Technology Support — MCFL

Troubleshooting Sound Problems in Windows

When a computer is has no sound coming from it, the problem is usually a software problem, and the sound can be restored by checking the items on the list below. If checking all of these things does not solve the problem, then it's more likely to be a hardware or driver problem and should be referred to Tech Support for resolution.

List of steps

  1. Basic Volume Control
  2. Advanced Volume Control
  3. Properties of Advanced Volume Control
  4. Check Plugs on Back of PC
  5. Headphones: Check for Volume Control
  6. Speakers, turned on and turned up?
  7. Flatscreen Monitors with Speakers: Onscreen Menu for Volume and Mute?
  8. "System Sounds" vs. CD drive sound
  9. Applications or Programs with Separate Volume Control?

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1. Basic Volume Control

Windows has a basic volume control in the system tray near the clock.
Click once on the speaker icon in the system tray to see this volume control. Make sure that it is turned up, and that the "mute" box is unchecked.
This is the Windows XP Speaker Icon

This is the Speaker Icon for Windows 95 through Windows 2000
Make sure that the volume is turned up, and that the "mute" box is unchecked.    

Turn up the volume!

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2. Advanced Volume Controls

If you double click on the same speaker icon, it will open a more advanced set of volume controls, called "Master Volume" in Windows XP, and just plain "Volume Control" in other versions.
Again, check that all of these are turned up and are not muted. "Line In" and "Microphone" volumes only affect recording, and will not make your speakers any louder.    


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3. Properties of Advanced Volume Controls

This gets interesting. Even if all of the sliders are turned up, you may not be looking at the slider for your sound source, such as a CD or Windows Media Player. To make sure that you're seeing all of the relevant volume controls, in Master Volume click on "Options" and "Properties."    

You'll be given a list of different volume controls that can be displayed on the Master Volume panel. Be sure to add the following if they are options: Wave, Aux, Video, and CD Audio. The Line In and Microphone volumes aren't important unless you're doing some pretty advanced stuff.

Quite often, the sound problem is here, as your sound source is coming over the Aux or CD Audio channel, and if they're not visible on the Master Volume panel, they're usually muted by default. Add the control, go back and un-mute it and turn it up, and test it again!



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4. Check Plugs on the Back of the PC

Another very common cause for sound problems is simply having the speaker or headphone cable plugged into the wrong jack on the back of the PC, or that the plug has fallen out. There are usually three possible jacks, colored red (coral), greeen (lime) and blue (baby blue). The speakers should be plugged into the lime green jack. Some speaker cables are actually the same lime green color as the jack, as seen here.

The oldest computers from before 2000 may not have color coded jacks. The speaker jack is almost always the topmost of the three jacks (below left) or the one closest to the joystick port on the sound card (below right).


Speakers go in the top of the 3 jacks

Speakers go in the jack closest to the joystick port

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5. Headphones: Check for Volume Control

Most of our headphones have a separate volume control. Make sure that you turn this control up and down, or back and forth, to make sure that it's not turned all of the way down.  

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6. Speakers: Turned On and Turned Up?

Desktop computer speakers can have a wide variety of controls. Some have separate on/off switches or buttons, some have integrated on/off and volume controls. Make sure that your speakers are turned on, and of course, turned up. Most speakers will display a light of some kind when they are turned on.  

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7. Flastscreen Monitors with Speakers: Onscreen Menu for Volume and Mute?

Some flat screen monitors have their own speakers, which you'll see as little grills on either side of the monitor, usually at the bottom. Such FSMs have their own volume and mute controls in the buttons on the front of the monitor. These buttons will display graphics on the screen to show you what you're doing. If you're using your FSM speakers, make sure that they are not muted or turned all the way down on the monitor's controls.  

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8. "System Sounds" vs. CD Drive Sound

When troubleshooting sound problems on a PC, it's important and useful for testing to know the difference between "System Sounds" and CD Drive sound. System sounds are sounds that come directly from the computer's operating system, such as the dings and beeps that Windows makes when there are errors, or the melody a PC plays when it starts up or shuts down. These sounds all move through the regular sound channels on the PC's motherboard. Most software programs also use these System Sound channels, such as Windows Media Player, MusicMatch Jukebox and Quicktime.

In contrast, CDs or DVDs played in a drive on the machine will use a separate sound channel to get to the speakers. They need a special cable that runs from the CD/DVD drive to the motherboard to carry the high quality sound signal of these removeable media. So System Sounds may work when the CD drive sound doesn't and this tells us where to start troubleshooting.

More importantly, for troubleshooting purposes, I always use System Sounds. Open the Control Panel, and then open the "Sounds and Audio Devices" or "Sounds and Multimedia" icon.

Open the second tab of the Sound propterties, and highlight one of the sounds in the Program Events window that has a speaker icon next to it. In this case, I've highlighted "Asterisk" which is one kind of program error or notification.

I can see here that the sound "Windows XP Error.wav" is associated with this event, and when I click on the right-facing arrow (the "PLAY" button) next to that name, the computer should play that sound. These are the sounds I use to test a computer until I can actually hear something come from the speakers. Until this works, you will not be able to make any kind of sound work on your PC.


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9. Applications or Programs with Separate Volume Controls

This doesn't create problems very often, but most multimedia programs have their own built-in volume controls. These will be the last volume control in line, in other words, other volume controls need to be turned up, then these will be the master control over all others from within that program. Be sure that one of these isn't turned all of the way down if that program won't seem to play sounds.  


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Last modified April 12, 2005