Thoroughly confused about iPhone volume settings

My silent switch is off (meaning, for the sake of clarity, not enabled.) In Settings > Sounds and Haptics, the Ringer and Alerts slider is just past the half-way point, and Change with Buttons is enabled.

So why is it, when I activate Control Center, the volume controller shows as being all the way down, with the speaker icon having a line through it? What is this trying to tell me?

As easy to use as the iPhone generally is, they have made determining the state of your volume setting(s) supremely difficult. Can someone please explain it? Thanks!

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There are three volume settings in iOS, and they are easily confused.

  • Ringer mute. This is the slide switch. Although this switch typically mutes sounds from apps, it is possible for apps to override it. Which can be really aggravating when you find some app (typically an in-app advertisement) decide to do so.

  • Ringer volume. This is what you see on the “Sounds” preference panel of settings at the top of the “Ringer and Alerts” section.

  • Volume for everything else (app sounds). This is the slider you see in the control center.

The volume buttons on the side of the phone will adjust either the ringer volume or the app sound volume, but not both. The “Change with buttons” setting under the ringer volume slider is used to determine which it affects.

In your case, you’ve got your ringer/alert volume set to 50% and your app volume set to 0 (muted). And your phone’s side buttons are configured to change the ringer volume, not the app volume.

If you want to change your app volume, use the slider in the Control Center or disable the “Change with Buttons” option and use the side buttons.


FWIW, I usually configure my devices this way:

  • Ringer volume at 100%
  • Change with Buttons disabled (so the side buttons affect app volume)

If I need to mute the ringer (rarely), I’ll use the slider. I frequently change app volume using the side buttons, often leaving it muted.

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What I find annoying about Apple’s setup here is that phone ringer and alarm clock volume are linked. I’ll often want my phone to ring fairly loud (especially, since I can mute it with the switch easily)

When you’re on the phone or listening to songs, movies, or other media, the buttons on the side of iPhone adjust the audio volume. Otherwise, the buttons control the volume for the ringer, alerts, and other sound effects. You can also use Siri to turn the volume up or down.

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Thanks for pointing that part out.

Yes, even with “Change with Buttons” enabled, the buttons will adjust app volume when the foreground app is actively making sound. The problem is that I usually want to adjust the volume before that happens.

If I launch a game while in bed, I want to cut/mute the volume before I start the game, in order to avoid waking up my wife. I don’t want to launch the game and wait for it to start playing music before I can adjust that volume level.

Turn off the option “change with buttons” for the ringtone volume and you will be able to. I do this all of the time myself (plus I don’t want to accidentally change the ringtone volume if I hit the buttons while the phone is in my pocket, for example.)

If you still want to use the change with buttons option, then you can change the volume from the control center before you start playing content.

He actually does that. Note:

To follow up, there are actually more settings than these. The app-volume has a separate setting for each output device:

  • The device’s built-in speaker
  • Analog headphones (Apple phones - with the TRRS plug)
  • Line out (or non-Apple headphones, with a TRS plug)
  • USB audio (via Lightning)
  • Bluetooth audio
  • CarPlay audio

The control center and side buttons can only adjust the volume for the active output device. So you can’t, for example, adjust headphone volume before connecting headphones and you can’t adjust the internal speaker volume while headphones are attached.

And, of course, some of these output devices (e.g. USB audio) are fixed-volume. If you try to adjust the volume while one of these outputs are in use, you’ll see an icon indicating that it’s not adjustable.

A control panel or app that can let you adjust all of these from a single screen (e.g. multiple volume sliders) would be really nice, but no such thing exists, as far as I know.

I get caught by this a lot – when I use Siri to control music in my car (using CarPlay), there are separate volume settings for Siri and for the music, and if you use the volume controls while Siri is talking it won’t have any effect on the volume when the music starts playing.

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As @dave6 alludes to, there are actually four volume settings in iOS – you missed out the Siri volume. This can only be adjusted with the volume buttons while Siri is active.

(It drove me crazy for a while because Siri was too quiet and I couldn’t find a setting to change its volume. Finally searched Apple support and found the above technote.)

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