My father was a professional musician. Not a rock star, understand, but a live-performance musician. He played clubs, weddings, events, and quite a few bars. This means he was learning all the newest hits the week they came out and had a practice studio set up in our garage. And on nights he wasn’t working, it was not unusual to be called out to the studio, sometimes as late as 3 a.m., and no, he didn’t care if you weren’t quite awake, to listen to this riff. Did you hear that? No? Let me play it again. Now? Hang on, I’ll turn the bass down. Now? Wait, listen, there it is. His large, studio-quality speakers were always, somehow, to my right. Having had this happen multiple times a week since the age of eight, it’s no surprise that I have, therefore, very weak hearing on my right side. Which means that normally balanced headphones give me a whanging headache, because the sound is always louder on the left, no matter what song. And don’t even get me started on classical, where each instrument is set where it would be in the pit. I love Mozart, but I can’t listen to him without a bottle of aspirin at my elbow.
First, right-click the sound icon in your system tray (I had to turn my tray back on for this). A context menu will pop up, and you want to choose Playback Devices. Make sure you right-clicked, not left-clicked, because if you left-click you’ll just get the standard volume bar for your main dual speakers, and that will not help us today.
Under playback devices, there should be a menu. Most of us have at least two options – I have Speakers, and Realtek Digital Output. If you have surround-sound turned on, or any number of other things, there will be many, many more options there, but we just want to deal with the direct sound coming out of your headphones today. So click once on Speakers to highlight/choose it, and then click the Properties button at the bottom of the window.
Once your Speakers Properties are open, you’ll see a series of tabs at the top – it should read General, Levels, Enhancements, Advanced. For now, you want to choose the Levels tab. Do not choose the Properties button next to your Controller Information. This will take you to the wrong place entirely, and if you have a more expensive sound card than I do, it will also lead to quite a few crazy options.
Now keep in mind we’re adjusting the volume against itself. This works best if you have independent volume on either your headphones or your speakers, whichever you’re using, so you can turn the overall volume up or down independently from the system volume, because it’s very hard to keep an off-balance stable and accurate to your hearing loss (or gain, I suppose, if you’re just that lucky) if your system volume isn’t turned all the way up (or down, but that won’t really help you much.)
A quick aside: you may notice in the image that my frontmic is turned all the way down. That’s because for the longest time, I got a bit of feedback whenever my headphones were plugged in, and I finally got fed up – sometimes I like to just wear them to muffle the sounds around me, and the buzzing was not conducive to a calming atmosphere. I eventually traced the problem to the input driver, trying to pull when nothing was there. By turning my frontmic all the way down, I was able to get rid of all the buzzing entirely, and it didn’t affect my headset microphone at all.
However, we are going to stick to that very top section there, in my case named “Realtek HD Audio output”. In case you haven’t noticed, I stuck with the onboard sound card. Click the balance button, and now we’re cooking with fire.
Here’s the fun part – everyone’s ears are different. You should know which ear is weaker/stronger. If you don’t, do a few snap tests – snap your fingers twice on your right side, then twice on your left, and see which side is louder. If you can’t snap the same volume with both hands, tap two pens together instead. Just a simple clicking sound. If you have issues hearing the click on either side, that’s your weaker side.
Once you know which side is stronger, turn the level for the weak side all the way up. Then turn the level for the strong side all the way down.
The best way to balance for your ears is to use audio that’s already technically balanced. The easiest thing to use is white noise, and I find that this video works very well, though it’s a bit short if you’re having severe hearing problems or have a very narrow margin of loss.
Once you’ve hit play, slowly move the slider louder until the sound seems to be coming from in front of (or directly above) you. You may have to play the video a few times if your ear is weaker or not stable, to find the sweet spot for your own ears.
When you’ve found the spot, you’re done! hit “Ok” and you now have headphone sound custom balanced for your hearing.