Just about everyone uses headphones at some point or another, whether for listening to music, watching movies on a plane, playing video games late at night without disturbing anyone else in their home, or just keeping the office’s blaring hold music from seeping into your ear canals.
A lot of people still use the default, low-quality headphone cables that came as an accessory to their tech, not knowing just how much they are missing out on.
Audiophiles gravitate to custom headphone cables to elevate their listening experience.
The default headphones that come free with most devices are usually pretty basic: standard plastic or metal construction, no ability to adjust the size of the headband for comfort (which is especially irritating for those of us with big heads), and basic-functionality ear cups that either don’t have any noise cancellation or noise isolation.
One thing that never seems to get any attention is the cable itself: pretty much every device comes with a flimsy wire covered in a cheap rubber coating, so it looks like it can withstand daily use… until it doesn’t, and you find yourself fumbling with cord-tied knots while trying not to miss your stop on public transportation.
So, what are custom headphone cables, and are they worth the upgrade?
Custom headphone cables are, quite simply, headphone cables that are made to order according to your specifications.
This means that you can choose the type of wire, the type of connector, the length of the cable, and even the color.
There are a few different reasons why you might want to consider upgrading to a custom headphone cable. For one, it’s a way to future-proof your headphones: if you ever need to replace the cable, you can simply order another one that is identical to the original, rather than trying to find a compatible replacement from the manufacturer or a third-party retailer.
Additionally, custom cables tend to be made from higher-quality materials than stock cables, so they should last longer and sound better. And, if you get a braided cable, it will be much more resistant to tangles and knots.
Finally, if you have a pair of headphones that you really love but that don’t come with a detachable cable (or if the cable that they do come with is really short), a custom cable can give you the freedom to choose the length that you need.
So why go through the trouble of using custom headphone cables?
It’s really relatively straightforward: they cut down on noise interferences and distortion, and improve overall sound quality.
Specifically, custom headphone cables do this in a couple of ways, if you’re using an amp and DAC combo to power your headphones (which is a good idea – more on that later), the cable itself can affect the audio quality through its own resistance and capacitance.
This is why high-end audiophile cables are made from expensive materials like silver – they have less resistance than cheap cables and therefore give better sound quality.
Second, if you’ve got a nice pair of open-back headphones that leak quite a bit of sound (as open-back headphones do), a custom cable can help keep outside noise out and minimize leakage for your neighbors or office mates by twisting the wires together so they’re not as loose (and therefore leaky).
Custom cables can also improve durability.
The stock headphone cables that come with most kits have one major flaw: they’re often thin and flimsy little cords that tangle easily—which is fine if you don’t plan on moving around much while using them.
But if you like to exercise with music or otherwise get up off your butt when listening to tunes, then these stock cords will only bring frustration in the form of knots and breaks. Custom headphone cables are usually more durable than their stock counterparts because they use thicker wires made from stronger materials to handle more intense use without snapping or fraying over time.
Finally, on a more minor note, custom cables are simply comfier and easier to use.
Often times custom headphone cables have options for angled plugs (especially when it comes to TRRS connections) which lets them fit better into tight spaces such as between two pieces of furniture at an angle; this makes it easier for users who want their earbuds plugged into devices hidden behind walls or under desks etc., because those devices would otherwise be too far away for regular straight-ended cords to reach comfortably
What Are the Drawbacks of Custom Headphone Cables?
All that said, there are a few drawbacks to going the custom headphone cable route. For one, you’re essentially dependent on your chosen manufacturer once you’ve determined what you want in your cable. You have to find a good person or company who will actually make the darn thing for you, and there are some bad apples out there who won’t do a proper job with it.
Of course, articles like this one are there to save the day by attempting to inform interested consumers and guiding you towards reputable entities in the market.
It’s also not the cheapest of accessories to customize. You’ll have to pay for the service of making your custom headphone cable, and how much it’ll cost varies depending on what you want to be built into your new cable (more on that later) as well as who builds it, but in general, it’s almost always going to be more than just buying an off-the-shelf replacement from Amazon or wherever.
It’s often worth it – and again, anyone who cares about the quality of their sound is going to find this a worthwhile investment – but at least keep that potential financial burden in mind before moving forward.
Finally: if warranties are important to you, know that getting a custom headphone cable may void the warranty on your headphones! If something goes wrong with your headphones post-customization, don’t expect much sympathy or help from the manufacturer if they find out that you fiddled around with their precious product by having a third party make alterations to it.
This means that the decision ultimately comes down to the calculus of whether you want the best possible equipment or a product that may be flawed but is at least safe. Just something to keep in mind when deciding whether getting one is right for you!
How much you spend on your custom cable will depend on several factors. First, the raw material (the cable itself) and connectors (the things that plug into the headphones themselves) aren’t cheap.
For example, the Audeze LCD-XC uses a 4-pin balanced cable with a mini XLR connector. A replacement for this cable costs about $300 from Audeze directly and is made of high purity silver/gold alloy conductors and is handmade in California.
That isn’t cheap by any means, but it also isn’t unreasonable considering just how expensive high-end headphones can get.
There are many 2 Pin cable replacements you can by but the quality isn’t always clear.
The second part of the cost depends on who exactly is building your headphone cables.
If you want to make them yourself, then obviously you only pay for parts and tools (and time). You’ll need a soldering iron, wire cutters, shrink tubing, solder and some kind of stand to hold everything in place while you work.
If you don’t have those supplies handy though or if you just don’t want to build your own cables from scratch, there are plenty of artists willing to build them for an additional fee.
Ultimately, as with most bespoke items, the cost depends entirely on where you go and what you want – so shop around!
What is most important to you when it comes to your audio experience? Is it sound quality? If so, then custom headphone cables may be worth trying out.
For example, if you listen to music in noisy environments, a 4-pin XLR balanced connection and cable can probably cut out more noise than a single-sided 3.5mm plug connection and cable (because of how the audio signal is transmitted over two wires instead of one).
While this doesn’t necessarily apply across the board – 3.5mm plugs are still used on some high-end headphones – it’s a common feature among high-end headphones with 4-pin XLR balanced connections.
Alternatively, are you more so the type that just wants something that gets the job done without being too costly? Some people don’t care about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars high-end equipment because they don’t see the point in worrying about something that seems so minor compared to other aspects of sound quality like hardware and recording quality.
Others, however, may simply not want to spend any more money than necessary on an upgrade they’re not sure will work for them.
If you’re unsure and can afford the luxury, we strongly recommend simply giving custom cables a shot – you’ll never know what you might be missing out on otherwise, and you’ll at least be able to take comfort in the knowledge that your equipment is as decked out as it can be.
If you’re ready to get started with a custom headphone cable, your first step is choosing the right vendor. Because quality can be inconsistent when dealing with independent manufacturers, we recommend sticking with established and reputable companies when it comes to this sort of high-end customization.
To that end, here is a great list of custom headphone cable makers:
These brands have all come to cultivate respectable followings and gained a solid foothold in the market through their commitment to consistency and professionalism.
These shops will do their best to serve you and ensure that they do right by you should anything go wrong, which is precisely what you want when it comes to these kinds of items.
It is worth noting, of course, that smaller, independent shops may offer the most distinct and unique stylings, and sometimes even at a better price, so don’t think that boutique shops and services are the only ones that satisfy your needs here.
It’s simply a matter of whether you prefer security or a particular shop’s style.
So, hopefully, that is a wrap on the what, why, and where of custom headphone cables.
A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.