Why are my laptop speakers making a scratchy noise?

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Why are my laptop speakers making a scratchy noise?
Whether external or integrated, all laptop speakers can develop faults. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Whether listening to music, watching Youtube or chatting to friends over Skype, a reliable, high quality speaker playback makes all the difference. Using external laptop speakers enables you more of your laptop’s audio potential, boosting volume and increasing quality, but even the built-in speaker can experience problems. If your speakers are making a scratching sound, your listening pleasure will be disrupted heavily. A variety of issues have the potential to cause this problem.

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Potentiometer problems

If your speakers have their own volume dial, this may be causing the problem. A volume dial is controlled by a potentiometer, a type of variable resistor. If dust or dirt gets inside the dial or if the potentiometer is damaged or loosely connected to the speaker, you’ll experience a scratching sound. If the scratchy sound problem gets worse when you touch or turn the volume dial, it’s probable that the potentiometers are causing the issue. If you have the experience and confidence, partially dismantle the speaker housing to expose the potentiometers, then spray in a little plastic-safe contact cleaner.

Incorrect connection

External laptops and speakers have a variety of connectors, or “jacks.” Not all of these jacks are suitable for connecting your laptop output to your laptop speaker. However, you may find even if you use the wrong connection, that some signal passes through, enabling you to hear some sound, albeit at a degraded quality. In addition to the quality degradation, you may experience crackling and other sound quality issues. Try using any spare sockets to see if there is less problematic connection configuration.

Audio driver problems

The soundcard is a piece of hardware installed in your laptop that enables audio playback. The soundcard driver plays a big part in determining overall speaker quality. If you haven’t updated your soundcard drivers in a while, it may be that the soundcard isn’t functioning to its optimum. To determine if this is the problem, turn off all audio enhancements in the audio settings menu. This reduces the processing load on the soundcard. If this fixes the problem, you can be confident that you need to update your drivers.

Speaker wire degradation

The sound signal from your laptop to external speakers travels via a wire. The quality and condition of this speaker wire determines the quality of the audio you hear. If the wire is damaged or old, you may experience a variety of sound quality issues including scratchiness. Try using brand new speaker wire to connect the laptop to the speakers to determine whether the wire is the problem. Built-in speakers are typically hardwired, so this isn't a likely problem for integrated audio.


Audio feedback occurs when the input source and the speakers are too close together. Under such circumstances, the input source, such as a microphone, picks up the sound playback and sends it back to the speaker, creating a feedback loop. Once the sound starts to “catch up” with itself, it becomes very distorted and noisy. Try disabling your laptop’s microphone to see if the scratchy noise abates. If it does, consider moving your speakers further away from your laptop to reduce the potential for feedback.

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