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How to Prevent Windows from Automatically Reducing System Volume

If you are running Windows 7 or later, then you may have run into an odd behavior in your Windows experience. If you’re running a program that uses sound [1], you may have noticed the volume of your sound is automatically reduced when you run certain programs, such as Skype or games with audio chat channels.

This can be very frustrating and many users have been really upset at this seemingly random volume reduction problem. As it happens, it’s not random and it’s easy to fix. In this article, I will show you why this happens, and how to stop it from happening again.

What’s Up, Redmond?

Longtime Microsoft watchers know that what you really have to watch out for isn’t malevolent intention on the part of the Redmond-based software giant. If Microsoft tries to be evil, they usually just mess it up and don’t really do anything. No, it’s when Microsoft tries to HELP that you have to look out, and this volume glitch is a sterling example of this phenomenon.

VoIP Call Headset [2]
Agenturfotografin/Shutterstock

Here’s what’s happening. As the voice over IP (VoIP) services became more and more common here in the 21st century, Microsoft wanted to make the process of placing and receiving phone calls on the Windows desktop to be more seamless (you’ve surely noticed how you make and receive all your phone calls on your Windows machine now, right?)

To facilitate this, Microsoft added a feature starting in Windows 7 and present all the way through Windows 10 that attempts to detect when a user is making or receiving a VoIP call. When the operating system thinks a call is being made, it automatically lowers the volume of other apps (or even mutes them) while the call is in progress. You know the way you didn’t even ask it to do.

Unfortunately, although this feature in and of itself is not an intrinsically stupid idea, it turns out that Windows is really, really bad at detecting whether something is a VoIP call or not. Multiplayer games that contain a voice channel, for example, often trigger the “feature”, as do outright VoIP apps like Skype or Google Hangouts.

The real difficulty is that people using Skype or Hangouts or games usually have their relative volumes configured the way they want them configured when they start doing a chat. Microsoft is doing the equivalent of rearranging your desk for you “because I’m sure you want things to be organized”, right after you’ve just gotten everything the way you like it.

Thankfully, this immensely annoying feature can be easily disabled.

Step 1

All you need to do is launch your Control Panel or your Settings (depending on your Windows version) and head to the Sound configuration dialog.

Windows Control Panel Sound [3]

Step 2

In the Sound configuration window, click on the “Communications” tab. This is the location where this automatic reduction feature is configured.

Windows Sound Communications Reduce Volume of Other Sounds [4]

Step 3

Click ‘OK’ to finish. It may be wise to restart your computer once changing this setting.

By default, the option to “Reduce the volume of other sounds by 80%” is selected. Change this to “Do nothing” to effectively kill the feature. If, however, you actually find this feature useful, you can further refine it by having Windows only reduce the volume of other apps by 50%, or by having the operating system mute all other sounds entirely.

Troubleshooting

If this hasn’t helped your volume woes there are a few other things to think about before giving up. Let’s talk about some troubleshooting tips to help you if you’re still having the problem.

My setting keeps going back to 80%, what can I do?

You can either turn it back to “Do Nothing” every time you open an app, or you can select the option to reduce the volume by 50% to lessen the impact. Either way, several users have reported that the volume settings revert whenever restarting an app.

Does this affect external speakers too?

Yes, many users who have external speakers experience volume fluctuations. Try using another port or alternate speaker for sound issues.