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5G iPod headphone repair


I will admit this information is coming a bit late, but perhaps it will still benefit someone.

Several years ago I had a friend bring me his 5th gen iPod to look at. The unit worked in every way, but nothing could be heard from the headphones unless the connection was held in just the right spot. It sounded like a classic case of a broken solder joint, so I set my iron to heating and opened the iPod.

Once inside though I realized it wasn't quite that simple. Unlike older iPods this one had the headphone jack attached to a flex cable. And closer examination revealed that the headphone jack itself was still firmly attached. That meant the flex cable itself must be the problem.


If you look at the cable right behind the jack (In the lower right corner) you'll see a black box and a "wing" covered in components. It's this area that caught my attention. You can't see it here, but when the iPod is assembled that wing is folded 90 degrees to make room for the battery. That means that any force applied to the headphone jack (Such as your pocket pushing on the headphone's connector) causes the cable to flex a tiny bit at the fold. Over time this constant wiggling breaks down the narrow traces of the flex cable and the jack becomes intermittant. A quick check with my multimeter confirmed that one of the traces in the fold was no longer reliable.

The obvious solution here would be to replace the entire headphone cable assembly, but when have I gone the obvious route? That would have meant a 2 week wait for the new part to come in the mail at a cost of $15, and the same flaw would be present in the new cable. Instead I grabbed my now hot iron and set about repairing the existing cable.

Flex cables are extremely difficult to work with. The plastic will happily melt if you bring an iron near it. So rather than trying to patch over the break in the cable, I bypassed it entirely. All I had to do was visually follow the trace in question and solder a tiny wire from the components at either end of it.

Success!

After testing that the jack was working properly I applied some epoxy to the fold and held it in place until it hardened. This ensured that the flex cable would never get wiggled again, as it was now held away from the battery in the fully folded position. Years later the fix is still holding.

I imagine a lot of you will be put off by the idea of such delicate soldering. I can't blame you, it was pretty tricky. But perhaps some of you still have a working 5G that you're planning to open up and replace the battery in. If that's the case I strongly urge you to apply a bit of epoxy to the headphone cable while you're in there so you can avoid the soldering job entirely. The same goes for people who have bought replacement headphone assemblies on eBay.

Page created August 1st 2010

The Sansa is still a better MP3 player.