How to fix a remote desktop microphone that’s not working

Using a microphone should be an easy part of working within a remote desktop connection, but problems can still arise.

Many hybrid and remote workers use Windows-based remote desktops as part of their daily routine, and a functioning microphone can increase users’ productivity. VoIP telephony, video conference calls, and dictation all require a working microphone. However, installing a new microphone or troubleshooting an existing device can be tricky at times.

There are several areas within the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) configurations that affect microphone functionality, and IT admins should review all of these for everything to work properly. To validate functionality, administrators should start with the local device and connection type and then review the various RDP configuration settings.

Local device and microphone connection type

The microphone connected to the end user’s device must first function properly on that device. After connecting the microphone, can the user successfully use this local peripheral?

Users may not be aware that multiple microphones can be present, so they should ensure they have access to the desired microphone. For example, most laptops have an internal microphone and many headsets also have a built-in microphone. If the audio sounds distant, the problem could be as simple as an incorrect microphone designation.

If the microphone does not work at all on the local device, the problem may be related to connectivity or drivers. While most microphones are plug-and-play devices, meaning they automatically configure themselves once plugged in, some devices may require the installation of drivers or other software.

The type of connection the device uses can also have an impact. Microphones can be connected via 2.5mm/3.5mm jack, Bluetooth or USB. While a connected microphone may work locally without any issues, the connection type may not be enabled or may not work correctly within an RDP user session.

RDP settings that affect microphones

Ideally, users should connect the microphone before starting an RDP session. While the RDP connection should recognize a peripheral device after an RDP session is initiated, it may not do so if plug and play is not enabled or if a problem occurs.

Numerous settings can affect microphones within an RDP session. If any of the following settings do not allow the microphone connection, the peripheral will not work properly:

  • end-user device RDP connection settings;
  • Group Policy RDP server and domain settings; and
  • Windows service, including Windows Audio Service.
Figure 1. Users can configure RDP connection settings from the Local Resources tab on end user devices.

If using the device remote desktop software from Citrix, VMwareParallels or another vendor, additional settings may be relevant.

On end-user devices, the user can configure the RDP connection settings from the Local Resources tab (Figure 1). If the user or administrator has changed these settings, the audio may not work properly or may be disabled.

However, the most common reason for a microphone to malfunction is due to a Group Policy object (GPO) settings or registry settings. There are two places where GPO settings can affect the RDP session: the local remote desktop server and the domain-wide settings. Disabling the microphone or other connection settings in any of these locations will affect the microphone functionality.

The various settings available under Device and Resource Redirection
Figure 2. Administrators can view various settings that may affect microphone functionality under Device and Resource Redirection.

Within Computer Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Remote Desktop Services > Remote Desktop Session Host > Device and Resource Redirection, administrators can review various settings that may affect microphone functionality (Figure 2). These settings are available as both Active Directory (ADVERTISEMENT) GPO that spans an organizational unit within the domain and as a local GPO that affects only that remote desktop server.

For example, if the Allow audio recording redirection option is disabled on the remote desktop server but not configured within a domain GPO, the user will not be able to connect a microphone to that remote desktop resource. However, the user could connect a microphone to other remote desktop resources for which this GPO is not configured.

If the audio playback settings have been changed, the user may notice a microphone issue because playback is not occurring as expected during the RDP session. For example, if a user recorded a dictation and cannot listen to the playback, it may not be clear that the microphone was indeed functioning correctly, but audio playback was limited or disabled.

Administrators should be extremely careful when making one-off amounts changes to a remote desktop server, such as when solving a problem for a user. If temporary changes are made to local GPOs, administrators should revert these changes immediately and/or deploy a newly provisioned remote desktop server to revert to the original state with the correct local and domain GPOs applied.

There are multiple places where microphone-related settings can be configured, so administrators should review each location. To streamline peripheral setup, the best practice is to use only Active Directory GPOs.

Windows service settings can also affect microphone functionality. If a red cross appears on the sound icon on the remote desktop, Windows Audio Service is probably not running. As a result, the microphone functionality would be disabled.

If a third-party virtualization product such as Citrix, VMware, or Parallels is used, additional settings can be configured administratively. These settings can prevent or change not only microphone functionality, but also connectivity ports, such as USB and Bluetooth.

There are multiple places where microphone-related settings can be configured, so administrators should review each location. To streamline peripheral setup, the best practice is to use only AD GPOs.

Troubleshoot remote desktop microphones

A remote desktop microphone that doesn’t work sometimes shows up as a technical support issue. If this problem only occurs for one user, it is most likely related to the physical microphone or its configuration. In this case, it is best to start with the user’s device and ensure functionality as the first step. Administrators should ask the following questions:

  • Is the microphone working properly on the local device? For example, can the user successfully dictate through the microphone within a local Word document?
  • Is this a new microphone, or has the microphone worked well before? When was the last time the user was able to use the microphone locally and within an RDP session?
  • What appears in the RDP connection settings? Have the user or administrators recently revised it?
  • Can this microphone be tested on another user device to rule out a faulty peripheral?

If multiple users are reporting that their microphones aren’t working, the problem is likely caused by policy settings or port configuration. Administrators should review the GPO settings to determine what specific configuration may be blocking or modifying microphone functionality. A tool like AD Resulting set of policies should be used to view the settings that will ultimately be applied to the user and device.

In addition, administrators should review the vendor’s configuration to ensure that other settings allow microphone functionality. For example, if administrators have blocked all access to USB drives, microphones plugged into a USB port will not be redirected within the user session.

Making sure microphones work properly can be challenging due to many configuration settings that can block or change microphone functionality. By making sure that the microphone is working properly on the local device and checking various settings, administrators can easily resolve most microphone-related issues.

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