Listening with One Ear

Written by Eric Wyatt (last updated June 22, 2020)

Some applications, alerts, or other sounds in Windows 10 are set up for multiple speakers, or both headphone/earbud speakers. This typically creates a more robust sound rather than a flat, canned sound. (This is the whole concept behind stereo—it can give you richer sound than mono, or monaural, sound.) When you hear the sounds in this manner it typically sounds good, that's why they're designed that way. However, using two speakers isn't always ideal. This is especially true today, where our computers tend to be a major communication instrument. With the capability to use our computers to place phone calls, attend a webinar, listen to music, or all sorts of other activities that utilize sound, there can be a problem. The problem for some comes in one of two forms:

  • Privacy. With two speakers it allows others to hear what you are doing. This is problematic when you're using your computer for phone calls for example.
  • Distracting. Speakers can be distracting for others around you. Perhaps your cubical mate doesn't like hearing a chime every time you get an email or message.

To try solving these problems, many people turn to headphones. This move can be problematic as you tend to not be able to hear anything going on around you. So, for a lot of people, they solve this issue by using only one part, or speaker, from their headphones. (I tend to do this, covering one ear with a headphone and moving the opposite headphone so it doesn't cover my other ear.) This, too, can cause a problem as the unused speaker still produces sounds that you might miss or, worse still, shares with those around yourself (again that private phone call isn't so private.)

To get around this there are two setting changes you can use within Windows 10 to have all the audio on your computer go through only one speaker. The great thing about this setup is that it is a fast and simple change that you can implement right away, without needing to restart your computer. Follow these steps:

  1. Press the Windows key and type (without quotes) "Ease of Access," then press Enter. Windows displays the Ease of Access Settings section of the Settings dialog box.
  2. At the left side of the dialog box, click on Audio under the Hearing section. This displays the Audio Settings of the Ease of Access section. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Audio section of the Ease of Access section of the Settings dialog box.

  4. Click on the Toggle under "Turn On Mono Audio." This combines the audio channels normally split between left and right into one channel. At this stage, the same audio channel will play through both the left and right speakers.
  5. In the "Find a Setting" search bar (upper-left corner of the dialog box), type, without quotes, "Sound Output Device Properties," then press Enter. This displays the Device Properties section of the Settings dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  6. Figure 2. The Sound Output Device Properties section of the Settings dialog box.

  7. Under "Balance" slide the slider correlating to the channel for the speaker you're not using to the left, to show "0" to the right of that channel.
  8. Close the Settings dialog box. Your settings take effect immediately.

With these settings modified, if you wear only one earbud while the other dangles down, you can rest assured no one else can hear any sound coming from the unused earbud. All the sounds that were originally designed to play through different channels have been combined into one audio channel, and only through one speaker whether that is your desktop speakers or your headphones/earbuds.

 This tip (13775) applies to Windows 10.

Author Bio

Eric Wyatt

Eric Wyatt is a swell guy (or so his friends tell him). He is a formally trained designer and branding expert, bringing a wide range of skills to his Tips.Net articles. ...


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