One of the most vexing things that can happen to you when you are listening to your favorite tunes on your headphones is finding that one earbud is louder than the other.
Headphones and earbuds are perfect for perceiving punchy bass and clear trebles and having a balanced music listening experience. However, a volume discrepancy across the left and right channels can take a lot of that experience away.
If you are experiencing unbalanced audio due to one earbud being louder than the other and it is ruining your music listening experience, do not worry. This is a fairly common occurrence and you might not need to get a new pair of earbuds.
In fact, this is a common problem a lot of people suffer from. Your headphones might truly be malfunctioning. But before coming to that conclusion, there are a number of fixes you can employ that might solve the problem, save you from an unnecessary expense, and restore the usual enjoyable listening experience.
Let us take a look at some of the best ways you can go about solving the issue of one earbud being louder than the other while listening to music or taking a voice call.
*If one of your earbuds is entirely silent, rather than just quiet, we have you covered, too! See here for our guide to fixing one earbud that is quieter than the other.
Why is One Earbud Louder than the Other?
For the abridged version of this article, be sure to check:
- Cleanliness of your earbuds
- Loose/frayed wiring, or damaged ports (if earbuds are wired)
- Battery status
- Correct fit
- Moisture exposure
- Proper pairing with source device
If none of these fixes address the problem, it’s time to look at your source device.
Under “Audio,” “Sound,” or “Sound Settings,” you should verify that every option is setup correctly. Check that the balance slider is centered, rather than offset to the left or right. Also check that exotic features like “Sound Enhancement” are turned off.
First, Address the Basics
First, you need to start with the basics and look at whether you have a connection issue or a physical blockage that is causing one earbud to be louder than the other.
Here is a list of things to check out:
(1) Check for Buildup & Debris
Check if one of the earbuds is overly dirty. Since earbuds go directly inside the ears, dirt and grime can accumulate on them over time.
If you do not have the habit of regularly cleaning out your headphones, the dirt can sometimes cause a physical blockage or find its way into the audio driver which, in turn, can cause the volume to seem lower. If you notice an excess of dirt on one earbud, this might be the source of the issue.
Clean out both earbuds carefully and see if that improves things. You can use a clean cloth or a q-tip to accomplish this. For dirt that is hard to get rid of, it is safe to use a few drops of isopropyl alcohol to achieve a cleaner result.
Be sure to clean the speaker grille and any ports with particular care.
(2) Is There Debris in the Headphone Jack?
For wired earbuds (and headphones), dirt and dust inside the headphone jack can also sometimes cause the audio to lose its left-right balance. Since the headphone jack is a physical point of ingress, whether you are using a PC, laptop, or a phone, dust can gather inside.
Other things, like pet hair, can also get inside and jam things up. You can try cleaning out the inside of your headphone jack to see if there is any improvement. Once again, use a q-tip or a clean cloth and something sharp, like a needle, to pry out any tough dirt. This can help solve the problem.
(3) Correct & Snug Fit
Is the fit of your headphones the issue? This is commonly the issue with earbuds, whether you are wearing a cheap set from the gas station or a quality pair of Sony or Bose buds.
Earbuds come with ear tips that help the buds sit properly inside the ear canal and provide a tight seal all-around. If you are using the wrong size of ear tips or have a mismatched pair, this can definitely be the culprit.
You can detach your ear tips, choose a pair that is the right size for your ears, and put them on to see the results. If your ears are of different sizes, you can put in appropriately sized ear tips for each earbud and see if there is a difference.
Most earbuds come with small, medium, and large eartip options as a default, but ordering quality aftermarket tips is usually a better solution. For $10 or less, you can find comfortable eartips that fit your ears perfectly — which improves fit, audio quality, and volume.
(4) Moisture Buildup
If there is a buildup of moisture inside one earbud, that can very well cause the output to become quieter or fail altogether.
If your headphones got wet recently, you can shake out the water and use a dry cloth to get as much of it out of your earbuds as possible. For even better results, you can keep your headphones inside an airtight container for a few hours with some dry silica gel, a common desiccating agent. This can help the water dry out and may restore proper music playback.
Avoid using your earbuds until they are completely dry. This is especially important if your earbuds do not have an IP (ingress protection) rating.
*Even more importantly, never insert wet earbuds into a charging case. Even “waterproof” earbuds should be dry prior to charging.
(5) Re-pair to Source Device
If you are using Bluetooth earphones, the problem might be due to a pairing or connection issue.
To solve this, unpair your earphones from your device and turn them off. Turn them on and pair them fresh. Bluetooth earphones often need to pair the left and right earbuds with each other along with pairing with your device to deliver stereo music playback. Connecting things afresh might solve connection issues.
(6) (For Wired Earbuds) Check Wiring
Finally, check for loose joints on your headphone wires.
In wired headphones, a loose connection can often cause the volume to drop, in addition to cracks and pops. If you find the wire to be loose somewhere, you can try jamming it in and checking if it makes things better. However, this type of solution might not last very long.
(7) Is Battery Running Out?
It is very common for true wireless earbuds to run out of charge at different rates. So, even if your right bud has 40% battery remaining, your left bud may be at only 10%.
Before worrying too much, take your earbuds out and charge them both to 100%. Sometimes a nearly-dead earbud will remain powered on, but performance will be compromised (i.e. quiet or staticky).
Exploring Other Options: Balancing Audio
If you are sure that it is some kind of internal and structural damage that is causing one earbud to become louder than the other, your headphones might not be totally useless yet.
There are still some tricks you can use to get more life out of them before considering a replacement.
The easiest solution to explore here is to force a rebalancing of the audio so that you bring the volume of the louder channel down to match with the quieter channel.
For example, if your right earbud is quieter and your left earbud is louder, you would have to bring down the volume level of your left earbud till it matches the right. Then, you can raise the total volume so that it comes back to an audible, usable level.
On a PC or laptop, whether Windows or Mac, this can be achieved easily using the audio control panel, which usually comes with a balance slider that is set in the middle. You need to move the slider towards the direction of the earbud which is quieter. After a while, you should notice that the volumes of the left and right channel become the same.
You can then use built-in features like loudness normalization or audio volume boost to bring the overall level higher, so that you can still get some use out of your headphones.
When using a phone, accomplishing this can be a little trickier, since phone operating systems usually do not provide this level of control over your audio balance easily. With that said, you can usually find the settings you want if you go into the “accessibility” features of your phone.
Also, you can definitely look for specialized apps on the app store of your device that afford you this control.
Whether you are using iPhone or Android, there are several apps in the respective app stores that give you more granular control over your audio where you would find the balance slider mentioned before, as well as features like loudness normalization. While it will take you a little more time, this can extract a few more months of use from your headphones.
When Nothing Works
If you have tried all the solutions described above and your headphones still do not work as they should, it might be time to consider a replacement.
Stemming from this, before you throw your headphones in the trash and order a new one, check to see if it is still covered in your warranty, which would entitle you to a free repair or replacement.
Also, some headphones come with detachable wires, in which case you can just order a new pair of headphone wires and plug them in to solve the problem.
No matter what the cause, it’s a prudent idea to exhaust your options first before giving up on your headphones. In many cases, one of the fixes mentioned above should be enough to get your music listening experience back to par and give you the chance to squeeze out some more use from your headphones. Try these fixes and see if they work for you.