The sound on the Surface Pro 2 can be a bit of a game if you’re a headphone or earbud user. If you plug them in while sound is actively playing, it won’t always work. In fact, it will keep sound playing from the speakers until you close down the application entirely or disable the speaker in Volume Control Options. This doesn’t happen consistently, but does happen very often. When it does, it’s very annoying. I’m really not sure why the Surface Pro 1/2 have such behavior — when I plug in headphones I expect the sound to immediately switch, like any other device I’ve ever used. It’s just a bad quirk I’ve lived with.
Today however, the sound refused to work at all from either the headphones or jack. When I tried the sound test, I was greeted with the wonderful message “Failed to play test tone.” This was a real pain to resolve… so, here is the path that finally worked for me after 2 hours of trying to get this working.
1. Opened Device Manager and went to “Sound, Video, and game controllers” and right-clicked “uninstall” from the menu. Rebooted to no avail, but it did reinstall the drivers. I repeated this process a few times. I also reinstalled drivers from Realtek and windows update, this too failed.
2. Within Device Manager, I then chose “Audio Inputs and Outputs.” I uninstalled all of them, and rebooted. This did not work either, but they were reinstalled.
3. At the command prompt I decided to do an integrity check. I ran sfc/scannow hoping it would find something, but unfortunately the scan checked out.
4. For good measure, “System Restore.” That failed too, in case you were wondering. (Noticing a pattern here?)
At this point after repeating the above steps which seemed to work for most people, and after tons of reboots I began to fear that my hardware was done. I’d done everything you’re supposed to do when a device like that isn’t working except to reformat and reinstall windows – something I had no desire to do.
Now it was time to determine whether this was a hardware or software issue after all. I knew that it was possible to use Ubuntu Linux on Surface Pro, after all, I made a video about it. I booted to Ubuntu via live USB and heard the bongo drum jingle intro. Immediately I thought “Damn it, I’m going to need to reinstall Windows now.” I tested Ubuntu’s sound thoroughly, using left/right speaker detection as well as trying out the headphones. Worked perfectly. I give up, and chalk this up to a problem in Windows that I’ll have to deal with later. Sigh.
I reboot to get back to Windows…
it’s working now. What?
I still had the same audio quirks as before, but the original total audio failure has been resolved. I have no idea how, but Linux somehow saved the day. OK, it probably wasn’t Linux itself — but perhaps it woke up the audio hardware from being stuck in a disabled state somehow. This story definitely demonstrates the importance of using another OS to debug hardware issues. PLEASE, MICROSOFT, FIX THE SOUND ON SURFACE PRO!