The headline of an article in Vice magazine claims that "A 16-Year-Old Has Died After Being Electrocuted by His Headphones"

Last week, a teenager was electrocuted to death while listening to headphones from a plugged-in cell phone. Sixteen-year-old Mohd Aidi Azzhar Zahrin was discovered by his mother at their home in the town of Rembau, Malaysia, lying motionless on the floor and cold to the touch, the New Straits Times reports. Blood was pouring from his ear.

Medical checks showed no signs of bruising or external injuries to Mohd’s body, other than some burns on his left ear, and an autopsy later confirmed that the cause of death was electrocution. It’s understood that he was listening to the headphones while charging his phone.

The closest I can get to first hand reporting is from the New Straits Times Here the claim is a little less black and white:

...the boy was believed to be wearing the headphone while the handphone was charging.

"The medical officer later confirmed that the boy had died hours earlier." he said.

Anuar Bakri added that a post mortem conducted at Tuanku Ja'afar Hospital revealed that the cause of death to be related to electrocution.

The original article in Vice cites a couple of other cases, one of which is from Australia. In that case also, the article states that the victim was electrocuted while wearing headphones, but doesn't explicitly state she was electrocuted through her headphones.

I have no trouble accepting that a faulty charger could catch on fire, explode or deliver a lethal shock - at the charger itself. A bad battery can certainly catch fire or explode. But can a deadly shock be delivered through the headphone cable, up to the ear buds and through the brain, as the Vice article's headline declares?

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    Again, there's no plausible mechanism for someone to be electrocuted by a cellphone and an earphone, unless the devices were intentionally sabotaged to do this. Throw in a defective charger (that's plugged in), however, and it's plausible. Dec 11, 2018 at 13:13
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    Plausible indeed. The high and low voltage sides of a charger are supposed to be carefully kept physically separate inside the case. They connect only through the magnetic field of the tranformer. But in cheap chargers less care is taken in the construction. If the two sides touch, then the USB connector can rise to full line voltage (240V in this case) and electrify the metal parts of the cell phone including the headphone jack and likely metal parts inside the earpiece. From there all you need is some salty sweat and a grounded victim to complete the circuit.
    – David42
    Dec 11, 2018 at 18:28
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    @David42 - But note that having line voltage on one wire cannot cause electrocution -- the circuit must be "completed" somehow. And even a cheap earphone would typically be insulated well enough to protect against 240V or less. Likely moisture is a major contributing factor in any "real" cases of this. Dec 12, 2018 at 0:57
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    @DanielRHicks I agree. Most of the time it will not cause electrocution. If the victim is not grounded, it will not. If the plug is reversed in the outlet, it will not. If the earphone is intact and clean, it will not. The fault could lurk for years waiting to kill someone.
    – David42
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:27
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    @PoloHoleSet - The wall wart converts "line voltage" (110-240v) to 5 volts, and converts the AC to DC. It could conceivably malfunction in a way that would send line voltage to the phone. Definitely could damage the phone, or at least blow a fuse in it. Jan 14, 2019 at 17:53

1 Answer 1


It seems there's some evidence that you can be shocked through earphones especially during lightning strikes:

Some evidence of other shocks non storm related:

Certainly it makes sense with lightning. Around the corner from where I lived, a house was struck by lightning and it conducted down through the water pipes (for whatever reason the building wasn't grounded properly) and it blew the radiators completely off the walls of the house.

Unfortunately, I can't find the news report anymore, but it was interesting.

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