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PC Audio Quality Suddenly Became Bad

  • Sound Driver
  • Headphones
  • Sound Cards
Last response: in Audio
July 25, 2015 2:36:06 PM

I was using my PC today on Windows 7 64-bit with my earphones plugged in. When listening to a song, I noticed that it was not very high quality (I've listened to the same audio file a lot, only this time is it poor). The next song, the poor quality became more apparent, as the vocals magically vanished completely (a faint echo remains) and the overall quality is like that of a small PA system loudspeaker. I tried audio from Youtube, my own music library, and even sounds in games, and they were all poor quality. Plugging my headphones into my phone and playing the same music files, I can confirm my headphones are functioning properly. Every sound from my computer playing through my headphones is terrible, but it was perfectly fine yesterday.

I restarted my computer, which did not help. I checked for updates using Device Manager, found none, but went to the company website and downloaded the latest drivers from the manufacturer anyway (Realtek). This also did not help after restarting. One thing I did notice however, is that my other headset (which I have always left plugged in), had normal quality once i switched the default playback device to it (I leave both devices plugged in). My headset is connected via a USB sound card that it came with. My headphones are just going through the front audio jack.

I removed both devices, plugged my headphones back in, and the audio quality fixed itself. I plugged my headset back in (without making it the default device, so it is just idle) and the sound is still okay on my headphones for about 10 minutes. After that, the sound failed again, and I couldn't use the same solution. However, it seems that sound played through my headset will always be clear.

I'm not very good with this audio stuff, so I'm at a loss after checking drivers, restarting my computer. My best guess is that my motherboard's internal sound card might be failing, but that does not explain why my headset has normal quality, unless the USB sound card bypasses that. My only other guess would be that the front audio jack is just damaged, or part of the connection along the way, which leads to broken sound exclusive to my headphones.

I also have an installation of Ubuntu on the same computer, which I will use later to see if it is Windows messing with my sound, but I'm not very hopeful. If anybody has better ideas to whats going on or solutions, I would be grateful for input. My money is tight and a new sound card would be a disaster to my low economic status! :( 

More about : audio quality suddenly bad

July 25, 2015 6:05:16 PM

usb headsets bypass onboard sound, therefore its not really a valid test to prove that the usb soundcard is working fine. you have however verified that it could be an issue with the soundcard.

by trying the headphones on another device, you proved it wasnt the headphones.

this leaves either soundcard issues or software. given that you seem to have tried software fixes it could just be that something on the soundcard has failed.

-try safemode. how is the audio? this bypasses most drivers.
-try ubuntu. same as above as it uses different drivers
-is audio not working properly on just the one jack or do both front and rear jacks have issues?
-make sure you have your equalizer set to flat in driver settings. odd eq settings can cause such issues.

if all 4 above failed, then its likely a failed/failing card.

while not super quality, they do make cheap $6 usb soundcards you could use which should fix the issue. if its a desktop the $27 xonar dg is better however you said you were on a very tight budget.
July 27, 2015 4:01:44 PM

I wasn't able to try the solutions right away, because it started working again the next day. However, I did notice that the sound was not particularly "enjoyable", although I'm not sure if it was just me over thinking things. At least it was not terrible and obvious as before, but something still seemed wrong.

Just now, the sound failed again to the point where it is immediately obvious. Because the other suggestions you provided are longer, I tried sticking my headphones in the back panel first. Sound is great. Stick it right away again into the front, and the sound is terrible.

As for equalizer settings, I've always left everything normal. My driver doesn't seem to have a fully custom EQ, but a bunch of presets that I've always left disabled, same with room correction etc.

So if the back panel is working nicely, could it be that my sound card is okay, but something is wrong with the connection in the front panel? I don't want to jump to conclusions but oh god my front connection is built flush into my desktop's case, I'd be happier if my sound card was at fault so I wouldn't have to try and replace the front panel haha.

About Ubuntu and Safe Mode, it might take a while to test. Discovering now that my audio issues are kind of off and on, It seems I'll have to stay in Ubuntu or Safe Mode for a while just to make sure the audio does not eventually fail there too if it seemed OK at first. I'll have to find some long free time where I can just sit around in Ubuntu or Safe Mode without work to do.

As a side note, I found this audio jack under the cup of my headset that i can plug my headphones into. I think it was meant for sharing music, but because it is going through the USB sound card of the headset first, the audio is fine. For misc. reasons, I don't really find this convenient and I'm going to keep looking for a solution. If it comes to it, I'll weigh this solution over getting a new sound card.
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Best solution

July 27, 2015 4:46:08 PM

given that you say it sounds perfect out the back but not out the front.... its most likely the jack although could be the wires, solder connections wire->jack or something wrong with the front audio jack on the motherboard.

generally you can replace the front audio ports although if you did not want to go there just buy a 3.5mm extension cable and use the rear jack. while it might be an uglier solution its dirt cheap.
July 30, 2015 5:03:12 AM

I see. Well, in that case, I might go for an extension cable, but my speakers are using the back regularly. It would be more convenient in the long run to just replace the front audio ports, I'm sure I'll figure it out. Thanks for the help!
July 30, 2015 6:56:21 AM

if you contact your case manufacturer you can likely get the part. its normally a little circuit board which screws on and has a long cable going to your motherboard. you CAN buy just the ports which solder on however getting the whole board is easier and shouldnt be expensive at all.

that would fix if the problem is a damaged plug, damaged solder connection, damaged cable or similar. if the problem originated on the motherboard it would not fix the problem (although getting a cheap soundcard that has a front panel connector and plugging into that would).

likewise, cheap usb soundcards would work as well. they are usb flash drive sized devices and are often fairly cheap (low end models as cheap as $6-10, high end models about $30). that would work also.
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