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How To Make Any Pair of Headphones Smart Phone Capable

By Jason Imms

Add smart phone control to your favorite pair of headphones!

You know what's handy? Devices that perform more than one useful function. Take smart phone headsets, for example: They have headphones which give you the ability to listen to music without annoying your fellow public transit passengers, and the in-line remote and microphone allows you take calls without needing to put your phone to your ear. Unfortunately, the ear buds included on most bundled headsets are almost uniformly low quality. If you've ever wished you could use a pair of headphones you already own with your phone without sacrificing the features of your headset, you're in luck.

This guide will show you how to mount a female headphone socket to your headset, giving you an in-line microphone compatible with any headphones you'd care to connect.

Tools You'll Need

Soldering Iron, solder, good quality wire strippers (or very sharp knife), shrink tube (4mm), needle-nose pliers (preferably with wire-cutters, female jack socket.

Most of these supplies should be available at your local electronics and/or hardware store. I emphasize the quality and sharpness of your wire strippers or knife because I will be focusing on an Apple headset which uses a non-standard wiring technique, and incredibly fine wires. Anything less will cause you to waste the precious little wire available to you for this hack.

Cutting and Preparing the Cable

Using your wire cutters or sharp knife, cut the wire as close to the earbuds as possible. The rubber guides can be removed from the buds to gain an extra 5mm of wire which is worth the effort, considering how short a piece of cable we're working with here.

Strip the outer shielding from the wires. Now we see the non-standard wiring technique that Apple employ. Each wire is independently acrylic shielded meaning that there is no traditional wire shielding to simply remove with your wire cutters. These are also the thinnest wires I've ever needed to work with so be aware that mistakes are likely, keep your wits about you.

The red and green braid you can see in the photo is actually the wire for the microphone and buttons. I'm not sure why it continues up to the right earbud as it terminates in the shield without being connected to anything. You're safe to cut it off and get it out of the way. The red wire is the positive, the copper is the earth.

If you're working with a more standard headset, now would be the point in the guide in which I would take you through stripping and twisting the wires in preparation for soldering. For tips and photos to help you with that process, refer to our recent How To Repair a Headphone Cable and Replace a Jack Plug article.

Removing Acrylic Wire Coating

Now we need to prepare these minuscule, acrylic coated wires for soldering. Unfortunately, the acrylic makes this more difficult than it needs to be. You could use some very fine sandpaper to rub the coating away but you run the risk of tearing what little wire you have available. I suggest using a naked flame from a pencil torch, lighter or match to burn it away. When the flame hits the coating, it will flare up and go out very quickly - too quickly to cause the wire or the shielding to heat up enough to melt. You may need to apply the flame more than once to remove all of the coating from the length of wire you've exposed. Make sure to blow on the wire between applications to cool it.

You will be left with two blackened, soot covered wires. Use a piece of paper towel to gently remove as much of the soot as you can. Don't worry too much about it, solder should stick to it with a little coaxing. Tin the wires by laying each wire on the tip of your soldering iron and melting solder onto it. This will waste some solder, but it should give you a neat result.

Attaching the Jack Socket

Slide your shrink tube and jack socket housing onto the wire now. Once those are in place, you're free to begin soldering your newly tinned wires to the probes on the socket. Using your sandpaper, roughen the probes to make it easier for solder to stick to them. Using as little solder as you can, attach the red wire to the ring probe, the green wire to the tip probe and the earth wires to the sleeve probe.

If you're unsure which probe is which, use a multimeter to confirm. The socket in the above photo is a prime example of why you should always check: The tip and ring probes were on opposite sides to the standard. Rest assured, however; should you not have a multimeter at hand, the worst outcome will be that your left and right speaker will be swapped. Not the end of the world.

Move your shrink wrap up over the joins and gently apply heat with your soldering iron. This should fit firmly around the join and any extra length will work to strengthen the wire around the socket, an area prone to failure. Screw on your socket housing and you're finished! Your versatile smart phone headset attachment is ready for use with any pair of headphones you wish.

Fresh from your victory over tiny wires and acrylic coating, you may notice a slight flaw in the plan: your microphone is now hanging at the end of quite a long headphone cable, rather than sitting snugly beneath your chin. Unless you happen to have a talking belly button, it's time to shorten your headphone cable. It's ok, put away your wire cutters. The whole point of this hack is to make your microphone compatible with any headphones without requiring further modification.

There are any number of methods for doing this such as using electrical tape to shorten your cable, creating a loop which can be tucked into your clothing to keep it out of the way.

I prefer the method that I use for tying up my headphone cable when they are not in use. Wrap the cable around four fingers, keeping the loops nice and tight, leave roughly two loop-lengths of wire hanging over. Remove the resulting loops from your fingers and pinch them together in the middle. Tightly loop the remaining length around the pinch and pull through on one side of the pinch. This keeps your cable in place, while never bending it enough to stress the wire within. The bundle of cable can then too be tucked into clothing.

Now your microphone should be sitting high enough to be useful, attached to your favorite pair of headphones. No more will you have to put up with earbuds falling out, low-quality audio or carrying two pairs of headphones with you everywhere you go. Do you have any other suggested methods for getting the excess cable out of the way? Sound off in the comments!