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Acer laptop: No sounds at all, headphones very low volume

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Hi, I've searched the forum and while there're posts about similar problems, nothing seems to match mine exactly.
Laptop: Acer Extensa 5630Z
OS: Windows 7
Audio: Realtek
Problem: There's no sound whatsoever coming from the laptop speakers - no mp3, no sounds from movies, nothing online like Youtube, no system sounds.
When I plugin headphones, I can just about hear something, but VERY low volume.
When plugging in external speakers, I need to turn the volume on the speakers to max to hear something.
It worked fine until a few days ago. I've not done any major changes on my laptop.
What I tried so far:
- re-installed driver
- system restore
- checked all sound controls (everything shows speakers are working correctly)
- sound is on max, nothing is muted
- poked into headphone jack in case it's stuck (running music while poking didn't even give a crackle)
- tried several headphones & different audio players
- deleted last Windows update.
I searched forums and online help - nothing. Has anyone got an idea what this might be?
Thanks for reading!

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