Sound issues are something that has affected nearly everyone using a PC or laptop at some point. Whether it's a pair of headphones that won't connect, or you're simply getting no sound from the built-in speakers, it can be incredibly frustrating.
If you're now relying on a device to work from home or stay in touch with friends and family, it's probably essential that you sort any audio issues out as quickly as possible.
Here are the best ways to diagnose and fix any sound problems in Windows 10.
1. Check volume sliders
First check the obvious things, such as whether you've accidentally muted the speakers on your device. Clicking the speaker icon in the taskbar will give you a basic overview, and allow you to adjust the volume via a slider.
It's also worth checking if the master volume is at an appropriate level. Head to Settings > System > Sound and scroll down to where you see 'App volume device preferences'. Third-party apps that have their own individual sound profiles will also be listed here.
2. Check output device
If you've recently connected other audio equipment, or simply have multiple audio devices connected, it's possible that your device is outputting sound somewhere else.
For example, if you hook up a laptop to a TV, it may be that sound is being sent to your TV screen - the same applies if you have a PC and a separate monitor - and the volume on that device is turned down on the display.
To check, head to Settings > System > Sound. Under 'Output', choose the device from the drop-down menu.
From here, you can ensure the master volume is set to an appropriate level, or troubleshoot any further issues.
3. Check the audio settings in the app
One thing that has tripped up even us tech experts is that Zoom (and other video calling apps) use their own audio settings which override the Windows settings. So if you find that the sound is supposed to be coming from your headphones but stubbornly refuses to do so and continues to play from your laptop speakers, then go into the settings in the app itself and look for audio options.
Here you should find a similar list of all the devices which can play sound, and you'll probably find the wrong one is selected. If you have an external microphone, it's also here that you can select which mic to use.
Here's what it looks like in Zoom:
(There might also be a problem with the headphone jack itself. Here are six fixes.)
4. Use the audio troubleshooter
The 'Windows is looking for a solution to the problem' message may have been annoying in the past, but a similar troubleshooter could help to find any sound issues.
- In the search bar next to the Start Menu type 'troubleshoot'
- Click on the option which says 'Troubleshoot settings' and look for a section which says 'Get up and running'
- Here you should find a 'Playing Audio' option. Click on this and then click 'Run the troubleshooter'
- A separate window should launch and it will start detecting problems. Click the icon in the taskbar to display it on your screen
- After a few seconds, it should suggest some things to try
5. Update sound card drivers
Sound card driver problems can easily cause audio issues without you knowing, as they help Windows 10 communicate with any audio hardware.
Installing updates should help them run more efficiently, and the good news is that they're readily available.
- In the search bar next to the Start Menu type 'Device Manager' and click on the top result
- You'll see various folders in here, but the one you want is 'Sound, video and game controllers'
- Double click to open, and if you have a sound card it will display here
- Double click the relevant icon and head to the 'Driver' tab
- Click the option that says 'Update Driver'
- Restart your device for the changes to take effect
From the same menu, you can also uninstall the device. This acts as a hard reset for the driver, as Windows 10 will prompt you to re-install it when you restart your device.
If the updates don't work, you can try switching to Microsoft's generic drivers instead. To do this:
- Head to the same menu but when you click 'Update Driver', choose 'Browse my computer for driver software'
- Choose 'Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer' and you should find something called 'High Definition Audio Device'
- This is the generic driver, so select this and install to see if it works
6. Update to the latest version of Windows
If nothing above has worked, it's worth checking to make sure your device is running the latest software version.
Head to Settings, Update & Security and choose 'Check for Updates'. If there's already an update waiting for you, go ahead and install it.
At the time of writing, the Windows 10 October 2020 update was the latest major version to arrive, bringing with it a host of bug fixes. If you think an update has caused the problem, you can downgrade to a previous version, although the issue may still persist.
Need to record external audio? Here's how to record your PC's sound.