Have you ever wondered if it is possible to play the same sounds through computer speakers and a pair of headphones? How about playing two different audio streams through headphones and speakers at the same time?
Both scenarios are possible in Windows 10 and it’s easier than you think. But first, why would you want to do this?
Play audio through headphones and speakers at the same time
There are actually more than a few different use cases for playing the same podcast or different sounds through two or more different playback devices at the same time. It might make more sense if you think of it as controlling playback on multiple outputs. Not necessarily just headphones and speakers, but any audio output device that your computer can access. Here are some great uses we can think of for this technology.
- You are a DJ and like to follow the music playing through the speakers using headphones.
- You want to play something on a TV connected to your computer for some people to watch, but you also want to keep using your computer and possibly listen to music on your headphones while you work.
- You want to play music through your Bluetooth speaker or the speakers in the other room, but you also want to keep using your computer.
Most of our readers are a creative group, and you probably already have some great uses in mind for your specific needs. Feel free to share it in the comments!
Understanding Audio Devices
Before we get into the details of how to achieve audio playback through headphones and speakers at the same time, it is useful to briefly explain how audio devices work in Windows 10.
Every audio device in Windows 10 is registered as a distinct audio target. You might think that only a sound card really counts as an audio device, but for Windows, there is no difference between the sound output of a sound card and the sound output of a Bluetooth speaker.
HDMI devices, such as GPUs, are also audio devices, because HDMI technology can transmit audio data as well as video. Sometimes the sound does not work because Windows chooses the HDMI output on the graphics card as the audio device, but most computer monitors do not have speakers!
The audio hardware is dynamic, too. When you plug in a USB headset, a new audio device will be registered in Windows within seconds, and that audio doesn’t go through the sound card at all. The headphones actually have a small sound card device (“DAC” or digital-to-analog converter) built into them.
This means that assuming your computer has CPU power to draw from, you can send audio streams to each of these devices independently. At least in theory. To make it work, you also need to take advantage of the feature that has been added to Windows 10.
Assigning apps to specific audio devices in Windows 10
This feature allows you to assign specific applications to specific audio outputs. This way, you can play an app’s audio through your headphones, while another app’s audio plays through your speakers.
This is also very easy! Here’s how to do it:
Right-click on the speaker icon in the system tray and select Open sound settings.
Locate App volume and device preferences.
Next to each app you want to route, select the output dropdown menu and choose the audio output from which you want to play that app’s audio.
You should hear the sound of this app coming through your desired audio device. You may need to turn off and restart your computer for the setting to take effect. Also, if you don’t see the app you want to route audio through in the list, you need to start the audio in it first. For example, we had to start playing a YouTube video in Google Chrome before the Chrome app appeared in the list.
Once all of your apps are set correctly, you can close the window. If you ever want to undo all routing, simply select the reset button to go back to default.
Play audio on headphones and speakers using system settings
Now you know how to get different apps to play audio through each set of speakers or headphones, but what if you want to play the exact same audio through your speakers and headphones at the same time? This is the type of setup a studio sound engineer or on-stage performer might use to make sure the stereo mix that goes out to the speakers is correct.
This is also very easy in Windows 10:
1. Right-click the speaker icon in the system tray, then select sounds.
2. Select the tab voice record.
3. Find Stereo Mix option, right-click on it and select Enable If not already.
4. Right-click on Stereo Mix again and select Properties.
5. Select the tab listening.
6. Check the box next to Listen to this device.
7. Under the Play by this device drop-down list, select your headphones.
8. Select OK.
Now whatever plays through your speakers will also play through your headphones. Just be aware that, depending on your hardware, there may be a slight delay between audio broadcasts.
Using hardware solution
All of the above involves some minor technical fiddling around system and hardware settings, but what if you just wanted a way to use both your speakers and headphones at the same time, play exactly the same audio at 100% reliability and not mess with the software? The answer is very simple. All you need is a headphone jack splitter!
These are exactly the same spacers you will use to connect two headphones to the same audio jack. People use it all the time, for example, when two people want to watch the same movie on a plane.
The only difference here is that you connect a set of speakers to one jack in the splitter and headphones to the other. Instead of two pairs of headphones.
When you want to use headphones only, just turn the volume down on the speakers to zero and put the headphones on. If your headphones have volume controls built in, you can do the same from there. This is probably the easiest way to duplicate the sound source. Especially on a laptop that only has one headphone jack.
Music on my ears, and nowhere else
You now have complete control over where audio arrives when playing audio of any type on your PC. Modern computers have so much horsepower to spare during normal use that you can also do something interesting with them.
This is also useful if you have a home entertainment computer that is connected to both the remote Bluetooth device and local wired audio sources. Enjoy your new audio options!