Virtually every video/audio software has volume controls. Why is software control needed if there exist two other controls: operating system and hardware volume controls?

Is it better to remove software controls to make it easier to calculate the final volume? With 3 controls, you have to multiply 3 numbers (all between 0.0 and 1.0, inclusive) to generate the final volume. If the number of controls is cut down to 2, users only need to multiply 2 numbers.

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  • 2
    Realistically, people don't multiply numbers. They can judge what volume the want based on how loud the sound is coming out of the speakers.
    – Rich
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 6:24
  • @RichardTan If the volume is not right, how does the user fix the problem? They must adjust up to 3 numbers to make it right. They don't have to calculate the exact mathematical product of the volume, but they implicitly make a rough estimate as they're adjusting the volume.
    – JoJo
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 0:54
  • The hardware one controls the system one. The file one is a subset of the system one. Still not ideal by any means, but they aren't 'multiplied'.
    – DA01
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


Most people don't have an external amplifier or control on their audio output, so you can't assume it is there.

You then need two other controls. One master control to set the desired global range of all your applications, and local controls for each application to set their sound relative to your global setting.

If you tried to remove either one of these, you would either end up with no global control for people without external hardware, or you would have no way of adjusting individual applications' audio levels relative to one another. Any way you look at it, this would be poor UX.

TL;DR: You need a global software, and an application level software control.

  • 1
    Why are both master and local control needed? You are assuming that each software has a predisposed normalized volume level (for example, you think Youtube is usually much louder than Quicktime, so you want to soften all the videos on Youtube). But the fact is, volume is dependent on the audio encoding, not the software playing the audio. So adjusting the the local volume has no advantage over adjusting the master volume.
    – JoJo
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 1:05
  • 1
    @JoJo Because someone may not want every application to be at the same level. If I have 3 applications and I want one to be loud, one medium, and one soft. I could only do that with local control.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 2:15
  • A lesson in how not to implement a master control. Do not put a mute button on a laptop keyboard that will mute all sound from a computer and cannot be reversed via the volume controls in the software. This is how my Lenovo Thinkpad works. I keep my laptop docked most of the time. One day the sound stopped working. I adjusted the software volume controls with no effect. Turns out, I had pressed the hardware mute button the night before when trying to turn off the laptop. The mute and power button are next to each other, both are round, and it was dark. Commented May 9, 2013 at 18:49

The reason for software having volume controls is so that a user can control the volume of each individual application, ie. having a youtube video play very loudly, and having a game you're playing be muted. The reason for the OS having volume controls is strictly for immersion, the user can control their experience (volume) without having to break out of their comfort zone/immersion in the UI (take their hands off of the keyboard & mouse, and reach forward to rotate a slider), there is also a practicality reasoning for this, what if this is a computer in a theater/auditorium, with huge speakers, and the speakers and their sliders are out of reach? How will the user adjust the volume if the OS slider is gone? The other practicality case would be for a user who has two computers, connected to the same speaker(s), how would they adjust the volume (assuming the speaker(s) are not designed for such a use case)? The only real redundancy I see in audio sliders, is in the fact that most major OS's (Linux-based OS's and Windows, not sure about OSX) have a "mixer" panel, where you can control the volume of each application, this becomes redundant when an application has it's own volume applications, there are now 4 sliders deciding the volume of a single application. But, the redundancy can be overlooked because most users are not aware of the "mixer" menu's, because some applications can have multiple outputs (e.g. a browser with two-audio outputting tabs, would be seen as the same process by windows, and you wouldn't be able to mute/make one quieter or louder than the other, so you would need each audio-output to have it's individual control), and because some applications refuse to even offer the user a slider to mute them.

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