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I know it varies by brand and cable.  I have owned many pairs of cheap $10 ear buds and have had the cord (at the part just after the jack) break and have sound only come out in one of the 2 ear buds.  This many times happens just a few months after purchasing them.  I have found a little better pair that last about a year for me.  About 9 months ago I bought a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50s (thanks to you guy's excellent help I might add).  The cord seems much thicker and the spring by the base of the jack seems to be a good help from the cord bending sharply.  However, I am wondering how long the cord will last.  I use these things every day for at least a few hours.  I saw some removable cable mods that look interesting.  I wouldn't attempt that until my cable goes out.  I just would like to know when I should start looking into what to do before it goes out on me.