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What is Cable Noise & How to Prevent It

Last updated: 3 months ago
4 min read

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Do your wired earbuds create an annoying thumping noise inside your ears? No matter how good your earbuds sound, the noise ruins the listening experience. Here’s how to prevent it.

Woman with earbuds

The frustrating thump is called cable noise. In this article you’ll find out:

  • What exactly is “cable noise,” and why does it happen in the first place?
  • What you can do to prevent it.
  • What you need to check when you’re buying the next pair of in-ear headphones.

The audio community also refers to cable noise as “microphonics.”

But microphonics can be many different things, all of which do not include the phenomenon of cable noise in earbuds. Therefore, to be more scientifically correct, we should avoid using the word “microphonics” in this context.

CONTENTS (show more)

    What is Cable Noise?

    Cable noise in wired headphones and earbuds is the sound produced when the cable rubs and taps against objects like your clothes and body. The noise from physical contact is transmitted to the headphones and earbuds, which results in an annoying thumping or rustling sound.

    It’s most noticeable when you’re moving in quiet environments, like walking in nature. Cable noise can completely ruin the listening experience to the point of being unlistenable.

    Zero Audio Carbo Tenore buds in the bag
    Wires with a thin protection layer often produce a lot of cable noise.

    Why Does Touching the Headphone Cable Create Noise?

    The cable noise happens when the vibrations from the cable rubbing against a surface travel up to your ears. And because in-ear monitors need to be inserted deep into your ear canal, these vibrations are much more noticeable.

    Which cables produce more cable noise than others?

    It all comes down to the build materials used for the cable. It’s not necessarily that a more expensive cable will have less cable noise or vice versa. When picking your next wired earbuds, try to avoid these cable characteristics:

    • Feels cheap to the touch
    • Feels sticky
    • It’s very thin
    • It’s very stiff
    • It’s braided in fabric

    These 5 styles of cables usually produce more noise. Mainly because they’re very rigid, and secondly, because they’re so thin, they quickly start to vibrate.

    Different headphone cables
    Braided cable, thin cable, thick cable, common-thickness cable

    Therefore, the cable styles that you need to look for are:

    • Insulated with rubber
    • No memory wire (cable doesn’t retain its original shape and can easily be straightened)
    • Thicker but still easily bendable

    The thicker the cable, the better the dampening effect is going to be. Of course, the wire shouldn’t be too thick to add unnecessary weight. You don’t want your earbuds to be less comfortable for the sake of reducing cable noise (see comfy earbuds here).

    How To Prevent Cable Noise?

    Cable noise drives you crazy?

    Here’s what you can do, but first understand that:

    Even with the best cable, some cable noise is normal. You can lower it but can’t completely eliminate it.

    Method 1: Use the shirt clip

    If the noise is the result of the wires hitting against you, use a clip.

    Status Audio BT Structure unboxed
    A shirt clip, like the one in the middle, is often part of accessories.

    You usually get the clip packed with the earbuds as an accessory. When you clip the wire to your shirt, it dampens the vibration from the wire. The higher on your shirt you put the clip, the lesser the chance of getting severe cable noise.

    Method 2: Wire the cable behind your ears

    This method is the most effective. But requires a specific design.

    The top of your ear stops the cable’s vibration from going further into your ears. Moreover, wearing your earbuds this way also ensures better stability and weight distribution.

    Earbuds wearing style
    Using your earbuds like that may noticeably reduce a thumping sound coming from the wire.

    Although method 2 promises the best results, it involves a little bit of practice to get used to.


    • Some users might not find this wearing style comfortable.
    • Some earbuds’ design doesn’t allow them to be worn with a wire behind the ear.

    How Common is Cable Noise?

    It’s present in most wired earbuds and headphones, with some models suffering from it more than others. This mainly depends on the type of cable. Thinner cables are prone to cable noise more than thicker ones.

    Overall, it’s a common problem. Here are some examples of users complaining about it:

    User complaining about cable noise

    Cable Noise in Wireless Earbuds

    It’s still present in wireless earbuds, those that are still connected with a wire.

    The way you’re supposed to wear cabled wireless earbuds, the wire is usually behind your neck, where it’s constantly bouncing or rubbing against your clothes.

    The latter is fixable by shortening the wire with a clip and tightening it closer to the skin, which prevents it from dangling freely on your neck.

    Thankfully, the best workout headphones today don’t have any cables anymore.

    True wireless earbuds don’t suffer from it. But even they are not entirely safe from the thumping noise created by movement. They can still bounce in your inner ear, creating unwanted noise. Thankfully, the effect isn’t as severe as in wired earbuds, and it’s mostly present while running.

    What is the Difference Between Cable Noise and Microphonics?

    These two terms are quite similar, although the word “microphonics” is used to describe a phenomenon where a mechanical vibration finds its way into the wire’s electric circuit, causing an electrical noise.

    It was a common problem when a lot of audio equipment had built-in vacuum tubes. When charged, elements in tubes produce a lot of mechanical vibrations, which are audible as microphonics when plugging a pair of headphones or speakers. The problem was later resolved by isolating the tubes and making the mount shockproof with rubber grommets.

    Nowadays, microphonics commonly happens with the use of cables. The quality of the cable is usually to blame since the unwanted electronic noise happens because of poor shielding or grounding.  Sometimes, even the room can be a cause of microphonics, especially if there is other electronic equipment lying around, electronically interfering with each other.

    A few reasons for microphonics:

    • Electrostatic hum – a 50/60Hz hum picked by a nearby electronic device or wires because of poor cable shielding
    • Handling noise – noise created by lifting, bending, or crushing the cable.
    • Radiofrequency interference (RFI) – cable turns into an antenna, picking the nearby electromagnetic noise from other electronic devices, sometimes you can even hear actual radio stations.
    • Electromagnetic induction (EMI) – happens when your equipment is placed near a device that produces a strong magnetic field, like power lines or power transformers.
    • Static – electric buildup when cables are rubbing against each other or dragged against the carpet.
    • Ground loop – a buzzing noise coming from a speaker/headphone caused by 2 devices being plugged into different wall sockets.
    • Crosstalk – an interference when the electromagnetic field of one cable interacts with another, corrupting the signal

    The best way to reduce microphonics is to use a better, shielded cable:

    • Foil shield: very light, cheap, and well enough for home use
    • Braid shield: rigid, able to reduce RFI and EMI
    • Foil and braid: high-quality protection against microphonics