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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones iPod
After going through three pairs of Apple's in-ear headphones (replaced by AppleCare) I finally decided to find out why they were going bad. All of my in-ear headphones would eventually lose most or all sound in one or both earbuds, somewhat suddenly. I took them apart to find that the speaker itself was still nice and loud; the culprit was a small amount of wax embedded in the fine mesh in the cap of the earbud. Disgusting, I know, but I kept the headphones extremely clean and they still became clogged. I've read about many people having this same problem on other forums, so here's how I fixed it.
  • Pull off the silicone ear piece
  • Using a pin or a tiny screwdriver, pry off the metal ring against the back part of the earbud
  • Using the same small, sharp instrument, CAREFULLY pry the end cap off by inserting the pin into the seam that is revealed after removing that metal ring
  • Take the endcap that you just pried off (the piece with the metal mesh in it) and take it to a sink
  • Close the drain stopper in your sink so you don't accidentally lose the little endcap
  • Flush it out with hot water and blow through the open end of the earbud (the end without the mesh) to clear the mesh
  • Repeat until screen looks clear
  • Reassemble earbuds. They should just snap back together and stay that way without any glue. Use a little glue if it's not sticking, but be careful not to get any on the speaker or in the mesh screen (naturally).
Notes: You don't have to blow through it using your mouth. That's what I did, because I don't have any compressed air, which might be a better solution since I can't comment on the potential toxicity of the dried glue left on the open end of that endcap. I did this and haven't died, so, uh, Q.E.D. Also, you might as well do both earbuds at the same time here. Even if one seems OK here, it's almost definitely got some amount of blockage that you can clear.

So there you have it! You've saved yourself a phone call if you have AppleCare, and $40 if you don't. It's amazing how such a tiny amount of junk can block almost all the sound from those speakers.
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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: DougAdams on Feb 09, '07 08:07:34AM

Uhm...or you could clean your ears more regularly.

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Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes
http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: jctull on Feb 09, '07 08:47:21AM

You beat me to this one.



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: DougAdams on Feb 09, '07 09:31:22AM
Just in case ;)

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Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes
http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/

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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: Shawn Parr on Feb 09, '07 10:32:27AM

I have a set of Etymotic headphones which are similar. I also clean my ears everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, and yes wax buildup still occurs. Your ears produce wax, and if you have something that sits inside your ears it will collect a lot of it.

The Etymotics actually have replaceable filters on the headphones because of this.



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: leeww on Feb 10, '07 03:13:17AM

It is no good to simply tell the original poster to clean his ears more - it is the cleaning process that causes the wax build up.

When something foreign is inserted into the ear canal - the ear will produce wax to get rid of the foreign body.

Wax is a sign of an ear cleaning itself - it is not a sign of an 'unclean' ear.

If you use 'in-ear' headphones you are more likely to suffer excess ear wax and possible blockages.

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Help!



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Truth be told
Authored by: DougAdams on Feb 09, '07 12:16:53PM
OK, the truth is that I suffer from tintinus, AKA Ringing In The Ears. Totally sucks since I'm an audio guy. Totally Super sucks because I can't hear a damned thing when the TV or radio or refrigerator or other thing is on in the background and my wife or my child is trying to talk to me. When two noises are going at once I cannot hear either: it's all noise. Apparently, the Things that detect certain frequencies in my ears are busted, such that I Always hear those frequencies. DIIIINNNGGGGG. All the time.

Take care of your ears. Take care of your ears. What? Take care of your ears.

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Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes
http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/

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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: scottdb on Feb 09, '07 08:16:23AM

Sounds like a Q-tip might be another solution to prevent this in the first place. Geeze, pretty slow on the hints here lately...



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: tundrwd on Feb 09, '07 08:24:41AM

You could also just drop them in a small amount of Isopropyl alcohol (the 99% stuff, not that 50% junk), after you disconnect them, of course. Let them sit a while, then shake/jiggle them, and that should get the wax loose and able to come out. Then, just let them dry out. No need to take them apart. Or you could use (if you can find it), some of the old "non-conductive TV Tuner Cleaner" that used to be in spray cans. I've got some from several years ago, and it hasn't harmed any plastic I've ever come across.

Personally, I've found that just letting the hair in my ears grow longer seems to do the trick ;o)

Note to self, don't buy refurb'ed earbuds......



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Simpler solution: Clear adhesive tape
Authored by: chrisfriend on Feb 09, '07 02:21:58PM

I've never noticed a fading sound before, but I sure have noticed the wax build-up. But I've never had to disassemble the whole contraption or use complex tools to fight the problem. All I used was about 5 minutes of my life and a piece of clear adhesive tape.

Remove the little rubber form-fitting thingies (What the heck are they called, anyway?) and set them aside. What's exposed is the metalwork that seems to get infested easily with goop. Take the sticky side of the tape and apply it to the exposed metal grating. Don't move the tape side-to-side, but apply a little bit of pressure to it, into the earbud.

After a second or two, peel back the tape (again, without moving it side-to-side, only upward), and you'll find that lightweight earwax tends to stick well to tape while metal attached to heavier and more substantial earbuds won't.

Repeating the process a couple of times per earbud (using different spots on the tape, of course) makes mine all clean-looking and happy. All it takes is about 3 inches of tape and a few minutes of intimacy with the good ol' buds.



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: claudio on Feb 09, '07 04:09:22PM

Thanks for that excellent hint!

My In-Ear-Phones' sound began to fade away especially on one side. After the (really simple) disassembly of the inner cap with the mesh and a few minutes of cleaning (with "rotating" earbuds, no fluids or alcohol) the sound is almost as crisp an clear as when I first bought them.

Best regards
Claudio

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- claudio



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: dancriel on Feb 10, '07 09:20:23AM

Thank you, Claudio! I'm glad this hint helped somebody other than myself.

Also, thanks for resisting the urge to use this forum to comment on my personal hygiene... everyone has wax in their ears : ]



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: Xiaopangzi on Feb 09, '07 07:09:12PM

I think that it would make a lot more sense to use hydrogen peroxide, which I think most people should have at home. That would just fizzle away any wax into oxygen and water without having to blow through the screen. It would work a lot better than just water or even any form of alcohol or other cleaning solution, and it would be quicker. I'm starting to find all kinds of uses of hydrogen peroxide, and it's even listed as a good ear cleaner instead of mineral oil or other softeners.



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: kenahoo on Feb 10, '07 10:39:18AM

As all pediatricians know (my wife included), hydrogen peroxide is indeed the solution of choice for getting rid of ear wax. It does a very good and targeted job on it.

-Ken



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: Beorn on Feb 10, '07 12:42:08AM

Thank you for this hint! I've seen several pair go from "great" to "dead" almost overnight, and while I always suspected wax I never bothered to check it out before calling AppleCare to have them issue a replacement.

I see a lot of comments griefing this hint, but the Apple-branded In-Ear Headphones really do have a problem with "sudden death", and this solution will probably work for some folks, even if this isn't a Mac OS X hint directly. ;-)

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~ Beorn



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: Danny Doe Jr on Feb 10, '07 02:31:00AM

Thanks to this hint, I can use my white Apple in-ear headphones again. A year ago, I put them aside, because of the fading sound. I didn't exactly follow this hint, but I removed the metal thingy that's on top completely. Now there will be no sticky stuff at all on the metal anymore and no fading sound as a result of that! Great!



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: Alem800 on Feb 11, '07 03:18:47PM

I'm not a fan of this guide. I did what you said, and now both of my speakers no longer work at all. Before they were barely working. Could someone please tell me what I am doing wrong here. I got the wax all cleared out and after I assembled the speakers back together, I was left with no sound. Can someone please help me out here.



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: madmac625 on Mar 11, '07 02:09:13PM

I took the silver back ring off and found the seam I think. I pried it off and the speaker/wire ends and everything front of it came off, not sure where to go from there. Any help? Thanks.



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: dancriel on Mar 12, '07 03:27:44PM

Nothing should pop off (after you remove the metal ring) except a molded plastic piece with a very fine mesh inside the smaller end of it. The speaker itself, protected by a piece of perforated metal, should stay intact inside the earbud and be set aside on a clean surface.

If you, or the parent to your reply have tried to disconnect the speaker, then it may have broken the connection.

I hope you can finish cleaning the earbud and restore your sound :-/

Please keep in mind: it should go without saying that disassembling your earbuds will void your warranty, take them apart at your own risk!



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: fidielio on Sep 30, '08 11:40:36AM

This is an awesome tip and I'll be sure to follow the suggestions provided... but my question is what do you do in the case where you are using non-Apple in-ear headphones, or any other headphones and the same problem occurs? I only get sound from one side of any headphones that I use with my 80GB iPod Classic w/video. Any suggestions or tips to help resolve this issue would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much!



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Fix fading sound in Apple's in-ear headphones
Authored by: Siazo on Nov 01, '08 12:10:40PM

I'm trying to use this method, however after removing the metal ring I don't see the location that needs to be pried off. Could someone post a picture of this perhaps? Thanks.



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