The Series is Over! Frayed Wires: 4,  James: 0.

by James Bain Apr 20, 2007

I hate cheap plastic cables. It seems that most electronics manufacturers, when cutting corners in an attempt to get their unit pricing down low enough that ordinary humans can afford their devices and still make a profit for themselves, reduce the grade of their cables first.

I don’t think I’m particularly harsh on my cables—I don’t yank on them for fun or tie packages up with them—but I have had just too many cases of cable failure recently to be comfortable with the issue.

My first experience was with the Apple In-Ear buds. A miserable, under-delivering product that should never have been allowed to see the light of day. I have only met one person who actually liked these abominations, and they weren’t actually putting them in their ear canals! Within a month of casual day-to-day and light gym usage, one of the ear pieces stopped giving me sound because the cable on that side had wiggled through. Now, I don’t flap my ears or do back flips, so I can’t understand how some light running and elliptical training usage would stress earphones to this level. Sucked for me, since I was a long way from North America at the time and long distance, intercontinental AppleCare just ain’t gonna happen.

My second experience was with the Apple Ear Buds, the ones everyone gets with their iPods, like them or otherwise. Again, a bit of running, nothing too torque-y, some gym work. And another cable wore through. Now this time I was back in North America, so Apple replaced the buds in a matter of days, but by then I had decided to buy something a little more “quality” and had laid down the big bucks for my Shure e4cs. To give them their due, they did sound amazing, but again, within maybe nine months, another cable wore through. It was a bit more expensive of an item and I was hoping for a bit more durability after spending about as much as a 30Gb Video iPod for them, but they pooched too. So, there’s the third experience.

My warranty repair success with these is still out. I have yet to get a definite response from Shure, but that’s partly because the next day my iPod itself died, which is another story. I haven’t pushed it yet. For now I am without iPod and without good headphones and am wondering if maybe life devoid of portable audio just might be possible.

My fourth and final experience with cruddy cable quality came quite annoyingly at the beginning of a work week on a device I use a fair amount, my MacBook Pro. Again, I am not abusive with cables. I plug them in, I unplug them, I don’t hang laundry or tie up goats with them. However, the rubber-like sheathing of my power adapter wore right through at the plug. Absolutely unusable. In a hurry, I bought a new adapter and only a couple months later thought to hit up AppleCare to replace the original dead adapter. They did, promptly again, and I now have a second power adapter, waiting in a drawer for the inevitable death of the initial replacement.

All the cables on these devices use the same white, rubber-like plastic material as sheathing. All are meant for use on portable devices and by definition these things are going to be used. Not ridiculously, but plugging and unplugging a laptop a couple times a day seems reasonable, and listening to your headphones maybe two or three times a day, well, that’s the point of buying these things, right?

The material is entirely inadequate, at least for my experience, and I can’t imagine that I am the only person who’s ever had this sort of problem.

Perhaps I’m just whinier than most, but, dammit, it’s been a major inconvenience, and it’s one I do not as yet have an answer for.

I’ll keep you all posted on how my Shure repair experience goes, because they are truly exquisite phones, but the day I can get Bluetooth in-ear phones that don’t look too bizarre and sound good, I’m going for them!

A life without wires! I can hardly wait!

Your call to action? Why not share your experiences, good (it can happen) or bad, with cabling? I know at least I’d be interested.

Hey, and I almost managed the whole article without making vague reference to the awful school yard joke about the piece of old string posing as a “frayed knot!”


  • Sorry James, but it seems to me like you’re doing something wrong. I’ve been using the same earbuds since 2005. For the past couple months I haven’t been using them regularly, but for the majority time they had regular daily use. I’ve had no problems with them, nor have I heard of any of my iPod-owning friends having problems with theirs. The quality on them seems fine to me. Either you got unlucky or you’re putting more stress on them then you lead us to believe.

    Black Six had this to say on Apr 20, 2007 Posts: 1
  • I agree with Black Six: I’ve never had the kinds of problems described either with the iPod’s earbuds or with the power adaptors for my Powerbook.

    Maybe you’re winding up the cords too tightly when storing them? One thing that definitely *will* stress these kinds of cords is sharp angles and stress/pulling at connection-points. Both ends of the thinner (low-voltage) cables for Powerbook/Macbook power-supplies commonly fail for that reason.

    When you wind up cords, keep a bit of slack at both ends, and try to never bend them sharply.

    MarkSF had this to say on Apr 22, 2007 Posts: 14
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