Why Don’t I Get Sound from My Computer? (A Checklist)

Try as I might, I can’t get my computer to output sound. Nothing. I can’t figure out what’s wrong.

That’s a composite of questions I get often. Sometimes it applies to only specific applications; other times, it applies to the entire machine.

It’s a single silent symptom that can come from several sources.

So, let’s run down a bit of a checklist.

The obvious

Let’s start with the most obvious things. Probably about half the people I hear from find their answer in this first list.
Muted Speakers in Windows 10

Mute: Make sure sound isn’t muted in Windows. Click the speaker icon (found in the Taskbar) and make sure the Mute indication isn’t present. It should show in the sound icon as well, but I’ve seen it get out of sync.

Connected: Are the speakers connected properly? Double check. An unplugged speaker wire causes exactly this symptom.

Power: Do the speakers require power, and if so, are they plugged in and turned on? Do they have their own volume control, and if so, is it turned up? This gets me every time I rearrange my desk; my speakers get their power from the monitor to which they’re attached. I forget every time.

The software

Next, we’ll look at factors controlled by software and Windows itself.

Volume: Check the volume control. Once again, just click that speaker icon in the Taskbar tray and make sure the output level is set to something above zero.

Mixer: Check the mixer. This is easily overlooked. Right-click the speaker icon and click on Open Volume Mixer. The master volume control manages the output of all possible sound sources at once. In the mixer, you’ll find several different sound sources that each have their own volume control.

Application Volume: Many applications have their own volume control displayed here; for example, VLC Media Player is included above. Check the application from which you expect to hear sound and make sure its volume control is set appropriately.

Output Device: Is the correct output device selected in Windows? Just as you can have multiple inputs, Windows supports multiple outputs, as in multiple speakers or output devices. Right-click on the speaker icon and click on Sound Settings. Make sure the correct one is selected.

Application Output: Is the correct output device selected in the application you’re using? Much as Windows allows you to select the default output device for sound, many applications also allow you to select which device they’re going to use. (How and where you make this choice depends entirely on the application itself. Start with the application’s options or settings interface.)

Drivers: Are the drivers up-to-date for the sound hardware? This is rare, but I include it for completeness. Sometimes the drivers are at fault. That can be repaired by updating or re-installing the drivers associated with your computer’s audio hardware.

The hardware

Speaking of hardware, many people are quick to assume it’s a software problem, when perhaps something more fundamental is wrong.

Cable condition: Is the cable to the speakers in good condition? I’ve had at least one person report back that the sound had stopped because her cat had chewed through the wires. Even if you don’t have pets, many audio cables used for inexpensive computer speakers are inexpensive and easy to damage.

Cable connection: Is the audio cable plugged in securely? And to the right place? Once again, I ran into this one after moving my computer. Not only was the connector not completely pushed in, but I tend to plug it into the wrong socket. Make sure yours is correct.

As you can see, there are many, many possibilities when your computer goes silent. Careful detective work with this checklist usually clears things up.

Originally published as Why Don’t I Get Sound from My Computer? (A Checklist) on Ask Leo!