There are times when Windows 7 will get “confused” when it comes to sound devices, and if the OS gets “confused” enough, the Sound portion of the Control Panel (whether accessed by right-clicking the icon in the taskbar or via the Control Panel directly) absolutely will not launch. You’ll try to launch it over and over again, and nothing happens.
On attempt to troubleshoot this, you will run into a brick wall because nothing will appear to be wrong. The Device Manager will show everything is OK and all drivers will appear to have loaded OK as well.
But that darn Sound portion of the Control Panel still won’t load and you can’t get to Playback Devices or Recording Devices no matter what you do.
What causes this problem?
One of four things.
1. The installation of a USB audio device that failed.
2. The installation of a virtual audio device (such as Virtual Audio Cable) that Windows 7 has given priority to but is now not working (and completely cut your audio out).
3. A first-run of an audio device’s control software that failed after reboot.
4. A USB hub that’s starting to go bad (more in this in a moment).
What’s the fix?
Step 1. If you have any virtual audio software installed, uninstall it.
Most who read this encountering the no-Sound-panel-launch issue probably won’t need to do this, because you’d know if you had any virtual audio software installed listed as pseudo-literal devices. But if you do, you need to uninstall it so the device drivers are cleared out.
Step 2. Shut down the computer.
Step 3. Unplug every single USB device connected to the computer.
On a laptop this is easy as you just unplug anything connected to any USB port.
On a PC it’s a little different because you need the USB keyboard and mouse connected. Have only those two things plugged into USB. Any USB hubs, printers, external hard drives, USB pendrives/sticks or anything else connected must be physically unplugged.
Step 4. Boot the computer.
Step 5. After logging in and getting to the desktop, wait 2 minutes.
You do this so your computer loads whatever it needs to first before attempting anything else. For example, if running Google Chrome, a silent updater is launched on boot (seen in the Task Manager right after getting to the desktop) as well as other stuff that launches (anti-virus launch, video card manager software, etc.)
Step 6. Right-click the speaker icon in the tray, choose Playback Devices and your panel should return.
Seeing this reappear is a very welcome sight for those having problems launching it before:
At this point you can finally reselect your speakers are the default sound output device.
But wait – you’re not done yet. Keep reading.
More often than not it’s a bad USB hub that causes this problem in the first place
Unfortunately there is no way to really tell when a USB hub is going bad because there are no warning signs, and this is what causes “confusion” in the Windows 7 OS to begin with.
Windows 7 is almost never at fault here, but rather the USB hub itself.
You will know up front if the hub is bad if the Sound panel won’t launch again after reconnecting your audio devices to your USB hub.
To troubleshoot, try connecting USB audio devices direct-to-port instead of via a hub and see if the problem of the no-launch Sound panel goes away.
As far as Windows 7 is concerned, any USB device connected “works” if the hub can get across the data signal for any devices plugged into it. The problem however is that to the best of my knowledge there is nothing that will tell you if the hub is working properly, so you have to figure that one out on your own via method of elimination.
If the hub isn’t the problem, a specific USB device might have a cable problem
Windows 7 does not “know” if any USB device has a bad cable.
Are you using an old webcam that’s a few years old and has had the cable yanked a few times? The cable attached to it might be bad.
Your only indicator if a device has a bad cable is if it keeps connecting and disconnecting at random.
If when using your computer you hear a random “dee-doh” sound indicating a USB device has been disconnected, then a few seconds later “doh-dee”, and it reconnects itself, that’s a telltale sign the connection of one of your USB devices isn’t stable.
You won’t know which device is doing this, so again you have to use method of elimination to figure out which device has the bad connection.
When in doubt, start by troubleshooting the oldest USB device you have first.
The older the USB device – especially if cable-connected – the more likely it may have a hardware fault in the cable itself, so start there. If the hub itself is the oldest USB thing you have, that’s where you start.
It’s unfortunate there isn’t really any faster means of troubleshooting USB problems, but at least you know how to troubleshoot pesky older USB devices now.
It is not a good idea to use old USB cables.
A very old saying in the world of IT is “99% of network problems are from bad cables”.
With USB, the same applies.
If your USB cables are old, replace them all. Yes, all of them. Get a pad and pen, and write down every cable you need, then order them all online or go to your local department or electronics store and buy them there.
Chances are at most you will spend $25 for all the cables you need. Yes, that’s a lot of cash to spend on just USB cables, but it’s worth it to keep your stuff running right.
How old is old when it comes to USB? Five years if the cables haven’t been stretched or yanked in any way, and two years if they have.
Lightning does wreck USB ports.
The very last thing on the list when it comes to troubleshooting USB problems is the ports on your computer themselves. And the only thing I know other than physical damage from shoving things into a port or yanking them out abruptly is lightning.
Lightning does destroy USB ports. I know because I’ve had it happen. If you feel the USB ports on your PC have been zapped, buy a cheap USB card (and you might as well go with the 3.0 since it’s backwards-compatible to 2.0) and install it. On a laptop, if your USB ports got fried, there’s no fix other than to use the port on the other side or back of the laptop.
The PCMech.com weekly newsletter has been running strong for over 8 years. Sign up to get tech news, updates and exclusive content - right in your inbox. Also get (several) free gifts.