How to Troubleshoot Sound Problems in Windows XP

Filed under: Windows XP 

No modern PC can and should do without sound. Windows XP as well as a lot of applications use sounds to give feedback to the user, or to signal an event happening. And when you play an MP3 file or watch some video, you definitely want to hear sound from your speakers or headset. Another typical area where sound problems can come up is while making voice calls over the internet. Skype, AI, MSN, Yahoo, GoogleTalk, the all are very suited for voice calls.

When you are facing audio problems, a structured way of finding the cause can be helpful. We will skip the steps where you check if everything is plugged properly, since that should always be the case. If your audio card uses jack sensing technology, make sure you select the proper device when asked about it (when plugging devices). Follow the green = speakers, pink = microphone and things should be okay.

Sound Errors in Windows XP

In some cases you will see a concrete error that can help you fix the sound problem in Windows XP. The media player you are using can give an error, or you can check the Device Manager and see an error on the audio device.
Typical examples of sound errors in Windows XP are:

  • WAV sound playback error detected
  • Your audio hardware cannot play files like the current file
  • No wave device that can play files in the current format is installed
  • Windows Media Player cannot play the file
  • This device cannot start. (Code 10)
  • The drivers for this device are not installed. (Code 28)

It is also possible that there is no error, but:

  • there is simply no sound
  • the sound is not working for internet pages
  • the sound only works on a headset and not on the speakers
  • sound is of bad quality
  • surround sound is not working.

In all cases it could be an audio configuration problem, but often it is a driver problem. The best approach is to go through the steps below and check each aspect.

Steps to Fix Sound Problems

  • If you have an onboard audio card, you need to make sure the onboard audio device is enabled in the Bios. Instruction will vary per motherboard, so you need to follow the instructions in your PC or motherboard manual for this. If you are using a separate sound card, the onboard should be disabled of course!
  • In Windows XP, open the Device Manager (open the Control Panel -> double-click the System icon -> in System Properties dialog box, select Hardware tab -> click Device Manager button).
  • In the Device Manager, open the “Sound, video and game controllers” group. Here you should see your audio device as shown in the image.
    Windows XP Sound Device
  • If the sound device is not listed, check if any devices are listed in the “Other devices” or “Unknown devices” group, most likely with a yellow exclamation mark.
  • If the device is not listed or if devices are listed under the “Unknown devices” group, the most likely cause is a missing or incorrect device driver. If you have the sound driver for the sound device, (re)install the sound drivers. If you do not have the drivers the easiest method is to use a driver update tool.
  • If updating the drivers does not work, you need to find the cause of the problematic device.
  • If the sound device is listed in the Device Manager, and you still do not have sound, first open the Control Panel.
  • In the Control Panel, double-click “Sounds and Audio Devices”.
  • In the first screen, with the Volume tab active, make sure the Mute checkbox is not selected and that the volume slider is close to High.
    Windows XP Sound Volume
  • Next, click the Advanced button, and in the Advanced Audio Properties dialog box, make sure you have a valid Speaker setup. At least make sure it is not set to “No speakers”. Click OK when done.
    Windows XP Speaker Setup
  • Now click the Speaker Volume button. Both the Left and Right speaker volume should be close to High. Click OK when done.
    Windows XP speaker volume
  • Next, select the Audio tab in the Sounds and Audio Devices Properties dialog box.
  • In the Sound playback group, you want to set the Default device to your sound card device. Part of the name will normally match with the name you found in the device manager.
    Windows XP audio devices

    Also click the Volume button in the Sound playback group and adjust the Volumes to a high enough level. The Volume Control will show the mixer, which does depend on the audio device installed. The sample has a SoundMax audio card. Clear all the Mute checkboxes.

    Volume controlmixer
  • You can repeat these steps for the MIDI music playback.
  • Although not a frequent problem, check if the Audio Service is running:
    • Select Administrative Tools in the Control Panel.
    • Then double-click Component Services, which will open a separate window.
    • In the left-hand pane, click Services (Local).
    • In the right-hand pane, scroll down to the Windows Audio service and make sure it is not disabled. If necessary, right-click Windows Audio, in the popup menu select Properties and then set the startup type to Automatic.
  • If you have sound problems in games, you can check the sound card resources. Especially older games have limited detection of sound cards in respect to resources (IRQ, I/O address range).

Test Sound with an Application

With these steps, you have checked and adjusted the sound setup in Windows XP. If sound problems still persist, chances are there are problems with the sound settings in the application you are using. If the sound problems are present for all applications, there probably is something wrong with the hardware.

The best application to test your sound setup with is the Windows Media Player, as it will use the standard Windows sound setup, which you just verified and adjusted.
One setting in the Windows Media Player that needs to be verified is the DirectSound device.

  • Open the Windows Media Player.
  • In the Media Player, select Options in the Tools menu (press the Alt key to show the menu if not visible).
  • In the Options dialog box, select the Devices tab.
    Windows Media Player Options
  • Now select the Speakers device and click the Properties button.
  • In the Speaker Properties dialog box, select the audio device to use for Sound playback. By default it will have Default DirectSound Device selected, but you can change it to the DirectSound device that is listed for your audio device.
    Windows DirectSound device

    Also clear the Use 24-bit audio for audio CDs for now to make sure that this Performance setting is not causing any problems.

  • Click OK to close the Speaker Properties and then click OK again to close the Options dialog box.

For testing purposes, use an audio file that was installed with Windows XP. These audio samples are standard audio files, which do not require any additional or special audio codes.

Other applications that use sound will normally have a similar option to change the sound device selection and volume. For games, the sound setup is particularly sensitive. The right and latest device driver is often required.

Audio and Video Codecs

When a computer plays an audio or video file, it will decode the audio or video data to be played with the sound device. Each different audio and video format requires its own decoder, or codec. One of the possible problems with no sound is that the right audio codec or video codec is not installed.

If your standard audio files do play, but a certain MP3, AVI or WMV file does not produce audio, the first thing to try is to install missing codecs. You can try and find out which codec is required and then find and install that code, but luckily there are a number of codec packages that can be downloaded and installed.

One of the most used codec packages is the K-Lite Codec Pack. With that installed most audio and video should play without problems … and with sound. There are more of course, a quick internet search can help you find others.

Find Out Which Sound Card Is Installed

Knowing exactly what type of sound card is installed in your computer can be of great help in looking for solutions to sound problems. It can help you find the right sound driver, look up software and maybe help search the internet for more targetted problem descriptions based on manufacturer and model.

One handy way of finding out which sound card is installed is to use a program like Belarc Advisor. It will analyze your system and tell you about your hardware and software.

Belarc advisor results


61 Comments to “How to Troubleshoot Sound Problems in Windows XP”

  1. Ranjith says:

    Hi friends,
    For my system audio files playing fine in media player while playing video’s sound breaking. I have tried different video players and also i have reinstalled audio drivers. Please suggent anybody…………..


  2. neil says:

    very very clear advice and infomation thank you

  3. bhanu says:

    i need which files and directories will be used for audio and mic, inside the windows xp operating system

  4. Basit says:

    Hi, i have the same Sound Driver which is shown in the graphics like “SoundMAXIntegrated Digital Audio”. The problem is that since i have installed windows xp golden edition my sound is not working and in the control panel in sounds and audio devices the volume,Audio and Voice tabs are completely disabled but when i go to device manager there it shows that all the devices are working properly. i used windows 7 before but there was no any sound problem but in windows xp it gives me sound error. plz plz plz help me with this problem cause i m just got tired of solving this problem for two weeks….

  5. Basit says:

    And i also tried to update the driver through internet but it’s not updating….

  6. Anthony says:

    @Basit – There are quite a few variations of the soundmax audio device, so can you tell me what your model of computer is? Or what motherboard?
    If not possible, then at least list the hardware id of the audio device in the device manager.
    That way I can check for you and make sure you get the right audio driver for the soundmax audio device.

  7. steve says:

    thx 4 sharing with us but it didn’t work out for mi so please try to get for anothrer solution!!

  8. Anthony says:

    @steve – The solutions in the article are the most common generic solutions to generic audio problems in Windows XP.
    If you can let me know what your PC or audio card is, and what exactly the problem is, I might be able to give you further tips.

  9. Philp says:

    My PC is an Advert T9404 which is preloaded with Medion BDA Analog Capture.
    I presume this works in conjunction with the Medion SAA 7134 Capture Device.
    The Device Manager of my Windows XP tells me that it is functioning OK and the driver is up to date.
    My problem is that I can only capture video but not any sound. I know the sound is imputing as I can connect the anolog output to my TV with full sound as well as video.
    Additionaly,I have C-Media Rear Panel Audio device driver cmudax (C-Media do not now exist according to the web) and this driver now has to be opened manually since a PC repairer re-installed XP on my C disk.
    Can these problems be solved?

  10. Anthony says:

    @Philp – Regarding the recording, have you made sure that the right audio input source is selected for the recording? By default this would be the line in or microphone input of the sound card, so you need to make sure you set the default recording input to the TV Card, or select it in the recording program.
    The statement about the C-Media driver is not quite clear to me, how do you need to open it manually? Can you clarify that?

  11. belash says:


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