How To Change The Default Playback & Recording Audio Device

sound devicesOne of the many creative options built into Windows is the ability to record and play back multimedia files. Windows even makes it simple by selecting a default device for audio recording and playback, but what if you'd prefer that another device be used? Let's take a look at how to change the default and how to troubleshoot certain problems.

Working With Audio Devices In Windows

Before we make any changes, it's important to know what we're dealing with. We record audio using microphones, for example, and play them back through speakers. We can also record sounds from devices inside the computer, like the optical drive, and playback through headphones. Many people have more than one device attached (like the microphone included in a web cam plus a standalone microphone plus a microphone built into a headset) and it's important to pick a default so the sound is recorded and played back with the highest fidelity. You don't want your voice to sound like you're in an empty hallway because your default is the webcam microphone three feet away from you instead of the microphone in your headset or on your desk.

How To Change The Default Playback Device

The simplest and most direct way to change your playback device works the same way in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Find the icon for Sound in the notification area (lower right corner of your screen) and right-click or press and hold it.

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You'll see a menu that offers several choices: Open Volume Mixer, Playback devices, Recording devices, Sounds and Volume Control options. This looks exactly the same in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

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In Windows 8.1, you can also go to the Start screen, search for audio devices and click or tap Manage audio devices.

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In Windows 7, you can also go to the Start Menu, search for audio devices and click Manage audio devices.

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The window that appears will look the same in both operating systems.

When you click on the Playback tab, a window will pop up that shows you the devices available on your system. Each system is different, so what you see will reflect that. You can also see which devices are actually available (as you can see in this Windows 7 screenshot, some devices are not plugged in). Your current default device will be indicated by a green check mark.

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You can click or tap on any available device, and then choose Set Default. If you're happy with your new choice, click or tap OK, and you're done.

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You can set different default devices for communications and for recording, if you like. For example, you may want to use a headset for Skype and your speakers for everything else. To set this, first select the device you want to use, and then click or tap on the down-arrow on the Set Default button. You can then assign a device to communications or general playback.

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NOTE: In both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, you don't need to change your default playback device if all you want is to use a different USB device from the default you have set. Windows will automatically detect a new device being plugged in, and after a short time will activate it. For example, your speakers will be deactivated for as long as you have your USB headphones plugged in.

How To Set The Default Recording Device

Go to the Sound window, as described above, and click or tap on the Recording tab. Here you'll see the devices you have available to record multimedia files. Again, your current default device is indicated by a green check mark. Choose your preferred device and click or tap Set Default, just as you did for playback.

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You can see if the device is working by watching for movement in the bar beside each device. If you don't see any movement, you may need to configure your device to make sure it is not muted or turned down too low to register. Click or tap on Properties, and then choose the Levels tab.

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If changing the levels doesn't work, select your device and click or tap Configure. This will take you to the Ease of Access window (don't worry, this works for all sound device configurations). Click or tap Set up microphone. Windows will walk you through a few simple steps to get your microphone working.

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We covered the setup of microphones more extensively in our article Working with Speech Recognition: Setup and Configuration.

Troubleshooting: I Can't See My Device Listed

But what if you want to change to another device and you don't see it listed? We talked about this problem in our article Troubleshooting Common Speech Recognition Problems. Remember, speech recognition devices are also configured through the Sound window.

By default, Windows does not show you devices that are disabled or disconnected. If your device is not listed, right-click or press and hold anywhere in the blank space in the Sound window. You can then choose to see the devices that would otherwise be invisible.

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Here is the same window with all the invisible devices revealed.

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Conclusion

As you can see, setting the default audio devices for playback and recording is a quick and easy process in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. You can change them any time you need to, to make the best of Windows' recording and playback capabilities.

Have you had a good or bad experience with recording or playback defaults? Let's talk about it in the comments section below.