How To Fix Intermittent Sound Problems In Windows
Sudden sound loss while watching a movie or video on your PC can be a frustrating experience. When the problem is intermittent, it just makes it that much more difficult to track down and resolve. While we have covered multimedia playback problems and Windows 10-specific audio issues recently, we have not directly addressed items that may have transient effects. This reader’s query changes that.
Our Reader’s Question:
I have a four year old laptop that worked perfectly until recently when sound dropped out of all videos I tried playing. Strangely enough, the time the video plays until sound stops differs. I can watch for 20 minutes until I lose sound. After that it happens more frequently, until eventually sound falls away after about 30 seconds.
The problem exists with VLC media player, Windows Media Player, PowerDVD, different games, and YouTube.
In YouTube, when I pause the video and wait a while, the sound starts but falls away again shortly. Also, when I click on the progress bar and the video reloads, sound comes back as well. This problem does not affect the headphones.
Multimedia problems can be irritating little gremlins to track down and eradicate, but it looks like our reader has a good handle on the basics that need to be checked first. Here are the actions I take for any sound issues I encounter.
The first stop is Device Manager to check the sound devices (Control Panel > Device Manager > Sound, video and game controllers). Take a look at the Other devices category too, if it exists. Device errors shown here need to be investigated and fixed before moving on.
Next we check the mixer settings to ensure the correct output device is selected as the default. The output device and sound sources (Applications) volume control sliders should be above 20% and not muted. Playing an audio file or a video with an audio track will allow you to see whether the mixer’s meters indicate playback is happening.
Moving on, the signal connections to the speakers are checked ensuring they are in the correct jacks, they are not loose, and the wires are undamaged.
The power source for powered speakers whether from a wall-wart, USB port, or batteries is the next item on our list. Make sure the speakers are turned on and the volume is around the middle of its range. The internal speakers of some laptops also have an external volume control. Make sure this is close to its midpoint.
If it still isn’t working at this point, run the Audio Troubleshooter. The latest versions are available online for Windows XP/Vista, Windows 7/8.1, and Windows 10. It will fix most audio-related software issues with drivers, services, and other components automatically. If you don’t have Internet access, the troubleshooter can also be reached from Control Panel > Troubleshooting > Troubleshoot audio playback.
At this point, a review the system log (Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Event Viewer or Win+R > eventvwr.msc) is warranted. Expand Windows Logs and select System. Set a filter for Critical, Error, Warning, and Information levels from both the Audio and AudioUI sources.
Finally, look for updated audio drivers for the system and also ensure the codecs necessary for playback of the problem files are installed.
Based on the information we have, we can eliminate or downgrade the following possible culprits:
- Codecs: A codec problem would prevent audio from playing at all.
- Audio drivers: Again, a driver issue would normally keep all sounds from working.
- Most audio hardware in the system: Since the headphones don’t exhibit the same symptoms, we can eliminate almost all of the audio hardware in the laptop as the problem. It also strengthens the argument against the audio drivers and codecs being contributing factors.
There are a few possible issues regarding the speakers themselves. Since our reader says he checked the speakers, at least one set must be external speakers or the mentioned headphones. I am assuming that he is using the internal speakers as the default output device since it is a laptop. Because the sound drops out after a video has been playing for a bit of time, we also need to consider that the problem is likely to lie with the hardware and may be related to temperature.
This means the problem is either with the headphone jack on the computer or the wiring to the internal speakers. Since the issue seems to exhibit when the device is warm, the resulting expansion of the metal conductors could be causing the problem either by shorting the bypass in the headphone jack or by creating an open in the circuit to the speakers, especially if the connection is loose in the first place.
In either case, you will need to open up the laptop to fix it. It is generally a simple matter to check the speaker connections and retest for efficacy. If one has sufficient experience soldering, you may also be able to replace the headphone jack yourself but if there is any doubt, have it done by a professional.
This type of issue may be helped also with the use of a laptop cooler if it is proven to only happen above a specific temperature.
After a few hours of testing, I was able to produce a similar effect using a Bluetooth speaker placed close to its range limit (just over 32 feet). I set this speaker as the default output device and artificially increased the temperature of the laptop to 162 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by HWMonitor. This is approximately 18 degrees over its operating temperature while running a 1080p video in full-screen but still below its T-junction max of 194 degrees. This caused the audio to switch to the internal speakers which were muted for this test indicating that the temperature of the laptop does affect the power/sensitivity of the Bluetooth transceiver.
I would have preferred to be able to see system temps, but the only sensors available in most laptops are those for the processor.
Again, a laptop cooler can help prevent this switching from occurring. Keeping the laptop closer to the speakers would also prevent this from happening in this test scenario.
Problems With Flash
I have seen several accounts in forums where it appears that an old version of Flash Player (v13) caused similar problems on some laptops. I would hope that this isn’t the problem in this case since it is currently up to version 184.108.40.206 with a massive pile of security fixes between the versions.
How About You?
So, what have I missed? Have you encountered intermittent audio problems with your computer? How did you go about fixing it? Please tell us your experiences and share your knowledge with your fellow readers.
Meanwhile, check out the best Windows equalizers to improve your PC’s audio.