Do you ever hear an annoying crackling and buzzing noise coming from your headphones? Let’s see what causes the static hum and how you can fix the issue.
There are many reasons why you hear static noise in the background. It’s mostly noticeable when your headphones are just plugged in or during silent song passages.
These problems can occur in both wired and wireless headphones. To fix the issue, you have to find the cause for static first. It can be basic physics that are ruining your listening experience or actual hardware issues.
Let’s go step by step, category by category, and solve the most common problems with static noise.
What Causes Static Noise?
Static noise is usually a result of outside interference.
Remember that loud buzzing sound coming from speakers a second before you receive a call?
That’s because a specific radio frequency used for telecommunications interfered with electrons in the cable, which we hear as static buzzing.
Once, I heard a radio broadcast through our old computer speakers because the cable acted as an antenna.
Not only radio and cellular devices cause static. Every electrical device produces some level of radio wave radiation, which finds its way into your headphones (if the cable isn’t shielded correctly).
What Is Noise Floor?
The noise floor is an unwanted hum that prevents you from hearing all the details in a song.
Imagine opening a window and hearing birds chip nice and clear. But, if your window is next to a busy road, the traffic noise would overpower the bird’s singing.
Every audio/video equipment suffers from noise floor issues. No connection is perfect, and there’s always a little bit of noise present in the background.
In audio terms, there’s something called signal-to-noise ratio. The higher the number, the less noisy the output.
Also, the more equipment you use in your audio system, the more background noise you get. Keeping things simple and only having a few devices is usually a key for battling noise floor.
- To see how your equipment battles noise, plug in your headphones and crank the volume up without playing music. In many cases, you will hear a constant white noise.
Using wireless headphones in crowded urban areas can be problematic.
Bluetooth protocols that are keeping your headphones connected with your smartphone are only reliable to a certain degree.
If you want to listen to music in a packed bus with everyone having a Bluetooth headset, then expect problems.
In contrast, if there aren’t too many Bluetooth devices around, you should be fine.
Static Noise in Bluetooth Headphones
Commonly referred to as Bluetooth noise, it occurs when there are too many Bluetooth devices in one area.
The only practical solution is to keep your smartphone as close to your headphones as possible and avoid overly crowded areas.
Bluetooth is a relatively robust connection. Even though it operates at a similar frequency as Wi-Fi and even microwave, it uses multiple channels so that the signals don’t get mixed up.
However, with more in more headphones relying on Bluetooth connection, interference is frequent.
High Noise Floor in Wireless Headphones
Typically, this noise is present right from the beginning. If it’s severe, it’s probably due to the low quality of the built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) or amplifier.
However, in some cases, there might be something wrong with your headphones. Sadly, there’s nothing you can do on your own.
The best thing to do is contact the retailer who sold you those headphones and send them for repair, or, in a best-case scenario, you receive a brand-new pair.
As mentioned above, background noise is always present due to the shortcomings of electronics.
Static Noise in Wired Headphones
Wired headphones are tricky since there can be many things that can cause static noise. However, the most common reasons are:
Electromagnetic radiation from external sources
These range from your cable picking up radio broadcast, phone calls, and even power supply in your PC if the cable hangs near a stationary computer.
- If that’s the case, and you have the option to use different wires. Pick the ones with balanced connectors.
Standard cables are usually unbalanced, meaning that only one copy of the signal goes from the source to your headphones.
In contrast, balanced cables send two copies of the signal, with the second one having an inverted phase. At the other end of the cable, the phase gets flipped again, eliminating picked-up noise. Active noise cancelling tech works similarly.
Loose or damaged wires
That is a widespread problem, especially in cheaper headphones, where quality control isn’t as thorough. Also, poor handling like twisting and pulling the wire can cause damage, both external and internal.
- You can pinpoint a problem by inspecting a wire to see if it’s damaged.
- Also, wiggle the wire a bit near both ends and observe how it affects the sound. If it does, the wire is undoubtedly damaged.
If your headphones are still in warranty, use it to send them for repairs. Otherwise, consult with a professional to help you replace a broken cable or connector.
AUX port problems
To make sure it’s the audio jack, try plugging in different headphones to see if the problem persists.
If you have an older device, there might be some dirt inside the port. You would be surprised to see how much gunk gets build up inside frequently used ports like AUX or USB for charging.
You can either send your device to a repair shop or try to do a bit of cleaning yourself:
- Grab a toothpick or cotton swab and wrap it with double-sided tape. Gently insert it into a port and circle around. Try to pick up as much as you can. Repeat this a couple of times.
- (Optional) In the end, use a Q-tip and some alcohol to clean the port (use dedicated alcohol for cleaning electronics).
Speaker driver malfunction
Sometimes it may as well be a speaker that is causing the problem. Sadly, if hardware issue is the case, you can’t do much apart from using a warranty.
- If you’re handy with a soldering machine, you can try to find a spare driver and replace it on your own.
Also worth noting is that a bad connection can sometimes completely mute one side of the headphones.
- Try to crank to volume to the max and play some music. In some cases, the muted driver comes back to life.
Other Things That Cause Unwanted Noise
Sometimes an app can glitch out and produce a strange robotic noise as if there’s something seriously wrong with your headphones.
However, a quick app restart usually solves the problem.
Also, if the app was recently updated, the reason for audio issues might be some new playback settings. Try disabling sound effects to see if the noise issue persist.
Corrupted audio drivers on your PC
If everything worked fine, but after the last software update the sound got noisier, the issue must be in audio drivers. Try reinstalling drivers or reverse the update.
- In Windows 10, right click on the speaker icon in the bottom right corner and select Open mixer volume.
- Click on the small speaker icon. A new window should open.
- Under “Controller Information” click on Properties. Another window should open.
- Click on the Change settings button with a blue-yellow shield. You will need administrator access.
- In the “Driver” tab, you will find a button called “Roll Back Driver.” If you can’t click on it, uninstall the device (driver) and let the computer reinstall the drivers again.
See if the software issues still persist.
Power-hungry computer components
The solution is to change the power supply with a stronger and more efficient one. Next time you buy a motherboard, look for one with a shielded audio processor.
Above, we discussed the power supply causing static noise. Electronics produce electromagnetic radiation, and the more electricity that goes through them, the more they radiate.
That affects not only your headphone wire but also audio processing inside the computer case. The radiation gets picked up by the circuitry, which you can hear as static noise in your headphones.
Wrong sample rate & bit depth values
Sometimes asking too much from your DAC on your sound card can result in static noise. Thankfully, that’s an easy fix.
- (For Windows 10) Right-click on the speaker icon in the bottom right corner and select “Open mixer volume.”
- Click on the tiny speaker image. A new window should open.
- Under the “Advanced” tab, use different bit depth and sample rate values.
- See if the problem is gone.
“Do Not Disturb” switch on the iPhone
Yes, this can also be a cause for weird sound behavior on your playback device. Turn off the feature on your mobile phone to see if the problem is resolved.
Since there are so many things that can go wrong, it’s possible we didn’t cover them in this article.
Of course, you can always try googling the very specific issue that you have. In most cases, you’ll find a forum or a video discussing the same problem and hopefully showing a solution.
Otherwise, if your current pair is old, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Sadly, all electronics are disposable and don’t work forever, even the most expensive ones.