Introduction: IPod Touch 2nd/3rd Gen Ultimate Headphone Earphone Jack Socket Repair

In this Instructable, I'm going to walk you through a really useful fix/repair for iPod Touch 2nd and 3rd gen models with a failing headphone socket. We all love our Apple devices.... well, I actually don't, but my girlfriend does. I'm an Android guy myself. Last year her iPod 3rd headphone socket started failing. In particular, the left ear was crackling and eventually stopped altogether. The reason might sound like general wear and tear, but actually, there's a pretty bad design fault in the ribbon flex cable Apple used. The ribbon flex kinks over the edge of the socket which because it's only screwed down on one side (the opposite side), moves an excessive amount when you plug your jack in or touch the jack while plugged in. That means every time you plug in your headphones you're actually straining the ribbon flex and the problem is exacerbated if you put even a trivial amount of touch on the jack, say putting the iPod in your pocket...... which is a bit like saying "your car is rusting because you drive in the rain".

I have circled the problems on the flex cable on a defective iPod I purchased from eBay. As you can see, the left edge is particularly damaged which affects earphone detection (music stopping and starting automatically). The second circle (oval) shows how the cable subsequently cracks and the trace becomes broken, losing sound from the left ear. It astounds me that Apple used this same design on both the 2nd AND 3rd Gen iPod touch. The ground, right ear and digital signals are usually not affected as the strain is mostly absorbed by the other end of the ribbon flex because it's stretched ever so slightly.

Another thing to note is that you can tell from the relatively average soldering on this device that this has already had the headphone jack replaced and it has failed again. That's right, this has now had two headphone sockets and both have eventually failed.

I've seen some pretty 'out there' solutions online. Most of them won't work and are totally lacking in any scientific basis. This fix will work and, if done right, will probably repair it for the rest of its days.

Let me just point out here, I'm not a soldering expert. In fact, I'm a complete idiot when it comes to soldering. I have a cheap iron, and very little skill. However I was able to do this. I'm not saying put your eggs in one basket, but if you're a comfortable solderer, then you're significantly better than me, and you'll be fine.

You need:
A disassembled iPod 2nd/3rd Gen. I'm not going to explain how to disassemble as there's a million tutorials on the net.
A soldering iron and solder (thinner the better imo).
Insulated Magnet wire (0.4mm is on the big side, I used 0.25mm)
Scalpel or Stanley knife (box cutter in America).

Step 1: Identify Which Trace Has Failed

To begin with lift the LCD screen up and lean it backwards. There is a piece of copper tape which prevents you pushing it all the way back damaging the ribbon cable. Don't remove the metal plate behind the screen as this is useful because it will act as a heat sink carrying any excess heat away from the sensitive motherboard components.

Now, remove the see through tape above the flex.

Here's what you need to know:
The top trace is jack detection (music stopping/starting).
The second top trace is left ear.

The third trace (I believe) is right ear.
The fourth is ground... I think.
The fifth is digital (i.e. earphone controls)

The two in bold are most likely to be affected. I have uploaded a photo with annotations showing the pads and their function. Note the route of the trace down to the contacts on the motherboard.

You can also see the damage to the trace, even from here.

Step 2: Use a Scalpel/stanley Knife to Remove the Plastic Ribbon Flex Over the Pad(s)

There's two ways you can go about this fix. You can either bridge all the traces using magnet wire or you can just fix the one/two that are broken. To me, soldering all of them is unnecessary. The design fault affects the end traces which absorb most of the impact of a jack being plugged in. Soldering the near side traces would simply be preventative maintenance as opposed to absolutely necessary. I guess much of that depends on your own ability as a solderer. For me, the less soldering the better.

Take a scalpel or stanley knife and scratch away the plastic coating on top of the affected pads.

I have uploaded a photo of the iPod I bought from eBay with all of the pads exposed. This wasn't necessary but for this tutorial is worth it for demonstration purposes. Don't be afraid to dig in. You need the copper completely exposed.

Step 3: Solder a Piece of Magnet Wire to the Pad

Take a piece of magnet wire and cut it so that it's a good 5-6cm in length. Solder one end of the magnet wire to the pad which is used by the broken trace. It really is that simple. Try and do it as clean as possible as the glass digitizer has to sit directly above.

I didn't take a photo of this step I'm afraid, however just think about how you solder a wire to any kind of pad.

Step 4: Solder the Other End of the Magnet Wire to the Matching Motherboard Connection

This is really where you're going to earn your corn a bit. Bend the magnet wire over the ridge using a screwdriver or plastic tool and find a decent length so it's nice and flat, flush with the motherboard connection, then snip the excess.

It's a little bit scary (if you're a novice like me) soldering so close to important resistors and other sensitive components. However, I went slowly and purchased some flux to help me a long the way. If you're a novice, flux is a life saver. Solder the other end of the magnet wire to terminal on the motherboard and try and tuck the wire in and around the flex kink. Not only will the wire help reduce the stress on the flex a bit (not a huge amount), it will be a reliable permanent fix.

Yep, my soldering is dreadful. I accept it. My iron's tip is worn out beyond belief and needs replacing and my skills are below average.

Step 5: Cleanup

In my case, I added a bit too much solder to the pad on top of the ribbon cable. Using a screwdriver and carefully with a file, I rubbed a fair amount off then covered in electrical tape. I could have removed this using my iron, but meh, this was okay.

That's it, it's fixed, sounds great, wiggling the headphone in the socket doesn't cause it to crackle or cut out (the original symptoms before it died altogether). To put it blankly, it's back in business!

Step 6: Final Thoughts

So, there may be a few questions going through your head:

1. If you're so bad at soldering, why would you go ahead and try this on your girlfriends iPod knowing you could damage it?
A. Well, truthfully, I cheated. No, not on her. I did point out at the start of the Instructable that I bought a 'broken' iPod off eBay for next to nothing suffering with this issue. I practiced on this device (almost breaking it in the process) for a good hour or two. After practicing and realizing that I absolutely suck at soldering, I decided not to proceed until I bought some extra bits. I bought some flux in a tin to help me and some thinner solder so I don't get too much excess. For those bothered, the other iPod is still working fine (much to my amazement).

2. Why do this at all? A new jack socket is only £1.99 off eBay... just replace it.
A. You're right. A new jack socket is only £1.99, but as I've pointed out, this is a design defect and replacing a badly designed part with another badly designed part will result in the same ending. The part can and will eventually fail, depending on how much you use your device etc. Sometimes a bit of creativity can be better than the original design. Not only that, as hard as it may seem to believe, you have more chance of damaging your iPod by replacing the original part than by performing this Instructable. This is because you'll need to remove the old solder to fit a new headphone socket. Doing this improperly can result in you ripping the metal contacts from the motherboard or damaging them. You'll only make that mistake once. To do this fix, you can just as easily use the old solder if you're really confident. I wasn't, so I coated it with flux, heated it, and then added a bit of solder to ensure a good join. Yes, it looks awful and there's too much solder, but it works fine and is nothing that can't be undone.

3. Isn't magnet wire magnetic, hence the name?
No. It's not. It's used to make electro-magnets. The name is misleading.

4. Why not just use traditional wire?
Too thick. The plastic coating takes up a huge amount of space. Using a reasonable quality insulated magnet wire will be absolutely perfect for this job. If you want to be really smart (unlike me), buy the stuff by Radioshack which has coloured enamel. Then you'll know when the coating has gone. I used a cigarette lighter to ensure I'd burnt away the coating. Magnet wire is designed to be used in small places, just like this and is perfect for this job.

5. Which of the 'other' fixes do and don't work?
Almost none work well, but some of them 'can' work, if you get a bit of luck. None are as effective as this Instructable though because none are truly fixing the problem.

Credit card fix - Take a small piece of credit card and selotape to the broken trace. This reason this works is it presses down on the broken traces reconnecting them. This fix will just about work, but don't expect it to last. Eventually, the trace will break beyond connection. I do know people who have had this fix work for anything up to a number of years though.
Conductive paint fix - Painting over the crack in the trace with conductive paint. Waste of time in my opinion. Even when it's broken, you don't have enough of the trace exposed for this to ever work. Seriously, if you want to throw money down the drain go for it, but just do not expect this fix to work, because it just won't. The only way you might be able to get this to work, is if you draw a brand new trace on top of the old ribbon cable. That might work.... but you'll be painting on to old oxidised solder, so no guarantees there either.

Having done a bit of research (5 mins) on conductive paint, painting a new trace is almost certainly not going to work either. Conductive paint has a resistance of 400ohms per inch!! Way too high for anything beyond trivial circuit designs and even more so in this case where audio signals are involved.

Tin foil fix - Scientifically, this is a lazy form of my fix. Taking a piece of tin foil and selotaping it to the exposed pad then running it to the contact. It might work but I just don't see it lasting. The tape will eventually become non-sticky and then it'll peel. Then this fix will fail.

Any other questions, feel free to ask :-) Good luck repairing your iPod.