When choosing a pair of earbuds, most consumers look only at the earbud specs and the style. While these two things are very important, many consumers overlook one of the most important things in an earbud –the cable. The importance of the cable is twofold. The cable must be strong enough not to break (most common place for a cable to break is near the connector) and also not fall under the effect of microphonics.

Microphonics is defined as the transmittance of mechanical vibrations through an electrical component. Basically, microphonics is the basically the annoying rustling sound you get when your earbud cable rubs along a surface. No matter how good your earbuds may sound, when you start actively using them, the microphonics will take away all the pleasure.

The most common way, earbud manufacturers reduce annoying microphonics is to add a little clip at the earbud cord. This way, you attach the clip to your clothes, and your earbud cable will only come in contact with air, thus reducing microphonics. The Nuforce NE7M use this method for preventing microphonics, while good in theory, it is rather annoying to attach the earbud clip every time you want to use your earbuds. Luckily, the Nuforce NE7M has a very strong rubber cord, which brings me to the next point

Make sure your earbuds come with an insulated rubber cord, none of the cheap nylon trash. While an insulated rubber cord will not remove all microphonics, it will eliminate the majority of the effect. There are earbud manufacturers that put a netlike rubber coating over their nylon cord earbuds. While this may reduce microphonics, they will still be present and extremely annoying. The best cord is a rubber one, the thicker the better. However, keep in mind if the cord is too thick, it might pull down, forcing the earbuds out of your ears. Balance is key.

Another way to reduce microphonics is the placement of earbuds. Most people face the cord downwards, so it’s pointing straight towards the ground. If you wrap the earbud cord upwards, around your ear and then let it point to the ground, the ear will absorb some of the microphonics (over the ear placement). Here is an example with the Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5 Pro:

Please note that you will have to experiment with this technique. Every ear is different, some people might be comfortable with this technique, and others may not. Think of this technique as a backup plan; only use it if you cannot reduce microphonics even further.Microphonics is a serious issue that many earbud enthusiasts overlook. Your earbuds might sound good at the beginning, but if you have a poor cord that sound isn’t worth squat. When buying a pair of earbuds pay close attention to the cord. Make sure it is strong and preferably made from rubber. If it has a clip, then that is a nice bonus, but don’t rely on it too much.


8 comments until now

  1. Brilliant advice. Over the ear has turned my new Klispsc from a disappointment into a wonder! Many thanks

  2. don chrobak

    Great advice…just got sennheiser’s and was disatisfied until i wrapped over-the-ear. thank you

  3. WOW!!! what a difference! Really works!

  4. kevin rourke

    Thanks for the great advice!

    Had to search ‘stethoscope tapping’ to find about microphonics, everyone should know that word!

  5. This is certainly not microphonics and your definition is completely wrong. How did everyone in the earphone world start mis-using this well established word? Microphonics is a term used in electronics when mechanical motion is converted into electrical signals. It is often undesirable in very sensitive electronics and can be difficult to eliminate. Of course in an electric guitar it is very desirable. Another place it is obviously desirable is in a microphone which does precisely that, and is thus clear and unambiguous source of the proper definition.

    The problem in headphone wires is simply transmission of normal sound vibration through a 1-dimensional solid into a small sealed air volume, just like in a tin-can telephone. Certainly no electricity is involved. I don’t think the author of this article would disagree with that point. I’m sure in some discussion of multi-thousand dollar cables the issue of real microphonics has probably been raised (with doubtful importance), but that’s certainly not the issue described in this article. It is important because microphonics is an important and separate concept and hijacking the word for inconsistent street use will only cause confusion.

  6. steve r,

    This is great, thank you so much! I prefer earbuds but was being driven crazy by the rubbing and rustling sounds… your over-the-ear tip helps alot.

  7. Franklyn

    Thank you for the suggestion which does help.

    The question that should be asked is: “Do earbud manufacturers test their products before marketing them?”

    I have just bought my second pair of Plantronics “earthings”. The first was their BackBeat 903+ and now the BackBeat Go2. Both units, from a music point of view, give very good quality sound and I am pretty fussy. However, the BackBeat 903+ has ear funnel looking things that were probably designed for people from the planet Vulcan, like Mr. Spock!

    Now, I suppose stupid of me, I bought the BackBeat Go2 after reading very good reviews, 99% of which made no mention of the “stethoscope” effect.

    A well, I’m stuck with them so I will have to try and find a way to stop the thumping! Fortunately I have a pair of LG HBS 730 Tone + Earphones which are definitely my favorite.

  8. ShadowVlican

    i used to call this the “Godzilla effect”… which is why i stay away from in-ear type earphones

Add your comment now