As more and more headphones come to the market, hardware designers and manufacturers have to make sure that their products remain compatible with multiple platforms. One thing to note is that when you plug your headphones into a computer, the hardware is the first thing it interacts with.
Then, your computer’s operating system, like Windows 10, detects it and manages all the requirements for it to work smoothly. Both hardware and software need to work side by side when any peripheral device is connected. When your headphones are not working, the problem can be traced along this interface to remedy it quickly. All you need to do is eliminate possible causes systematically so that you can pinpoint the root cause of the problem. Let’s explore some of the ways why your headphones don’t work when you plug them into Windows 10.
Rule Out the Obvious Problems
Before worrying about a problem with your headphones, confirm if you have a problem with them in the first place. The obvious reasons your headphones are not working include muted or very low sound output, disabled Bluetooth (if you choose to go wireless), or a loose audio jack connection. You can open up the volume mixer to see what volume levels your computer is giving out.
- Right-click the speaker icon in the lower right corner of your screen.
- Click on “open volume mixer” from the menu.
A small window should appear that’ll show you the volume level for all the devices connected to your PC. Your Windows PC keeps track of these volume changes when external devices are connected. Hence, volume levels may go down even though you checked them before connecting your headphones.
You can confirm an issue with your software by plugging your headphones into another computer. If they function properly, then the original computer has some software problem that needs to be addressed.
Clashes with Other Software
Windows 10 is responsible for managing all the resources of your computer, like memory and processing power. It also has to provide services for applications to run smoothly. At times some of these applications may clash with others due to bugs and errors in their programming.
You need to identify which application is interfering with your headphone’s function. Even if you don’t have any apps running, there may be some operating in the background. Hence, you need to open up the task manager:
- Pressing Ctrl + Alt + Esc, or right-clicking the taskbar at the bottom of your screen and selecting task manager.
- Close the non-essential apps one by one and see which one was causing a problem.
It’s best to report this problem to the software developer for that app so that they can roll out a patch to fix this issue. Till then, you may need to plug in your earphones without the app running.
Windows 10 Issues
Perhaps the most common reason when your headphones are not working is problems with windows system issues. Windows is also an operating system that experiences glitches from time to time. It’s hard to pinpoint what causes these glitches, but tried and tested methods by many users generally resolve these issues.
Start by restarting your computer. It’s the easiest way to remedy a problem with the operating system, as your computer closes all applications, flushing the random access memory (RAM) and giving it a fresh start.
Additionally, you can also troubleshoot sound problems with windows.
- Connect your headphones to your computer and look for the speaker icon in the lower right-hand corner of your screen.
- Right-click it to open up a small menu.
- Click on the troubleshoot sound problems option. Windows 10 will then run a scan and detect any problems in the different hardware and software components of your computer.
- After the scan is complete, it will fix the problem automatically or tell you possible causes for the issue if it can’t fix them.
Check Whether Your Device is Enabled
If you have multiple audio devices connected to your computer, the chances are that your headphones might get disabled when you try to connect them. Alternatively, your computer may select a device by default, preventing your headphones from working. To see if that’s the case:
- Go to the control panel and select hardware and sound.
- Click on the sound option, and a separate menu should appear.
- In the playback tab, you should be able to see all the audio devices connected to your computer and their status.
- If your headphones are appearing as disabled, right-click on them and select enable from the drop-down menu.
Windows 10 cannot communicate with external hardware directly. Instead, it relies on the device driver software to act as a middle man between the two so that your computer can perform its function without knowing the details of the device. Your computer will have a sound card that requires drivers to communicate with the motherboard. These drivers are specific to an operating system and may get outdated when Windows updates.
To fix this problem:
- Go to the control panel and select devices and printer.
- Right-click in the empty space and a drop-down menu will appear.
- Select the device manager option from the list, and another window should appear. It shows all the external and internal hardware devices connected to your motherboard that require drivers.
- Click on audio input and outputs, and a list should open up.
- You’ll find your headphone’s name in the list.
- Right-click on it and a drop-down menu should appear.
- Select update driver.
Windows 10 will automatically search for drivers online and try to find the most up-to-date driver and install it.
If your headphones come with Bluetooth functionality, they may showcase compatibility issues with Windows 10. Bluetooth comes in different versions. The one in your headphones may not be backward compatible with the one your PC supports.
To ensure compatibility, check your Bluetooth version:
- Go to the control panel and select hardware and sound.
- Select device manager under the devices and printers tab, or right-click in the empty space and select it from the drop-down menu.
- Another window should appear. It shows all the external and internal hardware devices connected to your motherboard.
- Click to expand the Bluetooth option and right-click on your Bluetooth adapter. It should be listed as a “generic Bluetooth adapter” or by the name of the chip manufacturer, like Qualcomm.
- A drop-down menu will appear. Select properties to open a new window.
- Go to the advanced tab and check the firmware version. The first digit of the number after LMP (link manager protocol) denotes the Bluetooth version.
The table below shows possible Bluetooth versions your Windows 10 PC might be running
First Digit of LMP
(deprecated, to be withdrawn)
(deprecated, to be withdrawn)
In general, Bluetooth is backward compatible. Check to see if you have a withdrawn version. If that is the case, you’ll have to replace the Bluetooth adapter on your motherboard or purchase an external USB Bluetooth adapter with the relevant version.
Once you’ve eliminated all the possible software issues, you can be certain that a physical problem with your hardware exists.
Let’s go about the process in a step-by-step approach and look into each component individually. There are two main hardware components to work with here: your headphones and your computer. Each may present different problems associated with its hardware.
- Audio Cable: Check for any worn-out or damaged areas. The sleeve of the cable is the most common location for breaks. Use another cable and check if it is truly damaged. If you have access to a multi-meter, set it up for continuity testing and check each wire inside the cable. If the ground wire is broken, then your headphones won’t work at all as there is no path to complete the circuit.
- Audio Jack: Check for a loose connection when plugging your audio cable into either jack. Observe if the cable doesn’t go all the way in or if it comes out easily. Most of the time, junk accumulates in the jack, preventing a proper connection.
- Speaker Drivers: These are the actual sound-producing component inside your headphones. Check their impedance. Depending on the headphones you have, it should be in the double digits. If your multi-meter shows an open circuit, it means that there is something wrong with the driver(s). There could be a loose connection, a broken connection, or your diaphragm may have come off from the bar.
If you’ve discarded the possibility of fault in the audio cable and jack and the speaker drivers, but the issue still persists, the chances are that your computer’s internal hardware may have some fault.
Your computer’s audio jack is connected to the amplifier on the sound card. The amplifier circuitry consists of electronic components like capacitors, resistors, and IC’s to give out a standard sound signal to your headphones. Any fault in these components is challenging to diagnose and fix as you will require specialized tools, like an oscilloscope, microscope, and soldering equipment. It is unlikely that you will have them on hand or know to use them; hence it’s best to let a professional look for any problems in this circuitry.
When your headphones are not working, you may think that this problem is too challenging to fix. However, if you take a step-by-step approach to problem-solving while using the process of elimination, you’ll see that the task becomes fairly simple and manageable. Don’t let it discourage you if the issue persists. Take it as a challenge and a learning experience. It’ll enhance your knowledge of the subject and will help you to fix other problems in the future.