How to improve audio on your PC

From Windows 11’s built-in audio enhancements to dedicated equalizers, there are plenty of ways to boost your PC’s sound

An Acer Predator Helios 300 laptop with two headphones and a pair of wireless earbuds

Graphics aren’t everything when it comes to your PC. Even if you invest thousands of dollars into the best gaming PC, you won’t be able to fully enjoy the experience unless you have top-notch sound effects that complement high-end graphics. While most audiophiles will agree that the fastest way to improve sound quality is to get some high-end headphones, changing a couple of settings on your system goes a long way in getting a better sound experience. We’ve compiled some tips to help you boost your PC’s audio without spending a penny on new hardware.

These tips are similar on both Windows 11 and 10, although we used Windows 11 for the purposes of this guide.

Updating sound drivers

Before you begin, you should update your PC’s sound drivers. Doing so will ensure all the audio enhancement settings we get into below show up on your system.

  1. Right-click on the Start button and choose Device Manager.
    Right-click on the Start button and choose Device Manager
  2. Locate the drivers for your sound controller under the Sound, video, and game controllers section.
  3. Right-click on the sound controller of your choice and select Update driver.
    Right-click on the sound controller and select Update driver
  4. Click on Search automatically for drivers in the pop-up window.
    Click on the Search automatically for drivers option

Your audio drivers will be updated after Windows finishes downloading them. You are now free to continue on with the rest of our tips.

How to adjust volume and sound balance using Settings

You can use the volume mixer that’s built into the Settings app to modify the volume as well as the output devices of all your favorite applications.

  1. Right-click on the Volume icon on the Taskbar and select Open volume mixer.
    Right-click on the Volume icon and choose Open volume mixer
  2. You can use the slider under the Apps section to set the volume for each of your applications.
    The Volume mixer options will be available under the Apps section
  3. Click on the arrow adjacent to the Output device option to modify the speakers or headphones used to play back the audio from an application.

The Settings app also allows you to alter the sound balance of the left and right channels of your headphones and speakers. To do so,

  1. Choose an output device from the Sound tab of the Settings app.
    You can use the sliders next to the Left channel and Right channel options to adjust the volume
  2. The sliders to increase or decrease the volume of each channel are located under Output settings.

How to enable audio accessibility features

Windows 11 provides live captions and mono audio accessibility settings to improve the experience for users with hearing disabilities.

Mono audio plays the same sound through the two (or more) channels of your speakers, thereby removing any sense of direction. Unless you are hard of hearing in one ear or one of your speakers doesn’t work properly, you should avoid enabling this setting at all costs as it can lower the audio quality.

On the other hand, the live captions setting automatically generates subtitles whenever you run an application that plays audio. You can enable it by following our guide on live captions.

How to enable audio enhancements

You’ll be surprised to see the number of sound options that Windows 11 provides by default. From virtual sound to bass boost, you can change a bunch of audio settings from the Control Panel.

  1. Right-click on the Start button and select Run.
    Right-click on the Start button, select Run and type in Control Panel
  2. Type Control Panel and press Enter. You can also open Search and type Control Panel.
  3. Click on Hardware and Sound.
    Click on Hardware and Sound
  4. Click on the Sound submenu to open a pop-up window.
    Click on the Sound submenu to open a pop-up window
  5. Right-click on the sound playback device of your choice and select Properties from the drop-down menu.
    Right-click on a playback device and choose Properties
  6. Navigate to the Enhancement tab and enable Bass Boost, Loudness Equalization, and Virtual Surround.
    • You won’t be able to use the Room Correction option if you enable Virtual Surround, so you can leave it disabled for now.
  7. Head to the Enhancement tab and enable Bass Boost, Virtual Sound and Loudness Equalization

    Press Apply and click on the OK button.

  8. (Optional) If you’re running a DAC or an amplifier, you might want to increase the sample rate and bit depth of the audio by clicking on the drop-down arrow under Default Format.
    Modify the sample rate and bit depth by clicking on the arrow under the Default Format section

It’s worth noting that the exact number of audio enhancements may vary depending on your hardware and drivers. In some cases, you may not see the Enhancements tab even after updating the sound drivers. Don’t worry though, we have a few more tips to improve the sound quality.

How to enable spatial sound

Spatial sound is a technology that applies directional cues to your headphone’s stereo audio to create a three-dimensional sound experience where sound seems to be coming from multiple directions. That being said, surround sound isn’t all that useful if you enable it for games, music, or movies that don’t support it. In fact, it’s known to tarnish the sound quality if you use it on unsupported media.

However, for the limited number of games that do support it, this feature can be a real game changer (pun intended). You can enable surround sound by following these steps:

  1. From the Speaker Properties window, head to the Spatial sound tab.
    Choose Windows Sonic for Headphones
  2. Click on the drop-down arrow under the Spatial sound format section and choose Windows Sonic for Headphones.
  3. Press Apply and hit OK.

Windows 11 allows you to pick between three surround sound interfaces: Windows Sonic, Dolby Access, and DTS Surround Unbound. By default, only Windows Sonic will show up since the other two are paid applications you’ll need to purchase from Microsoft Store.

How to set up Equalizer APO

If you want to fine-tune the sound quality, you’d want to look into an equalizer application like Equalizer APO. Here’s how to use this open-source app:

  1. Download Equalizer APO from the official website.
  2. Extract the contents of the ZIP folder and run the installer with admin privileges.
  3. Choose the audio devices that you’d like to use with Equalizer APO and press OK. You’re free to select more than one device.
  4. Reboot your PC to finish the installation process.

By default, Equalizer APO will have a rather bare-bones interface. You can use it as is, but I recommend downloading the Peace extension if you want a highly-intuitive interface.

  1. Download the Peace extension from SourceForge.
  2. Run PeaceSetup.exe and go through the installation process.
  3. When prompted, choose Yes to overwrite the config.txt file of Equalizer APO.

Once you’ve installed the Peace extension, it’ll boot up as a separate application. You can either choose from a pre-created set of EQ configurations or create a custom configuration for your headset. You can even download a profile that’s specifically made for your headphones by following these steps:

  1. Click on the AutoEQ button in the rightmost corner of the Peace window.
    Click on the AutoEQ button
  2. Find your headset with the help of the Search bar.
  3. Press the Use button to add the equalization profile to Peace’s interface.
    Find your headset with the help of the Search bar and press the Use button

You can also manually alter the values of the frequency bands, their gains, and filters, and even create new frequency bands. Pair that with over 20 sound effects, and the Equalizer APO + Peace combo becomes hard to beat when it comes to customizing your audio experience.

Final thoughts

And that’s it! Windows 11 has plenty of options that you can use to boost the sound quality of your system, and you can also experiment with the different spatial sound interfaces to see if surround audio is worth your while. If you face any audio issues after tweaking these settings, you should run the Windows Troubleshooter by right-clicking on the Volume icon and selecting Troubleshoot sound problems.

However, none of the options provided by Windows come close to the customizability offered by Equalizer APO. While the staggering number of toggles and settings may seem overwhelming for beginners, using Equalizer APO with Peace is the best way to fine-tune your PC’s audio.