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Windows has several volume controls. Add to those a couple of additional volume controls and making things louder can quickly get confusing.

I use Windows Vista and my volume is set to 100 % but the volume is low. This is with all applications. My driver is up to date and all speakers are working normally according to all my checks. I can remember when my volume would run you out of the room but recently it dropped down to almost a whisper. It is annoying especially when playing music. What can I do to get my volume back up and down to 45 - 50%?

Volume control has always been a tad confusing, even back in XP.

I'm not sure if the changes in Vista (inherited by Windows 7) made things better or worse, but it's still somewhat confusing.

As I sit here listening to music, I can count no fewer than four volume controls that the music passes through before it reaches my ears.

"With so many ways to control the volume, it can get really confusing."

We'll start with the applications that play sounds or music. Many, if not most, have volume controls themselves. Here's VLC Media Player as it's running on my computer right now:

VLC Media Player, playing music

You can see that it has its own volume control, which is set to 98% (it ranges from 0 to 200%). That controls the maximum volume that the application will output.

The Windows Volume Control is perhaps the confusing, or at least surprising part. If you click on the volume icon in the notification area you get the standard volume slider:

Windows 7 Volume Control

Here you can see I have it set to "33", out of 100. That seems simple enough, and represents the maximum output that Windows will produce as a whole.

The mystery is in the Mixer. Click the link for Mixer and you'll get something similar to this:

The Windows 7 Mixer

As you can see, each separate audio source that Windows is aware of has yet another, independent volume control. In this case, you can see that "Device: Speakers" is still around that "33" mark, but VLC media player is at 15. That control for the application is independent of the application's own volume control. (This is intended to make it easier to control the relative volumes of all applications to each other, even those that have no volume control of their own.)

So far we have three volume controls:

  • The application's own volume control will limit how much volume the application will produce.

  • The application's volume control in the Windows Mixer will limit how much of that will be included in the volume that Windows produces.

  • The Windows volume control will limit how much volume Windows will produce overall.

The "fourth" volume control I mentioned? My speakers. Many speakers will include volume controls that present yet another way to limit what you're hearing.

With so many ways to control the volume, it can get really confusing.

Typically, when there's a problem with volume being too soft it's often the result of one, if not more of these being turned down when you didn't expect it. Since each in turn limits the volume being output by a specific application or the system, any single one turned way down will act as a limit on the volume you hear.

Article C4242 - March 27, 2010 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

Patrick Coppage
March 30, 2010 8:44 AM

I found an app I like called Volumouse.
You control the volume with a hotkey (you choose which - I use Alt) and the scroll-wheel on the mouse. Handy, dandy and easy.

March 30, 2010 9:00 AM

does selecting a higher volume for the various controls introduce distortion? Can I set all but one to maximum and control volume with either the speaker or the application?

I believe you can. None of the controls actually amplify (OK, perhaps VLC in my example, I'm not sure) and it's amplification that is likely to add distortion.

Tom R.
March 30, 2010 9:12 AM

One problem I consistently run into is a different volume level set for each application I'm running. When I view online video content like You Tube in my browser it seems I have to jack the XP system volume level all the way to "11" just so I can hear it properly. Then if my email notifier kicks in it shrieks at me at an ear-splitting, speaker-distorting level. If I could just get all of my apps to play their sound at a consistent level I would be happy.

March 30, 2010 11:27 AM

Thanks Leo, this did the trick. My XP Windows and the app were set to max, but still low volume. I found the mixer you mentioned and the wave volume setting was very low. When I max'ed that, presto I have volume. Cool..

March 30, 2010 12:43 PM

I bought an Acer laptop running Windows 7 at Christmas and was disappoint at the available volume on otherwise excellent speakers. I eventually managed to increase the output by turning on the equaliser (just checking the box) and this gave me a more than acceptable increase in volume.

March 30, 2010 3:37 PM

When I first got my Toshiba laptop with Windows Vista it was very difficult to hear the movies. Turned out I was missing all kinds of codecs.

Geoff Walker
March 30, 2010 6:23 PM

Some laptops have rotary (hardware) volume controls. Even if you keep it at 100% and never use it, the control setting can be changed by friction in your carrying case. Annoying!

March 31, 2010 5:00 PM

It's a horrible design issue I come across all the time. The best option is to invest in a cheap floor 5.1 speaker system that boosts the volume signal.

April 3, 2010 9:05 AM

Speaker volume is covered then, but ever since I upgraded my xp machine to Vista (it was sold as "Vista-ready" and the upgrade was part of the deal) I haven't been able to get any microphone to work at all. Tried several mics, front panel input, rear "line" input. The audio manager says the "3.5mm front panel mic socket" is working, everything else seems to be ok, but I can't get any response. Is there an xp-Vista change that could do this? Or do I have to buy a different type of mic? The xp os is still on the hard drive but is partitioned and not used.

April 9, 2011 7:48 AM

I recently went from XP to Windows 7 and my speakers worked great on XP. I cannot for the life of me get my speakers to work now. I have checked every imaginable place and to increase the volume. I do get some sound but it's very faint and all my levels are at 100%. HELP please.

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