While we all love the convenience and small size of wireless earbuds, these little devices can cause big problems when you experience connection and audio problems. Among these frequent problems with earbuds, the dreaded “one earbud not working” is perhaps the most commonly encountered issue.
Replacing earbuds can be expensive, and you hate to throw away an earbud that can still be salvaged. On the other hand, the convenience of buying a new set of $20 earbuds with free 2-day shipping is hard to beat, particularly when compared to hours of time spent trying to save a lost cause.
In this guide, we will try to save you money by helping you extend the life of your earbuds. If you still can’t get your right or left wireless earbud fixed after reading, rest assured that it is probably an appropriate time to buy a new pair.
Start with a Proper Diagnosis
The first step in resolving the issue of one earbud not working is to correctly diagnose the problem.
Thankfully, there are a few likely culprits that can quickly be ruled out.
First, check to see if the source device is the real problem. When we say “source device,” we are referring to the device that is actually playing the audio, such as your phone, computer, or tablet.
Test another pair of earbuds to rule out problems with the source device
Because there are thousands of different source devices you may be using, and millions of different audio settings, we need to simplify the process.
The best way to accomplish this is with another pair of earbuds. If you (or a friend or family member) has another set of earbuds, you should connect them to your source device and see whether or not they are working properly.
If the other pair of earbuds works perfectly fine, this is an indication that your earbuds may be the problem (rather than the source device). If the other pair of earbuds has the same issue with one earbud not working, then you know for certain that your source device (phone, computer, etc.) is the culprit.
Test another source device to rule out problems with the earbuds
If you don’t have another pair of earbuds handy, you can connect your earbuds to a different source device. For example, disconnect your earbuds from your phone and then reconnect them to a computer.
If the earbuds work properly with a new source device, now you know the earbuds aren’t the problem. If the earbuds still only work on one side, even with a different source device, you know there is a legitimate problem with your earbuds.
One other, quick thing to try – use a different application. If only one earbud is playing music that you are listening to on Spotify, close the app and try playing audio from Youtube or another music player. This isn’t a common cause of earbud problems, but it certainly does occur on occasion.
One Earbud Not Working – How to Fix
Start with the obvious first!
There are a thousand exotic troubleshooting techniques for tech problems. Tech geeks like myself love talking about them – but they usually aren’t necessary for the average user with a run-of-the-mill problem.
Instead, you need to start with the obvious fixes first. These will resolve 90%+ of problems with a minimal investment of time and effort.
- Verify that both earbuds are fully charged
Sometimes charging cases don’t work properly. There have been a few times that I found my earbuds weren’t charged because I didn’t properly position the earbud in the charging case (sometimes it can be finicky to engage the earbud prongs inside of the case, especially with how tiny modern earbuds can be!).
Some cases will even let you place the right earbud in the left earbud slot, and vice versa. Usually the case will still close properly, but the earbuds won’t charge. Then when you try to connect your earbuds, you find that they are at 0% battery.
If one earbud is playing audio while the other isn’t, you need to check that the non-functional earbud is fully charged. It sounds simple, of course, but this fix resolves quite a few issues that are affecting only one earbud.
- Check bluetooth & wireless connection
Bluetooth technology is a wonderful innovation – when it works! The problem with bluetooth connection is that it is hard to tell when the devices are improperly connected. And it can be challenging to troubleshoot this wireless connection.
The easiest way to solve bluetooth connections is to disconnect and reconnect your earbuds from the source device. To do this, you just select “forget” or “forget this device” on your source device, then re-pair the earbuds to the source.
Many times, this is the only step required to fix a bad bluetooth connection.
Another option, similar to the above, is to use a different source device. If the earbuds continue to have issues with a new source device, in all likelihood it is the earbuds that are causing the problem.
- Reset the earbuds
This process tends to differ from one pair of earbuds to the next. So, you may want to review the owner’s manual, or find an online guide for your particular make and model of earbuds.
Generally, you can hold the power button for an extended period of time to perform a reset. Sometimes, there is a different combination of buttons that must be pressed in order to reset the earbuds.
Placing earbuds into the charging case and then removing them from the case can also serve as a sort of “soft” reset.
One final method for “resetting” earbuds is to drain the battery fully to zero, then re-charge and turn them back on.
Oftentimes, tech issues can be resolved with a software or firmware update. These updates typically occur when the device is restarted or powered off and then back on.
We recognize that the above methods are fairly obvious to many users (we all hate it when we call tech support and they just ask us “have you tried resetting the device?”). But it is important to mention these steps, because they will solve the problem for more than half of users.
Further steps if the above don’t work
- Verify the audio settings on your source device
Many phones and computers have a “mono” option. If this option is accidentally activated, it can result in one earbud not working. Verify that this option isn’t clicked. Your source device should be in stereo mode if you have an option.
Further, if there is an audio balance slider, make sure that the toggle is positioned in the middle of the slider. Sometimes the audio balance can be turned to one side or the other, even if you haven’t been intentionally changing any audio settings.
This setting should be listed under the “Sound” or “Volume” options, and it may be listed as “balance,” “audio balance,” or “sound balance.”
- Reset source device
Resetting your phone or computer will introduce some unintended consequences. So the first thing you want to do is turn off your source device, then turn it back on and reconnect to your earbuds.
As mentioned above, unpairing and then re-pairing your earbuds from the source device may resolve the issue.
While a hard reset of your source device may resolve an issue with earbuds, it will delete a lot of important settings from your phone or computer. You only want to try this as a last resort.
- Consider the possibility of water damage
Earbuds are notoriously prone to water damage. And many earbuds have either no IP waterproof rating, or else have an IP waterproof rating that is insufficient to actually protect them from water damage.
There are many guides online for water-damaged electronics, but the abridged version is this – placing wet electronics in rice rarely works, whereas a desiccant (or air drying in the sun) may work. And you should be sure to fully dry your device before powering it back on.
If your earbuds get wet, you should dry them as much as possible, as quickly as possible, with a towel or napkin. And if you use your earbuds during a workout, remember to dry the sweat from the earbuds after each use.
Other options for wired/corded earbuds and headphones
- Inspect and clean the headphone jack & earbud itself
The previous steps all referred to true wireless earbuds, which have no exposed cords or headphone jack. But if you are using wired headphones or earbuds, there are additional failure points that must be considered.
First, inspect and clean the headphone jack, both on the source device and the headphone/earbud side. Most of us don’t clean our headphones/earbuds with any regularity, so it is common to have a buildup of dust, dirt, and debris.
Next, you should be sure that there isn’t any debris on the earbud itself. Start with a cloth to clean gross debris, and then proceed with a toothpick or pipe cleaner to remove fine debris. You can also use an alcohol wipe, but be careful not to dampen the earbuds too much.
Needless to say, you don’t want to get the earbuds wet during the cleaning process. And don’t get too aggressive with a toothpick or other cleaning tool, which could damage the components of the earbud or headphone.
Lastly, if you use a model of earbuds with removable tips, remember to clean and/or replace the earbud tips.
- Reposition the cord & re-insert the headphones into jack
Often, a kinked or pinched cord can interfere with audio transmission. If your earbud cord is pinched, straighten it and see if this improves the audio issues. If the wire is pinched severely and you can tell where the damage is, you may need to repair the wire.
Also, try removing and re-inserting the headphone plug into the jack on your phone or computer. Sometimes these plugs don’t properly engage, which can interfere with audio quality and function.
- Address broken & frayed wires
Similar to the above, the problem may be caused by a bent or damaged wire. If this damage is located in the cable of your headphones, it isn’t a terribly challenging fix. Most DIYers can watch an online guide and figure out how to splice speaker wire.
If the damaged wire is within the earbud itself, it is more likely to require soldering and repairs that are more technique-sensitive. Generally, these repairs aren’t worth your time and effort unless you are trying to save a pair of premium earbuds. If you wear $20 earbuds, you would be better off just replacing them.
- Use an earphone splitter to make a “pair” from two orphan wired earbuds
If you have tried everything and you can’t get the second earbud working, there is one final workaround. By purchasing a headphone splitter, you can connect two different (wired) earbuds to make a pair.
The elegance of this solution is that it lets you extend the life of your earbuds. And it will be easy to get a good discount on a set of earbuds that has only one functional earbud.
The downside to this fix is that it requires the purchase of an additional product, and you will have spare wires hanging all about. So, you want to get creative with the extra, unnecessary wires.
By no means is this the perfect solution. But if you have a pair of earbuds that you just aren’t ready to give up on, it is a clever fix for one earbud that’s not working.
If none of the above steps work, your only remaining option is to replace your earbuds. Anytime we deal with electronics, it is possible to reach the point where a device just can’t be saved.
The upsides and downsides here should be pretty obvious.
Earbuds (especially true wireless earbuds) are a relatively new technology with a long list of flaws and deficiencies. One such deficiency is that the batteries in earbuds are small and prone to degradation. Over time, all earbuds experience battery degradation. So if you have your earbuds long enough, they are bound to fail.
When shopping for a new pair of earbuds, select a quality brand with a lengthy warranty. Be sure that the product rates well for durability. And if it has an IP (waterproof) rating, that’s all the better.
Preventative care measures for earbuds
To extend the lifespan of your earbuds, remember these tips:
- Use the case and keep the earbuds covered. This prevents dust and debris from building up on the earbuds and causing damage over time. It minimizes the risk of losing your earbuds, too, which is a very common cause of earbud “failure.”
- For wired earbuds (or headphones), keep the wires untangled and straight. This prevents kinking, fraying, and damage.
- Periodically clean your earbuds, plus any tips, jacks, or plugs.
- Know your device’s IP waterproof rating, and don’t exceed it. The safest bet is to stay away from water and moisture altogether. Only use earbuds for workouts if they are waterproof, and dry them thoroughly after they get sweat on them.
- Minimize the drops and tumbles. Use the protective case whenever possible.
- Use authorized, quality chargers only. Although you can save money by purchasing ultra-cheap chargers and accessories, some of these can damage or destroy your electronics. If you invested a decent amount of money in your earbuds, there is no point in saving a few dollars on a low-quality charger.
- Avoid leaving the earbuds on a charger (including a charging case) for weeks at a time. This can degrade the battery and shorten its life.
- Purchase quality earbuds. This will reduce the frequency of having to replace them. On the flip side, if you buy cheap earbuds, you will likely save money over time even if you replace them more often. The way the math works out, it is cheaper to replace a $15 pair of earbuds a couple times per year rather than buying a quality $300 pair that lasts for 3-5 years.
There are many issues that can cause one earbud not to work.
Some are simple fixes, like bluetooth pairing problems or a device that simply needs to be cleaned or reset.
Other issues are more challenging to resolve, like a short circuit, frayed wiring, or water-damaged devices.
Ultimately, you want to spend time troubleshooting before you abandon your earbuds and purchase a new pair. If you made it through this entire guide without finding a fix that works, it’s probably time to move on to a new pair of earbuds!