if they’re always tangled or wrapped improperly.
You’ll know you have a shorted wire if you hear static in your audio or if it cuts out when you move the wire. A quick way to fix this is by doing a “wiggle test.” Here’s how:
- Plug your headphones into your device and play an audio or video file.
- Locate the short by bending the headphone cord every half inch. Continue doing this until you start hearing sound coming off both headphones.
- Remove the damaged portion of the wire.
- Get the remaining sections of the headphone cord. Slice through both tips of the plastic cord to expose the wires.
- Separate the copper wires (ground wires), insulation (white wires), and colored wire.
- Cut the insulation wires. Meanwhile, twist the copper wires to keep them together.
- Use a match or lighter to briefly burn off the enamel at the tip of the colored wires.
- Join the colored wires by twisting them together. Secure these with electrical tape.
- Link the ground wires in the same way and wrap electrical tape around these as well. Ensure the ground wires do not touch the colored wires.
- Wrap electrical tape around this newly linked section.
Solder faulty wires inside the defective headphone or earbud
Sometimes, loose or broken wires can occur inside the earbud speaker and not along the cord. Similar to the previous issues, faulty wiring arises from poor handling or, in some cases, a manufacturer defect.
Regardless of the cause, this issue will manifest as your earbuds having no sound in one or both speakers or your earbuds’ mic not working. And if there’s no damage to the earbud’s cord, you’ll know the problem is likely inside the earbud itself.
If you’re sure this is the cause of your audio problem, follow the steps below to learn how to fix faulty wires inside earbuds:
- Open the earbud casing using a small flat-blade screwdriver. You can also use your nail clipper’s lever to open the earbud’s front casing or ear tip.
- Do not pull at the case to fully open the earbud – doing so can further rip the wires if they’re attached to the front case. Instead, push the cord up through the earbud’s upper housing. This will shove the front case and expose the internal components.
- Resolder the loose wire and let it cool before testing the earbuds.
Wireless Headphones or Earbuds Only Working in One Ear: What to Do
Wireless headphones and earbuds eliminate the hassle of untangling messy cords. However, that doesn’t mean you’re free from the issues that cause headphones to play only in one ear.
Here are four things you can do when experiencing audio malfunctions in one earbud or headphone speaker:
- Reset your headphones or earbuds
- Check for a halfway point issue
- Check for low battery in one earbud
- Check for disconnected wires inside earbud
Reset your headphones or earbuds
When you aren’t getting audio on one side of your wireless headphones, sometimes a quick factory reset is all it takes to set things right.
Bluetooth connections can become bogged down over time, especially if your devices haven’t undergone important firmware updates or have multiple paired devices. This eventually causes errors in how your headphones function, leading to audio and pairing issues.
By resetting your Bluetooth headphones, you’re returning them to their default configuration and clearing out all the extra information stored on the device. Basically, it’s like wiping the slate clean.
If you think your Bluetooth headphones need a reset, refer to the steps below:
- Press your device’s power button.
- Hold it down until the headset’s light flashes blue or red.
- Pair the headphones again with your device.
Check for a halfway point issue
Most wireless headphones have detachable cords that let you switch easily from wired to wireless mode. However, if you notice that your audio goes from normal to only working on one side whenever you detach the cord, you may be dealing with a halfway point issue.
Wireless headphone jacks contain small springs attached to metal balls. These act like mechanical triggers that turn off Bluetooth functionality upon contacting a headphone plug’s conductors.
If you’re still not getting sound in one ear after removing the headphone plug, these switches may be stuck in a halfway position, thus causing one of your headphone speakers to malfunction.
Fortunately, the solution is quite simple and is a matter of trial and error:
- Insert, then remove the AUX plug from the jack.
- Repeat the first step using various angles. The goal is to try and push the mechanical trigger back into its original position.
- Test your Bluetooth headphones to see if this resolves the issue.
Check for low battery in one earbud
True wireless earbuds have separate battery lives and need individual charging. In some cases, one may drain faster than the other, especially if you prefer using only one earbud to maintain awareness of your surroundings while working or commuting.
Additionally, one earbud (usually the right one) performs more functions than the left earbud. That’s because one earbud manages the connection between the earbuds and your mobile device while the other earbud connects to the first one.
Thus, one drains faster than the other, which could be another reason you’re not getting audio in one speaker. Luckily, the solution to this is also relatively straightforward.
- Place both earbuds in their charging case.
- Wait until they’re fully charged, then check to see if the audio works in both earbuds.
Check for disconnected wires inside earbud
If one side of your wireless earbuds is silent, despite being fully charged, the problem could be internal.
As mentioned in the previous section on faulty wiring, if there are no visible signs of damage on the earbuds, your audio issue is probably due to displaced wires in the hardware itself, particularly in the control panel where the Bluetooth module is stored.
To confirm this, you must open the control panel and check for disconnected wires. Read the steps below on how to repair Bluetooth headphones:
- Using a pair of cutting pliers or a flat-blade screwdriver, pry open the casing of your earbuds’ control panel.
- Carefully take out the internal components.
- Locate broken wires or wires separated from others and reconnect them using a soldering iron.
- Return the internal components inside the casing.
- Turn on your Bluetooth earbuds to test if your audio is working normally, then reseal the casing if it’s all good.
How to Reuse Multiple One-Side Working Earbuds
If you have several wired headphones with only one earbud working, you can reuse these so long as they have the same plug type. Just keep in mind that the audio quality may no longer be as good as it was before.
Here’s how to resurrect your old wired earbuds using an audio splitter:
- Get an audio splitter with two output jacks and plug it into your device’s AUX output.
- Plug both pairs of one-side working earbuds into the audio splitter’s output jacks.
- Play an audio or video file to test the sound quality.
- Keep your earbuds looking neat by trimming off the opposite non-working wires.
- Insulate the ends of the trimmed wires with electrical tape or heat-shrink tubing.
- If you want to permanently join the two functioning earbud wires, trim off the non-working wire from one pair of earbuds and dispose of it.
- Using a cutter, take off the rubber covering of the trimmed section.
- Next, using a lighter, briefly burn off the wire’s insulation.
- Repeat steps 7 and 8 on the functioning wire of the other pair of earbuds.
- Once the wires on both ends are clean, simply twist the same-colored wires together.
- Finally, insulate the exposed section with electrical tape or heat-shrink tubing.
If you’re investing in quality headphones or earbuds, you’ll want them to last for a long time. After all, even if your earbuds aren’t expensive, it’s a shame to have to keep throwing them out just because one headphone speaker isn’t working.
With the tips above, hopefully, you can now determine if your headphones simply need a quick fix before buying a new one. By repairing your headphones, you can quickly go back to enjoying your music playlist or watching videos, save a bit of money, and reduce electronic waste at the same time.
What are your thoughts on the fixes listed above? Do you have other tips and tricks for repairing headphones with only one earbud working? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.