Headphones Only Work in One Ear: Common Causes and Easy Fixes

The earbuds are high profile when worn

When your headset is playing only in one ear, rule out possible device setting issues then follow these quick fixes to get your earphones working again.

Having headsets playing only in one ear can be frustrating, especially if listening to music or watching videos is part of your daily routine.

Plus, if you’ve relied on your earphones and your favorite songs to block off noise as you work, then this issue is bound to hurt your productivity as well.

Below are several tips and quick fixes you can do if only one of your earbuds is working. With these tips, you can have a working pair of headphones in just a few minutes. Let’s dive in!

Headphones Only Work in One Ear: Ruling Out Phone or PC Issues

When audio problems crop up, such as static noises or hearing sound in only one ear, it’s easy to assume your headphones are broken. As such, it’s only natural to start considering getting them replaced.

Most of the time, however, incorrect audio settings or a temporary (and easily fixable) device malfunction are at the root of these problems.

So, before discarding your headphones or attempting to repair them yourself, try determining the actual source of the issue first.

Here are some methods that’ll help you figure out if your phone, laptop, or PC is at the root of your audio issues:

Try another pair of headphones

The quickest way to find out what’s causing your audio issues is by getting a pair of perfectly working headphones or earbuds and connecting them to your device.

If they’re working as they should, you’ll know that the problem truly lies with your headphones. In this case, just follow the tips below for fixing wired and Bluetooth headphones.

However, if the functioning headset also starts playing only in one ear, you may need to remedy them using one of the solutions in the following sections.

Restart the device

Another simple fix you may want to try is restarting your device.

A constant sleep-wake cycle swamps your phone or computer’s RAM with unnecessary logs, cache files, and background processes. This eventually causes a memory leak, leading to errors and system slowdowns.

Shutting down isn’t enough if you want to reboot a sluggish device. Doing so doesn’t actually kill any processes but instead places them in hibernation mode.

Restarting your device shuts down all running programs and deletes all caches, effectively refreshing your device. This could be especially helpful if your audio issue occurred after a software update, since certain components are removed or replaced during this process.

Once you’ve done this, check if you can hear from both headphone speakers. If your headphones are still playing in only one ear, check your device’s audio settings by following the steps in the next section.

Check the settings

Having sound in only one headphone or earbud speaker could result from incorrect audio settings. Here’s what you can do to address that:

Adjust the sound balance

Windows’ sound balance function lets you adjust the left and right audio output so that both signals are equally loud and clear. Sound becomes unbalanced when, for instance, the audio signals are directed more towards one speaker than the other. When this happens, you’ll have noticeably softer or no sound at all in one speaker.

To remedy this, ensure both channels are equal by adjusting the sound balance. Here’s how to do that on Windows:

  1. Go to Settings.

    'Settings' highlighted in Windows.
    ‘Settings’ highlighted in Windows.
  2. Select Sound.

    'Sound' highlighted in Windows Settings.
    ‘Sound’ highlighted in Windows Settings.
  3. Under Advanced, click on More sound settings.

    'More sound settings' highlighted in Windows Sound settings.
    ‘More sound settings’ highlighted in Windows Sound settings.
  4. In the Playback tab, double-click on your audio output device.

    Audio output device highlighted.
    Audio output device highlighted.
  5. In the Levels tab, select Balance.

    'Balance' highlighted in Speaker Properties.
    ‘Balance’ highlighted in Speaker Properties.
  6. Adjust the sliders for left and right audio until they’re identical, then click OK.

    Make sure both balance sliders are equal.
    Make sure both balance sliders are equal.

Disable Sound Enhancements

When you have Windows’ audio enhancements feature enabled, your sound undergoes additional processing to improve its quality further. These enhancements (or audio processing objects, as they’re called) include bass boost, surround sound, loudness equalization, room correction, etc.

As great as that sounds, these extra enhancements can affect playback on your headphones due to how they manipulate the different audio frequencies, sometimes causing no sound output on one side.

To fix this, simply disable the audio enhancements with these steps:

  1. Go to Settings.

    'Settings' highlighted in Windows PC.
    ‘Settings’ highlighted in Windows PC.
  2. Select Sound.

    'Sound' highlighted in Windows Settings.
    ‘Sound’ highlighted in Windows Settings.
  3. Under Advanced, click on More sound settings.

    'More sound settings' highlighted in Windows Sound settings.
    ‘More sound settings’ highlighted in Windows Sound settings.
  4. In the Playback tab, double-click on your audio output device.

    Audio output device highlighted.
    Audio output device highlighted.
  5. In the Advanced tab, uncheck Enable audio enhancements, then click Apply and OK.

    'Enable audio enhancements' highlighted.
    ‘Enable audio enhancements’ highlighted.

Update the software and drivers

Outdated software and drivers can cause errors in how your system’s sound card functions. This can lead to various sound problems, from your headphones not being detected by your computer to hearing audio in only one ear. To avoid this, ensure your Windows OS and audio drivers are updated.

Here’s how to update your Windows OS:

  1. Go to Settings.

    'Settings' highlighted on Windows.
    ‘Settings’ highlighted on Windows.
  2. Click Windows Update.

    'Windows Update' highlighted in Settings.
    ‘Windows Update’ highlighted in Settings.
  3. Select Check for Updates.

    'Check for updates' highlighted under Windows Update.
    ‘Check for updates’ highlighted under Windows Update.
  4. Once the updates are downloaded, you can proceed to install them.

To check and update your audio drivers, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on the Start menu icon in the taskbar and select Device Manager.

    Start menu icon and 'Device Manager' highlighted.
    Start menu icon and ‘Device Manager’ highlighted.
  2. Double-click Sound, video, and game controllers from the list.

    'Sound, video and game controllers' highlighted under Device Manager.
    ‘Sound, video and game controllers’ highlighted under Device Manager.
  3. Right-click your audio output device and select Update driver.

    'Update driver' highlighted in Device Manager.
    ‘Update driver’ highlighted in Device Manager.

Clean the headphone jack

People bring their phones everywhere–from their bedrooms to the rugged outdoors. Eventually, lint and dirt get trapped in the headphone jack. This loosens the connection between the plug and jack, thus affecting audio output.

That said, if your headphones play in only one ear when plugged into your device, but play the usual way when connected to other gadgets, consider cleaning your device’s headphone jack.

One way to do this is by using the pointed tip of a brush toothpick (a.k.a. Interdental brush) to loosen any dirt, then using the brush side to scoop it out.

Interdental brush inside phone jack
Interdental brush inside phone jack

For more headphone cleaning tips, check out our guide on how to deep clean your headphones.

What to Do When Wired Headphones Only Work in One Ear

Headphone wires are notoriously fragile due to their thinness. As such, it’s one of the most common reasons we find ourselves with one headphone that’s stopped working. This is even more true for those who have a habit of wadding up their headphones’ wire at the end of a listening session.

If you suspect a wiring issue is causing your headphones’ audio problems, here are three ways to diagnose the exact problem and how to solve them.

Keep in mind that DIY-ing headphone wires can be a complex procedure for the inexperienced. Doing unauthorized repairs can also result in voiding its warranty. So, if your headset starts playing only in one ear within the warranty period, it’s best to have it serviced by the manufacturer.

Diagnosis: Damaged or disconnected wire near the plug

When hurrying, some people yank out their headphones by tugging the cord instead of the plug’s plastic base.

Repeatedly tugging on your headphones’ cord strains the weak spot where the plug meets the cord. Over time, this action wears down on the protective rubber casing, exposing the wires to damage and making them prone to shorting. Sometimes, doing this with enough force can even result in a bent headphone plug.

Headphone “plugs” and “jacks” are two terms often mistakenly interchanged. Remember that the “plug” is the part at the end of your headphones’ wire that you plug into a socket. On the other hand, the “jack” is the socket into which you plug your headphones.

So, if you’re only getting audio in one ear and seeing signs of wear-and-tear near the headphone plug, you’ll need to fix the damaged portion of the wire. To do that, follow the steps below.

How to fix damaged wires

  1. Using a knife or cutter, slice through the protective plastic base around the earphone plug and the cord near it.
  2. Locate the section with the damaged wires and cut it off.

    Slicing the protective cover using wire cutter
    Slicing the protective cover using wire cutter
  3. Remove the plastic cable around one end of your headset cord.

    Exposed ends of internal wires
    Exposed ends of internal wires
  4. Use a match or lighter to briefly burn off the wire’s insulation.

    Use lighter to burn insulation on wires
    Use lighter to burn insulation on wires
  5. Solder the wires to the earphone jack following the illustration below.

    Make sure to connect the right wires to their corresponding section on the earphone jack.
    Make sure to connect the right wires to their corresponding section on the earphone jack.
  6. Cover the newly joined section with a heat-shrink tube or electrical tape.

    Securing wire with heat-shrink tube
    Securing wire with heat-shrink tube
Watch this tutorial by Bong Maker for a visual guide.

Diagnosis: Shorted wire

Unlike damaged wires that show external signs of breakage, it’s not always easy to tell if there’s a short in your headphone wire.

Shorted wires occur when a powered wire touches a neutral wire, exposing it to excessive electricity and causing it to short-circuit. This problem typically happens in wired headphones and earbuds if they’re always tangled or wrapped improperly.

You’ll know you have a shorted wire if you can hear static in your audio or if it cuts out when you move the wire. A quick way to fix this is by doing a “wiggle test.” Here’s how:

How to fix shorted wires

  1. Plug your headphones into your device and play an audio or video file.
  2. Locate the short by bending the headphone cord every half inch. Continue doing this until you start hearing sound coming off both headphones.
  3. Remove the damaged portion of the wire.

    Remove the damaged wire
    Remove the damaged wire
  4. Get the remaining sections of the headphone cord. Slice through both tips of the plastic cord to expose the wires.

    Use cutter to expose the internal wires
    Use cutter to expose the internal wires
  5. Separate the copper wires (ground wires), insulation (white wires), and the colored wire.
    The colored wire will be red if you are repairing the headset’s right portion or green or blue if you’re working on the left section.

    Isolate internal wires based on color
    Isolate internal wires based on color
  6. Cut the insulation wires. Meanwhile, twist the copper wires to keep them together.
  7. Use a match or lighter to briefly burn off the enamel at the tip of the colored wires.

    Burn off the enamel using lighter
    Burn off the enamel using lighter
  8. Join the colored wires by twisting them together. Secure these with electrical tape.
  9. Link the ground wires in the same way and wrap electrical tape around these as well.
    Ensure that the ground wires do not touch the colored wires.
  10. Wrap electrical tape around this newly linked section.

    Wrap repaired wire with electrical tape
    Wrap repaired wire with electrical tape
For further guidance, watch this tutorial by RichsMethods. On the other hand, if you’re looking for solutions to other headphone wiring-related problems, check out our guide on how to fix headphone wires.

Diagnosis: Faulty wiring within the defective earbud

Sometimes, loose or broken wires can occur inside the earbud speaker itself and not along the cord. Similar to the previous issues, faulty wiring arises from poor handling or, in some cases, a manufacturer defect.

Regardless of the cause, this issue will manifest as your earbuds having no sound in one or both speakers or your earbuds’ mic not working. And if there’s no damage to the earbud’s cord, you’ll know the problem is likely inside the earbud itself.

If you’re sure this is the cause of your audio problem, follow the steps below to open and fix the earbud.

How to fix faulty wires inside earbuds

  1. Open the earbud casing using a small flat-blade screwdriver. You can also detach your nail clipper’s lever and pop the earbud’s front case or ear tip open.
    Check out this tutorial on Arddy’s Channel to see how to open your earbud shell.

  2. Do not pull at the case to fully open the earbud – doing so can further rip the wires if they’re attached to the front case. Instead, push the cord up through the earbud’s upper housing. This will shove the front case and expose the internal components.
  3. Resolder the loose wire and let it cool before testing the earbuds.

    Soldering loose wire
    Soldering loose wire

What to Do When Wireless Headphones Only Work in One Ear

Wireless headphones and earbuds eliminate the hassle of untangling messy cords. However, that doesn’t mean you’re free from the issues that cause headphones to play only in one ear.

Here are three common causes of malfunctioning wireless headphones and brief guides on how to fix each.

Diagnosis: Needs reset

When you aren’t getting audio on one side of your wireless headphones, sometimes a quick factory reset is all it takes to set things right.

Bluetooth connections can become bogged down after a while, especially if your devices haven’t undergone important firmware updates or have multiple paired devices. This eventually causes errors in how your headphones function, leading to audio and pairing issues.

By resetting your Bluetooth headphones, you’re returning them to their default configuration and clearing out all the extra information stored on the device. Basically, it’s like wiping the slate clean.

If you think your Bluetooth headphones need a reset, refer to the steps below.

Remember that although these steps will work on most standard Bluetooth headphones, some branded headphones may require more specific reset instructions.

With that out of the way, here’s what you need to do:

How to reset Bluetooth headphones

  1. Press your device’s power button.

    Bluetooth headphones power button
    Bluetooth headphones power button
  2. Hold it down until the headset’s light flashes blue or red.

    Holding down the power button
    Holding down the power button
  3. Pair the headphones again with your device.

    Pairing bluetooth headphones with device
    Pairing bluetooth headphones with device

Diagnosis: Halfway point issue

Most wireless headphones come with detachable cords that let you switch easily from wired to wireless mode. However, if you notice that your audio goes from normal to only working on one side whenever you detach the cord, you may be dealing with a halfway point issue.

Wireless headphone jacks contain small springs attached to metal balls. These act like mechanical triggers that turn off Bluetooth functionality upon contacting a headphone plug’s conductors.

To better understand what this looks like, check out the illustration created by mewoosh in their video on how to extract a broken headphone plug from the jack.

If you’re still not getting sound in one ear after removing the headphone plug, these switches may be stuck in a halfway position, thus causing one of your headphone speakers to malfunction.

Fortunately, the solution is quite simple and is a matter of trial and error.

How to fix the halfway point issue

  1. Insert, then remove the AUX plug from the jack.
  2. Repeat the first step using various angles. The goal is to try and push the mechanical trigger back into its original position.
  3. Test your Bluetooth headphones to see if this resolves the issue.

Diagnosis: Low battery on one earbud

True wireless earbuds have separate battery lives and need individual charging. In some cases, one may drain faster than the other, especially if you prefer using only one earbud to maintain awareness of your surroundings while working or commuting.

Additionally, one earbud (usually the right one) performs more functions than the left earbud. That’s because one earbud manages the connection between the earbuds and your mobile device, while the other earbud simply connects to the first one. So, it makes sense that one drains faster than the other.

That said, this could be another reason you’re not getting audio in one speaker. Luckily, the solution to this is also quite straightforward.

How to fix a low battery issue

  1. Place both earbuds in their charging case.
  2. Wait until they’re fully charged, then check to see if the audio works in both earbuds.
If your audio issues stem from the earbuds not charging properly, check out our guide for tips on how to get them working again.

Diagnosis: Broken internal wires

If one side of your wireless earbuds is silent, despite being fully charged, the problem could be internal.

As mentioned in the previous section on faulty wiring, if there are no visible signs of damage on the earbuds, your audio issue is probably due to displaced wires in the hardware itself, particularly in the control panel where the Bluetooth module is stored.

To confirm this, you’ll need to open up the control panel and check for disconnected wires. Read the steps below on how to repair Bluetooth headphones:

For the procedure below, we used wireless earbuds as an example. Wireless earbuds are different from true wireless earbuds. The former still has a wire connecting both earbuds, whereas the latter is entirely wire-free.

How to fix internal wires

  1. Using a pair of cutting pliers or a flat-blade screwdriver, pry open the casing of your earbuds’ control panel.

    Open bluetooth earbuds
    Open Bluetooth earbuds control panel
  2. Carefully take out the internal components.
  3. Locate any broken wires or wires separated from others and reconnect them using a soldering iron.
  4. Return the internal components inside the casing.
  5. Turn on your Bluetooth earbuds to test if your audio is working normally, then reseal the casing if it’s all good.
For a visual guide, watch this video by Creative & Duck on how to fix the wires on your Bluetooth headphones.

How to Reuse Multiple One-Side Working Earbuds

If you have several wired headphones with only one earbud working, you can reuse these so long as they have the same plug type. Just keep in mind that the audio quality may no longer be as good as it was before.

If you have a couple of old Bluetooth headphones that you want to reuse, you can use an adapter. You can also set up your phone’s Dual Audio feature, which will allow you to connect two different Bluetooth headphones simultaneously.

Here’s how to resurrect your old wired earbuds using an audio splitter:

Use a headphone splitter to reuse one-side working earbuds. (From: Amazon)
Use a headphone splitter to reuse one-side working earbuds. (From: Amazon)
  1. Get an audio splitter with two output jacks and plug it into your device’s AUX output.
  2. Plug both pairs of one-side working earbuds into the audio splitter’s output jacks.
  3. Play an audio or video file to test the sound quality.
  4. Keep your earbuds looking neat by trimming off the opposite non-working wires.
  5. Insulate the ends of the trimmed wires with electrical tape or heat-shrink tubing.
  6. If you want to permanently join the two functioning earbud wires, trim off the non-working wire from one pair of earbuds and dispose of it.
  7. Using a cutter, take off the rubber covering of the trimmed section.
  8. Next, using a lighter, briefly burn off the wire’s insulation.
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 on the functioning wire of the other pair of earbuds.
    At this point, you should have one working earbud still attached to its plug and a separate working earbud wire that isn’t connected to anything.
  10. Once the wires on both ends are clean, simply twist the same-colored wires together.
  11. Finally, insulate the exposed section with electrical tape or heat-shrink tubing.
If you wish to skip the trouble and buy a new pair of headphones instead, make sure to read our tips on what to do with broken headphones.

Recommendation: Durable Headphones

If your headphones or earbuds are always breaking down, you should opt for a pair of more durable headphones. Some essential durability factors to consider include:

  • Sturdier materials, such as wood or metal, instead of plastic.
  • A rating of at least IPX4 to keep your headphones protected from water splashes coming from any direction.
  • A warranty that lasts at least three months.

Check out our top recommendations from our “Most Durable Headphones” article:

NameForm FactorConnectivityStandard Warranty PeriodPrice
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 Master Best OverallOver-earWired2 yearsBUY
Jabra Steel Strong Runner-UpMono EarbudWireless5 yearsBUY
Sony MDR7506 Best BudgetOver-earWired90 daysBUY
AfterShokz Aeropex Best IP RatingBone conductionWireless2 yearsBUY
Jabra Elite Active 75t Best for Working OutTWSWireless2 yearsBUY
Bose 700 Most Durable Noise Cancelling HeadphonesOver-earWireless1 yearBUY

Find Ways to Extend Your Headphones’ Life

If you’re investing in quality headphones or earbuds, you’ll certainly want them to last for a long time. And even if you don’t own a pricey model, it’s a shame to throw out another pair just because one headphone speaker isn’t working.

With the tips above, hopefully, you can now determine if your headphones simply need a quick fix before buying a new one. By repairing your headphones, you can quickly go back to enjoying your music playlist or watching videos, save a bit of money, and reduce electronic waste at the same time.

What are your thoughts on the fixes listed above? Do you have other tips and tricks for repairing headphones with only one earbud working? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

37 comments

  1. I looked over all the methods (for the wired ones) and my headphones have none of those problems but only one side works. could you help?

  2. My headphones work on my phone but the right ear is cut out when I’m on my PC. I have had this PC for around a month and it has been in clean conditions. Any suggestions?

    1. you might need to clean the jack because thats happened to me or the headphones are the problem because some headphones only work on certain devices

      1. everything is good with my jack and everything else just left side i cant hear it i tried everything i could to fix it it only works when i put it halfwy

  3. My merlin earbuds both are working good. but not the same time. if Left is work then right side stop & Vice versa. how to fix this problem? please help me. my contact no. is 9987469278

  4. Oh God, thank you so much for this! I went to my settings on my Mac and somehow the balance had shifted all the way to only the right headphone. After I switched it back to the middle, it started working perfectly. Thank you so much, I am indebted

  5. Hey, thank you so much for this amazing website. I have a JBL live 650BTNC and it had the half way point issue. Followed the steps and wallahhhh!! Now it’s fixed????

  6. I looked over all the problems, and I can’t seem to figure out what is going on. I can’t test my earbuds in someone else’s device because mine is the only one with this type of jack. What do I do?

  7. My earphone is only working from one side I tried restarting my phone to see if it was that but it’s not and I’ve checked a few other articles and it’s still not working I’ve tried everything they’ve said

    1. you might need to clean the jack because thats happened to me or the headphones are the problem because some headphones only work on certain devices

  8. I have indy vevo blue tooth headphones and i have tried ones with wire’s but i can inky hear out of one ear does anyone kniw what i do

  9. Me tooo I have got problems on my headphones , I just brought it yesterday, My wireheadphones just working on the left side not in right side , i mean , the occured thing is when i first connect to pc its working on the right side , but when i connect to the tab its working on the left side , untill then its working on the left side even if on the pc , Anyone have any solution ???/

    1. Same I also have the same problem but my left side is not working and right side is working!

  10. Huge shoutout to Barsin for leaving a comment above who had the same halfway point issue as me on JBL Live 650BTNC and because of whom I could find this page.

  11. both right and left of my headphones are doesn’t work sometimes. and sometimes only one is working could you help me?

  12. my earbuds work without the ear cushions….when you put the ear cushions the sound become very low that i can hear even in full volume

  13. The left side of my headphones doesn’t work I’ve opened the case so I can see the speaker and it looks fine apart from the fact it has disconnected from the case…

  14. my problem is the wire extremely close to the plug, the plug is not rubber so i can cut it to get to the few copper wires.

  15. Thank you very much I went and bought another pair of headphones because I thought my first headphones were broken but when I came home from the store with the 2nd bought headphones I read this article and got the problem fixed.
    I must return one of them now.

  16. I’ve got two headphones w. 6.3mm jacks and bought a 3.5 to 6.3 connector.
    The connector has three sections, so should be left/right and ground for stereo I assume.
    It is the same design as my 3.5mm earphones, just bigger, so it corresponds.

    When I plug in the connector and the 6.3mm headphones, only the right side works. I‘ve got two such connectors, so it’s unlikely that the connectors are at fault.
    Band I can confirm that both headphones work on both sides otherwise.

    Somehow none of the above solutions seem to match this problem.
    Anyone any ideas?

  17. Great article to help with troubleshooting!

    I was having an issue with my Taotronics BH22 Bluetooth headphones with sound coming out of the right side only. Went through the steps listed here. Connected them manually (cord) to my device and discovered the noise cancellation switch was halfway between on/off. Setting that properly fixed my one-side issue.

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