How can I switch between using headphones or speakers without rebooting Windows?

Brian November 10, 2010

Sometimes I want to use my speakers and sometimes my headphones. Some software has a switch to determine output, but otherwise I have to pull out the headphones and restart Windows. Anyone got a better idea?

  1. Ryan Dube
    November 11, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Yes, Tilman hit the nail on the head. It boils down to what the app has set up as the default sound device. Brian - the only reason rebooting "fixes" the issue for you is because the app that you're trying to use can't find the default sound device you've set up in the settings, so it reverts to the only one available - your PC audio card/speakers. Instead of rebooting your PC, you could go into the settings and switch the sound device selection to your PC speakers and it would work without rebooting.

    Hope that helps...

  2. Tilman
    November 11, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Not sure if this is relevant or helpful, but let me explain how I do it :)

    I have a headset which I can plugin by usb - which means that the headset has its own soundbard somehow built in (at least that's how I understood it). The advantage is that I can use the headset AND the laptop's internal speakers at the same time :) Meaning that I can listen to music from the laptop's speakers while at the same time talking on Skype with my headset! I never have to unplug my headset, as only Skype uses it! So all Windows sounds, music, Youtube, etc go through the laptop speakers and only Skype is set up to use the usb headset :) Works for me! =)

  3. Tina
    November 11, 2010 at 5:11 am


    I assume you connect the speakers and the headphones to the same audio line out. Well, I don't understand why you would have to reboot Windows to switch between speakers or headphones. Can you connect both devices simultaneously? Please explain!

    What version of Windows are you running?
    What is your sound card?

    Maybe what you're looking for is not a software, but a hardware solution. There are audio splitters available, for example this one:

    • Brian
      November 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

      I should have said that the speakers are on my sound card and I have usb headphones. When I plug in the headphones windows assumes those as the default device but won't switch back when I unplug them.

      I am using xp.

      Some software, skype for example, has an option to use headphones or speakers, but my browser doesn't.

      I don't see why I should have to buy hardware when it is a software issue, ie some software can handle it so there must be some way of setting and changing the default output device.

      • Tina
        November 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm


        I didn't think of USB headsets, but now it makes sense. Thanks for clarifying!

        Please let us know whether Tilman's and Ryan's answers below put you into the right direction. If you could share for which applications you need to reboot your computer, we may be able to give you better instructions on how to change the preferred sound output device.