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A Reader Asks:

After the Windows 10 Windows 10 Is the Last Version of Windows. Ever. Windows 10 Is the Last Version of Windows. Ever. Microsoft is sick of you not upgrading, and has a solution: Windows 10 will be the final "version" of Windows. Ever. This could mean that you will never again have to buy Windows. Read More upgrade process completes, my rear Dolby Surround Sound 5.1 speakers don’t work.

I found out about the issue when iTunes and Windows Media player didn’t play sound out of the rear speakers after the upgrade. The speakers produce sound when they are tested in Control Panel/Sound/Manage Audio Devices/Configure, but the applications do not seem to use them. How can I get the applications to use all the speakers?

I also configured the sound system to use 5.1 Dolby Surround in Speaker Setup (sound standards explained Dolby Digital, DTS, THX: Surround Sound Standards Explained Dolby Digital, DTS, THX: Surround Sound Standards Explained Although there are only three main players in the surround sound industry, each has their own subsets of technology as it relates to surround. Read More ) and tested that all speakers are working properly. As mentioned above, the speakers work fine, but the audio still won’t work. There’s just a buzzing from the rear speakers.

Kannon’s Reply:

When troubleshooting computer gremlins, technicians lump problems into two general categories: Hardware and software. I also include a third category called firmware, but that’s besides the point.

In your case we don’t need to know anything other than that your sound system’s underlying hardware works. Therefore, we must conclude that Windows 10 somehow broke your audio configuration (10 reasons to upgrade to Windows 10 10 Compelling Reasons to Upgrade to Windows 10 10 Compelling Reasons to Upgrade to Windows 10 Windows 10 is coming on July 29. Is it worth upgrading for free? If you are looking forward to Cortana, state of the art gaming, or better support for hybrid devices - yes, definitely! And... Read More ). To get to the bottom of this mystery, a technician should list the peculiarities of the case:

  • The computer was upgraded to Windows 10.
  • Audio is not working in applications.
  • Audio works when tested in Manage Audio Devices.

Judging from the fact that your audio worked before the upgrade, we can safely speculate that the problem originates with the software and not hardware or firmware. Based on this data, we want to narrow the potential causes down through testing (which you’ve already done). We know that the Operating System (OS) recognizes the audio drivers, but for some unknown reason the OS doesn’t default to the correct audio hardware.


For the sake of comprehensiveness, we’ll first cover a factor that complicates OS upgrades: An audio sub-system can consist of several kinds of audio outputs, which depends on your motherboard or any internal or external audio devices plugged into your rig. You can pick any of these components as the default audio device.

Some general strategies exist for fixing audio problems. For those interested, please read Guy’s guide to troubleshooting audio problems No Sound? Don't Worry! Troubleshooting Tips For Your Computer Speakers No Sound? Don't Worry! Troubleshooting Tips For Your Computer Speakers Using your computer seems like a purely visual experience, but the aural experience is surprisingly important as well. You may not notice how important it is until the sounds disappear suddenly. Then, there's a sudden... Read More . For tips on how to resolve boot problems, check out James Bruce’s article on how to diagnose hardware problems How To Diagnose Hardware Problems When Your Computer Won't Turn On How To Diagnose Hardware Problems When Your Computer Won't Turn On Last week I showed you some of the simplest DIY repairs and upgrades that you can do yourself, but one reader asked how to diagnose which component was the problem. Today I’d like to walk... Read More .


Motherboard Audio Outputs

Depending on the age and design of your motherboard, you might have any of the following audio connectors:

  • Frontal 3.5″ audio (consisting of speaker, microphone, and/or multichannel audio)
  • Rear 3.5″ audio (consisting of speaker, microphone, and/or multichannel audio)
  • HDMI rear audio/video
  • S/PDIF optical rear audio (either coaxial or optical)
  • USB audio (technically an external device)
  • DisplayPort audio/video
  • Serial port audio (archaic)

rear audio ports

There’s a few complicating factors that can dramatically reduce the likelihood of a successful upgrade. The older a computer, the more archaic its audio subsystem. The big divide occurred when Intel and AMD moved from discrete audio systems, with its own audio chip on the motherboard, to system-on-a-chip (SoC) technology, which integrates the audio subsystem onto the CPU die. When this shift occurred, it greatly simplified the drivers involved, which made hardware upgrades easier, since they dealt with fewer chipset providers.

Laptops can include audio output in a similar fashion, although modern devices dispense with rear ports, electing to place such connectors on the left and right sides of the device. Anyway, the problem seems related to your recent upgrade to Windows 10, so we start the troubleshooting process there.

Step One: Check Device Manager

Normally, I would suggest that you check Windows Device Manager to see if any devices aren’t recognized by Windows 10. In your case, though, these driver should be recognizable to the OS.

In Windows 10, type Device Manager into the Search bar.

select device manager

Device Manager should reveal itself at the top of the screen. Select it with a left-click.

windows 10 device manager top

If you see any icons with a yellow symbol superimposed, that means the driver exists, but suffers from problems. If it’s gray, the driver corresponds with an unknown device. In this case, you must track the driver down (and it may not exist).

Step Two: Check Windows Audio

Windows Audio can control which audio port outputs sound. As mentioned above, some devices can include multiple audio devices and the OS doesn’t know which one you want to use. It appears that you’ve already taken this step, but in case you haven’t, here’s some quick instructions:

First, type Sound into the Windows Search bar.

windows 10 search bar sound

Next, select Sound located at the top of the results.

windows 10 choose sound search bar

In the Sound settings menu, you’ll notice multiple audio devices. You didn’t indicate the specific audio output you were using, but whatever it is, you would select Set Default and hit OK from the bottom of the screen. It sounds as if you missed this very crucial step. If you did, the issue would appear identical to your own.

windows 10 default audio

If that doesn’t work, proceed to the next step.

Step Three: Update, Uninstall, and Reinstall

Microsoft recommends, in this case, updating your device driver. However, your audio appears to already work, so we won’t cover that step in lavish detail. The quickest way to update an audio driver in Windows 10 is to right-click on it in device manager and select Update Driver.

device driver windows 10 update driver

Sometimes, uninstalling and reinstalling an audio driver can solve the issue. Since it’s the rear audio ports which don’t work, you might want to consider uninstalling them in Device Manager, restarting the computer, which should automatically reinstall the drivers.

If that still doesn’t solve the issue, you might want to try visiting the site of whomever designed the audio component on your motherboard–in all likelihood, this would be RealTek. You can visit their driver download page here. Keep in mind that some manufacturers modify RealTek’s driver, so installing the vanilla version may break your computer. You were warned.

If All Else Fails: Check the TechNet Forums

Normally, we would start with a diagnostic related to the various subsystems of Windows audio. However, as you’ve already mentioned, Windows 10 produces sound, but applications do not. Others may have experienced the same issue when upgrading to Windows 10.

My colleague Bruce Epper suggests using the Windows 10 forums, located over at Microsoft and searching for “Windows 10 audio” to see if any hits show up. A quick scan of the Windows 10 Insider forums reveals several topics similar to your own. There’s a virtual maze of potential fixes, but don’t get discouraged. There’s probably an answer out there, if you look hard enough.

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