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Sound and Microphone Issues

Microphone input switches when launching a game

Other software applications like CD Recording programs can change the wavein input to come from the CD player instead of from the microphone, then when players try and use their microphone in the game it won't work.

To solve this, the HL engine tries to make sure the mixer control settings are set properly when the game runs, but not all soundcards work the same way, especially very high-end sound cards like Audigy 2ZS pro cards.

To prevent the HL engine from trying to set the mic input, players need to set this CVAR in their userconfig.cfg file or in the launch properties of the game.

Add this line in userconfig.cfg:

voice_forcemicrecord 0

or in the launch properties for each game you play:

+voice_forcemicrecord 0

(you don't need both)

This will prevent the engine from attempting to configure the mixer settings.

You might also check and make sure these settings are correct:

voice_enable "1"
sv_voiceenable "1"
voice_scale "0.75"
voice_modenable "1"

By default, these settings will be found under the following directory:
C:\Valve\Steam\SteamApps\<Steam Account Name>\<Game Title>\<Abbreviated Game Title>\cfg\config.cfg

If this file does not exist you may create it by creating a new Notepad document in the \cfg\ folder, entering the suggested settings, and renaming the file to "config.cfg".


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Optimizing Multi-player Voice Quality

If your mic sounds bad or is choppy, check and adjust your mic volume, mic boost, rate and cl_cmdrate. Rate is how fast data can be sent from the server to your computer (and vice-versa) which can affect the voice quality.

56K Modems are always going to have voice quality problems.

cl_cmdrate is a variable that controls how often your client sends updates to the server including voice.

This is normally set to 20. Anything less than 13 is bad for game play and certainly for voice.  Anything more than 40 is probably not going to do anything except on a LAN game.

Adjust your mic volume and boost in the game options menu under the "voice" tab.

One typical improvement is to set the cl_cmdrate to the typical FPS you see (cl_showfps 1 to enable and cl_showfps 0 to disable, don't leave it on it can cause some lag).

Unfortunately many servers running adminmod will change your rate and cl_cmdrate as they try to balance load, so your mic might be working fine and then suddenly the sound will degrade again.

Many players have their rate set to 2500 but they are on DSL/Cable and can support rates of 7500 or 9999.

Rate also affects how fast you can D/L maps and other resources so it VERY IMPORTANT to set it to match your line!

There are two places to set rate, one in your Steam settings and the other is in the game console.

In Steam, go to the Steam menu, click "Settings" then select the "Internet" tab. Choose the right setting that matches your connection.

Be sure to set your rate to what your line can handle, not just to what is fastest. Too fast and you could have other problems.

The other method is to pull down console and type "rate 7500" (for example).
It's important to be able to do this since it's the easiest way to adjust your mic (not thru the steam menu).

You must use console to change cl_cmdrate.

If you don't have console ("~" key typically) then you'll need to add " -console" to the launch properties of your favorite mod.

Steam > Library > (mod) > Right Click > Properties > Launch Options

Most servers will have a forced upper limit between 5000 and 7500 no matter what you set, and 9999 is the maximum (normal settings, T1) for an internet connection (20000 is the actual maximum number rate will accept).

Check your line:
It's a good idea to check your connection to make sure it's doing what you are paying for, go to

ok enough of that, let's check your mic.

Test it first by entering "voice_loopback 1" in your console so that you are able to hear yourself.

Using a pair of earphones is highly recommended otherwise you'll get tons of feedback.

When you are done, turn off the loopback by setting "voice_loopback 0"

Next, while speaking into your mic, enter:

rate 2500
rate 3500
rate 4500 etc. up to 9999

until your voice sounds the best, no need to go beyond that point.

Some servers are still running the older "Miles" sound voice system and although it sounds a little muddier then the new "Speex" system, Speex will often have problems and sound really bad if the server uplink gets close to max or overloaded.

Be sure to check your mic on a couple of different servers before assuming it's just you and not the server.

Server Settings:
Servers have quite a few options now for player voice settings, here is a summary:

The codec that a client uses is determined by the server, so use this command on your server to switch over to using the new one:

sv_voicecodec voice_speex

And then these commands to change between different quality voice streams (also on the server):

sv_voicequality 1 : 2400bps, lowest quality
sv_voicequality 2 : 6000bps
sv_voicequality 3 : 8000bps
sv_voicequality 4 : 11200bps
sv_voicequality 5 : 15200bps, highest quality

If you still wish to use the original miles sound encoding system set this option:

sv_voicecodec voice_miles

This is a copy of a thread with some additional detailed information about the Speex codec and relative efficiencies:

Here is a mailing-list archive entry about the Speex voice-compression codec, where it details how to enable and use this new and vastly improved speech compression with Half-Life. It will eventually replace the existing voice-compression, and become the only option. Until then, it is not the default option, but available for all Steam-powered servers. In general, reducing bandwidth usage for voice down to 6000 bits/second (quality 2) still sounds better than the current codec, while truly high levels of compression (2400 bits/second) sounds equivilantly bad, but in a different way than the current compression method.

As a quick comparison, it used anywhere from 7.5% as much bandwidth to 47.5% as much bandwidth as the current 'voice' compression, and at less than 25% the bandwidth usage sounds generally better than the current voice compression. It does use a higher portion of server CPU, but only 1-2% in most of my tests.

And as Yet Another Note: 56k modems generally have around 20000 bits/second of upload space available, and around 40000 bits/second of download space available, once you factor in TCP/IP and PPP headers and everything else. So these new codecs are MUCH more friendly for modem users.

Unfortunately, it's only available for Steam-compatable servers. Anyways, for those that don't want to read that mailing-list for more information, here you go:

First, switch your server to use the Speex encoder:

sv_voicecodec voice_speex

Now, you're running in Speex mode. The next choice is how much bandwidth do you want Speex to use, which is a direct trade-off with the voice quality.

sv_voicequality 1 = 2,400 bits/sec, 7.5% of current usage
sv_voicequality 2 = 6,000 bits/sec, 18.75% of current usage
sv_voicequality 3 = 8,000 bits/sec, 25% of current usage
sv_voicequality 4 = 11,200 bits/sec, 35% of current usage
sv_voicequality 5 = 15,200 bits/sec, 47.5% of current usage


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Sounds do not play or play on only one speaker

Disable Onboard Sound Card

If you have installed a sound card on a system which has an onboard sound card built in to the motherboard you will need to uninstall the onboard sound card drivers and disable the onboard sound card to ensure it does not interfere with sound playback.

Remove Onboard sound card drivers and disable device
  1. Go to the Start button and select Settings then Control Panel
  2. Double-click the System icon
  3. Select the Hardware tab
  4. Click the Device Manager button
  5. Browse to the Sound, video and game controllers node and double-click your onboard sound card's icon (i.e. Intel(r) 82801BA/BAM AC'97 Audio Controller)
  6. Switch to the Driver in the Properties window
  7. Click the Uninstall button and then OK to uninstall your onboard sound card's drivers
  8. Switch back to the General tab
  9. Under the Device usage: drop-down select Do not use this device (disable) and click OK


Update Sound Card Drivers

Please see the link below for instructions to determine your hardware model and current driver versions, and update your sound card drivers:


Updating Drivers

Updating Drivers


Remove USB sound devices

If sound issues persist after you have disabled your onboard sound card and updated your sound card drivers, please check your system for any USB-enabled audio devices which may be causing interference. (This includes any USB headphones, microphones, or other audio playback or recording devices)


Vista and Windows 7 Users

  • Launch the game and type the following into your console: snd_legacy_surround 1.
  • Check the Windows Volume Mixer to ensure that the individual game has not been muted. If your Volume Mixer is not display in the System Tray, right-click the Taskbar, click Properties, and ensure that the Volume checkbox is marked.


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Surround Sound does not Function in Source Games

Source games rely on the operating system to identify the audio device for them. If your surround setup is not properly configured in Windows or is configured through a proprietary control panel, it may not be properly recognized by Source games.

  • Ensure that your audio device is setup appropriately in your Windows Control Panel.

  • Launch the game and adjust your settings in the Options > Audio menu.

If the issue persists, close any proprietary audio control applications and repeat the process.

You can also use one of the following launch options to test the issue:

+snd_legacy_surround 1

+snd_digital_surround 1

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Troubleshooting Microphone Problems

Check the Connection

Sometimes these types of errors are just a small oversight. Plugging your mic into the right port on your sound card can sometimes be confusing or easily mistaken when you're in a rush. Most analog mic connections are pink and belong in the corresponding pink connector on your sound device. Some devices aren't color coded, and that's when it is time to consult the manual for your sound device to be absolutely sure your mic is plugged into the right port. Checking this problem first may save you hours of troubleshooting.


USB Mics

Try swapping ports. If you're using a USB port on the front of your case, switch it to one of the ones in the back. If you're using a USB hub, try bypassing the hub and see if that makes any difference. You may be able to track down the issue a lot faster this way.


Check your drivers

This applies to both your mic (if you're using a USB one) and your sound device. Sound device drivers are crucial, especially if you are running Windows Vista. Check the manufacturer of your sound device (such as Realtek, Creative, SigmaTel, etc) and visit their website for driver updates. If you're not sure where to find this information, check your motherboard's manual (for on-board sound) and/or consult the manufacturer of your PC.


Make sure your Mic is correctly configured in Windows

Ultimately, Windows is in charge of your mic. To make sure it is properly configured in Windows, please follow these instructions:

  1. Click the Start button and then select Control Panel. Inside the Control Panel, select Sound and Audio Devices
  2. Click the Voice tab
  3. Under "Voice Recording", make sure the "Default device" is set to your sound card's INPUT
  4. Click Volume
  5. Make sure the "Mic Volume" meter is turned up and that "Select" is checked underneath the volume slider. Don't turn the volume up too loud though, as it will most likely result in Mic distortion.
  6. Close to volume settings and then click on Test hardware... to test your setup
  7. If it works correctly, move on to the next section. If not, you may need to update the drivers on your sound card and make sure the mic connection is correct.


Did your sound card's software take over?

Many driver packages for audio devices include software that is designed to make managing your audio simpler. Some times these programs try to take over the way your audio devices are managed in Windows. Examples of this software are the Creative Mix Console and the RealTek HD Audio Manager.

Check the settings in that software as well. If there are any sort of erroneous enhancements that are enabled, try turning those off and see if the issues persist.

If you suspect that this software is the root of the trouble, check with your audio device manufacturer and see if they offer a "driver-only" option for updating drivers.


Checking the Mic settings in the game

So, you've made sure that your mic is correctly connected, properly configured in Windows and it has passed the device test. The next thing to look at is the mic settings in-game. Below is an example of the configuration menu:

You can also check to see if you can hear your mic is working by selecting the "Test Microphone" option on the panel (expect echoes if you don't have earphones!)

If it works, go ahead and test it in-game.  Make sure you have your voice key correctly bound by checking Options > Keyboard > Use voice communication.

If it isn't working in-game, then the issue is probably that the mic input is being switched when you launch the game. To solve that issue, please view the Microphone input switches when launching a game article and use the launch options there.

One last thing to keep in mind is that the Server can control if your mic is allowed to work at all, as well as what codec and sound quality is used. If you have everything configured properly and your mic still doesn't seem to work in-game, always try several different servers to make sure it isn't just a Server issue.

Note: Your microphone will not work while you are in Spectator mode.


Close down conflicting applications

Programs such as TeamSpeak, Skype, Ventrilo and others can sometimes "steal" the mic input away from the game. We recommend closing these programs while playing games on Steam to ensure that the game has full access to your microphone.

Steam Support can not assist you with troubleshooting microphone issues if you insist on running third party mic software while trying to use your mic in the game.


Bad Voice Quality

Bad voice quality can stem from a few different causes. Below are some examples of situations where the quality is affecting the voice chat in-game:



Normally feedback will occur if you have your speakers cranked while using the mic. It is recommended that you use a headset with earphones so that your communication is clear to other players. Certain low-grade microphones are omni-directional, meaning they will pick up sounds from all directions - including your stereo/surround speakers. Turn your audio devices down and see if your voice quality improves.


Low Volume

Certain microphones need a boost. This can be configured by checking the Windows mic settings. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and then select Control Panel. Inside the Control Panel, select Sound and Audio Devices
  2. Click the Voice tab
  3. Under "Voice Recording", make sure the "Default device" is set to your sound card's INPUT
  4. Click Volume
  5. Make sure the "Mic Volume" meter is turned up and that "Select" is checked underneath the volume slider. Adjust the volume level so that it is somewhere in the range of 50-85% volume.
  6. If the option is available, click Advanced underneath the volume slider
  7. Check the box that says +20db mic boost. This will add a boost to the mic volume and may solve your volume issue



Many times bad voice quality is due to a faulty cable or a bad connection. Check the connection of your mic to your PC. If the connection is loose, it may be the reason why your voice quality is not clear. If you experience the same issue in other applications, you may want to consider getting a different mic to test with. Inexpensive, low-grade mics have often times been shunned on quality to keep the price low.

Also, make sure the mic is not too close to your mouth. If it is touching your face or lips as you use it, put it away so that it is about 1" away from your mouth. If there's no windscreen on the mic itself, try moving it even further away.


Further Tweaking

Please follow the Optimizing Multi-player Voice Quality guide for more tweaking.


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