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10 Tips on How to Make Headphones and Earbuds Sound Better

Last updated: 1 year ago
9 min read

Here are 10 tips on how to improve the sound of your headphones and earbuds at home. Learn simple and pro methods how to make them sound better.

How to make headphones & earbuds sound better
CONTENTS (show more)

    Even with cheap headphones, you can make them sound better and more expensive by following these tips.

    Use the EQ Settings

    Sometimes a tiny EQ adjustment can make a huge difference to a sound signature. Almost all headphones and earbuds benefit from little equalization.

    When equalizing, you’re tweaking the sound to bring out the details.

    Custom EQ in app
    In-app equalizer for Jaybird Vista 2 true wireless earbuds.

    All EQ options

    EQ options differ depending on where you find them and whether they change the sound settings throughout all apps or only in one app.

    Here are all EQ options and their benefits:

    EQ optionBenefitsDisadvantages
    Companion appIt doesn’t distort the sound,
    changes the audio setting
    through all other apps
    Can offer limited adjustments,
    only works with specific
    wireless headphones
    equalizer app
    Greater customizability,
    audio settings apply
    to all other apps
    Some third-party EQs
    can distort sound
    Music player EQDecent customizabilitySome can cause sound distortion,
    audio settings only apply
    to one app

    Companion app equalizer

    Today, even cheaper wireless headphones have a companion app that includes customizable EQ.

    This is how a custom EQ looks in the Edifier mobile app.

    Edifier NeoBuds Pro custom EQ
    Equalizer for wireless earbuds.

    Music player EQ: Spotify

    Most music players have an audio equalizer built-in. They’re usually customizable, although some will only offer EQ presets.

    For example, Spotify has one that works well.

    Spotify EQ
    Equalizer within a music player.

    Third-party equalizer

    On the other hand, if you want more frequency bands to play with and all apps to work with the new EQ, you have to download a third-party equalizer.

    For example, we really like the Flat Equalizer found on Google Play for free.

    Equalizer app
    Flat Equalizer app for Android devices.

    You can get excellent equalizer apps for PC, Mac, and Android. Unfortunately, there are no good solutions for iOS users.

    How to use the equalizer (EQ)

    You use an equalizer by lowering frequency boosts that overshadow neighboring frequencies. And vice versa, you boost recessed frequencies to make them more present. The more you fine-tune the sound, the better.

    But how do you know how to equalize your headphones? There are 3 ways.

    1. You tweak the sound based on your taste and what sounds better to you.
    2. Search through reviews or internet forums for custom settings.
    3. Find frequency response measurements and tweak the sound accordingly.

    Also, if you hear your headphones buzzing or rattling at higher volumes, try lowering the bass, as the driver is clearly struggling.

    Improve Sound Isolation

    By isolating your music from the outside world, you will greatly impact the perception of sound quality.

    1. Firstly, a good seal prevents the sound leakage, channeling it into your ear canal. A poor seal can reduce the bass quantity and sub-bass extension.
    1. Secondly, you can hear more ambient noise due to poor isolation. Even a tiny bit of outside sounds can mask details in the music that you would otherwise hear.

    Here’s how you can improve sound isolation:

    • Replace old earpads with new ones: earpads become stiff over time and insufficiently seal your ears, reducing bass performance and letting in more outside noise
    • Change velour earpads for leather ones: leather creates an airtight seal and increases the bass quantity, but it also reduces comfort due to heat build-up
    Sony WH-CH710N earpads comparison
    Faux leather and velour earpads for on and over-ear headphones.

    Remember that not all headphones provide sufficient sound isolation, even brand new. If you’re often bothered by loud noise, try investing in good active noise-cancelling headphones or noise-cancelling earbuds.

    Improve bass on cheap earbuds with better ear tips

    How to make cheap earbuds sound better?

    By improving passive noise isolation, you can hear the earbuds’ bass in all its glory.

    Firstly, ensure you have a tight seal with the existing ear tips. If not, try different sizes that come in the box. The tighter, the better.

    If that’s not enough, you can try third-party ear tips. They come in different shapes, each having different characteristics.

    • Single-flanged silicone tips: Different stiffness and nozzle sizes affect bass or treble performance and even change the perception of the soundstage
    • Multi-flanged silicone tips: Primarily improve passive noise isolation
    • (Memory) foam tips: Are known to boost low frequencies and smoothen out the treble (which can be an excellent solution for overly bright earbuds) and can also enlarge the soundstage
    Different ear tips
    Different shapes and ear tip materials.

    Note: Before buying third-party tips, make sure they fit on your in-ear headphones. That’s especially important with true wireless models since most have differently shaped nozzles.

    Pick Higher Quality Audio Format

    All music (except on cassettes and vinyl) is stored digitally in audio formats.

    Different audio formats use different techniques to store the data. Some retain more original data, while others discard it to keep their file size low.

    Here’s the list of the most common audio formats and their characteristics:

    • MP3 – lossy and compressed
    • OGG – lossy and compressed and slightly more efficient than MP3
    • WMA – lossy and compressed and slightly more efficient than MP3
    • AAC – lossy and compressed but more efficient than MP3
    • FLAC – lossless and compressed
    • ALAC – lossless and compressed but not as efficient as FLAC
    • WAV – lossless and uncompressed
    • AIFF – lossless and uncompressed

    Listen to lossless audio formats instead of lossy.

    Music streaming platforms mostly use AAC for standard music quality (Spotify uses OGG). Also, most use FLAC when offering HiFi music quality.

    Only TIDAL uses MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), which advertises studio-quality tracks. However, this is a controversial format among audiophiles. While some listeners swore by it, others have proved it’s lossy.

    Here’s a table of the streaming services audio formats:

    PlatformFree tier qualityPaying tier qualityMax quality
    TIDAL160kbps (MP3)1411kbps (FLAC)24bit/192kHz (9216kbps) (MQA)
    Spotify160kbps (OGG)320kbps (OGG)320kbps (OGG)
    Apple Music/256kbps (AAC)24bit/192kHz (ALAC)
    Amazon Music Unlimited/3730kbps (FLAC)24bit/192kHz (FLAC)
    Deezer128kbps (MP3)320kbps (MP3)16bit/44.1kHz (1411kbps) (FLAC)
    Qobuz/1411kbps (FLAC)24bit/192kHz (FLAC)
    YouTube Music/256kbps (n/a)256kbps (n/a)
    SoundCloud Go+256kbps (AAC)256kbps (AAC)256kbps (AAC)
    Pandora64kbps (AAC+)192kbps (AAC+)192kbps (AAC+)

    Pick the lossless audio formats. If you’re using a music streaming service, check if it offers HD/HiFi subscription plan.

    However, there are 2 things you need to know.

    1. Firstly, from personal listening experience, the difference between the best MP3 and FLAC can be marginal and is only audible on well-recorded tracks and high-quality equipment.
    2. Secondly, music streaming services are known to compress the dynamic range (the difference between the quietest and loudest sound).

    Lower DR makes details more present but can make instruments more compressed and certain parts of the song less grandiose. So, listen to music stored locally for the best sound quality.

    Deezer streaming service and Sony earbuds
    Deezer music streaming app offers its HiFi content in FLAC quality.

    Clean Your Headphones and Earbuds

    Dirt on your headphones, especially earbuds, can significantly impact sound quality.


    Earbuds’ nozzles often clog with earwax and dirt that gets stuck on it.

    A layer of wax building in the nozzle muffles the sound, making it less detailed and quieter.

    If you listen to music every day, it’s also advisable to clean your ears before the first use. See all the ways to clean your earbuds.

    Cleaning with toothbrush


    Earpads, especially velour or fabric types, love to attract dirt. While at first it only looks gross, sweat or other chemicals (if you use hair spray or gel) can soak into your earpads, making them stiff.

    Consequently, stiff earpads don’t isolate much, which results in worse sound quality.

    Try dry brushing your earpads after every use, or replace them if they are already stiff.

    Here are more detailed instructions on how to clean your headphones.

    If you’re still using wired headphones and getting strange static noise and channel unbalance, check for debris inside your AUX 3.5mm port.

    Fibres inside AUX port
    You will be surprised hum much gunk and pieces of fabric can collect inside after some time.

    Cleaning also helps prolong the headphone lifespan.

    Use Better Bluetooth Codecs with Wireless Headphones

    Bluetooth codecs take an audio file and separate it into multiple packages that are then sent from a transmitting (smartphone) to receiving device (headphones).

    Since Bluetooth doesn’t have large bandwidth, audio codecs cut some of the data to ensure uninterrupted playback at the cost of sound quality.

    However, some Bluetooth codecs are more efficient than others. The most common codecs are:

    Bluetooth codecMaximum
    Short description
    SBCUp to 328kbit/sAn old standard Bluetooth
    codec, supported on all
    Bluetooth headphones
    AACUp to 320kbit/sMore efficient than SBC but
    works best on Apple devices
    LC3Up to 392kbit/sNew standard Bluetooth codec
    with better efficiency than SBC
    aptXUp to 384kbit/sRegular Qualcomm codec
    aptX AdaptiveUp to 420kbit/sNew and more efficient
    Qualcomm codec
    LDACUp to 990kbit/sHigh-quality audio
    codec from Sony

    Which Bluetooth codecs to use for better sound?

    To get better sound quality, use LC3 and aptX Adaptive. They are great Bluetooth codecs because they use less bandwidth to deliver better audio quality than the replaced codecs (SBC and aptX).

    Also, if your device supports it, use LDAC for the best audio quality.

    It all depends on the codecs your headphones support, so use the best one available.

    Thankfully, your receiving device will automatically pick the best option by default.

    Android and iOS devices will use AAC Bluetooth codec (or aptX on Android if headphones support it). Note that LDAC, if supported on headphones, has to be enabled first. More on that below.

    Change the Bluetooth codec on Android

    You can change a Bluetooth codec on Android in 2 ways.

    If your Bluetooth headphones support LDAC, you have to enable it manually.

    1. First, go into your Bluetooth settings and find your connected headphones.
    1. Tap on the gear-looking icon beside your headphone’s name.
    1. Below, enable the LDAC.
    Edifier NeoBuds Pro enable LDAC
    1. Now head into the companion app and find the setting to enable LDAC. Every app is a bit different; here is an example from Edifier’s apps:
    Edifier NeoBuds Pro LDAC vs. LHDC

    The second option involves forcing your device to use a different codec inside “Developer options.” However, there are two things you need to know:

    • By default, Android devices support SBC, AAC, aptX, LDAC, and LC3 (devices with Bluetooth 5.2 and above). Support for other codecs varies. Check your smartphone model on GSMArena to verify what codecs it supports.
    • When you re-connect your headphones, your device will go back using a default codec. Meaning you will have to change the codec again manually.

    With that out of the way, here’s how you force using Bluetooth codec:

    1. First, you go into “Settings.”
    Android-Settings menu
    1. Scroll down to find and tap “About phone.”
    Android-About phone menu
    1. Continuously tap on the “Build number” until you get the message stating, “You’re a developer.”
    Android-Build number menu
    1. Go back to “Settings,” scroll down to find, and tap “Developer options.”
    Android-Developer options menu
    1. Scroll down until you find the “Bluetooth audio codec.” Tap on it.
    Android-Bluetooth-audio codec selection menu
    1. Select a desirable codec.

    You can’t change the Bluetooth codec on iOS

    Unfortunately, we have to disappoint you. You can’t change Bluetooth codecs on iOS.

    However, since Apple devices are best optimized for AAC, you wouldn’t benefit much from choosing other codecs.

    So, you get better wireless sound transmission over ACC than Android devices.

    Stay close to the transmitting device

    One thing to remember when listening to wireless headphones is to stay in the vicinity of the transmitting device. 

    Bluetooth codecs transmit at full quality only when there are no interruptions. The further you move away from the source, the more you sacrifice audio quality to maintain a connection.

    The quality can also drop due to interferences when you’re among other people using different wireless headphones and gadgets.

    Use an Amplifier or DAC

    Amplifiers and DACs improve sound quality in different ways.

    • An amplifier takes a weaker audio signal from your smartphone or computer and amplifies it.

    However, it’s not just about loudness. The amplifier makes the sound tighter. You start hearing details clearer than before, especially bass frequencies, which require the most energy to produce.

    Headphones analog amp
    An analog headphone amplifier improves audio quality by making the sound tighter.
    • On the other hand, DAC converts digital into analog signal. Lower-quality DACs can introduce background noise, which becomes more apparent at higher listening volumes.

    If you want to preserve tiny details otherwise masked by the background noise, investing in a good external DAC is a good idea.

    Headphones DAC
    Digital-to-analog converter ensures the audio is free of background hiss, letting your hear more details.

    That said, we advise you to start with an amp first, as that gives you the most significant jump in sound quality. Then, if you want to squeeze a few more % out of your music, consider a DAC.

    Try Different Headphone Cables and Connections

    Some headphones can sound better with different, higher-quality cables. Usually, these headphones have higher impedance, meaning they rely on other quality audio equipment to perform the best.

    From a personal experience using MEE Audio Pinnacle P1 in-ear monitors with 50-ohm impedance:

    • Third-party cable from Aliexpress: overall soft, less detailed sound
    • Original stock OFC (oxygen-free copper) cable: tighter sound with more detailed treble
    • MEE Audio OFC Silver-plated cable: slightly tighter bass with smoother yet equally detailed treble

    Furthermore, higher-quality cables are usually more flexible, resulting in lower cable noise.

    Use different connections

    Audio cables can be balanced and unbalanced.

    • Unbalanced: 3.5mm headphone jack, RCA analog port, LINE port
    • Balanced: 2.5mm jack (with 4 poles), 4.4mm jack (with 5 poles), XLR port (4 pin or dual 3 pin)
    RAPTGO x HBB HOOK-X connectors
    From left to right: 3.5mm (unbalanced), 2.5mm (balanced), and 4.4mm (balanced) jack.

    The main difference between unbalanced and balanced cables is that the latter uses an effect similar to active noise cancellation to cancel out the noise picked up by the headphone cable due to outside interference.

    As a result, balanced cables don’t introduce any additional background noise.

    Before buying an expensive cable, browse through internet forums to see what kind of cable replacements people recommend for your headphones. Because it’s possible you won’t notice any improvement in your model.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Why do cheap headphones sound bad?

    Cheap headphones sound bad because they use lower-quality drivers, incapable of good technical performance. They also come with cheaper ear pads, which don’t isolate well.

    Do headphones get worse over time?

    Headphone components like earpads worsen over time, affecting sound quality and requiring you to replace them. On the other hand, crucial components like drivers stay intact over time.


    These were all 10 methods to improve the sound quality of your existing headphones or earbuds that can actually make a difference.

    As you can see, there is a lot you can try to make your headphones sound better before buying a new pair.

    Let us know how these methods worked for you. Hopefully, you’re rediscovering new details in music while using the same old headphones.

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