Headphones are great when they work, and extremely frustrating when they don’t.
If you’re working in an office, using the computer late at night while people sleep, or if you simply don’t have external speakers in the first place, you need your headphones.
In this article, we go over a list of tips and tricks to make your headphones work properly on Windows 10, so keep reading if you’re ready to troubleshoot!
If you’re a Windows 11 user and are having headphone issues, head over to our article with solutions for headphones not working on Windows 11.
Ensure the Volume is Audible
Maybe this one seems obvious, but trust us, a lot of troubleshooting is just pointing out the seemingly obvious fixes you forgot to try.
If your PC’s volume is muted or turned all the way down, your headphones won’t emit any sound. Your headphones cannot bypass the built-in audio system of your PC.
So, make sure your computer audio is unmuted and turned up to an audible level.
If you have sound now, the great news is that there was never any real problem in the first place.
If not, then there’s something else going wrong, so keep reading!
Check Your Default Output Device
Plugging in your headphones is only half of the equation when it comes to telling your computer to use them as your primary audio source.
The other half is making sure Windows has them set as the active audio source.
Sometimes, this happens automatically when you plug them in, especially if you don’t have any other audio devices at the time.
However, the process is not always automatic, and if you do already have other audio output sources when you first plug your headphones in, this is less likely to happen.
Even if you don’t think you have other audio sources connected, there are a number of possibilities you may not have considered.
For one, your monitor probably has built-in audio.
Even if you never use it, that audio source was connected to your computer the moment you plugged your monitor in.
Beyond that, if you ever connected another audio source, then later disconnected it, Windows could still be set to use the audio source that’s no longer there.
To resolve this, all you have to do is manually select your headphones as your desired audio device.
- To do this, find the little speaker icon on your taskbar.
- If you don’t see it, it could be in the “hidden icons” tray; to access this, click the little down-arrow icon next to the time and date display.
- Once you click the speaker, either from the hidden tray or directly on the taskbar, you should see two things: a volume slider and a drop-down menu.
- The drop-down menu, once clicked on, will display all the possible audio output sources currently available to your computer.
- So click on it, find your headphones in the list, then click on them.
Now play some sample audio—hitting play on your media player of choice works well.
If all went well, you should now be jamming out to your favorite playlist.
Try the Windows Troubleshooter
We have arrived at the troubleshooting stage, where it’s time to ask the computer to try doing the troubleshooting for you.
In the case of audio devices, this is accomplished by seeking out the aid of Windows’ built-in audio troubleshooter.
- To access it, first hit the windows key on your keyboard, if it has one.
- If it doesn’t, just manually click on the windows button on the taskbar.
- Now, click the “settings” button with the gear icon.
- This should open a window, on which you’ll see various categories of options; you’re looking for the one called “system,” which has an icon of a computer monitor beside it.
- Once there, you will see further subdivided categories on the lefthand panel; find the one called “sound” with a speaker icon.
- Finally, find the “troubleshoot” button, under the output device drop-down menu and the volume slider.
- Now just follow the on-screen prompts to run the auto-troubleshooter.
The audio troubleshooter should automatically identify and correct any minor problems that you either missed or which could not be manually corrected.
Once it’s all done, the troubleshooter should let you know if it found any problems, and may ask for your permission to try to fix them; click ‘Yes’ if it does.
Now, try some sample audio again; with any luck, it should all work just fine now.
Check your Computer Settings
While your hardware—the computer itself, your headphones, and any other physical devices—may be what physically delivers the experience, it’s the software that makes it actually do anything.
If the software required to make your audio device(s) function properly isn’t up to date, it could easily prevent them from functioning properly.
There are two things you should try to remedy this.
Check if there is a Windows update to install:
If there are, tell your computer to update and restart.
If you’ve always relied on automatic reminders and don’t know how to do this manually, you can easily do so in a few simple steps.
- First, open the windows menu by either hitting the windows key on your keyboard if it has one, or clicking the windows icon on the taskbar.
- Now, click on the power icon.
- If there are pending updates, one of the options in the power submenu should read “update and restart”—click it.
- Once your update is complete, do an audio test; as usual, if you’re lucky, you can stop here and call it solved, but if not, keep reading.
If updating your OS didn’t help, or if there weren’t any updates pending in the first place, the next step is to check your audio drivers.
Check your PC’s audio drivers:
- Once again, open the windows menu via the keyboard or taskbar icon.
- Now, start typing—a search bar will automatically appear and accept your typed input—and enter “device manager” in the field.
- The top result of your query should be the device manager – click it. This will open the manager in a new window.
- In this window, you should see a list of categories, each with its own drop-down menu.
- Find the category called “sound, video, and game controllers,” which should display with a speaker icon.
- Open the drop-down menu for this category; you should see a list of relevant devices, hopefully including your headphones.
- If your headphones are indeed in the list, right-click them, and then click on “update driver” in the right-click menu.
- A popup should appear; select the “Search automatically for updated driver software” option, and let Windows do the rest.
If your headphones weren’t on the list, you could also try updating your sound card drivers; just find your sound card in the same drop-down menu and repeat the above steps.
Hopefully, your issue is now resolved, but if you’re still out of luck, check out the official Microsoft support page under “Sources” below, which includes additional tips and fixes!
You Need to Reboot
It may sound trite, but there’s a reason this is always the first thing most casual users and experts alike suggest.
You’d be surprised how many seemingly unsolvable problems “magically” resolve themselves after a quick reboot.
For headphone problems, this means two things:
- First, unplug the headphones, wait five seconds, then plug them back in again.
- While you’re messing with the headphone cable, double-check that it’s plugged into the correct port; trace the cable back from your headphones to make sure it’s the right cable, too.
If that doesn’t work, restart your computer and try again.