Setting up sound devices on Windows can be a messy business. Drivers can clash with each other, Windows might misread one kind of sound output as another, and you may have to dive into your sound settings to figure out exactly what’s going on. When your headphones are not working in Windows 10 and 11, it’s time for some troubleshooting. Of course, all going well, you should be able to plug a sound device in and have it just work, but if that doesn’t happen, this guide is here to swoop in and save you.
- 1. Isolate the Problem
- 2. Make Sure Headphones Are Set as Enabled and Set as Default Device
- 3. Update, Reinstall or Replace Sound Drivers
- 4. Change the "Default Format" of Your Headphones
- 5. Choose HD Audio Over AC97
- 6. Ensure Bluetooth Is Working Correctly
- 7. Wireless Headphone Issues
- 8. Replace Headphone Audio Port
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. Isolate the Problem
Before moving on to all the software-based fixes we’ve listed below, it’s important to check that the issue isn’t hardware-related. If it is, then the below fixes probably won’t help you.
The two notable bits of hardware that could be faulty when your headphones aren’t working are the headphones themselves and the port you plug them into. First, plug the headphones into a different device to see if they work there. It’s probably a good sign you need new headphones if they still don’t work.
If they do work on a different device, then try plugging the headphones into a different audio port on the PC on which they don’t work. If they suddenly start working, then it suggests that the problem is with the original port. You can just stick with using your headphones from the new port or read on for our list of fixes.
2. Make Sure Headphones Are Set as Enabled and Set as Default Device
The other crucial place where you may need to check when your headphones are not working in Windows 11 is the Sound window. The best way to get here is to right-click the speaker icon in the notification area in the corner of Windows, then click “Sound Settings.”
From the “Choose where to play sound” list, click the arrow next to your headphones, then on the new screen click the “set as default sound device” dropdown and select “Use as default for audio.”
If you don’t see your headphones in the list, then they may be disabled. In the Sound Settings window, scroll down then click “More sound settings,” which will take you to the classic “Sound” window.
To set your headphones as your default audio device, find them under the “Playback” tab, then right-click an empty space and make sure “Show Disabled Devices” is checked.
Next, find your headphones in the list, right-click them, click “Enable”, then right-click again then select “Set as default device.”
To quickly change your preferred audio output in Windows 11, click the speaker icon, then click the arrow next to the volume bar and select your output device from there.
3. Update, Reinstall or Replace Sound Drivers
If you plug your headphones into your Windows PC and get that reassuring “ding” sound, the good news is that they’re being detected at a hardware level. The bad news is that something’s going wrong at the software end in delivering the sound from the PC to the headphones.
To fix this, right-click the Start menu and go to “Device Manager -> Sound, video and game controllers,” then select your audio driver. (In our case, it’s “Realtek High Definition Audio.”)
Start by right-clicking the driver, selecting “Update driver,” then “Search automatically for updated driver software.”
That failing, right-click the driver, then “Disable device” before re-enabling it. Finally, you can also try rolling back the driver by selecting “Properties” from the driver’s right-click menu, then clicking the “Driver” tab and “Roll Back Driver.”
Some users have also reported the following as a fix. On the “Update driver” window, click “Browse my computer for driver software,” then “Let me pick from a list” and select “High Definition Audio Device.” You may get a warning message that the driver may be incompatible. Ignore the message, then go ahead and install the driver.
If this doesn’t work, you can also check the headphone manufacturer’s website for the latest driver. Make sure you choose the correct version for your device and operating system.
4. Change the “Default Format” of Your Headphones
Go back to the Sound window and click the Playback tab. Right-click your headphones (they may appear as “Speakers” if plugged in or as a “2nd Audio output” or similar), then click “Properties” and the Advanced tab.
Try playing around with the “Default Format” of the headphones, clicking “Test” each time you change it to see if you start hearing audio.
5. Choose HD Audio Over AC97
AC97 and HD Audio are two audio standards that generally connect to the front 3.5mm jack on many desktop computers. Whether your PC uses one or the other will ultimately depend on which header connects your motherboard to your front sound ports.
Assuming everything is correctly hooked up on the inside (e.g. using the more recent HD Audio header, which detects devices automatically), you should go into your audio driver tool and ensure that your “Connector Settings” are correct.
Our audio driver tool is Realtek HD Audio Manager (found in the Control Panel). Open it, click the Settings cog in the top-right corner, and ensure under “Connector Settings” that “HD Audio Front Panel” is selected.
While you’re here, you can also use headphones as a second audio device instead of replacing your speakers by ticking the box we highlighted in red below.
6. Ensure Bluetooth Is Working Correctly
Another issue with your headphones not working in Windows 10 and 11 could be related to Bluetooth. Obviously, this only applies to Bluetooth headphones. There are two main things to look for.
First, ensure your headphones are compatible with Windows 10/11 and your PC. If your PC only supports Bluetooth 4.0 but your headphones are 5.0, they may not work correctly.
Right-click Start and choose “Device Manager.” Expand “Bluetooth” to see your current Bluetooth version.
The second issue may be that Bluetooth is turned off in Windows 11. Click “Search” and type “Bluetooth.” Select “Bluetooth and other device settings.” Toggle Bluetooth to “On.”
It’s also possible that your built-in Bluetooth adapter has failed. Try connecting other Bluetooth devices to see if it’s just your headphones. If nothing works, you may need to buy a USB Bluetooth adapter or dongle.
If you don’t see any Bluetooth settings at all, your PC isn’t Bluetooth compatible. You’ll need a USB Bluetooth adapter instead.
7. Wireless Headphone Issues
For wireless headphones, the problem could be with the headphones themselves. While it may sound overly obvious, ensure your headphones are charged. A low charge might not let Windows 11 recognize and connect to them. And, even if they do connect, the charge might not be enough to actually play any sound.
You might also have a firmware issue. Occasionally, you’ll need to update your headphones’ firmware to work with newer hardware and operating systems. In most cases, you’ll need to visit the manufacturer’s website for the latest update and detailed steps on how to update.
Finally, check that your wireless headphones are actually charging. For instance, if you have earbuds with a charging case, the case might not be charged or no longer hold a charge.
8. Replace Headphone Audio Port
If you’ve tried everything else and the AUX port still isn’t responding even though everything else works, it’s time to face the fact the port has failed.
Most PCs only have one headphone or AUX port, so you can’t just use another available port. Problematically, once the headphone jack is not working, it’s incredibly difficult to repair. You’d need to take your PC apart and solder on a replacement. If that goes wrong, you could do irreparable damage.
The easiest solution if your audio port isn’t working is to buy a USB sound adapter. These are fairly inexpensive and are usually plug and play, meaning they’re ready to work within seconds. The Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter comes in both USB-A and USB-C versions for less than $10.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What if the issues with my headphones not working only happen in a specific app?
Maybe you didn’t start having any problems until you started using Zoom or Skype or another video conferencing and chat service. In this case, don’t panic. The problem is likely one of three issues:
- You’ve accidentally muted the sound or the other party accidentally muted their mic.
- The app is trying to use your PC’s built-in speakers versus your headphones.
- Your app may be outdated, causing your headphones to not work properly.
All of this can be solved by checking your app’s settings. You’ll find areas to change your default audio and video devices. Usually, the mute option is on the main screen during a call.
2. Will USB adapters/dongles work in a USB hub?
Most newer PCs aren’t too generous when it comes to available USB ports. Even older PCs may only have a few. So if you need to add an AUX adapter and/or Bluetooth dongle, you may not have enough ports.
A USB hub may work. However, it’s generally best to use a powered USB hub. And, while connected to a hub, any devices connected via an adapter or dongle may not work as smoothly.
3. Can a frayed cable cause issues?
Absolutely! Check your headphones for any signs of physical damage if you’re having issues. Any fraying could mean the wires themselves are damaged. This also applies if you wind the headphone cable too tightly. This can can cause too much tension on the wires, breaking them.
4. Can upgrading to Windows 11 cause issues with the headphones not working?
If you’ve recently switched from Windows 10 to Windows 11 and are noticing headphone issues for the first time, it’s entirely likely that upgrading is the problem.
Start troubleshooting by going through the settings listed throughout this post to see if upgrading switched your custom settings to Windows defaults. This could cause all sound to go through your speakers versus headphones.
Also, you may need to update your audio drivers, headphone firmware, and/or apps to ensure they’re compatible with Windows 11.
Your headphones suddenly not working is frustrating, but with a little troubleshooting, you may just find it’s a very minor issue and easily fixed. If you’re still not sure what “drivers” are, find out what headphone drivers are and why they matter so much.
When you’re finished troubleshooting, take some time to make sure your PC is secure. Viruses can definitely wreak havoc with overall performance..
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