How to change the default playback and recording audio device in Windows

One of the many creative options built into Windows is the ability to record and play multimedia files of all kinds. The Windows operating system makes it simple to select a default device for audio recording and playback. But what if you'd prefer that another device be used from a list of devices with similar capabilities? For example, you may have a webcam and a microphone on your computer and you want the microphone to be the default recording device. Or, you may have both headphones and speakers available and you want the headphones to be the default audio playback device. Let's take a look at how to change the default audio devices on your Windows computer and how to troubleshoot certain problems:

What do you want to achieve?

Before we make any changes, it's important to know what we're dealing with. For example, some Windows PCs have a large monitor with built-in speakers (which tend to be of poor quality) and also external speakers which are connected to the PC. You may want to use the external speakers instead of the built-in ones for playing audio. We record audio using microphones, for example, and play them 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 audio device attached (like the microphone included in a webcam plus a standalone microphone plus a microphone built into a headset) and it's important to pick a default so that 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. Therefore, before moving forward with this tutorial, it is important that you are very clear on what you want to achieve: which audio devices do you want to use for each task?

Where do you change the default playback or recording devices in Windows?

The simplest and most direct way to change your playback or recording device works the same way in Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. The idea is to open the Sound window and access the appropriate list of devices, depending on what you want to do.

One way to open this window is to find the icon for Speakers in the notification area from the lower right corner of your Desktop. Then, right-click or press and hold on it.

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In the menu that is shown, you will find several options:

  • Open Volume Mixer - this allows you to change the sound level for all your open apps.
  • Playback devices - shows a list with all the available playback devices. If you want to change your default playback device, you should click or tap here.
  • Recording devices - shows a list with all the available recording devices. If you want to change your default recording device, you should click or tap here.
  • Sounds - shows a list with all the available sounds and sound schemes in Windows. You can learn more about this subject by reading this guide: How to customize the sound scheme used on your Windows computer.
  • Troubleshoot sound problems - this option is available only in Windows 10. It opens the Playing audio troubleshooting wizard.

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In Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, the last option available in the right-click menu is different from Windows 10 and it says “Volume control options”. This opens a window with the same name where you control which devices show their own volume control options in the Volume Mixer and in other places.

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Obviously, this isn’t the only way you can open the Sound window.

Another effective method is to use search. For example, in Windows 10, search for the word “sound” and click or tap the Sound search result.

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In Windows 8.1, go to the Start screen and search for “audio devices”. In the list of search results, click or tap “Manage audio devices”.

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In Windows 7, you can also go to the Start Menu and search for “audio devices”. In the list of search results, click the “Manage audio devices” search result.

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The Sound window that appears looks the same in all three operating systems: Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

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This is the place where all the important settings are done, related to changing your default audio devices. Now that you know how to open the Sound window, go to the second page of this tutorial and learn how to change the default playback or recording devices in Windows.

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About the Author: Ciprian Adrian Rusen
I love technology and I work in IT for more than a decade. I am the co-founder of Digital Citizen and its chief editor. Alongside my work as an editor, I am also an author. I have written and published 7 books, most of them about Microsoft products and technologies. They are translated into more than 12 languages. In 2014, I have been recognized by Microsoft for my technical expertise and involvement in the community with the title of Microsoft MVP - Windows Consumer Expert.