Introduction: IRecoil - IPhone Retractable Headphones

Picture of IRecoil - IPhone Retractable Headphones

The iPhone headphones are great, with their built in mic and music control, but everytime I pulled them out of my pocket I had a big tangled knot that took a while to undo. I've seen the 3rd party headphones that have the retracting mechanism, but there wasn't a set available for the iPhone even a few months after it's release. So, using the rectractable USB cable from my old treo, I created a retractable iPhone headset. Maybe there's a third party one available now, but I haven't checked because this works great.

There's still a short length between the split and the earbuds that doesn't get pulled in, but I haven't had problems with that tangling.

For more cool projects, check out:

Step 1: Parts You Will Need

Picture of Parts You Will Need

You will need:

1. A retractable cable of some sort. There are many different types available, and most will probably work. I used a treo 650 sync cable. The cable is a flat type, but the headphone cables fit in there just fine.
NOTE: There are lots of different types of retracting cable assemblies, and some may work much better then others, so this may require some experimentation. Make sure that the headphone cables are small enough to fit through the guides. Also, the whole cable length needs to be able to fit within the retractor when retracted. Ideally, it would work best salvaging the retractor from a crappy pair of retractable headphones.

2. Tangled rats nest of an iPhone headset / headphones.

3. Small phillips screwdriver.

4. Steady hands and patience.

Step 2: Seperating the Halves

Picture of Seperating the Halves

1. Remove the brand sticker, under which you will find a screw holding everything together.

2. Unscrew the screw, holding the 2 halves together to make sure they don't fly apart.

3. Remove the screw side cover. Be Careful not to lose the tiny ball bearing that acts as the latching mechanism to keep the cable extended. If you lose this, the headphones will not stay extended.

4. Put the ball bearing in a safe location.

Step 3: Taking It Apart

Picture of Taking It Apart

1. The spring under the plastic rotating center hub which the cable is wrapped around is slightly wound up. Be careful to prevent it from shooting out when lifting up the hub.

2. Take note of how the old cable was routed through the hub. You will want to route the headphone cables the same way.

3. Remove the old cable from the hub.

4. You should be left with some parts that look like the picture.

Step 4: Insert the Headphone Cable in the Hub

Picture of Insert the Headphone Cable in the Hub

1. Fold the cable halfway between the audio connector, and the Y split. This fold will be the retraction center, which will be placed inside the hub.

2. Insert the headphone cable center into the hub the same way that the other cable was routed.

Step 5: Re-Assemble the Retraction Mechanism

Picture of Re-Assemble the Retraction Mechanism

With the headphone wire in the hub, re-assemble the parts in the reverse order.
1. The spring has to go through the slot in the center axle.

2. I wound the spring up fairly tightly before placing the wires through the guides, such that I would be assembling it in an extended state.

3. Carefully place the ball bearing in the track.

4. Place the top cover with the screw hole back on.

5. Screw the 2 halves back together.

6. Test out the retraction to see how well it works. It should retract all the way to the audio connector. If not, then you may need to remove the top cover again, and wind it a little tighter. Although, you do want the spring pull to be weak when it's fully retracted.

Step 6: Finished!

Picture of Finished!

Now you will actually be able to answer calls in time without having to untangle the headphones.


mu22le (author)2008-07-17

Hi, has anyone found a place where you can buy just the retractor? I already salvaged one from a broken mouse but I have plenty of small cables that I would like to put a retractor on. So do you have any idea where I could buy a bunch of them? Buying 10 treo cables just to disassemble them does not sound too smart :( Bye, Emme

flygirl78 (author)mu22le2008-07-20

Try DollarTree. They've had retractable headphones in pink, blue & white for at least a year, in their electronics section. For that price ($1) you could buy as many as you need and remove the cheap cords.

Gabey_Chow (author)flygirl782009-05-11

Are you sure that they have them? I called 3 stores last night and they all said that they didn't have that sort. So either they're too stupid, lazy, or just don't have them haha.

flygirl78 (author)Gabey_Chow2009-05-14

Hi, when I made my post last July they had had them in several locations for over 6 mo. I haven't seen them lately, but they've had several different Belkin ipod/iPhone accessories for only a $1. I found a slim leather iPhone cover that I saw in another store for $29! Good luck!

Gabey_Chow (author)flygirl782009-05-17

Never mind, it turns out they do have them, a BUNCH actually! So everybody head on to dollar tree! I went to look for myself. And you're right, they even have retractable headphones sold there, but then again, they're a dollar so they're sooo TERRIBLE!But the real problem is that most of them are only up to 30 inches, and most headphones(good ones) are much longer, like bose and shure with thicker cables that won't fit. I got 4 for experimentation and the cables and retracter really aren't met to be together

Dragon940C (author)Gabey_Chow2017-01-16

Isn't most of the quality of the headphones in the speakers themselves? If you can solder in good quality speakers into the poor quality headphones then all would be good. (except you cant show off your BOSE anymore.)

mu22le (author)flygirl782008-07-20

Thanks... if only I didn't live in EU... and they don't ship there. Are you aware of any online shop that sells similar stuff? Anyway, I'll try and ask a friend of mine that's going to the US this summer.

babbish1 (author)mu22le2008-07-28

If you are in UK you should try the £ stores. They have exactly what you would find in a Dollar Store

Coffee bean (author)mu22le2008-07-20

Cheap small measuring tapes may work.

Gabey_Chow (author)mu22le2009-05-11

You can get PLENTY on Ebay. Just search retractor cable and you'll find prices from .99-1.43! it's basically a dollar each cable but the 43c is the shipping. Hope this helped!

clayd62 (author)mu22le2008-12-01

Hi, Try, they have retractable headphones or retractable internet cables that could provide retractors.

kwlow (author)2010-06-28

The spring inside is a metal band & I just sliced my finger open :-( Nothing serious but does anyone know where to buy an actual retractable iphone headphone? I'd pay for it rather than slicing more of my digits :-)

Yolo1927 (author)kwlow2014-09-28

The whole point is that actual retractable earbuds cost like 200 bucks

jimrin (author)2012-06-01

At least in the retractable device I took apart, if you look on the top part of the middle section (the hub where you inserted the wires to begin with), there appears to be some grooves. When I placed the ball bearing there, it seemed to work... until at one point I lost the ball bearing.

It may just be me but the instructions for putting everything back together wasn't clear... What I found works best (after already losing the ball bearing) is to wind up the spring tightly with the wires not wrapped around the hub... Then by letting the spring unwind, the wires would naturally wind up around the hub. Then I can place the cover (and place the ball bearing)...

shansdak (author)2011-11-20

Where can i buy retractable USB thingii in order to make a retractable head phone. This is a cool instructable..and i have commented nicely..

engineerable (author)shansdak2012-04-21

Stores that carry electronics equipment usually have them.

metallica_irving (author)2012-03-05

Where the ball bearing has to be?

cmaíz (author)2011-04-21

where the ball bearing has to be??
could u put and ilustrative pic?? please...

InfinityChic36 (author)2011-02-13

Yep. I lost the ball bearing too (FML). I even took it apart in a bag in the hopes that when the spring exploded I would catch the ball. No such luck. Next time the whole thing goes in a ziplock bag to get taken apart.
Has anyone found a DIY replacement ball bearing?

highwaykind (author)2011-01-25

Thanks for posting this! I had a wonky retractable USB cable and never having seen one before I thought the screw might be too tight to auto retract. So I loosened it. And it fell apart.

I am now going to hunt every inch of floorboard with a big magnet to see if I can find the ball bearing, but at least I know how to put it back thanks to this picture.

knex_mepalm (author)2010-04-25

 Sorry for the annoying comments, but I took ti apart and as soon as I lifted it the spring came shooting out? any idea? there is a hook at the end a a swiggle at the beginning.

knex_mepalm (author)2010-04-25

 How did you remove the sticker, I found out my one is almost the same sticker as yours.

knex_mepalm (author)2010-04-25

 My one seems to be two halves glued and stuck together with hinges on the ends, I wish i had a picture. I cant get them to seperate.

adnun89 (author)2010-04-18

OMG this is a great project and it works perfect only problem my retractable part is small so it dosnt retract all the way but im fine with the way it is,,,, thanx

kevin345 (author)2010-01-06

Does anyone have any suggestions for good earbuds? My skullcandy ones are too big.

chriszzz (author)2010-01-05

How do you wind up the spring before installing the wire ? I tried it, but the spring uncoils itself as soon as I ease off even a bit of pressure. How do you keep the spring coiled up and yet leave your hands free to install the wire ?

Thanks for any tips.

zayyaf90 (author)2009-12-04

 awsm instructable .. sadly i lost my bearings :P .. lol 

kshivamsh (author)2009-05-21

Nice thinking. Thanks for the instructable i will do one right away.I have a doubt will it work with mini retractable usb mouse's mechanism?.Please anyone do reply

de_llamaman (author)kshivamsh2009-10-29

if your using the one i have it should work as its the exact same but you really HAVE to watch the ball bearing that makes the whole thing work cuz i lost mine :P

kshivamsh (author)de_llamaman2009-11-04

Dude I dindt see the ball bearing...... and then i lost the ball bearing and it didnt work :(

de_llamaman (author)kshivamsh2009-11-05

yea thats exactly what happened to me, not sure what to do with it now :(

PatentPending (author)2009-06-13

Really Awesome 'ible! I was able to get it right the first time, only to disassemble it again the wind it up a tiny bit more and lose the bearing in the process...Looking for it as we speak. But again, thanks for this instructable, 5*'s

Gabey_Chow (author)Gabey_Chow2009-05-29

It's doesn't exactly have anything to do with retracting, but it's better than nothing and actually REALLY useful, the monster thing is better though since it will actually protect the earphone from any damage.
This was a good experiment though=]

Gabey_Chow (author)2009-05-29

Ok solution... after trying more than five times, with different retraction devices, I gave up. Now I just wrap one of my headphones around a Tech Deck. Or another way that would solve wire/headphone tangles are these cool things I found on Ebay:

precelek2004 (author)2008-07-12

Wow this ingenious :) I rely like this idea I will do it my self for my nokia headphones :)

osval (author)precelek20042008-07-15

I tried to do this with my old Sony headphones but the cables are very thick and the wheel get stuck with it.

engineerable (author)osval2008-07-16

Sorry it didn't work for you. These recoil things and headphone cables come in all different sizes, so it may take a little bit of experimentation to figure out which combination works best.

Gabey_Chow (author)engineerable2009-05-11

If it's the y-splitter that gets in the way, you should just pull it all the way up so that it doesn't get in the way and the device can work properly. WOW YOU REALLY SAVED ME!! I WAS JUST ABOUT TO GIVE UP HOPE LOOKING/THINKING UP AN INVENTION TO RETRACT MY BOSE IN EAR HEADPHONES. THANK YOU SOOO MUCH! -Gabriel

eomonkeyboi24 (author)2009-02-08

AHH! When I opened mine up, I didn't know there was a ball bearing at first and lost it in the carpet! Any ideas on getting a new one without going to the store again?

shingoku57 (author)eomonkeyboi242009-03-16

have you found a replacement for the ball bearing? I lost mine, too.

quotequad (author)2009-01-19

Check out They typically have some form of Ultra brand retractable cable very cheap. Right now, a two-pack of telephone cables is $.50. Of course, there's shipping, so you'd want to buy a lot of them for all your cables.

absolute zero (author)2008-07-29

my spring came out any1 know how to fix it easily?? and when u get the headphone cord thru the slot things do u have to manually wind it up??

jgator18 (author)absolute zero2008-07-30

I found some good stuff on - they seem to have been doing the retractable stuff for a while. I bought their stereo headset - it wasn't cheap - but it has great sound.

nvm screw this i onyl did it cuz my headphones from da dolar stor didnt work, im gunna rturn them

terre (author)2008-07-22

You can buy one for a dollar @ Dollar Tree.

engineerable (author)terre2008-07-27

Is that an answer to the question "Hi, has anyone found a place where you can buy just the retractor?"? I made the mistake of buying a cheap dollar store retractable headset, because I wanted to only use the cable and retractor, and attach some nicer earbuds. However, the cable was ridiculously short when fully extended, and I question whether the cheap cable would degrade the audio. The latter may not matter much unless the earbuds are really good quality to be able to discern a difference between cheap cables and good cables?

altaria1993 (author)terre2008-07-27

but that isn't fun.

nosemeat (author)2008-07-19

Fine work here. This is somewhat inspirational. Question: Do the headphones retract from both sides of the retractor? Must you pull both sides of the cord to get it to extend? I'm building a charger box and am hoping to find a way to retract cords with one side remaining in place.

professorred (author)nosemeat2008-07-21

You can use one if you find the center point of the cable.

About This Instructable




Bio: Daniel Bauen breathes new life into objects that have met their untimely demise in the junk pile.
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