Hearing static in your headphones could annoy you more than anything else in any given moment. This is especially true when you are listening to your favorite music or intently watching a movie.
I have felt it before, and I could definitely say that the crackling sound hindered my listening experience. One day while jogging, I was not able to find the rhythm in my strides as all I could hear was static noise. It was really frustrating.
Knowing the rationale behind this crackling noise would help you eliminate it from your life forever. Below are five of the things you need to know to understand why you can hear static in your headphones.
1. Unplugged, Loosely Plugged, or Weakened Headphone Jack
The first thing you ought to remember is that the presence of static noise is directly related to the condition of your headphone jack. In other words, always check your headphone jack and keep it well-maintained so that you can enjoy a continuous, static-free listening experience.
First, make sure that your headphones are plugged. This may sound funny to some as it should be something obvious.
However, a user forgetting to connect the headphones is one of the most common causes of static noise.
If you are sure that the headphones are plugged in, then check if the jack is inserted all the way into the socket. This is another thing that is easy to overlook.
In one occasion, I was frustrated by how poorly my newly-bought earphones are working because of too much static noise. After a few minutes of fretting, I discovered that I just neglected to plug it into my smartphone’s headphone socket completely.
The headphone jack was only halfway inside the socket. This was the reason why I could hear a crackling sound. Upon fully inserting it, the static went away as if it was magic.
Another possible reason for the occurrence of the static noise is when the headphone jack or the media player’s socket is already time-worn. Like all devices, both the plug and the socket has a set lifespan.
Check if the contact between the jack and the socket is still substantial. Try angling and rotating the plug to find a complete signal. If the crackling persists after you let go, then you already have a weakened connection. In this case, repairing either the plug or the socket would be your option.
Use your headphones on a different device or insert a good set of earpieces on your media player. This could help you find out whether the headphones or the player is the issue.
2. Accumulation of Dirt or Other Foreign Particles on the Headphone Jack
Quite often, accumulation of dirt on the pathway of connection between the headphone jack and a media player’s socket causes static noise. Dirt or any unwanted particle lingering in the plug or the socket impedes a flawless contact between the two, which disrupts the audio signal.
Cleaning the connection with a pure cotton swab lightly drenched in alcohol should do the trick. I have also tried using a contact cleaner and a clean rag to wipe both the jack and the socket, and it also worked well for me.
Just be mindful of the amount of alcohol or cleaning solution you will use. Too much of either one might damage both the plug and the socket.
Another way to effectively clean your smartphone’s headphone socket is by using a wooden toothpick. I have done this a couple of times, and it is also useful in cleaning my phone’s charging port. This method would need you to be extra careful, though, to avoid scratching the opening.
With the toothpick, lightly scrape off dust particles from inside the socket. Go up and down, left and right, checking the entire crevice. You would be surprised by the amount of lint you could get. I found out that the lint came from regularly placing my smartphone inside my pockets.
Finish it off by spraying the socket with a can of compressed air. A few good sprays should dislodge any remaining foreign objects inside the socket.
Another technique of removing debris is by using a regular paper clip covered with a double-sided plastic tape. The idea is for the dust to stick to the tape upon insertion. However, this is a risky method since paper clips are typically made of plastic or steel.
3. Media Player’s Bass and Treble Settings Might Be Too High
Sometimes, your headphones may rustle only during a few loud moments during a track. This is an entirely different issue from the first two items mentioned above.
Once, there was a time when I could hear static every time the sound of a bass drum thumps while listening to a rap song. In another occasion, I listened to the crackle during high notes produced by a rock artist’s guitar solo.
I thought I had bought another set of substandard headphones. However, when I tried to lower the bass and treble settings in my smartphone, the crackling sound just went away as if it was not there all along. Every time I try to bring the volume back up, the hissing sound comes back again.
I discovered that some headphones are just not rated high enough to handle the maximum volume settings of a particular media player. When we forget to adjust the volume of the player, the static noise occurs.
This occurrence is vice-versa, which means that sometimes it is the player that could not handle the headphones’ volume settings. Try buying a set of the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and amplifier to fix these issues.
A headphone DAC and amp set converts a low-voltage audio signal from a source into an output that would be compatible to any headphone or speaker. It produces a higher sound quality across a more extensive dynamic range.
Casual users are not as aware of this function of a DAC and amp as compared to audio enthusiasts. I used to ignore DAC-amp sets until I had the chance to use one in one of my headphones. And now I could not remember the time when they were not around.
If you have friends who are audiophiles, then you may notice that they tend to always look for the best DAC-amp sets available on the market.
Meanwhile, if your source device is a laptop or PC, then the cause of the static could be insufficient software or hardware. Check your computer’s sound card or audio driver to make sure that it can handle the audio file you are trying to listen to.
4. Torn, Broken, or Loose Wires in the Headphones Itself
Damaged or loose headphone wires also cause static noise. If your headphones already show noticeable damage to its wires, then it would not be a bad idea to purchase a new set.
Torn or peeled cables expose the wires within, which could pick up static if two or more of those wires touch each other.
Aside from producing lousy sound quality, these exposed wires could also potentially harm us, users, because they emit static electricity. While the electric shock should not be fatal, going through it over and over again would not be a welcome experience for anyone.
A temporary solution would be to wrap each of the wires with electrical tape before covering the entire cable itself. I tried this, but my headphones did not last as long as I may have wanted. I did not enjoy the sound output as well. You just cannot expect the sound quality produced to be precisely the same as before it was damaged.
There are also times when only a few of the wires inside the headphone cable are torn while the others are still intact. A continuous bending in the same spot causes this kind of damage. It still generates the same static noise even though some of the connections are still unbroken.
Wobbly or loose wires inside the headphone cable could also generate crackling sounds. A quick electrical tape wrap could fix it as well. But as I have previously mentioned, buying a new one would be the better choice.
Proper handling and storage could make your headphones last longer. Avoid folding the wires or keeping your earpieces in a cramped space where something heavy may crush them.
5. Radio Interference From Nearby Broadcasters or Devices
This one is quite a rare occurrence as most modern headphone cables are appropriately shielded already. Although it may still happen from time to time.
Anywhere you are, the chance of radio waves from broadcast stations nearby or small devices around the house interfering with your headphones’ audio signal is always there.
I have experienced this as well, and the situation is indeed frustrating. At first, it seems like there is nothing I can do about it. But I have discovered a couple of techniques to prevent radio interference.
The first one is to ground the audio device or media player I’m using. I did some research online and found out that grounding naturally eliminates static electricity and radio frequency interference.
But grounding has become a commonly overlooked practice today. Modern computers and laptops are typically connected to no-ground wall sockets, which makes it vulnerable to static noise.
When you are up and about with your smartphone, for example, while running, simply putting your phone inside your pocket is already considered as “grounding” your audio device.
The other option is to utilize a cable shield for my headphone wires. Cable shields protect headphone wires not only from RF signals but also from electrostatic and electromagnetic interference. Some modern headphones already come with it, while others do not.
Cable shielding is the trend these days because of the increasing complexity of modern devices. To effectively avoid signal interference, adding cable shields to your headphones might be needed.
There you go. These are the five common reasons why you can hear static in your headphones. Knowing these things enables you to identify the source of your earphones’ static problems properly. By recognizing its cause, you are better equipped to arrive at the best possible decision moving forward.