Q: No matter what I do, my headphones end up tangled. Why? And how do I keep them knot-free?
A: Blame the second law of thermodynamics, which states that everything tends towards disorder. In this case: every pair of earbuds tends towards a tangled mess. A few years ago, scientists definitively linked the problem to thermodynamics. Two researchers at the University of California, San Diego, put varying lengths of string in different size boxes and rotated the boxes, showing that cords of a certain length necessarily become tangled.
The longer and more flexible the string, and the longer the agitation period, the more likely knots are. In some cases – as any annoyed headphones-wearer knows – knots are almost guaranteed to form. Ignoring knots in cords can damage internal wiring and cause short circuits or complete signal loss, according to Sennheiser representative Jeff Touzeau. The best way to prevent headphones’ disorderly conduct is properly coiling the cords, which keeps them from tying together and also keeps the wires from getting hurt.
That isn’t the same thing as wrapping your cord around your iPod. Electronics engineers use the over-under coiling method, and you should, too; check out “How to coil cables” for step-bystep directions. To make your coil even more foolproof, you can also connect the two earbuds to each other with a product such as Belkin’s earbud clip or the Kordl, which minimises the number of loose ends. Some companies say headphones with flat cords are less likely to tangle because there’s less friction between the wires than with round ones. I’m not so sure, and I tend to assume, as the laws of physics tell me, that everything’s progressing towards disorder.
How to coil cables:
Audio engineers swear by the over-under method of coiling, which retains the natural shape of the cord’s internal wires and keeps them completely untwisted. Repeat these steps until the entire wire is coiled, then secure the ends with a Velcro tie.
1/OVER LOOP: Holding the plug end in your left hand, grab the slack of the cable and make an overhand loop that falls to the right of the plug end.
2/UNDER LOOP: Grab another length of slack and bring it up towards the apex of the first loop so that it falls to the inside of the previous loop.
3/OVER LOOP: Make another overhand loop by tracing the loop you just made with the slack wire. This loop should be to the right of the last under loop