Headphones Not Working? 22 Ways to Fix Them

Fix those headphones and get back to your music

Man running with modern headphones on.

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Headphones come in a variety of different styles ranging from the traditional basic wired headsets to more expensive wireless Bluetooth headphones and those with advanced features like noise cancellation and digital assistant integration.

Regardless of what sort of headphones you own though, it's common to encounter problems that result in your headphones or earbuds not working.

Causes Of Headphone Problems

Headphone technical problems can be just as varied as the number of models available. A common problem is the headphone jack not working due to either a damaged headphone cable or connectivity issues with Bluetooth.

Those with noise-canceling headphones such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II and the Microsoft Surface Headphones can sometimes find it hard to get the audio to sync up with the video. Sometimes trying to get the noise-cancelation to turn on or off as intended can also cause frustration.

How To Fix Headphones That Are Not Working

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

Let's get started.

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

    You can usually find the power switch for headphones on the side of one of the earpieces or one of their flat surfaces.

  2. Turn your 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 aren't working the way they're supposed to, try switching them off and on again after plugging them in, and the media has begun playing.

  3. Check that you've charged your headphones. Some headphones, especially those with enhanced features such as noise-canceling 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 need recharging.

    You can recharge most headphones via 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 them at all.

    If a device doesn't support USB headphones, unfortunately, 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 the headphones' Bluetooth on. If you're using a wireless headphone set, you may be required to flip on the Bluetooth switch for it to connect to your paired devices.

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

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

  8. Verify that you've successfully paired the Bluetooth headphones with your device. New headphones won't start sending audio to your devices straight out of the box. First, you need to pair them to your smartphone, PC, or another source.

    Bluetooth pairing instructions differ depending on your headphones' brand and model. You can find specific pairing instructions in the instruction manual or on the manufacturer's website.

  9. Remove your headphones and repair them with your phone or computer. Sometimes re-adding your headphones to your device after removing them can fix any connectivity issues you may be having.

    To remove a Bluetooth pairing on Mac, click System Preferences > Bluetooth > your headphones' name > X > Remove.

    To remove your headphones on Windows 10, open the Action Center and click All settings > Devices > the name of your headphones > Remove device > Yes.

  10. Disconnect unused devices from your headphones. One way to prevent conflicts is to unpair anything that 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 via the steps above on a PC or Mac.

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

    The name of the active audio output will usually display within the app producing the audio.

    On the YouTube smartphone apps, you can find this information by tapping the TV icon that appears after tapping a playing video. For the Spotify apps, the name of the audio option will appear as green text along the bottom of the app above the Home, Search, and Library icons.

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

    The easiest way to fix this problem is to unplug your headphones. But, if you desperately need to charge them and listen to music at the same time, try plugging them into a USB power socket or USB port on a battery pack.

  13. Check for damage by bending the cable. A common cause of headphone issues is a damaged audio cable. They can easily get damaged through wear-and-tear from forceful rolling when packing up.

    To check if the cable is damaged, put them on, begin playing audio from your preferred source, and gently bend it at 2 cm 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. Unfortunately fixing a broken headphone cable is rather fiddly but the alternative is to bend that section every time you use the headphones.

    You only need to perform 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 trying to listen to audio from a specific app but aren't hearing any sound, the app itself may be the problem.

    Open another app such as Soundcloud, YouTube, or Twitch to check if this is the case. If the app is being glitchy, try exploring its settings for specific audio output options. Quitting the app and opening it again could also fix any bugs you're experiencing.

  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, you can try several tricks such as cleaning the audio jack or using different headphones or earphones.

  16. Check your headphones on another device. If possible, try using them with a different audio source to see if they work.

  17. Try other headphones or earphones on the same device. 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.

    try a different pair of headphones or earphones on the same device while running the same app and,

  18. Update your 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 which you can download and transfer via a USB cable.

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

  20. Restart your computer, smartphone, or tablet. It's a bit of a cliché, but a restart can fix a host of tech problems including those associated with malfunctioning headphones.

  21. Disable Bluetooth on unused devices. If you've paired your Bluetooth headphones with multiple devices, they may be trying to connect to one of these other devices instead of the one you want. To remedy this, try turning off Bluetooth on all of 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.