One Earbud/Headphone Not Working (left or right): fixes for common and advanced issues

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It’s really a bummer when the headset you have been using stops working gradually or abruptly. While most headsets eventually get damaged, yours may have died on you too soon. Or it may be so that the issue is just temporary and that you can bring your beloved headsets back to life! 

Diagnosing headset problems is tricky. However, it’s not challenging or overwhelming if you learn about the common reasons that cause headsets, particularly earbuds, to stop working. But you can do more than just diagnose the problem in this post, you can also learn how to fix it (if it’s fixable). Read away: 

One side of headphone not working: the most common reason

One of the most common reasons for headphones only playing in one ear is the build-up of earwax. When you use your earbuds regularly, they come in contact with the earwax in the ear canal. 

It’s usually over time that the sound outlets of the earbuds start accumulating earwax. The gradual build-up of earwax starts blocking the sound outlets and then eventually covering the sound outlets to the point that there’s little to no audio.

Image credit: Cleveland Clinic

If one or both of your earbuds gradually decreased volume prior to completely being muffled or to having no volume at all, the odds are great that the issue is earwax buildup. To confirm this, take a closer look at the main sound outlet of your earbuds in bright light. To diagnose earwax build-up on the sound outlets even better, you can use a magnifying glass. 

Here’s how earwax build-ups look when magnified: 

Image credit: Insider YouTube

Fixes

The simple and most effective fix for earwax build-up in earbuds and the audio issue occurring from it is to clean the earwax grime. Here’s a proper way to get your earbuds all cleaned up without risking damaging them: 

Watch the video here 

The steps included in this video aren’t just limited to Apple AirPods as you can use them to clean earbuds of other brands as well. 

If you want to extensively clean the earwax build-up in a professional way, watch this tutorial video here

Here’s how clean the sound outlets look after removing the earwax buildup. 

Image credit: Phone Fix Craft YouTube

Earbuds that are more prone to earwax build-up

Earbuds that have in-ear tips are more prone to earwax buildup and the audio loss issues that come with it. In-ear tips, regardless of the material, rest on the ear canal and therefore accumulate earwax over time.

Image credit: The Headphone List

Here are different types of earbuds with in-ear fit tips:

Image credit: Ridewithtech

One earbud not working: connectivity glitch   

The issue of left or right earbud not working not only occurs due to earwax build-up but also due to issues in connectivity or pairing. If your earbuds are relatively new and you haven’t used them extensively, it is likely that the audio loss issue is occurring from connectivity or pairing problems. 

Your earbuds and your phone may lose connection with each other due to the automatic removal of the connection. Although not common, this issue can occur if you connect and use your earbuds with your phone continuously for a long period of time. 

Fix – The easiest fix is to simply disconnect the earbuds and restart both the earbuds and your phone. Reconnect them and play audio to test.   

Right earbud not working: mono audio

The latest earbuds support mono audio and many models automatically activate mono audio if you take out just one earbud from the case. It may be so that you unknowingly pulled out one earbud first from the case and then the connection got set to mono audio while you were intending to listen in stereo mode. This is a common cause for the issue of TWS earbud and headphones only playing in one ear.

Fix – Put both earbuds in the case and restart them. Then, reconnect the earbuds to your phone. 

Also, it is likely that you may have accidentally or unknowingly turned on mono audio mode on your phone. 

Fix: Go to your phone’s audio settings and turn off the mono audio mode. Watch the tutorial video here

One earbud not working: battery drain on one earbud

While it’s easy to check the battery life of both earbuds and the charging case, many users do not check the battery life of each earbud. As such, the issue of the right or left earbud not working may have got to do with the battery drain on the non-working earbud.

Fix – Check the battery charge on the left or right earbud that’s not working. For some TWS earbuds, such as the Huawei Freebuds 3, the battery status of each earbud is available in Android phones’ notification dashboard or within the app. 

Image credit: Huawei Community

Many earbuds, especially affordable and entry-level models, have LEDs that blink in a certain way to notify of low battery. Charge both earbuds in the case to full capacity.  

Image credit: MegaSafetyFirst

One side of headphone not working: improper pairing on both or one earbud

Improper pairing is one of the most common connectivity issues that cause both or one earbud to not work. With true wireless earbuds, there are two levels of pairing. The first is connecting the left and right earbuds with each other and the second is connecting both earbuds with the phone. If there’s an issue in any of the two pairing stages, one or both earbuds may not work. 

Fix – Perform a hard reset of both earbuds to re-establish the pairing connection between them. Watch a video tutorial here.

The second solution is to restart the earbuds to let them automatically pair with each other. After this step, connect the earbuds with your phone. Here’s a short tutorial.

Both earbuds not working: connectivity distance

All Bluetooth earbuds support a limited connectivity distance. If you use your earbuds past the manufacturer’s recommended distance, you may start noticing audio loss or abrupt connection failure. 

Fix – Check the recommended distance listed by the manufacturer and avoid going past the limit. 

Image credit: Sony

Another simple solution is to unpair and re-pair the earbuds to your phone in order to re-establish the connection. 

Earbuds not working: firmware update

If your earbuds are frequently disconnecting or malfunctioning when controlling volume levels or using other features, there is a possibility that the current firmware has one or more bugs and that the manufacturer has released a new firmware update patch. 

Fix – How to fix earbuds to the latest firmware version to keep them functioning properly? Updating to the latest firmware version is as easy as opening the earbuds app, checking for the latest version, and then installing it. Watch this video for the steps. 

Earbuds not working: radio frequency (RF) interference 

In many cases, RF interference is the cause for the issue of both or one side of headphones not working. TWS earbuds use Bluetooth version-specific ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves for wirelessly communicating with phones. 

Any interference to the RF communication by devices such as Wi-Fi routers, smart home appliances, smart home lighting systems, and wireless security devices, and the earbuds may temporarily stop working properly. 

Fix – One simple fix to eliminate RF interference is to turn off other Bluetooth devices except for the phone that you’ve connected the earbuds with.

Image credit: Branch Education

Wired/Bluetooth earbuds not working: damaged internal/external wires/cables 

Wire damage is one of the most common reasons for wired earphones to stop working. TWS earbuds also have internal cables that can get damaged or disconnected from the circuit boards. 

GIF credit: Branch Education

Fix – The 3.5 mm jack of wired earphones and headphones is the one part that commonly gets damaged over time. If the audio goes on and off when you move the 3.5 mm jack cable in different directions, there’s a high chance that it’s partially damaged. 

One simple fix you can try is to use a headphone cable protector as shown below

If you are good at DIY projects, you can fix the 3.5 mm jack of your earphone by yourself. Here’s a short tutorial video to help you out.

If there are internal cable damage issues in your TWS earbuds, it’s best to get them repaired by a professional or exchange them if they are under the manufacturer’s warranty. 

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