Tiny Soldering - Earphones Repair

msgmsg Posts: 3,394
edited May 2015 in DIY, Mods & Tweaks
I have a pair of early gen Zagg Smartbuds that I've had for years and years. I'm usually pretty careful, but now I've got the dreaded channel-cutting problem due to connectivity issue at the jack. They sound surprisingly good for what they cost, and I enjoy the mic feature for phone use while driving. I've tried a few different types off an on over the years, but nothing else seems to do it for me, though haven't tried any serious brands/models. I use these for road trips, bike rides, and workouts, so one area I try to keep it in perspective. surprised they've lasted this long, actually.

I've decided I'd like to try to repair them before I delve into the madness of trying to find a suitable replacement.

I ordered one of the jacks below, and picked up a Weller WES51 at the recommendation of another member.

any pointers for a sucky solderer?
planning to trim the wires, tin, and then try to attach.
I have some thin 60/40, and considering a dab of hot glue on the connections after, if it looks like I might need insulation. or that paint on stuff.

other than that, really have no idea what I'm doing!

81qwuzrbvoL._SL1500_.jpg

Comments

  • zingozingo Audiophile Posts: 11,566
    edited May 2015
    Make sure you take your time with the clean and prep so you aren't rushing the process. Use a "helping hand" device or desktop clamp to hold the plug, so you have one had for the wires, and one for the iron. Tin the wires and plug connections before hand, so when you go to join them, you only have to worry about the solder heating up enough. With small headphone wires, I would heat up the connections quickly as too not have the iron applied for too long; set your heat to about 3/4.

    Do you have items to practice on before you dive into the headphones?
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    ah, there's the trick - tin both the wires and the connector. see, I would only have tinned the wires. yes, I was concerned about getting the connector too hot and damaging the channel rings on the plug.

    yeah, I have some wire I can play around with, will that work? it's much thicker stuff, though. I guess I could just cut the insulation and pull back some strands to mimic the headphone wire gauge? I also have some crimp on type connectors I could practice tinning and joining with the wire?

    I should be using the small solder for this, right? the thin rosin core stuff?
    the stuff I ordered was Kester .031 - http://amzn.to/1L7yjvo
    so many different types. I couldn't really figure out what I needed. this just scrolled up in the "also purchased" section, and I figured I need small stuff so it will flow quickly?

    I was thinking of trimming back the insulation on the headphone wires longer than I need. Then, tinning them and then trimming to proper length for nice placement on the connectors; I'm presuming the wire lengths will be staggered in this application.

    also presuming it's proper form to twist the wire slightly before tinning?

    when I go to make the final connection, do I heat the connector, or the solder lug on the connector with the headphone wire in contact?
  • oldmodmanoldmodman Posts: 745
    If the wires are cloth core like so many are these days for flexibility you will never be able to repair them. Sony's are one brand that used cloth core wires. Sennheiser are plain wire and were easily repaired.
    So strip the end of your wire and see what is in there. Plain wire? You will get a satisfactory solder joint. Cloth inside? Toss them in the trash or send them back to the manufacturer for repair/replacement.
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    ah man, hadn't even considered. thanks for the heads up on this. kinda hate to completely trash them, not knowing for sure. eh well. guess I have to.
    I'll probably tear into this project tomorrow eve.

    return/exchange is not an option anymore, unfortunately. they're out of production at this point, and the ones available through third party are apparently not of the same quality as the original ones were. which is probably why they're no longer made.
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    edited May 2015
    in light of possibility for being unable to repair, I decided to hold off temporarily so as not to be without in the meantime. for now things work with some fiddling.

    I found a seller on Ebay who had some old stock. ordered a couple pair. going to test them for quality/reliability. they usually have something wrong with them almost immediately if they're not the good ones, as I understand it.

    after that I'll snip the plug off the ones I'm having trouble with, check for this cloth core business, and see what's up.

    I did receive the new jack. super tiny. will definitely be using the magnifier on the third hand for this. here's a photo. (another question below)
    yq3umps3z7up.jpg

    when I'm tinning the jack, what do I do? heat the jack for a few seconds, then touch the solder to it? I've always read that you don't touch the solder to the tip of the iron, but I've never really been able to get it to flow just by heating a connection and touching the solder to the connection. could that be use of the wrong solder?
  • nbrowsernbrowser Posts: 6,866
    msg wrote: »
    when I'm tinning the jack, what do I do? heat the jack for a few seconds, then touch the solder to it? I've always read that you don't touch the solder to the tip of the iron, but I've never really been able to get it to flow just by heating a connection and touching the solder to the connection. could that be use of the wrong solder?

    What's the wattage of the iron? Might not be enough to heat a solid piece of metal...
    Living room: Samsung UN55KU7000 4K UHD HDR 55 inch TV, Marantz CD6004, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, Parasound zPhono, Mac Mini, Oppo BDP-93, XBox One S 2Tb, Kenwood DPX792BH car deck for radio purposes, Marantz SR5010 AVR, Parasound HCA-1200II, Front SDA 2 modded with Larrys Rings and RD0-194-1 tweeters, Rear Onkyo SKF-4800 Towers, Center CSiA6, BOOM Tannoy TS2.12 Sub, Audioquest Evergreen interconnects just about everywhere except from AVR to amp, MIT Terminator 4, MIT AVT3 speaker cables with extra terminals covered up Monitor 5 Jr+ in the wings for a center channel.
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    mmm, not sure on wattage, but 350-850℉ in the specs
    also have a solder gun? but I don't think I'm allowed to use that for electronics, hehe
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    so I had a look at a pair of these earbuds. I had a second (newer) pair that developed a slightly different issue, still one channel out. this was one of the poorer quality subsequent releases I mentioned, though I'm sure it sounds like they're all poor quality.

    Basically, these earbuds offer L & R channels for audio, then there are two separate inline pods.
    • wire comes from the jack and goes into a volume control
    • splits to two wires, L & R, with mic pod in L channel wire.

    reading out some wires, I noticed that the wires themselves do not seem to be conductive. inspecting further...
    • beneath the main outer sheath, there are five wires. each of these wires seems to be encased in a clear outer insulation with a colored twist beneath - R, G, BL, Copper, Copper, slightly different color
    • I can scrape back this clear insulation, but even beneath, this wire does not appear to be conductive, even unto itself. it's the strangest thing I've come across.
    • if I twist it in an "opposite" direction to that wound, the outer "wire" exposes an inner core that appears to be white or clear.
    is that that clothcore stuff mentioned?

    the only places I'm able to test for continuity are at soldered points of termination.

    I did happen to find a broken solder joint in the mic circuit on this pair I broke down for inspection. it seems to have some odd intermittent clicking sound going on, so I didn't really care if I trashed them in the process. the other pair only needs the jack replaced.

    should probably just find a new brand, but this is a good little learning opportunity.
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    okay, so I finally tried to make this repair.
    the jack takes solder nicely, but I can't get the wires to take solder at all.

    I'm guessing this may be that cloth-core stuff?

    I'm wondering if the technique for this stuff is not to tin the wire, but to tin the termination, then melt this solder lug, and try to get the wire into the lug?
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    msg wrote: »
    okay, so I finally tried to make this repair.
    the jack takes solder nicely, but I can't get the wires to take solder at all.

    I'm guessing this may be that cloth-core stuff?
    I just came across something on the web talking about earphones repairs, and how these wires can be acrylic coated or something like that. The author detailed use of a butane torch to clean the wire.

    I wasn't even able to read the wires to the jack to see which wires were which, but after using the torch trick to strip the wire coating, I was able to read the wires.

    now that I know what goes where, I'll try to proceed with the fix attempt next to see if I can get these things fixed. it's more for the challenge/lesson of it now
  • skrolskrol Posts: 2,595
    As stated above, they usually have a nylon thread for strength and the acrylic (varnish) coating. Try to trim the thread back so that you only have the wires. As for the coating, I have many times, successfully used a lighter to burn it off then end, then use a extra fine sand paper to carefully remove the charred remains. Dip the end in solder flux and heat with soldering iron to clean the conductors. Tin the ends and solder to the connector. A small vise or clamp to hold the connector is very helpful as is a lighted magnifying lens.
    Stan

    Main 2ch:
    Polk LSi15 (DB840 upgrade), Parasound: P/LD-1100, HCA-1000A; Denon: DVD-2910, DRM-800A; Monster HTS3600-MKII, Grado SR-225i

    HT:
    Denon AVR-888, Polk: RTA11TL (RDO198-1, XO and Damping Upgrades), S4, CS250, PSW10, Marantz UD5005, Panasonic TC-P42S60

    Other stuff:
    Denon: DRA-835R, DCD-660, DRM-700A, DRR-780; Polk: S8, Monitor 5A, TSi100; Pioneer: CT-6R, PL-530; Onkyo CP-1046F; Ortofon OM5E, Marantz: PM5004, CD5004, Polk: RM7, Parasound C/PT-600, HCA-800ii
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    crap, I didn't post back on this after I wrote last. thought I did.

    I went ahead with the fix. I found another trick about using an aspirin to remove the coating from the wires? something about the heat creating acid from the aspirin or something.

    it worked out okay, but it was still kind of tough for me to get the wires connected because everything was so small with tight clearances. I only had the magnifier from the third hand, which was all distorted, really, but I had a headlamp on, so it got me by, but a lighted magnifier would have been great!

    and your technique for cleaning the wires would have been handy too. I wasn't really thinking and just did the aspirin trick and got them tinned, but didn't do any further cleaning. probably should have, though. this was more for a learning experience. in the end, it was just a hack job, and it's almost just a bonus that they actually worked, hehe. I'll know more for the next time, now. this was a good exercise.

    thanks for all the info and tips!
  • skrolskrol Posts: 2,595
    Asprin... I'll have to check that out.
    Stan

    Main 2ch:
    Polk LSi15 (DB840 upgrade), Parasound: P/LD-1100, HCA-1000A; Denon: DVD-2910, DRM-800A; Monster HTS3600-MKII, Grado SR-225i

    HT:
    Denon AVR-888, Polk: RTA11TL (RDO198-1, XO and Damping Upgrades), S4, CS250, PSW10, Marantz UD5005, Panasonic TC-P42S60

    Other stuff:
    Denon: DRA-835R, DCD-660, DRM-700A, DRR-780; Polk: S8, Monitor 5A, TSi100; Pioneer: CT-6R, PL-530; Onkyo CP-1046F; Ortofon OM5E, Marantz: PM5004, CD5004, Polk: RM7, Parasound C/PT-600, HCA-800ii
  • pkquatpkquat Posts: 510
    Old thread resurrection.

    I too have a couple of sets of cheaper earbuds with full ipod control. The wires in them were junk, but they were light, and sound was surprisingly good compared to beats for a fraction of the cost. I found some $3 flat cable ear buds with full control. They sound like crap, but I was thinking I might be able to combine the two.

    Any tips from anyone on soldering wire to the cans?
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    Interesting idea for cable repair.
    Have you had a look yet at the type of wire inside the jacket of the donor flat cable?

    How about at the connections on the earbuds on the receiving end?

    Big thing I remember about this was the trickiness in dealing with wire so small. It was hard to handle, since it was kind of string-like.

    Next was the coating on the wire. Makes a real mess burning it off. I was thinking a while back, I never went back and cleaned the wire after Apirin'ing it. I should have done that with some kind of contact cleaner I think.
    • Clips of varying degree/size/type may be helpful.
    • I've since picked up a second third-hand tool, as well as a little vise.
    • A good set of magnifying glasses - thinking those roll up headband type - would be helpful.
    • Also, small ventilation fan for use while soldering. I'm going to make a little makeshift one with an old low speed computer fan or something
  • pkquatpkquat Posts: 510
    TY, I read that info. I assume the wire is coated so I will have to deal with that. My concern is soldering to the speaker part of the earbud. There are fine wires to the driver. I assume I want a really hot iron, and a quick touch, but how hot, how quick? I have a Hakko-888D.
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    edited August 30
    Wellt, I'm no soldering expert and hopefully one of the other guys better at it will chime in, but I'll throw a few thoughts out.

    What kind of solder will you be using?
    I've been enjoying the Cardas Quad. Very nice, very easy to work with.

    For heat, I'd probably say at the upper temp spec of your solder's working temp, if not a bit hotter. On my WES, I probably run everything around 2/3 dial or so. I may have done the math once to figure out what kind of temp that would be, but I don't know. Another member here told me he solders on max all the time.

    Second - on this tiny stuff, I'd say, yes, be quick. In some cases it's recommended to use a heat sink of some sort, as well, but not sure you'll need or even be able to do it in a situation like this. sometimes, something as simple as a paperclip is helpful, according to an old digital logic teacher I had, but I don't quite understand under which situations you'd want that. Maybe for sensitive components like ICs or something?

    I think one of the things that will be really helpful will be to tin both sides first. This will let you get the connections prepped, so that you won't be struggling with too many things at once when making the connections. I was amazed at how much easier soldering was once I learned the power of tinning, and also a decent iron and good solder. Then, it's just a matter of getting everything touching, and hit the components with the iron, flow the solder, remove heat, and with everything tinned, you should be able to make the connection very quickly, and be out.

    Accurate tip. Small flat tip, or pointed. Again, tinned.

    This will all help you to get in and get out quickly.

    For God's sake man, remember to put your heatshrink on first. Can't tell you how many times I've sat back admiring my work only to realize I forgot to put the $#%* heatshrink on.

    Lastly, make sure you're wearing shorts and flip flops.
  • pkquatpkquat Posts: 510
    LOL thanks. No need for heat shrink this time. Forgetting the heat shrink is how you get more practice at soldering right? :p

    I have most of the rest covered. I'm not sure if I there is any room for a heat sink, but the paper clip is a good idea to remember. I have some cardas, and some electric thin solder. I don't plan on removing the old solder on the ear buds, just touching it enough to pull the wires free. Pre-tinning the wires is a must. I am pretty sure the break is in the knot. That is how two of them failed. A third failed at the controller.
  • msgmsg Posts: 3,394
    hehe, indeed!

    Cool. When you digging into it?
  • Yep2Yep2 Posts: 778
    edited August 30
    If there is a wire "cup" treat it like a solder pot & cut a piece of solder, insert & melt (no wire inserted).
    When you insert your tinned wire & heat it, it will flow in seconds.
    After everything is tinned & soldered, and fully tested, lightly hot glue everything careful to keep all wires separate & still be able to screw the connector barrel back on.
    It will increase the longevity of the cable.
  • Yep2Yep2 Posts: 778
    edited August 30
    If I can offer any help Scott dont hesitate to pm me.
    No experience with the micro stuff, but
    Ive done alot of 1/8 stuff in the past, & some 5 pin DIN (pretty small).
  • pkquatpkquat Posts: 510
    msg wrote: »
    hehe, indeed!

    Cool. When you digging into it?

    Maybe this weekend, or it could be a while. I've been without these headphones for a while so there is no real rush. I got them as cheap every day / work ones that I wouldn't care about, mind if something happened to them, and had less chance of getting stolen vs. a higher end set. They turned into a diamond in the rough. I missed the good sound the other day, plus I recently got the Hakko iron for some polk projects I've been wanting to get too. I've been scared about completely messing them up. I have no issues wire or connector soldering. I have no experience with really small delicate stuff.
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