We live in a golden age of earbuds – a silly, over the top statement, perhaps, but considering how many wonderful in-ear headphones we have to choose from, and how great even the most affordable of them can sound, totally true.
And yet one complaint we hear again and again about earbuds is that they just don’t last that long. Especially cheap pairs, but even some of the premium products often seem to have a lifespan of sometimes only a few weeks or months, and too often seem to die with suspicious predictability within seconds of the warranty expiring.
So, how long should earbuds actually last? Let’s look at this question a little more closely.
How Long Should Your In-Ear Headphones Last?
Here’s where I’m supposed to give an answer that’s short, sweet and to the point. So here goes – good quality wired earbuds should last for at least 3 or 4 years, and good wireless and true wireless earbuds about the same.
You might expect, and get, a substantially longer life from some more expensive premium or audiophile products, but 3-4 years is a good, fairly accurate average overall.
But here’s where I say what I myself really think – if you treat them right, any earbuds can last much longer than that.
To be more specific, there’s no reason that even a cheap but decent pair of wired or wireless headphones, if handled with some care, shouldn’t be able to last for many years, and sound great all along.
I myself have a pair of my all-time favorite super-cheap earbuds – the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-TCM125 – that I’ve had for almost 10 years now, and they work and sound as good as new – both the earbuds and the microphone.
I also have a pair of pretty early TWS true wireless earbuds, as well as a couple of pairs of neckband wireless, which I’ve had from 4 to about 8 years, and they all work great too, with the same good, clear sound and the same long battery life as day one.
What we come to, then, is a new and more important question – not how long should my earbuds last, but:
How can I make my earbuds last as long as possible?
And the answer is, just take care of them – simple, right? But what exactly does that mean?
Well, since my first answer was so short and sweet, and now I have this big, blank, white e-page staring at me, I would love to get into this in some detail – the proper care and handling of wired and wireless earbuds, with the aim of setting new world records for longevity.
Taking Care of Your Earbuds
First things first – the wires themselves.
So many people are vexed by the fact that their wired earbuds – especially one or the other side – begin to cut out, or even totally stop working, within a very short time – again, ironically/incidentally/suspiciously shortly after the warranty is up, but also sometimes after just a few months, or even a few weeks.
And this can happen as much with premium earbuds as it does with cheapo ones.
I have to believe that nine times out of ten this is due to handling the wires too roughly, and if you can avoid this you should be able to enjoy your wired headphones for years.
One of the most important things to remember is that when you take them out of your ears, NEVER grab and pull them by the wires. It may be a bit more of a hassle, but always take hold of your earbuds by the bud’s case, and then you can gently and easily remove them without any worries.
The same is true of removing the jack from your phone, PC or other device – NEVER pull it out by the wire, but instead grasp and pull the plug itself.
Also use care when pulling them out of your pocket, your bag, their carrying case or anywhere else, and never put any real stress or force on the wires themselves – even if they are expensive, premium earbuds and look like they can handle it! Be careful to not let them dangle from the edge of a desk, table or bed, keep them away from a desk chair’s wheels, electric fans, and especially, above all else, puppies!
The wires inside even high quality wired in-ear headphones are incredibly thin and light, and have no strength at all, and while the outer casing helps they are still very fragile, and so treating them gently, and being mindful about how you handle them, can make all the difference in the world.
Second, how to clean your earbuds
Of course, if you have wireless earbuds you can’t point to handling the wires too roughly as the culprit. But wireless ‘buds – just like wired ones – can get damaged, start cutting out, make odd noises or completely stop working, because of damage caused by improper cleaning techniques.
I won’t get into a whole tutorial here, but a few pointers and considerations can really help. Anyway, cleaning your earbuds is important, for hygiene as well as for sound, and if you do it the right way you can, again, greatly extend the life of your little buddies.
My first and strongest suggestion is to just get a nice, basic, safe and effective earbud cleaning kit. My favorite for all kinds of earbuds is the Aispour Cleaning Kit, but the Akiki Kit is very good for wireless buds, and another effective and pretty darned ingenious product is the AirSquares Earbud Cleaning Putty, which safely and easily removes gunk from your earbuds.
But you can also do the job with stuff you probably already have around the house, like warm, soapy water, rubbing alcohol, cotton buds or swabs, safety pins or paper clips – but here is where you can run into some serious problems, and really damage your earbuds.
For example, though you can use water with soap, you should be ultra-careful with it – only use a tiny amount, soaked into a cloth, cotton ball or cotton swab that isn’t dripping, and make absolutely certain no moisture runs down and inside of the earbuds.
This is equally true, and even more important, with alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol can definitely cut through some of the gunk on your earbuds, but it will destroy the mylar sound driver inside – even a tiny drop can do real damage. Same with water, but especially with alcohol.
So the best way to clean gunk out of the inside of an earbud is usually a safety pin or paper clip, but you should make sure that you only push it in a bit, and nowhere close to the back/bottom of the cavity, where resides the super-sensitive mylar driver. Just a touch, and you’re online shopping for new buds!
A nice tip is to hold the earbuds upside down – that is, with the hole facing the ground – so that any gunk you fish out doesn’t drop deeper in, and so you don’t have to go deeper in with that evil and destructive pin. Another tip, speaking of tips, is to completely remove the earbuds’ tips before cleaning.
A lot of dos and don’ts, I know, but liquids or sharp objects in contact with the inner sound driver diaphragm can cause immediate failure for any earbuds, or at the least can seriously degrade sound quality, and so to clean them in a safe and conscientious fashion can make your earbuds last much longer and sound much better.
Ok, thanks, mom, and what else?
Other suggestions are more general, and I’ll just list them here:
- Don’t launder your earbuds, or ever fully submerge them in water or any other liquid – really, unless your earbuds are rated at least IP7 waterproof, I wouldn’t risk it, no matter what the manufacturer says.
- Don’t drop them or physically jar them – it goes without saying that to step on your earbuds, or run over them with a car tire, is probably not good, but even smaller physical shock can damage the sound drivers and/or – in the case of wireless earbuds especially – the internal circuitry.
- Don’t leave them in the sun – really, any kind of excess heat – for example, clothes dryers can be as damaging as clothes washers.
- Don’t just throw your earbuds in a pocket or pack – when you’re on the go, at least use a small carrying bag to keep the wires from tangling, and even better a hard protective case, and carefully wind the cord to prevent tangling.
- Don’t play your headphones too loud for too long – this is an obligatory throw-in point, because unless they’re really, really cheap – in the worst sense of the word – headphones should be able to handle the power that’s put out by a phone, PC or music player. Still, excess volume for excess time can damage the drivers of some earbuds, and isn’t necessarily the best thing for your hearing either.
What Else Could it Be?
If you’re pretty sure the reason behind your earbuds failing isn’t anything listed above, you are probably dealing with either defective products or simply earbuds that aren’t that good.
My Panasonic, the ones I’ve had for so many years, are cheap but decently made. I wouldn’t want to drop or step on them, and I’m careful with them, but they can handle volume and power just fine, and are pretty good quality overall.
A lot of very cheap headphones, especially from no-name companies, are not, however, pretty good quality, or even decent quality, and no matter how careful you are with them they aren’t going to last for more than a few weeks, months – heck, maybe even days!
Of course, if your headphones are decent, and from a good company, and they fail, first check the warranty and see if you can get them replaced.
If they are out of warranty, none but the very highest end, best and most expensive in-ear headphones are worth getting repaired – you’re probably just going to have to buy new ones.
Now if you are buying good earbuds, like ones highly rated by lots of other customers, and the same model keeps failing, it might be time to either:
Switch vendors – just on the off chance the seller is actually dealing in counterfeit copies of popular consumer electronics products
Switch models, or even brands – don’t let brand loyalty, or even consensus among other buyers, tempt you into making the same mistake over and over. Besides, variety is the spice of life and all that…
Conclusion:How Long Should My Earbuds Last?
There is a general agreement that earbuds are kind of cheap, and don’t really last, and that even good manufacturers’ products are likely to fail immediately after their warranty expires.
And indeed, this can be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, since we begin to think and feel that our new ‘buds are not really that great, and won’t last anyway, and so we aren’t always as careful or caring with them as we might be with other gadgets and products.
But let’s buck this trend, shall we? Let’s be careful with wires, with handling and using our wireless and wired earbuds, with cleaning and carrying them, and see if we can get even cheap buds to last well into the next decade – I mean, at the time of this writing that’s only about 8 years off, and I know for sure it’s possible, so why not?