Save Your Headset

Save Your Headset

HeadsetNearly all of us have experienced that awful moment when you pick up your headset with plans to listen to that hot new song or some cat playing with a cotton ball on YouTube only to discover you no longer have sound on the right side of your head. For those lucky few who are smugly thinking “not me”, mark my words, the time is coming when you too will experience the disappointment of a failing headset. The dismay grows even worse as you realize the headset’s warranty, as many warranties habitually seem to do, ran out just last week. Before you resign yourself to coughing up the cash for a new headset, put your wallet back in your pocket, all is not lost just yet. Odds are good that you can significantly prolong the life of your headset with a little investigation and some careful repair work.


Before even thinking about making a repair the first step should be to find the location and cause of the headsets failure. Is it just one side? Which side is it? Is it an intermittent failure or constant? Does the microphone still work? Answering these questions will help you learn why it no longer works. Nothing? Try twisting the volume dial, don’t be surprised if you hear the broken side crackle back to life momentarily. Chances are one part is responsible for the failure, the inline volume control. These cheap little afterthoughts seem to cause more trouble than just about any part on a modern headset. They add little actual value and serve more as marketing gimmicks than actual features. Most users find it easier to control volume with hot keys and using push to talk renders the mute switch utterly useless. This makes the volume controller basically a liability that dramatically reduces headset lifespans. Luckily, most can be easily bypassed to restore functionality to your headset.


Before you crack anything open, make sure the headsets warranty has expired, if it has not, by all means make use of it. If it is expired then you have nothing to lose, worst case is you can’t fix it and buy a new headset which would happen anyway. Best case, you repair it, save yourself a few bucks, and learn something in the process. Remember, its impossible to break that which is already broken.


Although there are many different brands and models of headsets all of them use pretty much the same design. In a 3.5mm design, there are typically two lines, one for the microphone and one for audio out. The microphone line contains a positive and a negative wire that creates a loop between the jack and the microphone. The inline controller is typically a piece of silicon that those connections are laid out across. There will only be five or six pathways on it so they should be easy to trace what goes where and they will typically be labeled on the board. Two of those as I said are for the microphone and can be ignored (should be labeled with a M- and a M+). That leaves us with four connections on the headphone side and three on the jack side. The reason it goes from three to four connections is because of the in line volume controller. Both the left (L-) and right (R-) audio return from the headset, go into the resistor that is controlled by the volume dial and then combine into the single ground wire. For some reason, I don’t know why, they choose to combine both the left negative and the right negative lines at this volume controller. This creates a very obvious point of failure because if the two negative lines don’t touch the dial perfectly equally they will get different levels leading to the failure of one side or the other or unbalanced levels.


Headset Controller
Click for details.
Volume Controller
Volume Controller

Luckily, this is easily fixed, all you have to do is bypass the resistor and the dial with a little bit of solder and maybe a bit of wire if needed. This will disable the inline volume control completely and should give you full power to both sides equally restoring the usability of the headset. First step, you will want to study the controller carefully and determine how to open it. The one I have is simply held together by a couple of friction tabs so you just need to slip a small screwdriver into the seam and gently work it open. Once you have it loosened you should be able to just pull the two sides apart by hand. Be careful not to break the tabs so that you can put it back together after you make your fix. It will likely be easiest to make your repair to the back of the circuit board since the dial likely sits in front of the circuits you need to work on. On this particular headset, the circuit board is held onto one of the sides of the plastic case with two dots of plastic pushed through the back of the board. You can either cut this carefully with a shard small knife or melt it with your soldering iron. Once you have circuit board free of the case be careful so that you do not accidentally break off any of the wires attaching to it or your simple repair job will suddenly become not so simple. Next, locate on the back side of the circuit board where the left minus, right minus, and ground lines meet at the back side of the volume dial. These three points need to be bridged together to bypass the controller as the current will take the path of least resistance. Take the soldering iron and some solder and carefully attempt to connect these three points. Use a small piece of wire to make the connection if necessary but the solder should be able to reach. Be careful not to touch it to any of the other lines on the circuit board, just these three points. This should bypass the faulty volume control and provide an easier path for the signal to travel evenly.


Once you bypass the controller, carefully place the board back in the casing and squeeze it shut without pinching any of the wires. If it doesn’t stay closed with just friction or you had to break open the control on your headset, use a small dab of super glue to close it up. Your headset, if all went well, should function as well as it did when it was new and you should feel a bit more accomplished as a person. Worst case, you broke an already broken headset further and have to buy something you would have had to buy anyway.


(Note: USB headsets use a slightly different design, it may be similar enough that the concepts in this tutorial still apply but I cannot vouch for that, then again, what do you have to lose by trying?).

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