It probably happened to you a few times already. You were watching videos on YouTube or listening to Spotify when your headphones suddenly started producing distorted sounds. There’s a fuzzy, cracking sound that’s extremely annoying and worrying. After unplugging and plugging them back in, the sound goes back to “normal.” Then, after five minutes or so, they start to sound distorted again. Ugh. Why do your headphones sound muffled? Is it time to say goodbye and get a new pair? There are many possible reasons your headphones are acting up and giving you that irritating muffled sound. To help you out, let’s talk about sound distortions in headphones, their most common causes, and how to fix them.
Why Do Your Headphones Sound Muffled?
Muffled or distorted sound in headphones is extremely annoying, especially when you’re in the middle of an important meeting at work or a conversation with someone. Unfortunately, these are more common than you think and can happen even to higher-end models. Below are the major reasons why your headphones may sound muffled and the steps to fix them:
1. Damaged Wires
The most common reason for sound distortions in headphones is a damaged wiring system. With every yank, twist, and turn, those tiny wires inside can and will wear out over time. How do you know if damaged wires are causing the muffled sound from your headphones? Unless you reap them open, it can be challenging to determine if damaged wires are causing the funny sound. Fortunately, there’s a way to tell. The first step is to plug your headphones into a source. Individually listen to each earcup (or earphone) while moving the corresponding wire around throughout. Next, check if the distortion gets bigger or weaker based on the movement of the wire. If you notice any difference or changes, that means your headphone wires are damaged.
How do you fix muffled sound caused by damaged wires? Here are possible fixes you can try:
1. Check for loose or disconnected wires.
For frayed or exposed wires, the fixes are pretty straightforward. In most cases, all you need to do is wrap electrical tape around them as tight as possible. This helps protect the wire from fraying further and, at the same time, insulate it.
2. Get a professional to check it.
Although most headphones are generally well-built, there’s a possibility that the wires inside may be damaged. The internal wiring is the weakest link in any type of headphone, particularly the wires connected to the audio jack. In this case, it’s best to have it checked by a professional technician since it involves disassembling your headphones, particularly the structure underneath the earpads. However, if you have a knack for fixing electronics, repairing headphone wires is something you can do with minimal tools. It usually involves stripping off the rubber or plastic shell, cutting the wire properly, splicing the wire, and soldering the connections.
When unplugging headphones from their devices, many people tend to tug on the area just below the plastic casing. Unfortunately, doing this can damage those fragile wires within the cable. Make sure that when you’re connecting or disconnecting your headphones from your device, you’re holding the audio jack and not the cable.
2. Blown Speakers
If you use your headphones at maximum volume for extended periods, you run the risk of blowing out the speakers. However, it isn’t the only reason. It’s quite rare, to be honest. In most cases, you would have blown your ears first before you could blow the speakers. Most often, headphone speakers are blown if exposed to physical damage. For example, frequently dropping your unit on hard surfaces, like concrete floors, can severely damage its speakers and cause them to blow out. Blown speakers are a major cause of sound distortion in headphones. Initially, you’ll probably hear something like a bunch of bees buzzing around and meddling with your audio. Then, after some time, the distortion gets worse and highly noticeable.
How do you fix muffled sound caused by blown speakers?
1. Get a technician to fix it.
Fixing blown speakers is way harder and more complicated than repairing damaged wires. In most cases, you have to take your unit to a repair shop. Even so, there’s no guarantee that your headphone speakers will have the same quality as before.
2. Check the warranty.
Before you take your headphones to a technician, check first if they are still under warranty. Many high-end models come with good warranty coverage, so you can simply send your unit back to the store you bought it from and have it replaced. Furthermore, higher-end models have replacement parts you can purchase. However, if you’re using low-end headphones, it’s best to just buy a new pair.
3. Connection Issues
Another possible reason for the muffled sound you hear from your headphones is connection issues. Without a smooth connection between them and the source, your headphones won’t be able to process electrical signals properly, resulting in distorted sound.
For wired headphones, sound distortion can be a result of a loose connection to the audio source. Follow these steps to check for connection issues:
- Check if the audio jack is firmly plugged into the audio source.
- If your player or audio device has more than one connection port, make sure your headphones are connected to an audio-in or microphone port.
- Try plugging your headphones into a different audio source. If the muffled sound disappears, the audio source is the cause.
- If you’re using an extension cable to connect the headphones, disconnect it and connect your unit directly to the source.
- Test a different set of headphones or speakers on the device.
For Bluetooth headphones, connection issues are usually a result of mismatched codecs. These are technologies responsible for compressing or decompressing audio into a format recognized by your headphones. Most wireless headphones are compatible with codecs in audio devices. The problem is, some models provide limited codec solutions. For example, modern Macs prefer AAC codec and aptX. These codecs offer higher-quality audio and lower latency than the traditional SBC codec. If your wireless headphones do not support these codecs, they will resort to the default, and mostly unreliable, SBC. As a result, you get a poor sound quality. If you’re using an Android device for your audio source, it’s easy to tweak the Bluetooth codec of your headphones. Preferably, you want to use AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), Qualcomm aptX, or Sony LDAC. You must note that these codecs are limited to high-end headphones and earphones, whereas average models support AAC and SBC. If that’s the case with yours, go for AAC, as it is more advanced than SBC. Here are the steps to change your codec using an Android device:
- Activate Developer Options if it hasn’t been activated yet.
- Pair and connect your wireless headphones to your Android phone.
- In the Developer Options > Settings, scroll down to the Bluetooth audio codec.
- Select one of the codecs apart from the default SBC option.
4. Dirty Headphones and Audio Ports
Sometimes, those funny, muffled sounds produced by your headphones are simply because of accumulated debris. In that case, consider yourself lucky because fixing this issue is as simple as cleaning it.
How To Clean Headphones
Dirt and debris, such as lint, earwax, and dust, can build up within your headphones. That said, you want to clean your unit every so often to avoid accumulated debris that can affect their sound quality. Follow these steps to properly and safely clean your headphones: Step 1: Remove the earpads and wipe the exterior of your headphones with a small cloth dampened with warm soapy water. Step 2: Wipe it dry using a clean towel and leave it to air dry completely. Step 3: Using a cotton bud dipped in alcohol or hand sanitizer, carefully clean the nooks and crevices of the earpads. Step 4: Leave them to air dry completely before re-attaching the earpads to your headphones. Note: Headphones are slightly trickier to clean than earphones because they involve more delicate parts, such as leather, fabric, and earpads that may tear easily. Therefore, you want to make sure you’re doing the entire cleaning process gently.
How To Clean Headphone Jacks
Just as you want to be sure that your headphones are clean, you also want to keep the ports of your audio device clear from debris. Otherwise, they may cause sound distortion, too. Here’s a simple and easy way to clean dirty audio jacks: Step 1: Get a paperclip and unfold it so that it’s straight. Step 2: Wrap a double-sided tape around the end of the straightened paperclip. Step 3: Gently insert the paper clip into the jack to remove dirt and debris. Make sure you are not tugging the paperclip or pushing it hard into the port, or you run the risk of damaging the metal interior of your audio jack. Alternatively, you can use an interdental toothbrush or a pipe cleaner. Step 4: If there is corrosion inside the port, get an interdental toothbrush and dip it into 70% alcohol. Then, shake the excess moisture. The brush should be wet but not soaking. Step 5: Turn off your device. Then, insert the brush into the jack and move it up and down and in a circular motion to remove the rust.
5. Water Damage
Even a tiny amount of moisture can cause moderate to severe damage to nearly all electronic devices. Whether you accidentally spilled liquid onto them or they got wet because of constant exposure to sweat, water damage can cause a muffled sound on your headphones. Here is how you can fix moderate moisture issues on your headphones. Step 1: Dry it using a soft towel. Step 2: Remove the earpads and other attachments and let them air dry. Step 3: Do not use your headphones for at least 48 and let them air dry. You can also store your device in a small container with a moisture absorber, such as a silica gel packet or grains of rice. If using grains, place your headphones directly in the container.
6. Audio Settings
Assuming that your hardware is in good condition, it’s time to dig into your audio source settings. For all you know, the real culprit is there! There are many scenarios wherein your audio device could be sabotaging the sound quality produced by your headphones. Below are the most common:
Your audio source is connected to other wireless devices.
Are your Bluetooth headphones connected to your device along with other gadgets? If so, consider disconnecting everything except your headphones to see if it resolves the issue.
The audio enhancements of your source are turned on.
Most devices, from computers to mobile phones, have audio enhancement features. They allow you to boost the bass, loudness, and other properties of your audio. However, sometimes, these enhancements cause more harm than good. If you hear distortions, consider turning those enhancements off under your device’s sound settings. You should also turn off the sound equalizer feature of your device.
Your headphones are using the phone call path of your device.
Do you use your headphones for phone calls? If so, your device may be sending audio signals through its inferior phone call path rather than the high-quality stereo path of your headphones. More often than not, this affects the sound quality of your headphones and cause distortions. Consider disabling the “Hands-free Headset” feature of your phone or computer to see if it resolves the muffled sound issue.
Why do your headphones sound muffled? There could be several reasons. It could be due to damaged wires, blown speakers, connectivity issues with your audio source, dirty headphones or audio parts, or some conflicting sound settings in your audio source. While sound distortions are enormously disappointing, most of the time, you can easily fix these issues. Therefore, consider conducting a few tests to determine the root cause of the problem and follow the steps we just showed you. We hope that, with this guide, you can get rid of the muffled sound and enjoy listening through your headphones once again.