Apple’s addition of three-button remote controls to recent iPod and iPhone headphones has led some vendors to compromise the life of their cables, according to a prominent third-party developer. Discussing extensive new testing and manufacturing procedures that his company has developed to prevent cable damage, V-Moda CEO Val Kolton told iLounge that three-button Apple remote cables now carry six thin separate copper strands inside, compared to three thicker wires in remote-less headphone cables. Though Kolton says that Apple’s cables have been tested to ensure comparable resilience to pre-remote models, few third-party headphones are as durable as their prior, audio-only models.

Three-button Apple remote cables flimsier than prior headphones? (Updated)

“Open up the cable,” Kolton says, and “there are either 3 inner cables for audio only, 4/6 for microphone and 6 for remote control models wound up inside the outer cable shell. It only takes one of these inner cables to break in order for the headphone to break.” According to Kolton, stress tests indicate that most of the current three-button remote offerings break after 10,000 bends. “Our test standards and results for bending the cable, and bending the plug where the cable meets are now between 3x-15x many of our top competitors latest models.” Kolton claims that V-Moda’s latest three-button remote cabling survives over 60,000 bends in bare bend testing, or hundreds of thousands of repetitions during cable and plug bend tests, which represent the most common point of cable breakage.

Notably, some companies consider 10,000 bends to be an acceptable level of cable durability, and as such test their three-button remote cabling to this standard. “[We] have a stringent testing process to ensure that our earphones are built to last,” says Doug Broadhurst, Marketing Administrator with Scosche. “Each cable is tested with a 300 gram weight bent to a 120 degrees 2 times per second and must past 10,000 bends before we approve the products.” Chris Lyons of Shure said that the company “know[s] that cables are often subjected to more severe wear and tear than other parts of a product, so we devote considerable time to making sure that they’ll withstand heavy use. Cables that have integral control functions meet the same quality standards as standard cables, even with the additional conductors required.” Additionally, a representative with Monster said the company has “done all standard durability and quality tests with this cable and have ensured it performs at the same level as one without ControlTalk [Monster’s three-button solution].” Neither Shure nor Monster specified the number of bends their cables were designed to withstand, and notably, Klipsch—maker of a $350 pair of headphones with a 3-button remote, as well as less expensive models—did not respond to a request for comment on the durability of its cables. Klipsch has since responded; its comments are included below.

Crediting certain competitors, Kolton said that V-Moda, Apple, and “several” other third-party manufacturers including Shure are the only companies he knows to be doing strenuous three-button cabling stress testing beyond that of standard audio cables. Still, he says, additional engineering work was needed to make the cables durable. “In order to prevent one of these cables from breaking, we have had to assemble our own custom cable development team,” Kolton explains. “We have developed a Kevlar core cable that the other cables twist around that allows pressure from pulls and bends to pull on the strong… Kevlar instead of a critical functional cable. We’ve increased the diameter of our cables to the maximum that would not weigh down the headphone.”

Update: Don Inmon, Director of Product Development, Personal Audio with Klipsch has responded to iLounge, saying, “Potential reliability concerns are always factored into the development of our products. The 3-button controlled headsets are no exception. They have gone through a unique manufacturing process and 5-point pull test, ensuring superior reliability for normal and athletic levels of use.”

Charles Starrett

Charles Starrett was a senior editor at iLounge. He's been covering the iPod, iPhone, and iPad since their inception. He has written numerous articles and reviews, and his work has been featured in multiple publications.