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Sleeving Earphone / Earbud Cords with Paracord

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Picture of Sleeving Earphone / Earbud Cords with Paracord
Sleeve your earphone/earbuds with lightweight paracord so that they are less likely to come out tangled after removing them from your pocket.

This is a great mod to try if you want to enhance cheap earbuds/earphones or your cord is already broken somewhere (hopefully at the plug end, because it's usually difficult to figure out how to take apart the in-ear units if no one has already documented the procedure).

DISCLAIMER
Essentially, to proceed with this mod involves re-making the Y-junction where the common cord splits left and right. Having to cut and rejoin wires possibly degrades audio quality¹. It's likely that you'll notice one of the binaural output signals being noticeably weaker, especially as you lower the volume on your audio source, but this condition is common on cheap headsets to start, so this is why I do not recommend you try this on expensive gear and fail to like the results.

However, it's possible to not introduce more points of electrical resistance, by choosing to redo the existing solder points at either end, if you willing to perform a more laborious rebuild.

As another caveat, depending on how discriminating you are about your listening experience with in-ear headsets, this mod might not be worth it. Paracord, being made of rigid nylon, will audibly and crisply chafe (therefore transferring this sound to your ears), but the use of a clip should reduce this by keeping it from sliding against the sides of your face and any hard fabric you may be wearing.

See the last step of this ible for more notes.
 
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Step 1: Gather Materials

Picture of Gather Materials
Materials:
Paracord of your choice. I assume the larger the diameter the less prone it is to flexing and therefore tangles/knots, but there isn't any significant diameter variety.
• Sacrificial earphones or earbuds with a cord thin enough to be easily thread through the outer jacket of paracord. The ones used here are Sennheiser CX55 In-Ear Headphones.
• Heat Shrink Tubing of various diameters
• Electrical Tape; depending on your earphone design you may have to tape the ends so that the heatshrink tube does its job of holding onto something with the paracord in place.
EDIT: Actually, super glue is more effective than tape. After a few months tape will tend to fail. I guess some sort of plastic cement might work, too.

• Small alligator clip (optional). I recommend clipping the cord to a shirt so that the headset remains in the ears and the cords freely contacting only air, despite whatever odd looks you may get from onlookers.

Tools, etc:
• scissors or knife
• wire cutters/strippers
• pliers
• lighter (preferably a butane, torch type)
• soldering iron, flux, solder
• epoxy

Step 2: Cut Cords

Picture of Cut Cords
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Note you could also increase the overall length of a cord by using another cord that terminates at a stereo plug. You could also easily lengthen the the two ears of the Y if the existing cord's insulation is designed to be pulled apart.

Once you've decided what lengths you want each of the segments to be, cut your earphone cords into three pieces. Because I like the existing cord lengths of mine, I cut it at the fork.

Cut sections of paracord to match the earphone cord segments.
It's good to cut a little more than what you need because it will compress after sleeving. Based on my mod, I needed 15% more for the longest section. YMMV depending on the existing wire characteristics.

Gut the two shorter sections of paracord (remove the inner strands).

Step 3: Sleeve Cords

Picture of Sleeve Cords
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For the two shorter sleeves, you can push the wire through, for the most part.

The longer piece can be more quickly done by hitching the cord to the inner strand(s) you saved, and pulling most of it through.

Unfortunately I haven't bothered to research the best way to do this without the temporary joint of old gut and new gut at some point breaking apart.  I just use tape, and when it comes out alone I push the remaining cord through using peristaltic action: push the tip forward a tiny bit to form a compression of sleeve while squeezing behind the tip, then squeeze the sleeve around tip, and pull the compressed sleeve backward, undoing the compression (repeat). It takes a while if you didn't get most of it already pulled through.

Once you've sleeved them, use some heatshrink tube on the ends of the ear units and plug to tidy things up.
Note you may need to hold the paracord ends underneath in place using electrical tape if the design flares out and will not accommodate heatshrink without it slipping off.

Addendum 2010 06 22
Anyone want to experiment with also feeding a semi-rigid monofilament/fishing line through? I imagine that knot resistance could increase by doing so.

Step 4: Integrate a Clip

Picture of Integrate a Clip
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I highly recommend a clip, but it's optional; you could instead substitute a plain section of heatshrink tube that is of a sufficient diameter to wrap around two sections of paracord.

I use a small alligator clip that's intended for electronics. To make it look nice and to keep its metal teeth from biting into shirt fabric, cut a piece of heatshrink tube for the upper half. Make 3 cuts in the shape of an 'H' to slip into place, covering both jaw and handle. The 'H' cut is as high as the clip is wide, and as wide as the clip's hinge area is long. I've added a primative illustration.

Apply heat, then repeat for the bottom half, this time using a piece of heatshrink tube that is of a sufficient diameter to wrap around two sections of paracord and the bottom half the clip.

Step 5: Rejoin Wires

Picture of Rejoin Wires
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Before you begin re-joining the wires, now is a good time to slip on the section of heatshrink tubing from the previous step.  It either has a clip on it, or it doesn't. This heatshrink will protect and hide the Y-junction.

I oriented mine so that the clip is "jaws up," since it will be clipped onto my shirt and the weight of the slack cord to the audio source will pull downward, assuming gravity pulls downward.

Carefully strip the outer insulation revealing the inner strands of wires for your earphones. If the insulation is more rubbery than it is plasticky (tough to sleeve!), it's enough to cut the insulation halfway and stretch it until it breaks.

It's usually that the gold wire is common/ground, red is the right channel, and green is the left channel, and that it's enamel-coated, stranded wire.  What I do is carefully use my lighter to burn away the enamel.  Blow out the fire before it strips away too much wire!
You only need around 1/4" (6mm) exposed.

Slip on heatshrink tube long enough to cover the exposed copper. Then it's a matter of matching wires, twisting the exposed copper ends together tightly and tinning them with solder.

Meanwhile, plug the earphones into an audio source to check that the soldering works. As long as your soldering iron operates by emitting only heat, it should be safe to do this.
Once satisfactory, slide the heatshrink tubes over the solder points and shrink them.

Step 6: Finish the Y-Junction

Picture of Finish the Y-Junction
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The Y-junction is the weakest point of the mod. It's practically held together by only the solder work. In a previous instance of this mod, I had crimped thin aluminum tubing instead of soldering, and it held up fine, if not adding some bulk to the cord. The bulk could be minimized by staggering the wires to be repaired.

I'm uncertain of how best to join the paracord ends together since I failed to melt the ends before they got frayed, so this is what I did:

To join the paracord here, what I did was take an inner strand and wrapped that around. I then used my torch-style lighter to melt it to fuse it together some. That wasn't very effective so I then coated it all with epoxy. I chose too small of a diameter of heatshrink for my clip, so i hurriedly slipped that over before it cured. But I fixed it as you can see, using some bigger heatshrink.

Step 7: Use

Picture of Use
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Enjoy a potentially less tangled yet stylish mod to your earphones! Maybe you would be more adventuresome and try other colors/patterns of paracord.





Feel free to comment on your experience.


--
More Trivial Notes/Findings:
¹ I'm not so sure now that audio quality is noticeably reduced. I managed to listen at -74dB attenuation (the minimum volume Rockbox on my Sansa achieves) when I woke up at 4AM one day, and to my ears, left and right channels were balanced. I blame the ancient Walkman I tested it with earlier for having unbalanced output at low volume, since its volume control is a potentiometer. So if they're balanced, I imagine there is no loss in quality, or you could say that they've equally degraded :D

• The sound of wind blowing against the cord has changed for my closed-design earphones:
 the original, thin cord would emit a high pitch whistle. it now gives a middle range howl.

• I don't know what to do in case the paracord gets dirty. It's porous, but at least it won't mold or mildew. Just hope the section to clean isn't around the solderwork. Then again you could seal that with clear nail polish or something?

• It's good to use lengths of paracord that are slightly longer than the corresponding wire sections leading to your ears. I suppose that when they are compressed relative to the wire they sleeve, they will buckle less, therefore making it less likely to form knots when bunched up. These can still tangle, but the knots should be easier to undo than the typical thin rubbery wires they sleeve. As a consequence, however, it may be that compressed paracord will cause it(s fibers) to chafe against itself at the slightest movement, and transfer that sound to your ears. I can't be sure, since I typically use this in a noisy environment anyhow, such as while jogging or mowing the lawn (wearing hearing protection).

• Many months later, I realize that it's better to superglue the ends of the paracord, before shrinking down the heatshrink. I've edited the materials list to reflect this.
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Thanks for this instructable - what a great idea. I had this pair of Bose/earbuds with the black/white cable, notorious for crumbling off. In this case the cable itself was still working and I didn't want to risk re-soldering but instead I just sewed a strip of cloth around (beforehand I supported open segments of wire with electrical tape, sewed a thicker strip then cut it down). It isn't as beautiful as yours but it feels great and prevented a risky reconstruction of this complex cable (this cable has 5+ wires).

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genius!

Anderson Pooper made it!1 year ago

Snapped my ear phone wire. Good opportunity to upgrade instead of just fix them.

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RedJerk51 year ago
Instead of clipping the wire to your shirt, you could run the wire down the inside of your shirt.
chinnerz2 years ago
Awesome man! I ended up doing this to mine this week.
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How did you get the paracord around that big end plug.
I want to order nice cable and sheath them but the cord diameter has got me worried about getting it on at all.
These headphones came with a 3m long cable and a 6.5mm jack, the first step for me was to cut the cable down to 1.5m and attach a 3.5mm jack. I added the cord while the jack was off the cord.
Good luck with your project!
JellyWoo4 years ago
Very cool idea. What diameter paracord did you use?
Stonewall4 years ago
I sleeve cables all the time for work and have found the best way to terminate the ends of the sleeving is to use adhesive lined heat shrink. I use 3:1 ratio heatshrink, select a size that is just large enough to fit on or you can strech it a bit if needed with some long needle nose pliers. This way you get a nice tight fitting heat shrink and the sleeving is bonded to the wire when you overlap it.
Another easy way to do this is to push the paracord onto a straw and bunch it up slightly then pass the wire through the straw and push the paracord off the straw onto the wire once you reached the end of the wire... if that makes any sense...
This is a really cool idea. I like it a lot. I want to try this out and see if I can do it as well. I got most of the tools/materials and I had to order the others. I ordered the rest of the tools, heat exchangers, some tubing and more during the process of getting the tools so that's always a plus. Thanks again!
im_tux4 years ago
you can actually fully submerge headphones in distilled water and then clean the paracord... as long as you let them dry well they still work... I really like the idea of the shrink tubeing.... and if you want the headphones to not react to the paracord filtering the wind, try wrapping them in electrical tape before sleeving them... thats the only solution i have
John Frum5 years ago
Or you could save yourself a lot of time and effort by getting a pair that already has a cloth or nylon cord, such as the Lenntek Sonix or Sonix 3. http://www.amazon.com/Lenntek-Earbuds-Braided-Microphone-SmartPhones/dp/B002AJL12U/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=wireless&qid=1278132225&sr=1-4
Pimpalicous5 years ago
Man, threading my ipod wires through the rope was a pain. Also i figured out why they were shorter then you had expected. The rope bunches as you thread it through, people may need to grab one end and pull the roper so it expands over the cord. Mine ended up to be about half the length of what i had expected. Nice Tut.
Spokehedz5 years ago
"Having to cut and rejoin wires degrades audio quality." If you use high-quality silver solder, you will notice less of this effect. also, keeping all wires the same length and taking your time with the soldering will also help a lot.
I find this hard to believe. Sure 60/40 solder has about six times the resistivity of copper but the joint is so small and the currents so low that the power loss should be unnoticeable (in a properly wetted and mechanically secured joint). I have repaired many headphones with tin/lead solder and have never noticed a reduction in sound quality. Maybe I just don't have golden ears?
dyril (author)  Vermin5 years ago
Consider my recent soldering of a new stereo jack to my audio player, I guess my soldering skills have improved vastly. I didn't know of using flux/cleaning of the tip until years later, so the quality drop should indeed be little if you're soldering correctly.
if you have to ask, then clearly you do not. JUST KIDDING! I have only worked with audio very little, and I do not claim to be any sort of expert on the issue. With that said, my friends who are into audio (the kind of guys who buy the $500 power cable for their vacuum-tube amp) SWEAR that using silver solder lends to better sound. I use it only because they said so, and since a small tube of ball solder with gel flux will last me forever for the small amount of audio work I do from time to time. I do know that the reason his channels drop out on one side is because one channel is higher impedance than the other--which is tricky to get right, because of the incredibly fine solder work that is required. in short, no. I don't know if the silver solder really does work that well, but when you are using such a small amount--why not use the 'good stuff'?
zoneykid5 years ago
http://www.takefiveaudio.com/ Has nylon cable sleeving by the foot and other DIY audio cable stuff. Also from what i understand, you could also just buy a new 1/8th" mini-plug and solder to that to retain audio quality.
dyril (author)  zoneykid5 years ago
This suggestion is feasible if your original cord is of the "zip" type for sleeving each of Left and Right after separating the pair (assuming the original Y-junction could be cut away), and then sleeving both at once through the common sleeve portion (which could be trickier than one rubbery cord given a tendency to twist/bulge), so those are the implications of this approach.
Hello Kitty5 years ago
Really cool - now just to get my hands on some paracord! 5***** (don't you love your sansa c200? :)
dyril (author)  Hello Kitty5 years ago
I love my Rockbox'd sansa c240 so much that I'm sick of having to resolder the left channel's terminal of the SMT stereo jack :[ Maybe another instructable comes if I manage to more permanently fix that somehow...
Spokehedz dyril5 years ago
nothing like soldering the headphone wires directly to the contacts, and using epoxy to secure the wire to the opening left by the jack. 100% trouble free audio since.
dyril (author)  Spokehedz5 years ago
Since I was using the OEM earbuds for some time and disliked having to repair those so often (the cords were so weak), I ruled that out. I tend to favor having options, so I fixed it by replacing the jack (and posted that as another instructable! ;)
Spokehedz dyril5 years ago
I bought some really expensive earcandy buds for cheap with a broken connector... while it was shipping to me the jack on my player broke... two birds with one stone and all that. :D
Ooooh, could you do an Instructable on that? I've known for awhile that is what's wrong with mine, but was too afraid to mess with it. Pretty please with a cherry on top?????
I must say "The Perfectionist " Awesome. I tried to pull this long time back but couldn't finish it. and This guide shows me I should get back to work again.
bowmaster5 years ago
Dang, these look really nice. I need to do this.
benhudson5 years ago
Nice :) When I get around to putting silver cables on my Koss Portapros (buy low, mod high :D ) I'll probably do this as well.
hijinks5 years ago
You could always use shrink tube at the Y-junction it should keep the para cord together.
dyril (author)  hijinks5 years ago
On a prototype where I joined the ends with superglue, before covering with heat shrink alone, it failed. When I use my cord, it is prone to tugging by accidental snags.
rimar20005 years ago
Very good idea. My wife's headphones always get tangled, I will propose this method. Isn't possible to do that without cutting the cable? Maybe using thicker paracord...
dyril (author)  rimar20005 years ago
You could unsolder the wire at the speakers, but it's painful to figure out how to take apart the plastic when there's so many different models of headsets out there; I'd check if there's an existing guide for dismantling. There are surely some on this site. Also, I always assumed paracord only came in nearly one size, from all of the lanyardwork photos I've seen.
bADiTCH5 years ago
OMG! This is brilliant, I remember my field headset when I was in the service was like this. I can't believe it never clicked in my head. Great job! I'm working on one with white paracord and clear heat shrink tubing.
power5 years ago
aha,time to do this on my earphones :D
any ideas on how to do this with out cutting my headphons cause im on my last pair that still works. thanks also this is really awesome
bojopopo5 years ago
these are awesome!!! i want to make some white ones for my ipod
biometod5 years ago
Thanks. good staff
sammyBoy5 years ago
Nice instructable and a GREAT idea. Doing this with my favourite headphones, wish me luck!
Twotim2215 years ago
I had this EXACT idea during the paracord contest, glad too see it works.
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