There's no feeling like turning on your new high-end computer speakers or noise-cancelling headphones, only to hear static-filled music. Instead of a crisp and clear audio experience, you just get a garbled mess instead.
However, before you start blaming your audio peripherals, it might also be the computer or phone that’s to blame. If your audio has a bad case of the snap-crackle-pops, here are a few ways to troubleshoot the problem.
1. Lower the Volume
Samsung Galaxy S20 (Credit: Zlata Ivleva)
You might want to enjoy your new speaker, but if it distorts at loud volumes, it might just not have enough power for the space. Turn the volume down and see if the music still sounds distorted. If it sounds okay, your speaker is probably underpowered for the volume you require.
2. Check Your Source Files
Next, you need to check the quality of the music itself. For streaming services like Spotify, make sure you have the audio-quality setting as high as it goes for the best sounding music. If you want lossless audio, services like Tidal and Amazon Music Ultimate, require you to pay extra for better music quality.
If you are trying to play music that you own, remember to only grab songs from sources that you trust. For those with large CD collection, you can rip the disc and go digital. If you are playing music you bought from iTunes or Amazon, you can be reasonably assured the songs are a decent quality.
However, if you are listening to an 80kbps MP3 downloaded from KaZaA in the early 2000s—or worse, streaming a YouTube video of a song someone else downloaded from KaZaA in the early 2000s—there are no settings you can tweak to make it sound good.
3. Look for Dirt or Water Damage
(Credit: Tim Gideon)
If your problems seem tied to one specific speaker or set of headphones, it could have water damage, dirt, or other debris keeping the speaker from producing clear audio. This is especially common in your phone's built-in speaker, so grab a toothpick and clean out any gunk you see.Those with AirPods can follow our cleaning guide.
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. While modern smartphones can survive a splashing, dropping it into the ocean is another story. Waterproof headphones do exist, but you will probably need to buy a new pair if you run your earbuds through the wash.
4. Try a Different Port (If You Can)
Acer Aspire TC-1760-UA92 (Credit: Kyle Cobian)
If you are using Bluetooth headphones, try a wired pair or use the cable that came with them if they support both. If you have wired headphones, see if you can try with a Bluetooth pair. This will help determine if the issue is with Bluetooth, your cable, or the headphones themselves.
Desktop PCs are not usually known for having the best audio quality on the front headphone jack. (That's why many audiophiles use DACs, separate digital-to-analog converters.) If things sound less than stellar, try plugging your headphones into the speaker jack on the back of your PC to see if that improves anything.
Laptops won't have another headphone jack (or any at all), but you could try connecting them with a USB dongle to see if you notice any differences. Depending on your computer model, you may need a 3.5mm-to-USB-C or 3.5mm-to-USB-A adapter.
The problem could also be with the jack itself, or with the audio drivers governing the PC's onboard audio. If it's the latter case, try reinstalling the drivers to see if that helps.
5. Disable Phone Calls on Your Headphones
Let's assume everything is good on the hardware side: Now it's time to dig into your audio settings. If your earbuds double as a headset for phone calls, it's possible your device is sending audio using the inferior phone call path rather than treating them as high-quality stereo headphones.
In Windows 10, open Settings > Sound > Sound Control Panel to see a list of all the speakers, headphones, and unused audio ports on your machine. Those with Windows 11 should go to Settings > System > Sound > More sound settings. Look for the device with a green checkmark—the one you are currently using—and make sure it's the correct one.
If you are using a set of wireless headphones with a built-in microphone, it may produce two entries in this list—one as a stereo set of headphones, and one as a hands-free headset designed for phone calls. If you play music through the virtual device designed for phone calls, it will sound terrible, so select different items here and click Set Default to see if one option sounds better than another. (You can also disable the communications headset option completely.)
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This is a common issue on Windows machines, but less so on phones. Still, it doesn't hurt to check. On Android, you can go into your Bluetooth settings, tap the settings cog next to the headphones in question, and turn calls off to see if that solves the problem. On an iPhone, click the "i" next to your headphones in Bluetooth settings and change the Device type to see if that does anything.
6. Adjust Your Equalizer and Audio Enhancements
Many phones and PCs have some audio "enhancements" you can add to your music, though these can often do more harm than good. If you are hearing distortion, make sure all of these settings are turned off. In Windows, head back to the Sound Settings as described above. Then, right-click the device from the list and click the Properties button
Go through any Enhancements, Advanced, or Spatial Sound tabs you see to turn off features like Spatial Sound or Bass Boost. All of these things can, in theory, cause distortion in the audio. You might even try turning Exclusive Mode on or off, to see if that solves any of your issues.
If your problems are on an iPhone, head to Settings > Music and make sure the EQ is turned off. Do the same for the music app you are using to listen. Android users will need to turn to their specific music app of choice, though Samsung devices may have other audio enhancements in settings. Search for features like Dolby Atmos, Equalizers, Adapt Sound, and other improvements that could be causing problems.
You may also want to change the audio codec used for Bluetooth devices. iPhone owners should be using headphones that support AAC, while Android users should use AptX. In Android, you can go to your Bluetooth settings, click the cog next to your headphones, and try the higher-quality AAC or aptX instead of the default setting, if given the option. On some phones, this will be called "HD Audio."
7. Disconnect Other Bluetooth Devices
How many Bluetooth devices have you connected to your phone? Are your headphones paired to your phone and computer at the same time? Sometimes, Bluetooth devices can interfere with one another, which will make your music sound distorted, especially if audio is coming from multiple sources.
Check the Bluetooth settings on your computer or phone and disconnect any secondary devices that may have automatically connected. After clearing things out, you may find your audio comes in cleaner to your main Bluetooth headphones. (If you are using a smartwatch, you might be able to go into the watch's settings and turn off call and media audio.)
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Over time, the internal components of the headphones can wear down and affect the audio quality. This is especially common in older or heavily-used headphones. In addition, the battery level of the headphones can affect the audio quality. If the battery is low, it can cause the sound to be muffled or distorted.Why is my headphone audio quality so bad? ›
Over time, the internal components of the headphones can wear down and affect the audio quality. This is especially common in older or heavily-used headphones. In addition, the battery level of the headphones can affect the audio quality. If the battery is low, it can cause the sound to be muffled or distorted.Why do my speakers sound so bad? ›
A damaged electrical connection or driver is not good. If the speaker performs at all, it will produce noticeable distortion. To recap, though it is certainly possible to overload the mechanical and electrical components of a loudspeaker, it is typically amplifier clipping that causes our speakers to sound distorted.How to improve sound quality? ›
- Record in a quiet location. ...
- Avoid echo. ...
- Invest in a decent microphone (if you can) ...
- Get a microphone stand. ...
- Use a pop filter. ...
- Stay close to your microphone. ...
- Use a mixer to split up audio channels. ...
- Make a test recording.
Simply put, "burning in" is a break-in period for new audio equipment, like you might have with a new pair of shoes. The purpose of burning in new headphones is to loosen the diaphragm in the headphone driver. For optimal performance, headphone break-in time should be at least 80 hours.Why is the sound not clear on my speakers? ›
Volume levels set too high or low. One of the most common problems when it comes to getting clear sound from your speakers is that the volume levels are set too high or low. This can be easily fixed by simply adjusting the volume levels on your speaker system.What do blown speakers sound like? ›
Instead of a pure sound, you'll hear a distorted or even crackling sound that does not disappear even at a lower volume. It could also be the case that your speaker is blown if you can't hear anything at all.What do blown speakers look like? ›
A blown speaker can have physical damage that can be seen. To inspect your speaker, remove it from the amplifier or instrument and take a look at the cone. There should be no holes or tears. Damage to the cone will prevent it from reproducing your signal properly, and will often result in ugly distortion.Can you make a speaker sound better? ›
Some Extra Tips For Improving Sound Quality Of Wireless Speakers. If you have a wireless speaker, try to position it next to a wall. This will help the bass sound more powerful and give the music more depth. Using an app like Spotify or Tidal, use the highest quality codecs possible (e.g., APTX).How can I improve poor audio? ›
- Invest in a Quality Microphone. A quality microphone leads to quality audio. ...
- Record in a Quiet Space. ...
- Use a Microphone Stand. ...
- Record Separate Tracks. ...
- Wear Headphones While Recording. ...
- Use a Pop Filter. ...
- Set Your Gain. ...
- Warm Your Voice.
Amplifying the high-frequency range of an instrument or vocal is probably the first solution someone would use when trying to add some clarity. Equalization is probably the most powerful tool in audio processing and can be used in multiple ways to make a vocal sound clear.What gives the best audio quality? ›
What is the best audio format for sound quality? The best audio formats for sound quality are uncompressed or lossless compression files—think WAV, FLAC, and M4A.Why do cheap headphones sound better? ›
Expensive headphone tend to produce the sound the way it originally passed to it, without changing frequency amplitude and provide wide frequency range. cheaper headphones can boost some frequencies such as bass and treble and give you the feeling that is sound better.Is headphones burn in real? ›
The “burn-in” myth
The popular belief that you need to “burn-in” a set of headphones with hours of loud sample sounds like pink noise before they sound the best is just that: a myth. The myth states that the component that needs breaking in is the headphone's speaker drivers.
Cheap headphones sound bad because they use lower-quality drivers, incapable of good technical performance. They also come with cheaper ear pads, which don't isolate well.Does headphone quality get worse over time? ›
It is possible for the sound quality of headphones to degrade over time. In-ear headphones can become plugged with ear wax. The foam tips used in some in-ear designs can harden with age, causing them not to seal as well. This reduces the ability of the headphones to block outside sounds, and it affects sound quality.Why does my headset sound like it's underwater? ›
You should know this problem may be a result of several reasons. The headphones may produce underwater sounds due to faulty cables, not well-set equalizers, damage by moisture, accumulation of dirt, and over usage. However, these problems are easy to solve even at home.Why is audio quality bad on Bluetooth headphones? ›
This happens because Bluetooth has two modes: The first mode is for listening to higher-quality audio. The second mode is for both speaking through the microphone and listening to audio. When Bluetooth switches to the second mode, audio quality is reduced until the microphone is no longer in use.How do I fix the sound quality on my iPhone headphones? ›
Go to Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Headphone Accommodations, then turn on Headphone Accommodations. Tap Custom Audio Setup, then follow the onscreen instructions. Or manually set any of the following: Tune Audio For: Choose Balanced Tone, Vocal Range, Brightness, or Audiogram (if available).