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Several of my devices with 3.5mm jacks make unreliable connections. The sound will cut out when the plug is wiggled slightly, or one ear will not have sound at all, or the sound will "cancel" in a way that seems to remove center panned audio but keep left- and right-panned audio. It seems to be a function of the jack and not the plug. Often it will get worse with device age.

What causes this unreliability? Also, bonus points for answering: Is there a way to repair damaged jacks and restore reliable connections?

Some guesses for why this might happen:

  • Different manufactures have different specs/tolerances.
  • TRS jacks don't precisely mate with TRRS plugs or vice versa.
  • The spring mechanism (for tension fit) is located in the jack, so the jack tends to wear out faster than other connectors (compare to USB, HDMI, and DisplayPort, which put the spring mechanism in the plug).
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mine are fine, perhaps you bend or force them too much. \$\endgroup\$ – Solar Mike Apr 13 '20 at 6:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am with @SolarMike on this one. If it happens to one, maybe two I would blame the manufacturer, but if you see this with all your 3.5mm Audio jacks I start to suspect that you do not treat them right. \$\endgroup\$ – Oldfart Apr 13 '20 at 7:25
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I do not experience any unreliable connections with 3.5mm jacks, unless they are of a very cheap and flimsy quality.

(Maybe post a picture the jacks you experience a problem with)

As corrected by ‘Justme’ in the comments. You will only hear the left or right panned sound if the jack is not correctly inserted leaving the ground (sleeve) connection floating.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly the opposite; shorting out left and right will take the average of the two, cancelling out any difference and leaving the common signal. Having the ground disconnected will cancel out common signal and drive both speakers with the difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Justme Apr 13 '20 at 6:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered changing to right angle plugs to minimize the lever arm of any transverse forces? \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Freedenberg Apr 13 '20 at 12:43
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The sockets are often made to be as small as possible in order to fit them into phones and media players. This doesn't leave much room for reliable springy contacts. The sockets are generally soldered straight to the circuit board. Over time, with the force of inserting and removing the plug, the solder can crack and the contact becomes unreliable.

The plugs are often cheaply made with poor tolerances. The various rings on the plug can be different sizes or mis-aligned with each other.

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