What to Do if Your Computer’s Sound Stops Working

If you frequently use it for gaming, listening to music or watching videos, having your  computer sound stop working can be infuriating.  Depending on the computer system you are using, sound failure can stem from a very wide variety of causes, ranging from minor software error all the way to motherboard damage.  Fortunately, the components in the sound system in your computer are among the easier and cheaper ones to replace if they fail, so even if your computer’s sound stops working completely, you usually have options available so you do not have to replace your computer altogether.  If your sound stops working unexpectedly, there are several steps you can take to identify the problem, and to figure out the best solution.

Make sure your sound is set to the right output

Sometimes a computer’s output settings will change unexpectedly – perhaps running a program changes the settings temporarily.  Before panicking about your computer’s sound being completely broken, take a moment to go into your system settings and make sure that your sound output is actually set to your preferred output, whether that’s headphones, external speakers or your computer’s internal speakers.

Try plugging in some headphones for a few minutes

A very common error in a computer’s sound system is also one that has a surprisingly easy fix.  Minor software errors sometimes send conflicting information to the computer about where it should be outputting sound.  If you have been playing sound through your computer’s speakers, this can make it sound as though the speakers have suddenly failed.  If this is the case, the only thing you need to do is to force the computer to switch to a different output to clear the software error.  The quickest way to do this?  Plug in a pair of headphones for a few minutes.  If the computer recognizes the headphones, it is often enough to clear the output error, so when you unplug the headphones, the internal speakers start working again.

Update your drivers and operating system

Like most computer hardware and software, sound technology is constantly evolving.  While this is generally a good thing for the quality of your sound, it does mean that if different components update at different rates, you could run into problems when those components try to communicate with each other.  Make sure that any software that uses the speakers is up to date with the latest version, including your operating system and sound card drivers.  Check online support forums to determine whether any recent updates contain bugs that might interfere with your computer’s sound system: sometimes the answer is not to update, but to downgrade to an earlier version while bugs are fixed.

Check that your sound card is working properly

Computers usually process audio through a sound card, which connects to the motherboard to produce high-quality audio.  Sound cards come in a very wide range of quality and price, and not every sound card is compatible with every model of computer.  Most sound card issues are the result of incompatible drivers, which can be fixed by updating the driver; but, just like any complex internal component, a sound card can also be subject to mechanical damage.  Heat, cold, moisture, dirt and impact are all possible sources of damage to a sound card, which can prevent the computer from being able to process sound at all.  You can run diagnostics from a Windows computer to see if there are problems with your sound card; if so, and if updating the driver does not work, then you probably need to replace the sound card.  If you are experienced with computers, then you can purchase a replacement sound card online and replace it yourself, but this carries the risk of electric shock, damage to the computer, and possibly voiding the warranty so that future repairs are more expensive.  If you are not completely sure what you are doing, take your computer to a professional computer repair service to replace damaged components.

Check for problems with the speakers

If the problem does not lie with the sound card, it may be a problem with the speakers.  If you use external speakers, check that the cables are not frayed and clean any dirt or dust out of the connection ports with compressed air and a little electronics cleaning solution.  Bent or broken connection pins can cause a faulty connection and prevent information from being sent to the speakers; loose or damaged components within the speakers themselves can also cause them to fail.  Whether you choose to repair or replace damaged external speakers depends on how expensive the speakers are.  If the computer’s internal speakers are not working, that is probably the result of a faulty connection either to the sound card, the motherboard, or both.  Often faulty connections are simply the result of dirt or dust inside the computer, which can be fixed by taking your computer to a professional technician to be thoroughly cleaned.  Faulty connections can also be caused by damaged connection pins or by loose wiring.  Generally speaking, connectors are relatively inexpensive to repair, and can be quickly fixed to restore your computer’s sound.

Check the motherboard for damage

Unfortunately, your computer’s sound can also stop working due to motherboard damage.  This is especially true in laptops and more compact computers, where, to save space, the sound card is often integrated directly into the motherboard, which loses a little audio quality but is much more compact.  Motherboard damage can be caused by excessive heat, by moisture, by impact to the computer or by electrical overload.  If the motherboard is damaged, you may well see other warning signs as well as sound failure; this is because the motherboard is the central nervous system of the computer, and without a functioning motherboard the various internal components cannot communicate with each other.  Fixing a damaged motherboard is time-consuming and very expensive; depending on how robust your computer system is, a damaged motherboard may well mean it is time to upgrade to a new computer.