How to Quickly Switch Audio Between Speakers and a Headset [Windows]

headset speaker switch

If you don’t want to plug or unplug your headset, you typically need to go through a multistep process to switch your computer’s audio output from your speakers to your headset, or vice versa.  There’s a quicker way, though, using a free software solution.  This is great for those times when you want to listen to audio over your speakers, but quickly switch to your headset to make a Skype call.

Soundswitch is a free program that allows you to set a hotkey to switch between audio output devices.  Soundswitch is pretty simple.  After you download the file and extract its contents to a location of your choosing, you then open up an .ini file (sound_switch.ini) to configure the program.  The configuration step is important – if you don’t do it, Soundswitch won’t work (unless your device setup happens to mirror the app developer’s setup).

To configure the .ini file, open your audio properties by right-clicking on the speaker icon in your system tray and selecting “Playback Devices.”  You then need to count the order in which your audio devices appear in the listings.  For example, in the image below, my headset (the “Speakers” device described as “C-Media USB Audio Device”) is device #1, and my external speakers (“High Definition Audio Device”) are device #2.  Before ascertaining your device order, make sure that you’ve right-clicked anywhere in the window, and chosen to show disabled and disconnected devices.

switching between audio sources in windows


Once you have a number for each device, take those numbers and plug them into the .ini file.   My .ini file ended up as depicted in the image below, and happened to match the default settings.  The two entries under “Sound Devices” are my headset and my speakers, respectively.

sound_switch ini

Once you’ve set up the configuration file and saved it, you’re all set.  The default hotkey combo to switch audio devices is CTRL-ALT-F12, although you can change this in the configuration file.  Soundswitch offers some other features as well.  You can set hotkeys to scroll between devices, to hide the tray icon, to switch your currently selected device between two different speaker configurations, and to terminate the program.

Soundswitch’s developer (who we can thank for generously providing this program for free) has tested it in Windows 7 64 bit, and Vista 32 bit.  I’m using it in Windows 7 64, and it works fine.  There’s also an older version that works in Windows XP.

If easy audio switching entices you, head on over to the developer’s site to grab Soundswitch, and to read his configuration instructions.

Soundswitch [via Contriving]

Headset photo by Stephan Ridgway

Evan Kline

Hello, I'm Evan. I write about tech from my perspective – that of the average 40-something tech geek. You can also find me on Twitter and at my real-life job as a lawyer.    MORE ABOUT ME.

38 Comments:

  1. Hey Evan – great tip, thanks.

    It is suprising that it is still necessary to get a 3rd party app to be able to do this!

    At work I have non-USB speakers and headset and use WinXP so I use a Plantronics switch which does the job nicely [Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B000G8NO1I?ie=UTF8&tag=darylgriffith-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=B000G8NO1I ]

    Another option I’ve discovered for Win 7 users which doesn’t require messing around with .INI files is Coastal Audio Changer which automates some of the manual process. Full version is £5. I wouldn’t scare at making changes to the INI but know plenty of other who would find the Coastal Audio changer more comfortable to work with. It’s also actively being developed, which is good to know. (There’s a video overview also)
    [Link: http://coastalaudiochanger.wordpress.com ]

    • Thanks for the tips, Daryl. I did come across Coastal Audio Changer, plus one other paid software option, when I was trying to figure this out. As you point out, they’re good choices for people who don’t want to mess around with INI files.

      I don’t think I saw that switch, although I have a USB headset so I’m guessing it wouldn’t work for me.

      My next quest is to find a way to use my Plantronics telephone headset at work for both my phone and for my computer speakers and mic input. I found the Zoomswitch ZMS10 switch, which looks like it will do the trick. If anyone knows of another solution, I’d love to hear it.

    • Unfortunately, Plantronics has discontinued their PC headphone/speaker switch. Either you find one used, as on Ebay, or you need to build your own.

  2. Thanks for writing about my program! As the developer, I’m always excited to see people using it.

    Expect to see the program open-sourced within the next couple months and new features added.

  3. this is helpful!
    I noticed the headset, i like logitech :)

    thanks!

  4. this was a fantastic read i had never heard of soundswitch.. and you broke down each step into great detail –keep sharing the knowledge; this is just what people need

  5. That appears to be fine although i am just still less than sure that I like it. At any rate will look more into it and choose for myself! :)

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  7. When I tried to use my commands, it tells me that my “Array was badly formatted”/ I only have two “My Speaker and My Headset”. Therefore i did not change any formatting on the ini file

  8. great ,
    all my accessoires are logitech

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  10. I did everything in the tutorial and it worked 3 times. But now I can’t get it to work anymore. Any ideas?

  11. Hi

    I downloaded the program, but I can not find any .ini file

    Can somebody tell me how I can make use of this program

    Warm Regards,
    Rene

  12. Evan is right. The download includes the ini file.

    In other news, I’m right in the middle of a major rewrite of this program that includes GUI configuration. Here’s a screenshot of the rough work-in-progress:

    http://www.contriving.net/link/1u

    When I release this new version it will be available at http://soundswitch.contriving.net

    I’ll try to remember to post back here when It’s available.

    • Looks pretty slick, Dustin. I’m now only running Windows inside Parallels on my Mac (except at work), but I do occasionally use Boot Camp to boot into Windows, so I’ll keep an eye on this.

    • Wow, first I was happy to find this post and this solution… and then I read the comments and realized the developer posted less than 24 hours ago to explain that he’s working on a new version with a GUI…! That’s my lucky day!
      Thanks a lot for your great work Dustin

  13. I created my own audio switcher in pure Win32 API…
    here is the link…
    https://sourceforge.net/projects/win7audioswitch/
    hope it helps

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  15. mmmm, tried this but the only thing it does with the hotkeys is opening the sound devices control panel (also great to have hotkeys for that but not as handy)

  16. That is fantastic…

  17. Even better and with many options:
    http://fastkeys.vze.com/

  18. I came across this solution after I found a physical switch I hope will do the job. Ordered one from http://www.cablesonline.com/auspheswhub.html after checking out the reviews on Amazon. Cheap, but looks like it works and will be very handy to be able to mute and control volume within easy reach.

  19. Still great tool thanks for the config method! Win7 x64bit

  20. Can it be used in windows 8?

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