Although a lot of people use sound chips integrated on their motherboards for playing audio in Windows, many users still like to have a sound card not least because of the amount of external connections they can offer. These days you can also get sound output through your video card as well, and some headphones will even set themselves up as an audio device.
The trouble with Windows is it will only let you setup one of these audio devices as the default player at any one time. For instance, if you want to switch the output of the audio from your PC speakers to perhaps a TV or external media device, you have to go into the Sound options in Control Panel and change the default playback device from PC speakers to the other device by right clicking on it. And when you’re done, you have to remember to go back into the sound options again to revert the changes back or there will be no sound the next time you want to use the PC speakers!
This has long been a problem with Windows and switching audio devices is not something that can be done quickly using the standard options available. Thankfully there are some useful tools around that can make it a lot easier and faster than having to go through the Control Panel every time you want to select a different audio playback device. Here’s a selection for you to have a look at.
1. System Tray Audio Device Switcher (STADS)
STADS is a program that allows you to easily switch between audio devices without going into the control panel by simply using a right click on the the tray icon. This will show the available playback devices and allows you to select one of as default, and if you click on “Show Recording Devices” it will let you select the default recording device. There is a drawback in that it’s compatible with XP only and won’t switch the devices in Vista or Windows 7 / 8.
2. Quick Sound Switch
Quick Sound Switch is a small System Tray tool which unfortunately suffers from the same issue as System Tray Audio Device Switcher (STADS), which is it only works on XP and won’t change the audio devices in Vista or 7. It is still useful for XP users though and includes its own integrated audio volume mixer and set main volume level in addition to a shortcut creator and a hotkey function to set an individual combination for a device. Default volumes and sound devices can configured for startup and shutdown.
3. Vista Audio Changer
Vista Audio Changer has a number of interesting features, one of which is a an application monitoring function which watches for a process name to be launched and then changes the default audio device on its startup and shutdown. Useful if you want to switch audio or video to another device when launching a media player etc. There is also a configurable on screen display to let you know what’s happening and individual hotkeys can be created for each device you want to switch to for quick access. Although it’s called Vista Audio Changer, it will work on Windows 7.
4. Audio Switcher for Windows 7
This little utility is a plain and simple default audio playback device switcher designed to work in Windows 7 and has been created by a member of Hardforum.com. Run the program and a small speaker icon will sit in your tray, left click on it and you will get a list of the currently available playback devices with the current default highlighted. Simply click on the device you want to make the new default. There are no options but it’s an ideal and portable tool to quickly switch between your PC speakers and your HD TV for example.
Win7AudioSwitcher is a neat and portable utility with separate 32-bit and 64-bit versions available. In addition to a tray icon you can right click on and change the default playback and recording devices, there is also a useful floating widget which displays volume level meters for each audio channel and hovering over each device and using the mouse scroll wheel can alter the device’s current volume. Right clicking a device in the widget will allow you to change the default playback and communication device. Verbose tray notifications will inform you of all changes and Auto Switch will change the audio device if the primary monitor changes.
SoundSwitch works with the intention of making it easy for you to switch between the audio playback devices by using a keyboard hotkey. On installing via the one-click installer, right click on the tray icon and select Settings. Then place a tick next to the devices you wish to be able to select and setup a hotkey if the default of Ctrl+Alt+F11 isn’t suitable. Then pressing the hotkey will cycle through the ticked devices or left clicking the tray icon will let you select them with the mouse. A tooltip will let you know what is currently being selected. SoundSwitch works on Windows 7 and 8.
SetSoundDevice (SSD) is an easy to use and standalone tool that simply creates a shortcut icon of the audio device you want to select as the default. Run the tool and it will also open the Sound Control Panel applet because the program can also be executed from the command line by parsing the number of the sound device as an argument. To create a shortcut, all you need to do is select the device to create it for from the drop down list and then click the Change Default Sound Device button making sure the box is ticked which creates the shortcut in the same folder as the SSD utility. Obviously you need to make 2 shortcuts if you’re switching to one device and then want to switch back again afterwards.
NirCmd is a multi functional Windows command line tool that allows you to perform a large number of simple and useful tasks from standard Windows shortcut icons or within batch files etc. One of its features is being able to set the default sound device on Windows 2008, Vista and 7 although unlike the SSD tool, you have to create the shortcut yourself, the syntax is:
nircmd.exe setdefaultsounddevice [Device Name (eg; speakers)]
To find your device name, go to Control Panel -> Sound and each device will be given a display name (arrowed above), which is what you enter as the device name in the Nircmd argument. If you have more than 1 device with the same name, click on it -> Properties and give it a different name in the box at the top. It’s best to change the name of fixed devices if you can as those you unplug will reset themselves to the default when inserted again.
To create a Nircmd shortcut right click on the desktop -> New -> Shortcut and enter the command into the box (nircmd.exe setdefaultsounddevice [Device Name]), then click Next and give it a name such as “Switch to Speakers”. Double clicking Nircmd will copy it to the Windows directory for you, so if you don’t do that, will need to supply a path to the nircmd.exe in the shortcut.
These last 2 tools give you the added advantage of not needing to have a program running in the system tray or background if switching sound devices is not something you need to do that often.