Headphones Only Work in One Ear: Common Causes and Easy Fixes

When your headset is playing only in one ear, rule out possible device setting issues then follow these quick fixes to get your earphones working again.

Having headsets playing only in one ear can be frustrating, especially if listening to music or watching videos is part of your daily routine. If you’ve relied on your earphones and your favorite beats to block off noise as you work, then this issue is bound to hurt your productivity as well.

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You can easily order or purchase a new pair. You may not want to part with your expensive headset yet. Or perhaps you simply don’t like the idea of throwing away hardware that may still be fixed.

Below are several tips and quick fixes you can do if only one of your earbuds is working. With these tips, you can have a working pair of headphones in just a few minutes. You don’t have to wait for your orders to be delivered, leave your house to buy one, or make do with one working earbud.

Ruling Out Phone or PC Settings

Just like other audio problems like headphone static, when headsets are only playing in one ear, many quickly assume that their earphones are broken. They start looking for replacements or spare headphones at home and begin to shop around.

But before discarding your earphones or attempting a repair, make sure that the issue doesn’t lie with your audio source.

Rule out the possibility that you’re hearing out of one headphone due to your audio settings or a temporary device malfunction that can be easily resolved. To determine if the problem is caused by your smartphone, laptop, or computer, follow the steps below.

1. Try another pair of earphones

The first step is to get a pair of perfectly working earphones and connect them to your device. If the earphones work fine, you can be sure that your headset is the problem. In this case, follow the tips below for fixing wired and Bluetooth headphones. But if the functioning headset also starts playing only in one ear, you need to check your device’s audio settings.

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2. Restart the device

Another simple fix you may want to try is restarting your device. This is especially useful if the problem occurs after a software upgrade.

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Check if both earbuds are working after restarting your computer or phone. But if the headset is still playing in only one ear, start checking your device’s audio settings.

3. Check the settings

Headsets may play only in one ear depending on your audio settings. So check your audio properties and make sure that the mono option is turned off.

Make sure voice levels are equal on both earbuds. You can check this by clicking on the Sounds icon on your computer, going to Levels, and then selecting Balance. You must have equal volume on each side of your headset.

Audio Balance on PC
Audio Balance on PC

4. Clean the headphone jack

People bring their phones everywhere-from their bedrooms to the rugged outdoors. Eventually, lint and dirt can get trapped in the headphone jack and affect the audio output. This causes a loose connection between your headphone port and the jack.

If your headset plays only in one ear when plugged to your device but works just fine in other gadgets, consider cleaning your phone or PC’s headphone jack. Use the toothpick’s pointed tip to loosen dirt and then use the brush side for scooping them out.

What to Do When Wired Headphones Only Work in One Ear

There are a number of reasons why wired and wireless headphones may start working only on one side. Before you try any of these quick fixes, it is important to identify the cause of your problem.

  • Diagnosis: Damaged or disconnected wire near the jack
  • Diagnosis: Shorted wire
  • Diagnosis: Faulty wiring within defective earbud

Diagnosis: Damaged or disconnected wire near the jack

When in a hurry, some users yank out their headset’s jack from their mobile phones and laptops. Some people disconnect their headsets by tugging on the cord rather than pulling out from the base. This can also result in a bent headphone plug.

These habits can damage the wires near the headset’s jack. Over time, your headphones may start working only in one ear whenever the cords are twisted or bent. These are the steps you need to take in order to resolve this issue.

How to fix damaged wires

  1. Use a knife or cutter to slice through the plastic protective base around the earphone jack as well as the cord near it.
  2. Locate the section with the broken wires and cut it off.
  3. Take off the plastic cord from one end of the headset cord.
  4. Use a match or lighter to briefly burn off the wire’s insulation.
  5. As shown below, connect the wires to your earphone jack.
    Make sure to connect the right wires to their corresponding section on the earphone jack.
    Be sure to connect the correct wires to the right section of the earphonejack.
  6. The newly joined section should be covered with heat shrink tube or electrical tape.
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Diagnosis: Shorted wire

Another reason for headsets only playing in one ear is a shorted wire. This happens most often when the earphone wires are not properly wrapped or tangled. Follow the steps below on how to locate and fix shorted earphone wires.

How to fix shorted wires

  1. Plug your headphones into your device and play an audio or video file.
  2. You can locate the problem by gently bending the earphone cable every half inch. Continue this process until both earbuds are able to hear sound.
  3. The damaged section of wire should be removed.
    Damaged wire removed from headphones
    Damaged wire removed from headphones
  4. Get the remaining sections of the earphone cord. To expose the wires, cut the plastic cord at the ends.
  5. Separate the copper wires (ground wires), insulation (white wires), and the colored wire. (The colored wire will be red if you are repairing the headset’s right portion, or green or blue if you’re working on the left section.)
    Separate internal wires
    Separate internal wires
  6. Cut the insulation wires. Twist the copper wires while you wait to do so.
  7. To briefly melt the enamel on the tips of colored wires, light a match or lighter.
  8. By twisting the wires, you can join them. These can be secured with electrical tape.
  9. Link the ground wires in the same way and wrap an electrical tape around these as well. You must ensure that the ground wires don’t touch the colored wires.
  10. Attach an electrical tape to the new section.

Diagnosis: Faulty wiring within defective earbud

Sometimes, a loose or broken wire can cause your earbuds to play only in one ear. Once you’ve determined that the issue isn’t caused by a broken or shorted wire along the cord, follow the steps below to open and fix the earbud.

How to fix faulty wires inside earbuds

  1. Open the earbud casing using a small flat-blade screwdriver. You can also detach your nail clipper’s lever and use it to pop the earbud’s front case or ear tip open.
  2. Do not pull the case to further 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.
  3. Resolder the loose wire and let it cool before testing the headphones.
    Soldering loose wire
    Soldering loose wire

What to Do When Wireless Headphones Only Work in One Ear

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Wireless headphones can save you from the hassle of untangling messy cords. However, these won’t spare you from issues that may cause headsets to play only in one ear. Below are 3 common causes of malfunctioning wireless headphones and guides on how to fix each.

  • Diagnosis: Needs reset
  • Diagnosis: Halfway point issue
  • Diagnosis: Broken internal wires
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Diagnosis: Needs reset

When one side of your earbuds isn’t working, sometimes a quick factory reset is all it takes to resolve your Bluetooth headset’s connectivity issue.

How to reset Bluetooth headphones

  1. Press your device’s power button.
  2. Keep holding it down until the headset’s light flashes blue or red. Follow these steps to reset each Bluetooth headset.
  3. Re-pair the headphones with your device.

Diagnosis: Halfway point issue

If your headphones are functioning well when the aux cable jack is plugged in but start working only on one side when you shift to wireless mode, you may be dealing with a halfway point issue.

These issues occur when one of the jack port’s mechanical triggers is stuck halfway, causing one of your headphone speakers to malfunction.

How to fix a halfway point issue

  1. Insert then remove the aux cable plug from the jack port.
  2. Repeat step 1 at various angles to keep pushing the mechanical trigger back in place.
  3. To determine if the problem is solved, test your Bluetooth headphones.

Diagnosis: Broken internal wires

If one side of your earphones still won’t work despite being fully charged, start checking for damaged or displaced wires in the hardware. Here are the steps for repairing Bluetooth headphones.

How to fix internal wires

  1. Open the Bluetooth device and remove the casing.
    Open bluetooth earbuds
    Open Bluetooth earbuds
  2. Locate the broken wires and reconnect these using a soldering iron.
  3. Reattach the internal components to the casing.
  4. Turn on your Bluetooth earphones to test it, then re-seal if it’s all good.

How to Reuse Multiple One-Side Working Earbuds

Note though that the audio quality may no longer be as good as it used to.

  1. Get an earphone splitter and plug it into your audio device’s aux output.
  2. Insert the two earphones’ jacks into the splitter’s output jacks.
  3. To test the sound quality, you can play an audio or video file.
  4. Keep your earphones looking neat by removing the excess cords and intertwining the functioning earbuds’ wires.

If you wish to skip the trouble and buy a new pair of headphones instead, make sure to read our tips on what to do with broken headphones.

Find Ways to Extend Your Earphones’ Life

If you are investing in quality headphones, you want to be able to use these for a long time. And even if you don’t have a pricey pair, you may not want to throw yet again another hardware just because one earbud isn’t working.

These tips will help you determine if your headphones need to be repaired before purchasing a new pair. Reparing your headset will save you money and help you reduce electronic waste. You can also quickly get back to listening to your favorite music or watching videos.

Let us know your thoughts about the above-mentioned fixes. Do you have other tips and tricks for repairing headphones with only one earbud working? These tips and tricks can be shared below.

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