Why Do Headphones Distort? (Especially at high volume)

Why Do Headphones Distort? (Especially at high volume)

Have you made a new purchase and don’t know why the headphones sound noisy? Today, we’ll explain why headphones distort at high volumes and other factors that might hinder your experience with them.

A pair of headphones consists of a small loudspeaker driver and an earpiece worn on or around the head. The devices are known as electroacoustic transducers because they transform an electrical signal into an audible one. Headphones allow one person to listen to audio discreetly, whereas loudspeakers broadcast their sound to everyone in the vicinity.

Earbuds, earphones, and “cans” are all slang terms for headphones. Both the circumaural and supraaural systems are located in or around the ear. To secure the headphones’ speakers in place, a band goes over the top of the head.

Earbuds, also called earpieces, are a different variety that features separate modules that fit snugly inside an individual’s auricle. Bone conduction headphones are a third form, circumventing the ear canal by resting in front of it. One definition of a headset in telecommunications is a set of headphones that also functions as a microphone.

Headphones can be a loud racket in a crowded office, a busy household, or on a crowded train. Any of these problems can result in a “fuzzy” level of volume that makes listening to music or podcasts unpleasant. But now that you know this, you can isolate the cause of the fuzziness in your Bluetooth headphones and return peace to your listening experience.

Let’s analyze what causes distortion at high volumes and how to correct it.

Why Do Headphones Distort At High Volumes?

Headphones distort at high volumes because the speaker or diaphragm cannot move as quickly when played at max volumes. As a result, movement is limited, which might cause musical notes to change or even arrive with crackling and popping between tracks.

The goal of headphone design is to deliver a listening experience free of distortion to the user. The best headphones on the market don’t distort the sound by more than one percent, and that’s something the designers keep in mind. However, the likelihood of hearing distortion is insignificant if you’re willing to spend a lot of money on high-quality headphones.

When a gadget is overwhelmed by a signal that is too strong for it, distortion occurs. For example, if the volume of the audio transmission is too high, the user will hear a scratchy, distorted noise. Take an example to understand; simply put, your voice or signal was too high for your vocal chord to produce at that point. As a result, there was a noticeable crack in your voice.

Distortion occurs whenever the audible spectrum’s upper limits are pushed past. When a complaint about distortion in headphones is received, sound experts first attempt to pinpoint its source. To investigate the source of the noise, they relocate the microphone.

Users frequently increase the volume of their headphones or speakers without meaning to. Though the system has been told to play at louder volumes, the result is audibly unpleasant for the audience. In such a circumstance, the engineers will use the volume knob to reduce the background noise because there is no other method to ensure that the sound isn’t distorted for the spectators.

Why Do Headphones Distort? (Especially at high volume)

How To Minimize Distortion in Headphones At High Volumes?

  • Phase Manipulation
    Power quality requirements like THD can be satisfied with a 12 Pulse Transformer setup. It’s vital to remember that most setups don’t require harmonic cancellation in the power grid. The transformer’s capacity to supply clean electricity to all equipment should be sufficient even when the transformer is not at full load.
    Due to its ability to use two input rectifiers in a drive to achieve actual cancellation of the 5th and 7th harmonics, a 12 Pulse Transformer can meet the THD restrictions. Phase manipulation, or simply switching the polarity of the power going into the drive, accomplishes this.
  • Baseline Frequency Drive
    There is minimal voltage distortion, about the same as what you’d get from a three-phase induction motor. The level of current distortion is context-dependent. Instances, where the transformer’s impedance is high will have little current distortion (soft system).
    A sizeable current distortion might be expected from a low-impedance (stiff system) transformer. Most systems may avoid harmonic distortion without additional hardware.
  • Input Filter
    By carefully crafting a filter, you can reduce the harmonics within the harmonic spectrum. For example, the fifth harmonic is typically the target of elimination in trap filters. This is because trap filters create a low-impedance channel for that particular harmonic.
    So, if a consumer is worried about the fifth harmonic, whose frequency is 300 Hz on 60-cycle power, they can have a filter installed that blocks everything above 20 Hz. Unfortunately, currents from various plant sections will often sink into the trap filter. Because of this, fuses and circuit breakers may burst out of the blue.
  • Three Phase Input
    The current distortion can be reduced by about the same amount with a 3% input reactor as with a DC Link Choke. The di/dt of the current flowing into the drive capacitors will be slowed down due to the resistance added by the reactor. As a result, there is less distortion in the current. This is equivalent to including a high-impedance transformer in the setup.
    Keep in mind that increasing the impedance or the current distortion past a certain point will have no further effect. For example, in controlled laboratory settings, distortion levels do not decrease below 7% input impedance.
Frequencies & Sound explained #4 : Harmonics & Harmonic distortion


Other Factors And Fixes Headphones Distortion

We introduced the technical issue of Harmonic Distortion, which is the technical element of why headphones distort at high volumes, and other potential causes, in the first section of this post. In this section, we’ll discuss additional hardware and software factors that may contribute to distortion when using headphones.


The wires in your headphones endure the most wear and tear of any component. Unfortunately, wadding up the wires and stuffing them into our pockets and bags causes them to become tangled, and, at times, we yank on them a little too hard. Wire breakage is a typical cause of earbuds losing sound quality or becoming unusable.

A susceptible wire is positioned inside the rubber sealing and often becomes dislodged from the earphone if bent at an extreme angle. Mishandling and prolonged use can also cause “shorts” in the wire, which results in distorted or intermittent audio.

It sounds that seem off or distorted can usually be traced back to the earphone wires. Get your tunes going by connecting your headphones to your preferred music player. Check if the issue is localized to just one earpiece by listening to it through both simultaneously. If one suddenly stops producing sound, the earpiece may have become dislodged from the earphone.

If the sound from both headphones is about the same, try moving the cable for one set of headphones along its length while listening to the other. Observe the wire’s motion to look for signs of interference. Sounds that distort or cut out as you move the cable strongly indicate that the earphone wire is broken or damaged.

Why Do Headphones Distort? (Especially at high volume)

How To Prevent Wire Damage?

Earphone wires break easily if the cord is pulled or twisted in extreme directions or subjected to excessive force regularly. This typically occurs when the wires are improperly bundled, tied, or knotted. Investing in an earbud cover that allows for the proper circular wrapping of the cord and putting them in a protected container where other items do not disturb them is the most effective strategy to avoid this.

Dirty Jack

If the sound in your earbuds is faulty, it makes sense to inspect the earbuds’ connection to the audio source. Connecting your headphones to your device is done via the connector for headphones or earbuds if you prefer a wired option. So there’s a chance the distorted sounds aren’t coming from your headphones.

Like the jacks in any other device, the ones in your headphones will eventually collect dust, lint, and who knows what else. You can’t plug in your headphones with these objects in the way. The sound will become garbled and distorted if more of it is needed.

Cleaning The Jack

If your headphones are experiencing any interference, try one of the following solutions to clear out the jack. First, start using an air can to clear out the jack for your headphones. After that, you can clean the jack by inserting a dry cotton swab and gently rubbing it inside, and then using a paperclip wrapped in tape with the sticky side out to draw out any loose dirt adhering to the tape.

Suppose the audio problem persists after cleaning the jack. In that case, the problem may not be localized to the jack but instead originate elsewhere, such as with the device’s internals or connection to an external source.

Why Do Headphones Distort? (Especially at high volume)

Moisture Damage

It’s easy to be fooled by technical advancements into thinking something is durable when it isn’t. For example, consider the frequent confusion when distinguishing between waterproof and water-resistant technology.

The reality is that no headphones exist that can withstand water. They are all referred to as “water-resistant”; however, the marketing tactics can lead consumers to think their device is 100% protected against any water source.

There will be an IP rating on each pair of headphones. An IP rating describes the device’s ability to withstand solids and water. IP addresses are written as “IPXX,” where the “X” s stands for the actual numbers. Solids will be rated in the first digit, from 0 (no protection) to 6 (maximum protection). The second number, which represents water, ranges from 0 (no protection) to 9 (maximum protection).

An IP69-rated gadget protects against dust, dirt, water splashes, and steam. It’s “dust tight,” meaning it won’t let dust accumulate on the inside. Earphones with an IP69 rating are protected against water spray but can still be damaged by sweat or rain.

The issue occurs for those who mistakenly believe that any IP rating indicates resistance to water and dampness. Earphones with a second-digit IP rating of 0–4 are not protected against familiar sources of moisture like sweat in the gym, light rain when jogging, or even steam from a sauna.


The only foolproof method of avoiding water damage is to research IP ratings on the headphones you plan to buy and stick to the specified moisture levels. If the rating is not included in any of the earphones’ documentation, you may need to call the manufacturer to find out what it is. You should keep looking for higher-rated IP earphones if you expect to use the headphones in a sauna, on a jog in the rain, or at the gym.

Enhancements Active

Check the amplification settings on your pc. The audio on your computer may experience a change in pitch, an imbalance in the frequency range, or an increase in reverberation if you use an audio enhancement. First, select “Sounds” from the context menu when you right-click the “Speakers” icon in your taskbar. Next, select the audio output device, followed by the “Properties” button, from the computer’s Sound menu.

Finally, select the “Enhancements” option from the Speaker Properties menu to access currently enabled aural improvements. To turn off all sound effects, click the “Disable All Sound Effects” button, or uncheck the boxes next to each effect you want to turn off individually.

Driver Issue

If your computer’s audio driver is outdated or corrupt, you may experience latency issues with sound playing. You can either use the Windows Update tool to see if there is a newer driver for your sound card, or you can visit the support site for your sound card manufacturer to see if there is a patch for any known playback difficulties.

Next, move your cursor to the bottom right corner of your display to launch the Windows Charms menu, and then click on the “Settings” charm. To update Windows, go to the Charms bar, pick “Control Panel,” and then click the “Windows Update” button.

Microphone Feedback

You have a feedback loop when your microphone picks up the noises from your speakers, and your computer plays those sounds again.

You can either increase the space between the microphone and speakers, lower the speakers’ volume, lessen the microphone’s sensitivity, or remove the microphone altogether. To access your recording devices, right-click on the “Speakers” icon in your taskbar and choose “Recording Devices” from the menu that appears.

In the Sound menu, select your recording device and then click the “Properties” button. Next, adjust your microphone’s volume using the “Levels” tab’s slider, then uncheck the box to turn off the mic’s boost feature. Finally, to reduce the echo, select “Enable Noise Suppression” or “Enable Acoustic Echo Cancellation” from the “Enhancement” menu.

How to Fix Sound Stuttering/Crackling Audio on Windows PC - Permanent Solution 2023

How to Prolong The Useful Life of my Headphones?

The best way to prolong the life of your headphones is to use them at reasonable volume levels, clean them regularly, and protect them from liquid spills and extremely humid environments. In the case of wireless headphones, you must avoid overheating the internal batteries.

The volume level at which you use your headphones is decisive in the long run. As with most audio-related devices, the longer the usage time and the greater the workforce, the greater the wear and tear on the components. In the case of headphones, we are talking about very small components, which is why their fragility is usually greater. Maintaining prudence in terms of use and the volume your headphones handle will give you control over their durability.

Cleanliness is another key factor. Headphones often collect dirt and oil from your ears, which, added to the dust that may be circulating in the air, results in headphones getting dirty very easily. Keeping them clean will help prevent the surface through which the sound is emitted from being obstructed and prevent them from accumulating humidity that could cause the speaker to deteriorate more quickly.

Unlike those connected through cables, wireless headphones have an internal battery that also needs some care. To begin with, you must prevent the battery from reaching certain temperature levels. Keep your headphones from being close to heat sources or from being in direct contact with the sun for a long time. High temperatures deteriorate the battery more quickly.

Using the headphones at intervals causes less drain on the batteries than using them for long periods. At the same time, headphones must be properly charged to work smoothly. Using the headphones until fully depleted of their charge also accelerates battery degradation.

How to Improve The Sound of Your Headphones?

The best way to improve the reproduction quality of your headphones is to improve the quality of the devices responsible for sending the signal they reproduce. Adding an amplification source to your headphones gives you more power and clarity when reproducing both low and high frequencies.

Headphones are the connection between the sound source and the listener, so even if your headphones can reproduce high-quality sound if the sound source does not have the appropriate characteristics, you will not take full advantage of them. Because of this, adding amplification between the primary sound source and the headphones is an excellent option to elevate listening quality.

Appropriate equalization is also essential to improve the quality of reproduction. Not all headphones have the same characteristics. Some may respond more in the low frequencies, while others may be more present in the mids or highs. Taking the time to experiment with the equalizer and finding the best setting for you can greatly improve the sound you hear.

On the other hand, wireless headphones’ sound differs from wired headphones. This is because wireless devices can carry some noise into the audio signal due to the way they are connected. While this issue has been resolved in high-quality headsets, some models still have this issue. On the other hand, with wired headphones, the possibilities of signal interference decrease. At the same time, the delivery is much more balanced and direct, which is something to keep in mind when looking for a better sound response.

Something similar happens with in-ear and on-ear headphones. The in-ears provide greater blocking of outside sound, which requires less volume to sound properly. At the same time, they are smaller, which gives them a certain practicality. Unlike in-ears housed inside the ear, on-ears cover the outside of the ear and usually have a larger speaker. This gives them a better response in terms of frequency range and a more natural sound.

While the in-ear ones are usually more suitable for situations where you need to avoid outside noise, the on-ear ones are more suitable when looking for the best possible audio quality.

Why Do Headphones Distort? (Especially at high volume)

How to Avoid Hearing Damage When Using Headphones?

To avoid injury to your ears when using headphones, you must keep the volume level at fair values without allowing the sound to cause discomfort in your hearing or partial loss of sensitivity. Do not prolong listening for too long periods will also prevent hearing damage.

Hearing is the sense that allows you to appreciate the sound waves that travel through the air so that your brain converts them into information. The human ear’s complex sensitivity makes it possible to appreciate a wide range of frequencies, intensities, and details. At the same time, this makes them somewhat fragile in some situations, for which their care is essential not only to appreciate the music we choose to listen to but also to carry out our daily lives.

Headphones can make it much easier to hear sounds at the volume and clarity you need, but at the same time, it can be easy to abuse those resources without realizing it. It is very common to set the gain knob of your devices a little above an audible level, which should not cause damage to your ears. The problem arises when you start doing this regularly and at a considerably high volume level.

Your ears, as a form of defense, will gradually decrease their sensitivity so as not to suffer damage. Still, at the same time, this loss of sensitivity will affect you when you perceive sounds at a normal volume level since it will cost you more to hear them. Therefore, if you continue with this practice, you can suffer hearing loss in the long term.

Although each person has different types of sensitivity in their hearing, it is recommended that you do not reach levels where the sound can become slightly annoying for you. That should be the indicator to which you should pay attention so as not to abuse your hearing capacity and that this may cause you difficulties in the future.

Taking rest intervals so the muscles that make up your ears don’t get stressed or overloaded is also a good strategy. Use your sound devices consciously and safely, and you will be able to enjoy them without putting your health at risk.

Are Wireless Headphones Better Than Wired Headphones?

Wireless headphones offer some advantages over wired headphones but are not necessarily better. It just makes them more suitable for some specific situations, and although they may have some advantages, they also have disadvantages compared to wired headphones.

To begin with, the best way to determine if Bluetooth headphones are better than those that use cables is to analyze the specific use you will give them. For example, if you are a person who uses headphones regularly while doing other activities that require you to be on the move, the wireless ones will be of great comfort for you. Its remote connection will give you greater freedom and mobility than if you were connected to cables from the device that sends the signal to the headphones.

On the other hand, if you work in a recording studio, a radio, or in a place where you need the sound quality of your headphones to be high, the best option will be wired headphones. Among the advantages that wired headphones offer, you can find greater durability and more balanced signal intensity, which is reflected in better sound quality.

This is key to determining which is the best option for you. While wireless headphones offer greater versatility and comfort, wired headphones emphasize reproduction quality. Another disadvantage that Bluetooth headphones have when compared to wired headphones is that the battery determines how long they can be used.

Headphones with damaged batteries are instantly unusable. While wireless headphones, on average, can last between 1 and two years working correctly, some wired headphones from one of the most renowned brands, if they are well cared for, can last around eight years or even longer. Due to this, in some situations, wired headphones are irreplaceable.

What Is Harmonic Distortion?

It’s because any electronic circuit that receives a sinusoidal input signal should produce an output signal of the same type. This means that a sinusoidal signal is required for both input and output. However, distortions occur when the output does not precisely match the input signal or is altered somehow.

These imperfections cause the output to be different from the input. For example, the circuit’s output signal’s voltage drops to 2V when a 5V input signal is used. Because of distortion, the signal’s voltage drops, indicating something is wrong.

This will take place in a variety of amplifier and modulation-related technologies. Fortunately, several ways to reduce this distortion and formulas for estimating its magnitude are available.


The electronic components’ nonlinear load and nonlinearity features are the primary causes of the harmonic distortions—the impedance shifts as a function of the input voltage for a nonlinear load. As a result, the output signal will become distorted.

In addition, the circuit’s use of nonlinear components is manifested in the circuit’s behavior. And because of this, the output’s harmonics grow; as a result, harmonic distortions cause the circuit to overheat and provide an unbalanced output compared to the input. In short, this effect is bad for electronics in general.


Discerning the causes of this distortion requires a complex method of investigation. In this kind, a sinusoidal signal of a single frequency is fed into the circuit, and the distorted output is then monitored and examined.

Signal distortion can occur at the output of a circuit when an input signal is supplied, and specific components have nonlinear characteristics. As a result, the reference signal may appear in the output at varying frequencies.

Total harmonic distortion (THD) and total harmonic distortion plus noise (THDN) values, as well as the signal-to-noise and distortion ratio (SINAD) and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), can be determined through an analysis of the distortions using the total harmonic distortion measuring technique. Total harmonic distortion measurement allows us to learn both the input and output voltages and the power going into and out of the measuring device.


Like any other product, headphones will eventually need servicing. Whether you’ve just purchased a pair of basic earbuds from the dollar store or a high-end set of studio monitoring headphones from Apple, headphones are essential to any recording or audio production setup. Unfortunately, we cause some wear and tear on them through our interactions, but this is fixable.

But we also need to realize that even the most professionally produced tools can sound amateurish in the wrong hands. The long-term effects of listening to music at unsafe levels, such as hearing loss, are undesirable. Still, if that isn’t enough to deter you from blasting your tunes, perhaps the possibility of permanent damage to your headphones will.

They break easily if used outside their intended context or without regular maintenance (the volume might damage the speaker, for example). They are susceptible to dirt and other contaminants that collect over time if not properly stored. Additionally, ensure you have the correct settings on the device you’re using them on; otherwise, they could end up hindering your efforts.

Hopefully, you’ve been able to narrow down the source of the issue and, if possible, gain an understanding of the technical details crucial to using this device effectively.

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