Now that most major flagship phones have done away with the headphone jack, Bluetooth headphones are more popular than ever. And while it’s nice that there's no cord to catch the doorknob when I’m leaving the house, Bluetooth has its own share of quirks. Here are some of the most common issues you may encounter, and how to fix them.
First: Narrow Down the Problem
Before you start pressing buttons and tweaking settings, see if you can find the source of the problem: It could be your earbuds, sure, but it could also be your phone or even the app you’re using to play music. Pair your headphones with another device and see if they work better—I find my Android phone can be a bit finicky, so I’ll often test headphones on my wife’s iPhone to see if something on my phone is the culprit.
You might also try a wired pair of headphones, or plug your Bluetooth headphones in with a cable (if they support that). Finally, try another pair of Bluetooth buds if you have them lying around. If you can determine the source of the problem, you might have a better idea of where to focus your troubleshooting efforts.
If the Headphones Won’t Pair
If you can’t get your headphones to connect to your phone at all, don’t despair—in my experience, this is usually the easiest to fix (provided the headphones aren’t dead entirely).
- Check the manual. Many headphones go into pairing mode automatically when you first use them. As a result, most users can easily pair headphones the first time, says Win Cramer, CEO of JLab Audio (makers of WIRED’s favorite budget wirefree buds)—but the second time leaves them scratching their head. So if your headphones aren’t appearing with a new device, you may need to hunt down that manual for instructions on putting them in pairing mode. Most brands require you to hold down the power button for a few seconds, but some earbuds—especially those with touch controls instead of buttons—have their own method.
- Disconnect other devices. If you’ve already connected these headphones to a device—like an iPad—they may not connect to your phone. Some headphones can connect to multiple devices at once, while others can’t. “Turn off the Bluetooth settings of the originally paired device,” says Cramer. “That disconnection will then automatically force the headphones back into pairing mode.”
- Disconnect other headphones. In a similar vein, make sure your phone hasn’t connected to your spouse’s earbuds across the room—if you’ve ever used them before, they’ll automatically connect when turned on and within range. You might even clear out old Bluetooth devices from your phone’s memory—from the Bluetooth settings on iOS, tap the “i” next to a given device and tap Forget This Device. On Android, tap the Settings cog next to a paired device and choose Unpair (or Forget, as it’s labeled on some phones).
- Recharge the battery. If your headphones’ battery is low, it may have trouble pairing—and I’ve even found some Bluetooth headphones stay turned on when in the case, meaning they’ll drain down to 0 percent faster than you expect. Try plugging them in and charging them fully before pairing, even if they say they have some battery left.
- Make sure both devices are compatible. Like most technology, Bluetooth has gone through many revisions and improvements over the years. The newest devices use Bluetooth 5.0, and while a Bluetooth 5.0–capable phone should be able to connect to most devices you own, certain modern Bluetooth headphones may not connect to very old phones, tablets, or laptops. Check the supported Bluetooth versions on both devices and ensure they’re compatible with one another.