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Headphones not showing up in Playback Devices – How to Fix it

If you are anything like me, you spend the majority of your day with your headphones firmly secured around (or tucked inside, if you use earbuds) your ears. My last task before leaving the house every workday is to turn off my speaker and plug my headphones into my phone. 

Today, I ran through my routine as usual. Everything was going as smoothly for a cold and drizzly Monday morning. My breakfast was delicious (avocado and eggs on a bagel), my shower was warm and soothing, my coffee was hot and invigorating.  

Then disaster struck…

As I plugged my headphones into my phone, something felt different. There was no satisfying notification click to let me know I had plugged in my headphones. “That’s strange,” I thought as I pulled my phone back out from my pocket. And sure enough, the headset icon was nowhere to be seen on my notification bar. 

This exact situation sent me down a rabbit hole of fixes, and I quickly become a little obsessed with fixing the problem, not just for myself but for anyone in a similar situation to mine. So, no matter if you are having issues connecting headphones to a smartphone, a PC, or a Mac, stick around because I have done all the annoying research for you.

First Things First

First Things First

Before we dive into any software issues that may be plaguing you, let’s first take a look at what could have gone wrong with the headphones or device physically. This could give a quick solution to headphones not showing up in playback devices.

Grab a spare set of headphones (if you don’t own another pair, then ask a friend) and see if they work with your device. If these work, then there is something physically wrong with your headphones themselves. On the other hand, if they don’t work, then your device’s 3.5mm jack insert could be the problem.

If none of these tests show any signs of helping, then you may have a software issue. Let’s run through some troubleshooting steps for all the major platforms. Also, many sets of headphones have built-in volume controls. Have a quick look to see if the volume is turned up.

We are Talking About Wired Headphones

Remember, if you are using a Bluetooth headset, not all headsets can be connected to two or more devices at once. Make sure to open the Bluetooth settings on your device and check that your headphones are connected. 

If they are connected, then turn your Bluetooth off, wait ten seconds, then turn it back on and reconnect. This fix will often work for Bluetooth headphones. With that said, let’s get back to solving the problem of headphones not showing up in playback devices.

Connecting Headphones to an iOS (iPhone)

Here is how to check if your headphones work with an iPhone.

  • First, either swipe down from the top right-hand corner or up from anywhere at the bottom of your screen. 
  • Tap and hold down the audio button to bring up the connected devices list. This list will reset each time it is opened.
  • If your headset is on this list, then tap it. If it is not on this list and it does not work with other devices, then your headphones are probably broken.

Connecting Headphones to an Android Device

Connecting Headphones to an Android Device

This is a quick guide to troubleshoot headphone connection issues with Android devices.

  • Open your settings menu, then select sound and vibration, then separate app sounds, and finally audio devices. Or simply search audio devices if your phone has a settings search bar. 
  • This list should refresh every time it is opened. You can pull down to refresh also. 
  • If your headset is on this list, then tap it. If it is not on this list and it does not work with other devices, then your headphones are probably broken.

Connecting Headphones to a PC 

Run through this list until you get your headphones working. There is no need to do all the steps if they are not necessary.

  • The first thing to do is plug your headphones in and restart the computer. This will allow for any queued updates to be installed, which may fix the issue.
  • Other devices that are connected to your PC may be channeling the sound away from your headphones. Unplug everything (HDMI and any USB devices) and see if that helps.
  • Next up, right-click on the volume icon at the bottom right of the taskbar and click on “Sounds.” If you don’t see your headphones on the list, right-click anywhere that is blank and select “Show Disabled Devices.” Hopefully, your headphones appear on that list now. If they do, then simply select them.
  • Next, you can update your audio driver. To do this, open up the taskbar and scroll down until you find “Sound, video, and game controllers.” Right-click on the listing for “Sound Card” or “Audio Device,” then click on “Update Driver.” Then all you have to do is click “Search automatically for updated driver software,” and the computer should take care of the rest. If this does not work, then go to google and search for the driver through the device manufacturer’s website.
  • Uninstalling the drivers and reinstalling them from the device manufacturer’s website should fix 99% of the issues.

Connecting Headphones to a Mac

Connecting Headphones to a Mac

Use these steps to fix headphone connection problems on a Mac.

  • Restart your Mac.
  • Unplug your headphones and reinsert them while holding down both of the volume control buttons.
  • Other devices that are connected to your Mac may be channeling the sound away from your headphones. Unplug everything (HDMI, Thunderbolt, and any USB devices) and see if that helps.
  • Open the Mac menu bar, then open “audio.” This will show you if you are accidentally connected to a set of Bluetooth headphones or speakers.
  • Then open up the Activity Monitor and find “coreaudiod.” Kill the process by hitting the X, and it will automatically restart.
  • Open System Preferences, then open Sound, then open Output. Choose “Headphones” as the output.
  • Update your Mac OS.

Need Some Great Headphones?

We can help you find what you need. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Lightning Headphones for iPhone & iPad, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones Under $100, the Best Bluetooth Headphones Under $100, and the Best Headphones Under $20 you can buy in 2021.

Also, have a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones with Microphone, the Best Wireless Headphones for TV, and the Most Comfortable Headphones currently on the market.

And don’t miss our handy guides on How to Fix a Loose Headphone JackHow to Fix Headphones When Only One Side WorksHow to Repair Your Frayed or Broken Headphone Wires, and How to Fix Unbalanced Headphones for both Windows PCs and Android for more useful information.

Headphones not showing up in Playback Devices – Final Thoughts

If you are still unable to get it to work, then you most likely have a hardware issue. Hopefully, this rundown has helped fix any issue with your headphones not connecting to a playback device.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is a freelance writer from Montana. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and English, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Games and Simulation Design.

Her passions include guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments she has been playing since at school. She also enjoys reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, yoga, eating well, and spending time with her two cats, Rocky and Jasper.

Jennifer enjoys writing articles on all types of musical instruments and is always extending her understanding and appreciation of music. She also writes science fiction and fantasy short stories for various websites and hopes to get her first book published in the very near future.

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