Broken Headphone Jack


During my days as a Mac Genius, one of the problems I saw most often while tending bar was a broken headphone connector or power adapter pin lodged inside an unfortunate iPod, iBook, or PowerBook. In most cases the missing part could be retrieved using tweezers, or a dab of Super Glue applied to the end of a toothpick. But on several occasions nothing could be done short of replacing the port via a costly logic repair.[1]

The introduction of the MagSafe connector ensured a power pin would never break off inside a Mac again. But broken headphone connectors have continued to haunt Macintosh, iPod, and iPhone users to this day, often rendering their devices mute. Even if the connector is retrieved, the mini-jack is often damaged. A devastating disability for any MacBook user, but a death blow to any iPod of iPhone where audio output is a requirement.

For Macintosh users a simple solution is a USB sound card that reroutes audio out of a auxiliary headphone jack, using OS X's built-in audio device support. Jordan Merrick, a former Mac Genius, recommends this solution not only for protecting his headphone connector, but for minimizing cable clutter by limiting the number of physical connections made to his MacBook Air.

I use my MacBook Air on a desk with an external display, keyboard, trackball, and set of speakers. Since I often travel with my MacBook Air as well, I'm constantly plugging and unplugging the speaker's mini-jack, something that would fill me with dread.

The solution? A £2 USB sound card that requires no drivers, using OS X's built-in audio device support. I keep this plugged in to my USB hub with the speaker attached. As soon as I put the Mac on my desk, all I connect is my display and USB cable and the audio automatically switches to the USB sound card, thus avoiding cable fatigue and any potential damage to the headphone port.

I also use a similar USB sound card solution for switching between a pair of headphones and external speakers when placing a Skype call or recording a podcast from my Mac mini. Changes are made using the Output tab of my Mac's Sound Preference Pane. No pulling of delicate headphone connectors required.

An external USB sound card may be a perfect solution for a Mac whose headphone jack has been compromised, but it is often not feasible to outfit a iPod or iPhone with a dockable dongle in this manner. If Bluetooth isn't an option, you may be stuck with a silent iDevice, but at least apple is looking into a possible remedy for the future.

  1. A procedure not covered under Apple's original manufacturer's warranty.  ↩