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Headphones not working is a common issue encountered by Windows 10 users, which often occurs completely out of the blue. All of a sudden, your headphones simply stop working, sound video and game audio quit completely and there’s output but stone-cold silence.
You give your headphone jack the usual waggle (a good way of breaking your audio jack) and you check all the settings on your headphones - everything seems to be in order. In which case, the cause of your headphones not working is almost certainly a software issue - most likely something to do with your sound driver, a hardware detection issue or some kind of conflict. In addition, go through our earlier post on what to do when audio services are not responding.
Troubleshooting Headphones Not Working in Windows 10
Thankfully, troubleshooting issues with sounds that stopped working and headphones that aren’t responding in Windows 10 is not particularly difficult. Where headphones are not working in Windows 10, there are several steps that can be taken to detect the cause of the issue and fix it. Or at least, until a future Windows Update causes you further issues, but there’s sadly not a great deal that can be done about Microsoft’s infuriating mandatory updates. Also, you may prefer a monitor with built-in speakers if you don't have to wear headphones.
Let’s get started on the basics of why your headphones may not be working and what you can do to get your playback device up and running once again.
Step One: Determine Where the Problem Lies
This may sound obvious (and it definitely is), but the first thing you need to do is isolate the issue. Long story short, you need to check your output hardware and sound drivers separately, but it simply makes sense to check your headphones first.
Try plugging your headphones into a different device of some kind, in order to see if they work. If the answer is no, you have the solution to your problem - your headphones are most probably broken and need replacing. Or it could be an issue with the headphone jack not working, which you could have a go at fixing.
If your headphones work fine elsewhere, this confirms that it is an issue with your sound card or your driver software.
Step Two: Set Your Headphones as Default Playback Device
Before you start making any major adjustments to the settings on your system or updating your audio driver, it’s worth checking out whether your playback device (i.e. your headphones) is actually set as the default device on your system.
This is easy to do - simply right-click the speaker icon in the notifications panel in the corner, then select Open Sound Settings. From here, you can then click “Manage sound devices” and see whether your “headset” or “headphones” are under the “Disabled” list. If they are, click them and “Enable.”
You can now restart your computer and your headphones should be activated as the default playback device, which may bring them back to life. If you are still hearing nothing through either headphone after setting the device to default, you are almost certainly looking at a driver issue.
At which point, you can make your way into the control panel on your computer and access the device manager, where you may (or may not) see an error message indicating where the problem lies.
Step Three: Update, Reinstall or Replace Sound Drivers
Thankfully, most issues involving sound drivers are relatively easy to resolve, as the driver installation and/or update process is largely automated. It is particularly easy with Windows 10, where the process in its entirety is a very straightforward point-and-click exercise.
Firstly, go to Windows Control Panel and then choose “Device Manager -> Sound, video and game controllers,” then select your audio driver. If you do not know the name of your audio driver, it should become relatively obvious when the options appear in the drop-down menu list.
You will then need to right-click the driver, select update driver then “Search automatically for updated driver software.” At this point, any updated driver software available will be displayed and you can select and install it. If not, you can always use the “Show Disabled Devices” option and then enable it once again, to perform something of a reset.
Rolling back device drivers to a previous version can also help if there have been any issues with any of the updated drivers. Right-click and choose the “Properties” option, before clicking the “Driver” tab and “Roll Back Driver.” Even if rolling back the driver doesn't work, it will not cause any further harm as you can always once again update the driver to a more current version.
High Definition Audio Device
Another option worth trying if the above proves unsuccessful, right-click your audio device and choose the “Update Driver” option, at which point you will be prompted as to whether you want to install new drivers manually or automatically.
Choose the “Browse my computer for driver software” option and then the “Let me pick from a list of available drivers on my computer” option. Uncheck the “Show compatible hardware” option, before scanning through the list of available drivers to find the High Definition Audio Device.
Select this option and hit the Next button, then simply follow the on-screen instructions to finish the job. You can then restart your computer and see if your audio services are responding once again.
This has apparently proved successful for many users, though is a bit of a coin-toss in terms of effectiveness.
Step Four: Change the Settings in Realtek HD Audio Manager
Another quick, easy and (sometimes) effective option is to ensure that all your audio management settings are correctly configured to actually output sound to your headphones. In our case, this means using the Realtek HD Audio Manager app - you’ll need to find the equivalent on your system, which shouldn’t be too difficult.
Here’s how the process looks with a system running a Realtek driver:
- Open Realtek HD Audio Manager.
- Click the small folder icon in the upper right corner.
- Check Disable front panel jack detection.
- Click OK.
- Check whether the issue is resolved and restart your computer
Step Five: Try the Restore PC Repair Tool
There are actually various automated repair tools available that provide automatic detection and fixing of problems involving system audio. Restore PC Repair Tool is one of the more popular options, due to the fact that it is capable of performing a complete system scan and repair process more or less at the touch of a button.
You’ll find a whole bunch of different apps available that are designed specifically to scan and fix issues with Windows 10 - some of which are better than others. If using this method, be sure to check plenty of user reviews and recommendations before going ahead.
Step Six: Use the Troubleshooter tool
This is technically the first port of call for many, but we have left it until this point because the troubleshooter built into Windows 10 isn’t quite as capable as it could be. While this automated tool could very well point you in the direction of why your headphones are not working in Windows, it rarely proves particularly helpful with more than the most rudimentary issues.
Still, it is easy to try out and is therefore worth having a go with. In the search section, type find and fix audio, before choosing the find and fix audio playback problems and clicking next. Select the device that is causing you problems, click next once again, and wait for the system to do its thing.
You will then be presented with a list of any problems found and information on whether any changes were made automatically.
Step Seven: Restore your computer
Last but not least, restoring your computer to a point before any major updates took place may seem like the nuclear option. However, where headphone or speaker hardware that previously works decides to stop working all of a sudden and for no reason, you can almost always fix it with a system restore.
Before getting started, it is essential to ensure you have backed-up all of your essential data, as it may be permanently wiped from your system during the process. Carrying out a system restore is easy - simply enter the term ‘System Restore’ in the search box and follow the on-screen instructions.
You will be asked to choose a previous restore point, which your system will be rolled back to upon beginning the process. Assuming the issue with your headphones occurred recently, it is best to choose the most recent restore point first, after which you can restart your computer, see if your headphones are working, and roll back to a different restore point if not.