Windows 10 Won’t Recognize Headphones? How To Fix It

Windows 10 is one of the most used operating systems. However, despite its popularity and number of users, it can sometimes struggle to recognize certain audio devices, like your favorite pair of headphones. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to fix this concern.

Windows 10 won’t recognize your headphones because the sound drivers or headphone software might be outdated. Additional causes include incorrect system or program default settings, Bluetooth incompatibility, damaged headphones, or malware.

Throughout this post, I’ll guide you through each of the potential reasons your headphones aren’t recognized by Windows 10. I’ll also provide you with helpful solutions to each of these issues to help you use your headphones on any Windows 10 device.

Headphones placed on a laptop computer.

1. Outdated Sound Drivers

Lifewire explains that outdated sound drivers are one of the main reasons earbuds, headphones, and other audio devices don’t work with Windows 10 devices.

For example, if your audio drivers are outdated, your speakers likely won’t register, even if they’re connected via a cable. On the bright side, there’s a simple solution to this problem.

How To Fix Outdated Sound Drivers

There are two ways to update your Windows 10 sound drivers:

  1. Head to Device Manager in the taskbar, then look for Updates. Check for a sound driver update (they’re sometimes labeled as audio driver updates). You’ll likely have to restart your computer once it updates. Test your headphones when you’re finished.
  2. Go to your preferred search engine and look for your computer company’s website. They’ll have all of the latest driver updates, letting you know if yours is outdated and whether or not you need to make any changes. Ensure you close all other programs while doing this process since driver updates require a lot of processing power.

2. Headphone Software Issues

Some headphones have software that’s used to update or integrate them into the system. For example, high-end Bluetooth headphones often have software that needs to be installed on your Windows 10 computer before you can use them.

You might also need to update the headphones if you recently installed a new version of Windows OS.

How To Fix Headphone Software Issues

You might also need to update your headphones, like fixing your computer’s audio drivers. Keep these suggestions in mind when using headphones that need updates or installations:

  • Always update your headphones when prompted to do so.
  • Install your headphones if they come with software (they might work without it, but it’s not worth the possibility of incompatibility).
  • Consider updating your headphones through another device if they’re not working on your Windows 10 system.

Note: Installations and updates are much more common with wireless headphones, though some high-end wired headphones may require software.

3. Incorrect Sound Output Settings

All computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices with Windows 10 have system default settings for headphones and other audio devices.

Your headphones won’t register or work properly if your current settings point toward a different output. Sometimes, they won’t even appear on the available devices list.

How To Fix Sound Output Settings

The good news is that this is one of the easiest issues to fix. Follow these steps:

  1. Go to System Settings on the Windows 10 toolbar.
  2. Click Sound.
  3. Choose Sound Output (sometimes labeled ‘Choose Where to Play Sound’).
  4. Pair your device or select it through the speaker output menu.

You can also set your headphones as the input microphone. This is a crucial setting if you want to use the headset input and output for gaming, work, virtual meetings, etc. Provided that your headphones have a microphone built-in, of course.

4. Different Preferred Audio Devices

You’ll have to choose the sound output method if you’re using an audio interface, playing a video game, or listening to music through various programs.

If you go with the program’s default settings, it’ll automatically use whatever your computer has as its system settings. You’ll have to change the go-to audio settings in the program.

How To Select Preferred Audio Devices

While all programs differ, most of them let you decide where the audio comes and goes. Look for the program’s Sound Settings, then make sure your headphones are listed as the primary setting. If they register in this menu, check the aforementioned Windows 10 default settings.

Sometimes, registering or connecting headphones through different programs allows Windows 10 to know that they’re the preferred audio device. This method will allow Windows 10 to recognize your headphones for anything else you need to use them for.

If your computer has an add-in sound card, it is possible that you have plugged the headphone’s plug into the wrong jack if you are using a wired pair of headphones.

This is easily noticeable if your desktop machine has a headphone jack in one of the expansion card slot areas.

5. Damaged Headphone Connections

The headphone plug is plugged into a computer headphone jack.

According to Headphonesty, damaged headphones rarely register on Windows 10. This could include the following issues:

  • Bent headphone cables or jacks.
  • Exposed or broken electrical wires.
  • Damaged Bluetooth receivers.
  • Faulty wireless receivers.

It’s safe to say that any malfunctioning headset will have problems connecting through Windows 10 and other operating systems.

How To Fix Damaged Headphone Connections

If you have a wireless USB receiver, you can contact the manufacturer for instructions to pair a new one with your headphones. This will allow you to keep your headphones for a small fee (unless a warranty covers the receiver).

Unfortunately, all other damaged headphone issues call for full replacements. You can’t repair cut or split cables, bent prongs, and other electrical issues.

While you could try sending them back to the company for repairs, you’ll end up paying for shipping to and from the warehouse, not to mention the cost of repairs, which could exceed the cost of new headphones.

6. Incorrect Headphone Connections

Using the wrong connections will prevent your headphones from working. For instance, USB 3.0 and USB A ports look the same, but they often don’t work with one another.

Connecting the wrong USB cable will prevent Windows 10 from registering your headphones. The same applies to using various headphone jacks.

How To Correct Headphone Connections

Here’s how to identify and fix this issue:

  1. Check the headphone’s user manual to know which kind of USB connection your headphones use.
  2. Look for the USB type listed below the input port on your Windows 10 device.
  3. If your computer has the wrong USB input, consider using an adapter, as this will allow Windows 10 to recognize the headphones most of the time.

If your headphones have the wrong audio jack input, you’ll have to get an adapter or a different pair of headphones.

7. Bluetooth Incompatibility

A pair of Bluetooth earbuds are placed on a laptop computer.

Bluetooth is much more refined than it used to be. However, it’s still susceptible to compatibility errors.

Consider these common Windows 10 Bluetooth issues:

  • Choosing the wrong Bluetooth version will make it incompatible.
  • Using too many Bluetooth devices on the same Windows 10 system can cause connection errors.
  • Ensure your headphones aren’t connected to multiple devices (unless the manufacturer allows it).

How To Fix Bluetooth Incompatibility

Bluetooth incompatibility is a huge problem, but you can try these three solutions:

  1. Turn off all other Bluetooth devices that you’re not using. Other devices can pull the signal and cause various interruptions. If you’re not using the device, deactivate the Bluetooth signal (yes, this includes the Bluetooth settings on your smartphone, smartwatch, and other devices. You can turn them on after your headphones work.
  2. Check your device’s Bluetooth version and your headphone’s Bluetooth version. Outdated Bluetooth devices often have difficulty connecting to newer operating systems. Sadly, many old-school Bluetooth devices won’t connect to Windows 10. You’ll have to replace the device. This problem is very rare, but it’s worth mentioning.
  3. Turn off the Wi-Fi, connect the Bluetooth headphones, then turn the Wi-Fi back on. Wi-Fi, as well as other radio signals, tend to interfere with all Bluetooth connections. Turn off the router while establishing the connection, especially if you’re right next to the router. You can reactivate the internet once the connection works.

8. Faulty Wireless Headphone Interference

Not all wireless headphones use Bluetooth connections. In fact, many headphones rely on wireless USB connections.

The wireless receiver plugs into the Windows 10 device, allowing a stable connection. If the receiver on the headphones or the USB connection is damaged, it won’t register on your computer.

How To Fix Wireless Headphone Interference

Try these suggestions to fix your wireless headphone issues with Windows 10:

  • Reset the headphones, then pair them with the receiver AFTER plugging the receiver into the computer.
  • If the wireless receiver is broken, contact the manufacturer for a new one (third-party USB receivers rarely pair with headphones).
  • If your wireless headphones have a wired option, connect them via the wire, allow Windows 10 to recognize them, then use the wireless receiver.
  • Move the wireless receiver to one of the front connectors of your computer if you have a desktop machine. This can also help with intermittent cutting out.

9. Outdated Operating Systems

There are multiple versions of Windows 10. Windows Report claims that having the wrong OS version can prevent headphones and other audio devices from connecting.

This is one of the most common causes because not all Windows devices update automatically. Your headphones work one day, then they don’t work the next.

How To Fix Outdated Operating Systems

If your Windows 10 device is outdated, there’s no doubt you’ll have connectivity issues. Here’s how you can fix this problem:

  1. Go to the search bar and type Updates.
  2. Click Windows Update Settings.
  3. Choose Scan for Update.
  4. Select Update System if it’s available.

System updates can take a long time, but they can prevent malware issues, headphone compatibility problems, and more.

10. Computer Malware

Malware can cause all sorts of problems for your computer’s sound drivers. It can prevent your computer from updating, registering various audio devices, and more.

Malware comes from untrustworthy websites but can also be downloaded through spam links and other people using your Wi-Fi.

How To Fix Computer Malware

The best way to fix malware issues is to scan for viruses with Windows Defender and eliminate them using antivirus software. You can type Windows Defender into the search bar at the bottom of your Windows 10 device.

11. Incorrect Input Priority

Some computers have multiple input audio ports. If you accidentally prioritize the wrong input, you’ll end up ignoring the headphones you’re trying to use. Fortunately, Windows 10 makes it very easy to work around this issue.

Not only that, but you can also swap your headphones to the prioritized input without changing Windows.

How To Correct Input Priority

You might notice anything you plug into the back of your computer doesn’t work. This could be because it’s set to ‘Prioritize Front Inputs,’ meaning it doesn’t recognize any connections on the back of the computer.

Follow these instructions:

  1. Type Control Panel in the search bar, then look for Hardware & Sound.
  2. Choose the option that says Change System Settings.
  3. Look for your input preferences, then make sure it’s allowed to favor all inputs on the front AND back of the computer (you can also set it to only favor the front or the back, then plug your headphones into the corresponding inputs).

12. Reduced Battery Life

If your laptop or headphones doesn’t have enough remaining battery life, they’ll likely experience connectivity issues. Some headphones don’t connect when they’re below the manufacturer’s listed battery requirements.

Remember that this only applies to battery-operated devices, so desktop computers and wired headphones are exempt.

How To Fix Battery Life Issues

This fix is fairly simple. Charge all of the devices in the circuit, including your computer, the headphones, and any smart devices that you have connected to your computer or headphones.

While it rarely happens to devices that have paired with your Windows 10 computer, brand-new wireless headphones often need to be charged beforehand.

Note: Try connecting your headphone via the provided cable until they’re fully charged (if applicable).

Final Thoughts

While Windows 10 is heavily monitored and very trusted, you might experience headphone issues from time to time.

The important thing is that you check for updates, malware, and default settings. These three areas will get you through most headphone compatibility issues that you’ll experience on your Windows devices.