Last week we broached an issue with several iPod models where failure of the right earphone (both with Apple's supplied earbuds and third-party headphones) manifests after varied lengths of time.
On the surface, this issue would be easy to dismiss as routine, random component failure. However, we received a staggering number of reports from readers who have experienced repeated failure of the right earphone, specifically, with multiple, subsequent sets of headphones. In other words, some users experienced degraded or completely lost functionality of the right Apple earbud, bought a new set of third-party headphones for replacement and again experienced right earphone failure; in some cases this cycle repeated three, four, or more times.
The issue does not seem to be specific to any particular third-party set of earphones (with models from many different manufacturers exhibiting the same failure), nor does it seem specific to any particular iPod model.
Models for which we've received reports of this issue occurring include:
- Fourth generation iPod (40 GB)
- Fifth generation iPod (30 GB)
- Fifth generation iPod (60 GB)
- First generation iPod Shuffle (1 GB)
- First generation iPod nano (2 GB)
- First generation iPod nano (4 GB)
- Second generation iPod nano (2 GB)
- Second generation iPod nano (4 GB)
As originally noted, the problem also does not appear to correlate with persistent use at high volume. Several users report having used volume limitation since initial purchase of their units and still experiencing reduction of right-earphone intensity or complete loss of sound.
It appears that in at least some cases, the manifestation of this issue results in permanent damage to the attached right earphone. In other words, sound is degraded or completely lost when the ostensibly damaged headphones are connected to an audio device other than the iPod. Also, when new earphones are attached to some afflicted iPods, the right channel works well; this indicates that the problem does not indicate failure of right-channel sound output from the iPod itself.
We are still in the initial stages of positing theories regarding the cause(s) of this issue, but some hypotheses include:
- The construction of the female mini-jack receptacle on various iPods is such that the right channel section of the male audio jack is more prone to some type of damage. The tip of a male audio jack is generally used for left channel sound, while the thicker part of the jack beneath the tip is used for left-channel sound. (See this diagram on Wikipedia for a visual representation). It is possible that the right-channel section of the audio jack is receiving some sort of adverse contact from iPods, causing this issue.
- Undue pressure on one side of the earphone jack causes strain, and eventual right-channel failure.
- Sound delivery to the right channel differs from delivery to the left channel, resulting in blown or otherwise damaged right earphones.
Finally, while it certainly appears that there is a strong propensity toward right earphone failure, we'd like to ask if for any specific reports of left earphone failure to rule out any statistical bias. So, if you've had repeated failure of the left earphone when connected to an iPod, please let us know.
Below is a small sampling of the hundreds of reports we received indicating right-channel earphone failure:
Don Ryck writes:
"My iPod also killed the right ear bud on my Shure E2c's lucky Shure replace them without any hassle. Been using my new ones and they are starting to short out again. My brother told me about this and I immediately stopped using them with my ipod."
"I had a pair of Sennheiser HD 437 headphones for a while before I bought a 60 GB video ipod, that worked fine. After a few months of usage with the ipod, the right earphone stopped working completely. Luckily they were still under warranty, so I got a replacement pair. I've used the replacement pair with the same ipod for about 8 months now without any problem."
Christopher Pryce writes:
"I had a very nice set of Bang-Olufsen Ear Buds that I used exclusive at my desk for three months. I took them on a plane trip and plugged them into my first generation 30gb iPod. The right ear bud now has about 50% of the volume of the left and is noticeably distorted."
Trip Mitchell writes:
"This just happened to me in early december. My 5G 60gig ipod blew out the right channel on my $180.00 Shure E3G earphones. I never use my ipod at full volume, which is especially unnecessary with these excellent sound-isolating phones. I was lucky that Shure replaced them under warranty."
An anonymous reader writes:
"Although I rarely use the earbuds that came with my 60GB video iPod, I was surprised recently that the right ear piece was producing distorted sound. The earbuds functioned properly when I first acquired the iPod, about a year ago, and several times since then. About three weeks ago, and less than a dozen occasions of using the iPod earbuds, I first noticed the sound in my right ear was distorted. To confirm it was the earbud, and not an internal iPod problem, I tried the iPod earbuds on an audio cassette unit, the right ear piece was still distorted. I also tried a second pair of non-OEM earbuds on the iPod, there was no distortion in either ear piece. It was baffling, as the earbuds had never been dropped or abused in any way."
"I have an ipod shuffle and the right earbud died, and the same thing happened to a really nice pair of headphones I bought at Radioshack."
John Dickison writes:
"I've experienced not complete failure, but increasing sound degradation (as though the speaker was being overdriven) in the right earphone with two sets of standard Apple earbuds. Thought it was strange that only one ear was going."
An anonymous reader writes:
"The earbud problem confused me. I bought a set of Shure E2C earbuds because they sound great, and the cord is much thicker than all the other brands I tried. I have had 2 pairs fail on me, both losing sound on one side: the right side, with the same symptoms. I thought I was going deaf. I have both pairs stripped down to the TINY wires to somehow make them work again"
Mikael Schuster writes:
"I have 3 ipods (2 nano, 1 "normal ipod 40 GB) with failures in the right earphone."
Anyse Joslin writes:
"In my third generation 40G iPod, my original earplugs died in a few months (right earplug). After that, I bought the upgraded, fit in your ear, headphones and the right one died a few months later. So, I bought a third one and it is still working today and it is the regular style headphone that normally comes with the older iPod."
Dave O'Connor writes:
"It happened to me too, I use custom in ear headphones so it isn't the volume. I am currently on my second set and the right ear is going on these now. Thought I was losing my mind."'
J.D. Gibbbard writes:
"My original 3G iPod earbuds failed on the right side but I assumed it was the slight fraying of wires. Since then with with three other 3rd party earbuds I have frequently noticed diminished sound on the right side. Coincidentally it always seems to be the right side that also gets damaged by being stepped on or chewed up (after I have noticed sound problems)."
Kevin Barre writes:
"I absolutely have had the problem show up with my 8-year-old son's 1st generation Shuffle other than a dead right headphone. Until I read this story I had assumed that he had just blown the speaker, which is really silly, since I have always limited the volume on his Shuffle since the first day I gave it to him."