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Headphones not working? I work through the proper steps to see what is broken or turned off in the system.

My headphones just stopped working. I've tried nearly everything from reboot to a scan and even CCleaner, but it's still not working. Any ideas, please?

In this excerpt from Answercast #36, I look at some headphones that are not working and several steps to help discover exactly what's going on.

Headphones broken

Gosh. The first thing that always comes to mind when somebody claims that a piece of hardware isn't working like this (particularly sound, or keyboard or or mice) is maybe the headphones are broken.

Maybe it's time to check using:

  • A different pair of headphones.

  • Or a set of speakers that you plug in, instead of the headphones to see if they are the problem.

That is such a simple thing to check that I would check that almost immediately. It would be the very first thing I would rush to.

Check the headphones themselves

The other thing you can do with headphones of course is:

  • Plug them into another device and make sure that the headphones themselves work with that other device.

Check the plugs

But, assuming that they are working somehow, the next thing to do would be to make sure that it's all plugged in properly.

Check audio settings

In Windows, there are so many ways that the volume can get messed up.

I would make sure that you've got the volume control visible; the mixer (depending on what version of Windows you're using); or the audio panel:

  • Make sure that all of the audio levels (all of the volume controls) are set if not to maximum then to where you'd normally expect them to be.

    • Even just one of them being set to zero might cause it to look like your headphones aren't working and/or the system isn't producing any sound.

    Along that same vein, there is a Mute option on your output.

    • Typically, there's a button, or an option, when you right-click on your speaker icon in your taskbar;

    • But it's also very simple to accidentally click a Mute button, if your keyboard happens to have a Mute button.

    So, definitely make sure that the Mute button isn't pressed.

    And then, finally, assuming you've got all those basics in place...

    Audio drivers

    Then I start looking at drivers:

    • Make sure that the drivers are there.

    • And that they're installed properly.

    • And that they're working.

    It might be an opportunity to go to check with your computer's manufacturer and see if there are updated drivers for that particular sound card; for the sound hardware in your computer.

    Sound circuitry

    Finally, the very last resort is in fact the computer hardware itself.

    The sound circuitry, typically on your motherboard, is in fact circuitry that can break. It's uncommon, but it certainly can happen.

    Assuming that you've ruled out absolutely everything else:

    • You know the volume is set correctly.

    • The headphones are working – will work if they're plugged into an appropriate audio source.

    • The applications that you're running are producing sound.

    • That the Mute button hasn't been pressed.

    • Everything's plugged in properly.

    Then yes, it might be time to have a technician take a look at that computer and see if, for some reason, there might not be a hardware problem with the computer itself.

Article C5597 - July 18, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
July 24, 2012 4:12 PM

And some headphones (like mine) have an inline controller, including a mute button, right on the cable. It's easy to forget about it if you're always controlling sound through the computer (not that did that).

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