Why Do Your Headphones Sound Muffled? 8 Causes and Fixes

Audio quality can have all sorts of problems. The root of any issue causing unpleasantness or distortions in a sound signal can vary, and they usually form an extensive list. It is common to notice audio quality differences in speakers, car radios, earplugs, and headphones. Let’s discuss how it can be related to headphones.

When considering muffled sounds in headphones, the issue can be related to:

  • The Operational System
  • Driver Updates
  • Sound Distribution
  • Connectivity
  • Electrical Issues
  • Condition
  • Audio Settings
  • Impedance

Along with the many reasons a headphone reproduces muffled sounds, you’ll find that often the issue requires a simple solution. It’s common to get wrong settings or driver problems on any audio gear, and headphones do not stray further from this. However, if you’re an audiophile, knowing easy fixes and solutions for this problem won’t be surprising.

The Operational System

Depending on the operational system of the computer, some sounds can go through different processes.

You probably know that Windows or Linux systems, for example, support different parameters for reproducing an audio signal. Operational systems can also be classified into x32 and x64. The x32 means that the system is projected for 32-bits processors, which can compromise some high-quality needs.

An x32 system usually won’t behave as swiftly and capable as an x64. Generally, old computers feature the 32-bits system since modern models commonly work with 64-bits processors. The x32 will not offer the same performance mainly because of its lower RAM capacity of four gigabytes. 

Video graphics, general computer speed, and sound quality are essential aspects that the operating system will influence. Processors define many textures within the computer functionality. By having a solid stand on sound, the processing capacity can cause distortions or unpleasantness on your headphones, including making them appear muffled.

To fix this issue, consider:

● Upgrading the computer

● Upgrading the soundboard

● Upgrading any x32 software

● Prioritizing 64-bits plugins for music production

Driver Updates

Whether the computer is running on a 32-bits or 64-bits operational system, your headphones may cause muffled audio for another reason. Keeping up-to-date with the newer driver versions for the soundboard, the headphone, and the operating system is crucial and can influence any device’s audio quality.

Audio drivers are fundamental, and they need to be checked every once in a while. A driver check should happen if the sounds changed for the worse all of a sudden.

As with video, a dysfunctional driver will result in harmful and nonoperative parameters in the audio reproduction capacity of your device; this can trigger situations in which the sound can come clean through a speaker but distorted or disoriented through a headphone. It can be observed frequency weaknesses, glitches, bugs, and many more unexpected issues on outdated systems featuring old drivers.

To fix this problem, a good practice is to check if the system needs any updates. Go to your device settings and search for an update option.

In Windows, for example,

  1. You can select “Settings” after clicking on the Start button.
  2. In the Settings panel, select “Update & Security.”
  3. Go to the “Check for Updates” button.

After completing these steps in Windows, a search for new drivers and updates of the system will begin.

Microsoft users may also find some problems after updating their Windows version. A common occurrence was that when updating from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, some users started having muffled sounds all of a sudden. One of the solutions shared by the user “Toscanini” in the Microsoft forum did not include any drivers update.

In short, his solution was configuring the Realtek Speakers by adjusting the Surround / Stereo settings. After accessing the Realtek Speakers configurations and proceeding with Stereo settings, the user should hear sounds typically when testing them afterward.

In case the solution as mentioned above does not work. A popular way to fix the issue would be to go through your speaker’s properties in your device’s Sound settings and disable all the effects found in the Enhancements tab. Afterward, de-select “Allow applications to take exclusive control…”, apply settings, and test it. 

You can also try checking if your software or headphones, for instance, have an update. Sony, for example, makes this pretty easy with their Realtek High Definition Update page. Sony also offers a page uniquely featuring their headphones and any new driver updates they may have.

Sound Distribution

The way the sound is distributed in a headphone is pretty different from most other sources, and for the unaccustomed listener, it may sound weird.

When a speaker reproduces audio, the signal will shape accordingly to the environment. In addition to that, frequencies obey a standard structure; higher frequencies can be more directional because of their different wave shape than lower frequencies. The room’s characteristics impact this, and often you may hear the higher sounds of music more clearly.

But when a headphone is the source of an audio signal, the control and predominance of frequencies will differ entirely from a speaker, for example. Since it provides audio directly to our ears, the headphone will keep all frequencies accurately, thus rewarding some with more power. 

In the typical case of enriching the lower frequencies, headphones will sound muffled since the muffle texture is predominantly 100-300 Hz.

Trying different headphones may help you to get used to this. If it’s a big issue, gradually familiarize yourself with an earphone’s signal by changing brands and models. An exciting suggestion is to start using open-back headphones since they let the airflow through the earcups.

This gear will let the sound travel more ambiently, closer to what a speaker does, by providing open earcups. Getting familiarized with open-back headphones will make anybody more adaptive to closed-back models.


For a headphone to work correctly, it needs to be rightfully set. Connectivity problems commonly cause audio issues. If, for some reason, the wires that connect a headphone to the device are loose, the sounds coming out of the headphones can break. It’s common to hear muffled music in this scenario.

Still related, loose wires can cause issues, but damaged ones can also bring many problems. Headphones commonly use layered wires; these layers will protect a highly restorative material inside the external rubber. This material, typically copper, will conduce electricity and, with it, audio information.

If these wires are damaged for whatever mechanical reason (wire pulling, weared-out wires, improper tension), your headphones will perform differently than they should.

For fixing this issue, consider lightly soldering whatever fractured copper structure you can see in the wire’s body. If it’s only slight damage on the outside layer, try using strong glue, such as moldable glue.

You can also browse through different cables, test new ones to see if the problem persists. If faulty wires were causing the issue, then you will fix the problem if you replace them.

Electrical Issues

Electricity can be tricky. For a headphone to perform correctly, it needs to have all its operational board intact. Apart from wires, the internal information running through a headphone is also pretty delicate and requires a good amount of care.

When this audio gear is operating, its internal circuitry throws information to all sorts of directions inside its electric board. When this happens without any problem, the data will arrive and be used by whatever reading algorithm the developers implemented there. In a headphone, the result from such a process will be good quality sounds.

However, some things can happen to disturb this process.

Suppose you’ve read our article that covered some problems related to bass sounds. In that case, you’ll remember that speaker systems feature a coil in their diaphragm that is responsible for voicing whatever audio comes out of it. The coil moves whenever audio is playing, and the movement can be swift or expansive.

Swift movements generally won’t cause any harm; they are optimal for long periods of use since they don’t require too much effort from the source. This kind of movement happens whenever you play music on a healthy level, without increasing the sound’s amplitude to an extreme value.

Expansive movements, on the other hand, can be highly harmful to your gear. Loud volumes will weaken the structure and damage your audio quality by requiring the headphone’s voice coil to do extensive and quick movements. The result is also popularly referenced as a “blown headphone” caused by excessive volume power.

Another essential matter to observe is the overall care of the gear. If the headphone gets accidentally wet for some reason, the liquid will likely damage the circuitry to the point it won’t work as intended, or it won’t work at all. By keeping the gear in a safe space, accidents like these won’t happen as much.

Avoid some issues by setting the audio at a healthy and friendly level in your device. Don’t overpower your headphones with high amplitude sounds. Keep all your audio gear, independently of which, at safe places to not cause wet accidents since the electrical part is easily compromised in these scenarios.

Umid places can also cause a speaker or headphone to seem “blown.” It happened to me once, a speaker I have sounded incredibly distorted, and the damage seemed irreversible. After a few minutes, it started working fine. The cause was humidity since it spent the night in a very humid place without any coverings. The outcome would be considerably worse had I left it there for more than one night.


It’s essential to keep headphones and earbuds clean. Strange artifacts such as filth, wax, fibers, and dust can accumulate in your gear and disrupt its functions.

Dust, or any of the above-mentioned outside bodies, can pile up in the inside board of your gear and affect it negatively. Ear wax, for example, when accumulated on earbuds, will bring discomfort to the user and serve as an obstacle for disturbing any clean sound.

It’s essential to clean these segments and remove excessive filth. Use cotton swabs to get wax and dust out of earbuds; it’s also important to apply light movements when cleaning since doing it uncarefully may cause any debris to be pushed more profoundly in the device’s canal.

Consider using IPA 99% to clean electronics more deeply. The Isopropyl Alcohol 99% is optimal for cleaning electronics since it evaporates exceptionally quickly, delivering a clean and dry surface within seconds. If, for some reason, there is water on the circuit, try mixing IPA 99% with it since, when combined with water, it forms a homogeneous mixture.

However, do not over-apply Isopropyl Alcohol 99%, as it’s flammable, and keep it from contacting your skin for an extended period since it can easily irritate.

You should also pay attention to the connectivity entrance of your device; if it’s dusty, then it might not work correctly, and you should remove any fabrics or artifacts in the port. For cleaning the gear in this situation, use a thin piece of wire or metal, like a paperclip, and try inserting it in the port with something gluey.

Fundamentally, you’ll want to use this wire or paperclip to hold any debris inside the connect, removing them when you pull it out.

Remember that, apart from being beneficial to the headphones, cleaning and maintaining positive hygiene on your gear is also good for your health. By doing so, you’ll avoid many health-related issues like ear pain, tinnitus, hearing damage, and more.

Audio Settings

There are some impressive parameters that you can set in your system to help shape the sound with more clarity and quality, including for headphones.

If you’re familiar with the frequency range, then popular device ranges such as 44100 Hz, 48000 Hz, 96000 Hz, and 192000 Hz are standard to you.

But if this concept is new for some, let’s revise the basics. The numbers written above in Hertz are associated with sample rates and relate to the sound spectrum. The higher the number, the broader the range will be.

Generally, when selecting, for example, a parameter featuring 96000 Hz, the audio signal will have all frequencies below 96 kHz—so the higher this number, the more frequency information the sound carries.

Accompanying the frequency range, you’ll have a 16-bit or 24-bit option. Those will represent values for the loudness levels or dynamic content. Intuitively, 24-bit has a higher value than 16-bit.

It is possible that depending on the headphones, these values may be affecting its performance, thus causing the gear to produce muffled sounds. In this case, to fix this problem, go to the speaker properties in your device, usually found in the control panel, and select the higher quality format.

Usually, the higher quality format will be a 24-bit, 192000 Hz (Studio Quality) option.


When selecting a headphone, pieces of information such as the impedance are essential. Ohms are important. Impedance is the equivalent of resistance, and if you’re with a high impedance headphone, use a more appropriate amplifier.

The higher the Ohm value, the higher the impedance will be. For instance, if an HD700, which has an impedance level of 150 Ohms, is directly connected to the pc, it will probably be quieter. By being more subdued, it can sound muffled and lower, which can disturb most audiophiles. However, if you’re using a lower impedance headphone directly on the PC, the sound can break through more precisely.

Higher impedance headphones will usually require a powerful amplifier. A good amplifier will have the capacity to start processing any output value for the headphones, delivering an excellent and ideal sound. 

So look for an appropriate headphone amp if you have a high-impedance earphone, or try getting a lower-impedance one to connect directly into your pc. A helpful way to know if an amplifier will work effectively with your headphone is to see if its value in ohm is at least eight times lower than that of the earphone. For example, a 16-ohm headphone will work appropriately on an amp featuring 2 ohms.

The process mentioned in the paragraph above is also known as the damping factor. A difference in ohms bigger than eight times probably means that you’ll not be able to hear anything, but if it’s a value smaller than eight, the sounds coming from the headphone may not be suitable in quality, and in some cases, muffled.

As an audiophile, you’ll probably be interested in the best setting for your Hi-Fi applications. In this case, look for higher impedance gear. Some mixing engineers, for example, enjoy Beyerdynamic’s DT-770 Pro, which features 250 ohms. For audiophile use, consider 60 ohms or more.

Júlio Roque

Júlio is an audio producer and sound designer. His experience and knowledge of audio and music drive him to write exciting articles related to plugins, hardware, and general audiophile gear.

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