Headphones Not Working? 22 Ways to Fix Them

Fix those headphones and get back to your music

Headphones come in a variety of styles ranging from traditional wired headsets to more expensive wireless Bluetooth devices. Features range from basic functionality to advanced noise cancellation and digital assistant integration.

Regardless of what sort of headphones you own, however, there are times when some headphones stop working. There are many easy fixes to try that will get your headphones back up and running.

This article addresses troubleshooting for all types of headphones, including wireless, standard, and earbuds.

Runner with modern headphones on.
Ryan Edy / Taxi / Getty Images

Causes of Headphone Problems

Headphone technical problems are as varied as the number of models available. Sometimes a damaged headphone cable or Bluetooth connectivity issues result in a headphone jack not working. Noise-canceling headphones, such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II and the Microsoft Surface Headphones, sometimes find it hard to sync audio and video. Often, it's frustrating to turn the noise-cancellation feature on or off as intended.

Still, there are many simple reasons that headphones aren't working that span all types of headphones.

How to Fix Headphones That Aren't Working

There are a variety of technical issues that headphones can experience, and the solutions vary depending on the cause. To find out why your headphones aren't working, work through this series of checks first, and then try the suggested tips to fix broken headphones.

  1. Turn on the headphones. Many earphones and headphones have a built-in battery and won't work if you plug these devices into a headphone or audio jack without powering them on.

    The power switch for headphones is usually on the side of one of the earpieces or one of their flat surfaces.

  2. Turn the headphones off and on again. This classic tech tip works with glitchy computers, and it can also work with headphones that don't work.

    If your headphones don't work the way they're supposed to, switch them off and on again after plugging them in, then see if this solves the issue.

  3. Charge the headphones. Some headphones, especially those with enhanced features such as noise cancellation and built-in LED lights, rely on an external power source or battery. If you haven't used your headphones in a while, the battery may have run out and might need to be recharged.

    Recharge most headphones using a micro USB port on one of the earpieces. 

  4. Check the USB power requirements. Some headphones can connect to a device via USB. However, if that USB connection is required to power the headphones in addition to receiving audio, its performance may suffer when connected to an unplugged laptop or a device with low wattage.

  5. Check USB compatibility. While some headphones can connect to an audio source via USB, not all devices support USB headphones. Most computers should be able to connect to a USB headphone, but some gaming consoles, such as the Xbox One, don't work with USB headphones.

    If a device doesn't support USB headphones, there's little you can do. You might want to exchange them for headphones that use either Bluetooth or a traditional audio jack.

  6. Turn on Bluetooth on the headphones. If you use a wireless headphone set, you may be required to turn on the Bluetooth switch for it to connect to your paired devices.

  7. Turn up the volume. If you can't hear anything from your headphones, it could be that you accidentally turned down the volume or muted the headphones.

    First, turn up the volume via the headphones' built-in volume buttons (if they have these buttons). Then check the volume on your paired device.

  8. Successfully pair the Bluetooth headphones with the device. New headphones don't send audio to your devices straight out of the box. First, you need to pair the headphones to your smartphone, PC, or another source.

    Bluetooth pairing instructions differ depending on your headphones' brand and model. Find specific pairing instructions in the device manual or on the manufacturer's website.

  9. Re-pair the headphones to the phone or computer. Remove your headphones' pairing and then re-pair the headphones with your phone or computer. Sometimes re-adding your headphones to your device after removing the headphones can fix connectivity issues.

    To remove a Bluetooth pairing on a Mac, select System Preferences > Bluetooth > your headphones' name > X > Remove. To remove headphones on Windows 10, open the Action Center and select All settings > Devices > the name of your headphones > Remove device > Yes.

  10. Disconnect unused devices from the headphones. One way to prevent conflicts is to unpair anything you're not using. You can usually do this within the associated headphone app, such as the Bose Connect app for Bose headphones and earphones, or use the steps above on a PC or Mac.

  11. Check the audio output. Even if you've successfully connected your headphones, your device could be sending the audio elsewhere, for example, to a Bluetooth speaker or Apple TV.

    The name of the active audio output usually displays within the app producing the audio. For example, in Spotify, the name of the audio option appears as green text along the bottom of the app.

  12. Remove the wired connection. A wired connection can often override a Bluetooth connection. If you charge your headphones using your computer or laptop, that may block audio from streaming wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet.

  13. Check for damage by bending the cable. A common cause of headphone issues is a damaged audio cable. To check if the cable is damaged, put on the headphones, play audio from your preferred source, and gently bend the cable at two-centimeter intervals from one end to the other.

    If you briefly hear static or the audio source coming through, then the cable has been damaged at that point and should be replaced.

    Perform only gentle bends to check for a damaged cable. Bend it as if you're rolling it along the edges of a small coin. Sharply bending it to the point that it's touching itself can cause the damage you're trying to detect.

  14. Try a different app. If you're listening to audio from a specific app but don't hear any sound, the app may be the problem. Quitting the app and opening it again could also fix any bugs you experienced.

  15. Check the audio jack. The headphone jack on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone may be broken. To see if you have a broken audio jack, try several tricks, such as cleaning the audio jack or using different headphones or earphones.

  16. Check the headphones on another device. If possible, use your headphones with a different audio source to see if the headphones work.

  17. Try other headphones or earphones on the same device while running the same app. Similar to the above advice, doing this can pinpoint where the problem is. If you encounter the same issue, the problem may be with the app or device you're connecting to and not the headphones.

  18. Update the headphone's firmware. Many modern headphones require firmware updates to fix bugs and run properly. You can often download and install these updates wirelessly using the official smartphone app. Many brands also provide update files on their official website that you can download and transfer via a USB cable.

  19. Update the operating system for the computer or device. Installing the latest OS update on your device can improve compatibility with a wide range of accessories, including headphones.

  20. Restart the computer, smartphone, or tablet. A restart can fix a host of tech problems, including those associated with malfunctioning headphones.

  21. Disable Bluetooth on unused devices. If you paired your Bluetooth headphones with multiple devices, the headphones may be connecting to one of these other devices instead of the one you want. To remedy this, turn off Bluetooth on all your other devices until your headphones connect to your preferred one.

    You may need to turn your headphones off and on again after disabling Bluetooth on your other devices.

  22. Check for driver updates. Updating drivers is a great troubleshooting step when any device is having some kind of problem or is generating an error.