Users running media software on recent versions of Windows may have encountered a strange occurrence: the volume of their media apps — Windows Media Player, iTunes, Plex, etc. — is automatically lowered when they run certain games or programs, like Skype. While this can be incredibly frustrating, it’s not a bug. The act of Windows automatically reducing the volume of certain applications is actually the operating system trying to help you out. Here’s why it occurs and how you can politely decline Redmond’s assistance.
With the explosion of VoIP services in the past decade, Microsoft wanted to make the process of placing and receiving digital phone calls in Windows easy and seamless. As part of this mission, the company introduced a new feature in Windows 7 (and persists in Windows 8) that attempted to detect when the user was making or receiving a digital phone call and automatically lower or mute the volume of other apps while the call was in progress.
This all sounds great until you realize that many apps can falsely appear to Windows to be digital telephone services, resulting in the undesired reduction in volume of a user’s media apps. Multiplayer games, for example, often have built-in support for voice chat, which Windows frequently misidentifies as a traditional VoIP service. In other instances, the app in question may actually be a VoIP service (like Skype), but the user wants to maintain the volume level of their running apps while using it.
Thankfully, this potentially annoying feature can be easily disabled. To stop Windows from automatically reducing your apps’ volume, head to Control Panel and select Hardware and Sound, and then click on Sound to launch the sound configuration window. Alternatively, if you have Control Panel organized by icon instead of category, you can just choose Sound from the list.
In the Sound configuration window, click on the Communications tab. This is the location where this automatic reduction feature is configured. As explained by Windows:
Windows can automatically adjust the volume of different sounds when you are using your PC to place or receive telephone calls.
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.
Click OK to save your changes and close the Sound configuration window. You can now also close Control Panel. Now, start playing some music and then fire up a game or VoIP app. Windows will no longer reduce the volume of your other apps, and you’ll have to manually control things in the event you make an actual VoIP call. If you ever want to restore the default behavior, just head on back to the Communications tab of the Sound configuration window and re-enable one of the automatic volume reduction options.
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