Custom Search
Click to find updates on our Facebook page

Sound Cards and Sound Production: The Hardware and Software Used to Produce Sound in PCs/Computers - Page 1


This section of this website, which consists of two long pages, provides detailed information on internal and external computer sound cards and sound production by speakers and headphones.

Click here! to go directly to the information on speakers on this page.

Click here! to go directly to the information on headphones and microphones on this page.

If you only use a desktop or laptop PC that provides the sound ports from its motherboard instead of an sound card - and stereo speakers, there isn't much to sound production, but a surround-sound setup for an entertainment media center or gaming computer is more complicated. In any case, when everything has been set up and is working, computer sound production is not very problematic. Sound problems very rarely appear on computer web forums and in the problems sections of computer magazines, so a separate problems section has not been created on this website, as is the case for the other major PC components, which can be accessed on the PC Problems & Solutions section of this website. The most common sound problems are dealt with here.

Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Gamer Fatal1ty Pro PCI sound card

Introduction


The sound in a high-end desktop PC is usually produced by a sound card (also known as an audio card) that is installed on the computer's motherboard in an adapter slot, an example of which is shown in the image above. The sound card, in turn, is attached to other peripheral devices such as a CD/DVD/Blu-ray optical drive in order to produce sound via the operating system, which uses the card's software device driver and a sound player, such as the Windows Media Player (WMP), or a third-party media player such as a Winamp, Real Player, or Apple's QuickTime.

Using an inexpensive PCI Express or PCI sound card, which requires a free PCI Express or PCI slot on the PC's motherboard, can improve the sound production dramatically compared to the sound produced by the onboard sound chip provided by many motherboards. In this regard, sound cards are similar to graphics cards: the cards, even the inexpensive ones costing around £30, provide a superior user experience compared to the sound or graphics produced from chips on the motherboard.

A speaker system delivers the sound. Click here! to go to the information on speakers on this page.

Sound cards range in price from £2 for a basic USB sound card dongle (that can be used instead of a sound card to attach a set of speakers) to the Asus Xonar Phoebus ROG Gaming Sound Card Set, priced at around £170 (May 2012) that comes with a mouse. But the Asus Xonar Essence ST priced at around £130 is widely regarded as the provider of the best sound experience and the Asus Xonar DX, still available from amazon.co.uk and priced at £50 for the PCI Express card and £25 for the PCI card, provides everything a choosy PC gamer or movie viewer could want from a sound card. The Xonar DG, similarly priced and just as well regarded by purchasers, is also available. Reading the purchaser reviews of products on Amazon is always worth while.

Video streamers are widely available and it is also possible to buy dedicated audio streamers (audio streaming devices), which work in the same way as a video streamer, but only serve sound in one room (usually the living room) or to any room in a house set up with a set of wireless or wired speakers. Click here! to go to the page on this website that provides detailed information on media and audio streaming devices.

It is also possible for the sound chip to be incorporated into the desktop or laptop/notebook PC's motherboard. Most budget and even middle-priced desktop PCs provide sound from the PC's motherboard instead of from a dedicated sound card. If that is the case, it is called integrated sound.

Most of the devices in a laptop/notebook PC are usually integrated on the motherboard, including the sound chip. Most laptops and some desktop-PC motherboards that provide integrated sound only provide three connectors, usually coloured blue (Line-In), pink (Mic) and green (Line-Out), which can't provide 5.1 surround sound at the same time as inputting audio from the line-in and microphone jacks, they switch inputs for outputs, depending on whether the speaker configuration is set to 2.1 stereo of 5.1 surround sound. Therefore, six output sound ports are preferable when connecting surround-sound speakers. Visit the following page on this website to see annotated images of desktop-PC motherboards that provide three and six sound ports:

http://www.pcbuyerbeware.co.uk/Annotated-ATX-Motherboard.htm

The Line-In port is used for external CD player, tape player or other audio devices. Line-Out is a connector for speakers or headphones. The Mic port is a connector for a microphone. The three other output ports are for surround-sound speakers. - RS-Out (Rear-Surround-Out) in 4.1/ 5.1/ 7.1 channel mode. CS or SS-Out (Center/ Subwoofer Out) in 5.1/ 7.1 channel mode.

However, laptop PCs are evolving into upgradable computers that have separate, removable graphics cards and processors. The hard disk drives have always been replaceable or upgradable. However, if you have to replace the CD/DVD/Blu-ray optical drive, you should buy one for your make/model of mobile computer from its manufacturer (Dell, HP, Acer, etc.), because it has probably been specifically designed to fit its case.

It is now possible to buy external USB sound cards that are designed mainly for use with laptop PCs, but which can also be used with a desktop PC. This makes upgrading the sound device of a laptop easy. Here is a review of a self-contained model made by Creative that designed with PC-gamers in mind that has its own processor so that it doesn't need to use the desktop or laptop PC's processor at all:

Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D review -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/gadgets/1287817/creative-sound-blaster-recon3d

Small USB dongle sound cards are now available from the very inexpensive Dynamode External USB 2.0 Sound Card (only £2 from pcworld.co.uk in October 2011) to more expensive models such as the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi GO! Pro USB Sound Card (£35.70 from the same online store). Just plug the device into a USB port on a laptop or desktop PC and plug your speakers, headphones or microphone into the relevant port on the dongle.

Technical documentation - guides and user manuals - are usually provided as PDF downloads (requiring a PDF reader) from the sound-card manufacturer's or motherboard (for integrated sound) manufacturer's website. The PDF downloads are usually 6MB+ in size, so can take a while to appear in your computer's PDF reader. Here is the current support page for the Sound Blaster devices on Creative's website:

http://support.creative.com/Products/Products.aspx?catid=1

Every sound card or sound chip integrated on a desktop or laptop PC's motherboard installs a sound control panel when its device drivers are installed that adds to the sound options provided by Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. The image below shows the sound entries in the Windows Device Manager for a laptop computer that has a Realtek sound chip (the entry for which is highlighted) integrated on its motherboard instead of as a separate sound card. The entries would be much the same for a computer that has a separate sound card.

A double click opens the window showing each entry's information and options. A right-click on each entry for a device allows you to update the driver and disable or uninstall the sound adapter. If you uninstall the sound adapter, Windows reinstalls the device drivers the next time the computer starts up or is restarted. Just doing that fixes most sound problems. Alternatively, you can download and install the latest device drivers from the sound-adapter manufacturer's website.

Windows Device Manager showing the sound devices

The control panel for the Realtek sound chip used in that laptop is in the Windows Control Panel under the name of Realtek HD Sound Effect Manager, an image of which is shown below. The controls are usually all self-explanatory and you can experiment with them. A separate sound card will also provide a control panel.

Realtek HD Sound Effect Manager accessed from the Windows Control Panel

A PC gamer should definitely use a sound card instead of a sound chip integrated on a PC's motherboard in order to experience the surround-sound effects that many sound cards and headphones with built-in USB audio devices provide. Note that several recent PC games have reacted badly to the drivers for built-in audio chips from driver-developers such as Realtek. The affected games, such as Mass Effect 1 and 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum, tend to have been ported from a gaming console or are cross-platform games.

In November 2010, the Asus Xonar DG was a good-value card, but Asus provides several more expensive models.

Asus Xonar DG review -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/gadgets/1280461/asus-xonar-dg

If you enter the search query sound cards in a search engine, you will be able to find many other sound cards - both the sellers and reviews.

A sound card can be supplied to a laptop PC/computer via a PC card via a CardBus/PCMCIA slot (old technology), or via an ExpressCard/54 slot (current technology).

External USB or FireWire sound devices, sometimes called a sound card, that plug into a USB or FireWire port on the computer, are available. They work externally to the computer in the same way as an internal sound card. You can enter the search queries usb sound cards or firewire sound cards in a search engine to find examples of these sound peripheral devices.

ReplayGain and the Foobar 2000 advanced freeware media player

ReplayGain is a tagging standard that encodes volume normalisation data in audio files, which allows the volume at which each track is played at to be adjusted automatically to achieve the same perceived playback loudness, thereby avoiding having unexpectedly loud and quiet tracks in a playlist. The following webpage provides information on this standard and its implementation with different audio files.

ReplayGain -

http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Replaygain

Foobar 2000 (freeware) is an advanced media player that tags audio files correctly so that they can ReplayGain can be applied to them when played.

A complete guide to Foobar 2000 -

"Foobar is an advanced media player that offers a lot of functionality usually not found in other players, for that same reason it's a very popular choice among PC audio enthusiasts. Unlike your standard media player, Foobar is not the easiest program to learn, once you understand it however, it's probably the best player you can use quality-wise." -

http://www.techspot.com/tweaks/foobar/

Sound card, headphone/headset and speaker reviews

There are UK and US several websites that provide reviews of the latest sound cards and the sound devices that provide a PC with sound, such as USB sticks. You can find those websites by entering the search query sound card reviews in a search engine. Here is a good UK website:

Test Freaks - Sound card reviews -

http://www.testfreaks.co.uk/sound-cards/

Sound card reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/gadgets

Audio reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/audio

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1 Pro [external sound card] review -

"Verdict: This little external sound card from Creative is a good buy for laptop users, although it doesn't support maximum DVD sample rates on all surround sound channels. - Review Date - 27 Feb 2011 - Price when reviewed - L57 - Supplier - amazon.co.uk/." -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/gadgets/1282999/creative-sound-blaster-x-fi-5-1-pro

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Apps -

"We're back with the fifth installment of Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup. Today, we'll be covering general end-user audio consumption applications, designed for organizing, playing, ripping, tagging, converting, and basic recording of audio." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/ubuntu-linux-audio-software,review-32119.html

Headphone reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/headphones

Believe it or not, it is possible to buy a pair of ultimate earphones that cost a staggering £400 - the Audeo PFE 232. [April 2012] -

Review - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/headphones/1290487/phonak-aud-o-pfe-232

PC Speaker reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/pc-speakers

Corsair SP2500 review [Speakers] - [Review Date: 28 Jan 2011 - £190.00] -

"Verdict: We're not sure they're ideal for gamers, but we are sure that they produce excellent, high-quality audio." -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/pc-speakers/1282060/corsair-sp2500

Premium Two-Channel PC Speaker Roundup -

"It's time to focus on basic PC audio with a two-channel speaker roundup. We look at the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass FX3022, Bowers & Wilkins MM-1, Creative Gigaworks T40 Series II, and M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 to see what these systems can offer." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/two-channel-pc-speaker-gigaworks,review-32100.html

Bringing Home The Bass: 2.1-Channel Speaker Roundup - "Is it just us, or are 5.1- and 7.1-channel speaker systems impractical for PCs? In our 2.1 speaker roundup, we look at the Corsair SP2500 and Antec/Soundscience Rockus 3D|2.1, along with the Creative Gigaworks 3D, Klipsch Promedia 2.1, and Logitech Z623." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/pc-speaker-2.1-channel-subwoofer,review-32093.html

USB stick sound cards

If you don't have a high-end sound card installed in your desktop or laptop PC, you can add a sophisticated sound capability by using a USB stick sound card from around only £17. Here are a few examples:

Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro [£40 - Look under Sound Blaster if the following link doesn't work but takes you to the website] - "Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro brings incredible enhanced 3D audio to any computer, anywhere! Designed for maximum portability, this sound card is small enough to fit into your pocket and even fits on your key ring! Enjoy incredible 3D Surround with any headphones in movies, games and enhance all of your PC and online audio. The Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro is the fastest and easiest upgrade to THX TruStudio Pro audio technology." -

http://uk.store.creative.com/sound-blaster/sound-blaster-x-fi-go-pro/1-20056.aspx

Terratec Aureon Dual USB Sound Card for PC and Notebook [£17] -

Read the purchaser reviews.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Terratec-Aureon-Dual-USB-Notebook/dp/B000WL23KC

Sound Blaster How-to Guide

The Sound Blaster How-to Guide provides comprehensive information on getting the best from a Sound Blaster device. It is broken down into a Gaming Mode, an Entertainment Mode and an Audio Creation Mode. -


In a desktop PC, the internal or external connections for sound devices are found on the sound card (in the form of a a PCI or PCI Express adapter card) or they are provided from the computer's motherboard. For example, if the motherboard has a built-in sound chip, on its external ports panel, the Line Out or Speaker Output port is used for the speakers and headphones, and the Line In port is used for an external CD player. In order to provide sound, an internal CD/DVD drive would be connected by an internal cable connected to an internal header on the motherboard. If the computer has an internal or external sound card, the connections go to it.

Most laptop computers don't come with a line-in port. If you need to use one with your laptop, read this Q&A on this website: My laptop PC/computer doesn't have a line-in port required to record from external sources.

The confusing myriad of cables that computers use

The myriad of cables that are in use are often very confusing to the home computer user. The following link provides a slide show of the cables and information on what each cable is used for that should dispel most of the confusion.

A World of Cables, Unknotted [Slideshow of all the cables used with a computer] -

"You can spend weeks researching which TV or Blu-ray player to buy, and then you would still have to deal with the conundrum of the cables. Other format wars get resolved fairly quickly and definitively (Blu-ray over HD-DVD, VHS over Beta), but cable formats last, it would seem, forever." -

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/04/16/technology/personaltech/

If you see an advert for a PC in which the specification for the sound is described as integrated, you'll know that the sound chip is built into the motherboard instead of being provided by a dedicated sound card.

Budget desktop PCs can also have integrated video/graphics in which the graphics chip is incorporated into the PC's motherboard. Note, however, that it is possible to have integrated sound in relatively expensive non-budget PC's, because the quality of sound it provides is regarded as good enough. If you want to use a superior sound system, you would disable the integrated sound (according to the instructions in the PC's or motherboard's user manual) and install a high-end sound card.

Some graphics cards provide S/PDIF input so that the card can be connected to the optical S/PDIF output port on a sound card in order to deliver sound from a graphics card over an HDMI high-definition connector, which already has the capacity to deliver audio output along with the graphics output.

If you want to use a video/graphics card with a HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) output that combines sound and video, you have to cable the digital S/PDIF surround-sound output from the sound card or motherboard into the graphics card to provide HDMI with both sound and picture so as to take advantage of its full capabilities.

Alternatively, you can buy a graphics card that supports both HDMI and its Digital Rights Management content-protection technology Protected Audio Path (PAP). This will deliver HD audio to an external device, such as Onkyo 875 home cinema amplifier.

High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI)

If you want to use a video/graphics card with a HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) output that combines sound and video, you have to cable the digital S/PDIF surround-sound output from the sound card or motherboard into the graphics card to provide HDMI with both sound and picture so as to take advantage of its full capabilities. However, note that if you are only using a 2.1 stereo speakers for the sound output, you will only get two-channel simulated surround sound from them. A 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound speaker system is required for actual surround sound.

By July 2010, there was not yet an official standard for wireless HDMI, but some products have been made available that provide wireless 1080p video using an 802.11n wireless transmitter. An example of such a product is the Eminent iTrio EM7100 wireless home HDMI kit.

Eminent iTrio EM7100 Wireless HDMI sender review -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/gadgets/279100/...

HDMI Investigated - Are expensive cables a scam? -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/home-entertainment/1282699/...

HDMI - high-definition multimedia interface -

"Comprised of Hitachi, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), Royal Philips Electronics, Silicon Image, Sony Corporation, Thomson and Toshiba Corporation, the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) Founders have joined together to define a next-generation digital interface specification for consumer electronics products. HDMI is also supported by major motion picture producers, as well as satellite and cable companies." -

http://www.hdmi.org/

"The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is an all-digital audio/video interface capable of transmitting uncompressed streams... It is a modern replacement for older analogue standards such as RF - coaxial cable, composite video, S-Video, SCART, component video and VGA connector, and the consumer electronics replacement for older digital standards such as DVI (DVI-D & DVI-I). In the computer world, HDMI is already found on many peripherals and a few newer video cards, with adoption rapidly increasing." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI

Note that if you want to have HD audio over an HDMI connection, the motherboard chipset or the graphics card must support Protected Audio Path (PAP) that is used to enforce Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection on content. For example, your PC might have a motherboard that has an onboard graphics chip, such as the AMD 780G chipset that handles HDMI output, which was one of the first to support Blu-ray playback the is used for high-definition (HD) movies. However, that chipset does not support PAP, so you would have to install a graphics card in the PC that supports PAP, such as the Sapphire Radeon 5450 (price: around £40 in December 2010). This will deliver HD audio to an external device, such as Onkyo 875 home cinema amplifier via an HDMI connection. It comes in two versions - half-height for installation in slimline cases and full-height - and is cooled by a passive heatsink, which doesn't have a fan. To use a graphics card instead of onboard video, you should enter the PC's BIOS and disable any setting in it for onboard graphics. If there is no such setting there, disable the onboard display adapter (e.g., AMD 780G) under Display adapters in the Windows Device Manager. The graphics card will be identified by its make/model if its device drivers have been installed, so disable the second entry by right-clicking on it and selecting Disable.

HDMI/HDCP/PAP

If you see the term HDMI/HDCP, the HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, which is the digital rights management system associated with HDMI. Protected Audio Path (PAP) protects audio content. -

High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDCP

Many LCD monitors now have extra video connections that allow them to be connected to a DVD player, games console or video camera, and some LCD monitors now provide an HDMI high-definition port and support HDCP that allows them to display the latest high-definition movies.

HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection, which is technology that allows the monitors that support it to authenticate themselves to high-definition video sources, such as a high-definition movie, thereby proving that they are an approved method of displaying the video rather than an illicit device that could be used to copy it. The movie studios have the option of restricting full high-definition playback to HDCP devices only. (A PC's video/graphics card can also be an HDCP device.) However, the movie studios are currently (July, 2007) not using that option, because most users don't have the HDCP-compliant hardware that supports it.

HDCP was developed by Intel. It encrypts the signal between the HD video source (the high-definition Blu-ray or HD DVD player/drive) and the display/monitor. Digital output from a Sky HD box, Blu-ray, or HD DVD player will not be displayed if the DVI or HDMI input on the monitor isn't HDCP compatible. Windows Vista and Windows 7 also have HDCP support as part of its digital-rights-management (DRM) software.

When the movie studios start marketing HDCP-protected movies, if you want to watch them through a Windows Vista computer, the PC's monitor and the video/graphics card will have to support HDCP.

How powerful must a PC be to play HD video?

June 14, 2007. - There are a large number of screen resolutions, video file formats, data transfer rates, and file-compression methods to be taken into consideration when attempting to answer the question how powerful a PC needs to be in order to play HD (high definition) video. Since h.264-encoded HD DVD and Blu-ray movies are the hardest to play back smoothly, it seems sensible to say which PC specification would be required to play it, because, if a PC can play it, it can play anything less demanding.

You should aim for a PC with at least either of these two dual-core processors: a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or an 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2. The PC should also have a fairly recent PCI Express video/graphics card - an ATI Radeon X1000 series DirectX 9 card, or a nVidia GeForce 7000 or 8000 series DirectX 9 card. The graphics card should have at least 256MB of RAM memory. Visit the following site for a list of current and obsolete graphics cards.

The Desktop Graphics Card Comparison Guide -

"These days, there are so many graphics card models that it has become quite impossible to keep up with the different configurations. Therefore, we decided to compile this guide to provide an easy reference for those who are interested in comparing the specifications of the various desktop GPUs in the market as well as those already obsolescent or obsolete." -

http://www.techarp.com/showarticle.aspx?artno=88&pgno=0

You should be using the most recent version of DVD software, such as Cyberlink PowerDVD or InterVideo WinDVD.

How to save power

Read these two articles if you're interested in finding out how to go about saving power with regard to using computers. The first article starts off by discussing "power requirement differences of idle and load system states, and how to save energy on an existing system by utilizing power saving options and paying attention to certain components." -

The Power Saving Guide -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/the-power-saving-guide-uk,review-2311.html

The Power Saving Guide, Part 2 -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/the-power-saving-guide-uk,review-2318.html

However, note that if you are only using a 2.1 stereo speakers for the sound output, you will only get two-channel simulated surround sound from them. A 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound speaker system is required for actual surround sound.

It is also possible to buy external USB and FireWire sound cards, and laptop/notebook PCs can use external sound cards in the form of PCMCIA (32-bit Cardbus) adapter cards. There are two main types of PC card - CardBus and ExpressCard/54, which are incompatible with each other's slots. You cannot use an ExpressCard/54 card in a CardBus card's slot, and vice versa.

Click here! to go to information on laptop PC cards on this site.

If you plug an external USB or FireWire sound card into a USB or FireWire port provided by a desktop or laptop PC, you should remove any internal PCI sound card (installed in a PCI slot of a desktop PC's motherboard). Windows will then stop installing its device driver at startup.

If the sound card is integrated into the motherboard, which can be the case with desktop PCs, and is almost always the case with laptop/notebook PCs, you should disable the integrated sound setting in the PC's BIOS setup program and uninstall the sound card's device driver under Add or Remove Programs.

Click here! to go to information on the BIOS on this website.

Note that in Windows Vista and Windows 7, there is no option in the Control Panel called Add or Remove Programs that appears in all of the previous versions of Windows from Windows 95 to Windows XP. In both Windows Vista and Windows 7, the Add or Remove Programs information is found under the Programs and Features category in the Control Panel. To uninstall a particular program, right click the mouse wit its pointer on the entry and then select the option to uninstall, repair, etc.

To be able to identify the correct device driver requires knowing the make/model of the integrated sound chip. For example, in Windows XP/Vista/7, you might find a device-driver entry called Realtek High Definition Audio Driver under Add or Remove Programs/Programs. If so, you would find a matching device called Realtek High Definition Audio in the Device Manager (under Sound, video and game controllers), which can be opened by entering devmgmt.msc in the Start => Run box in Windows XP, in the Start => Start Search box in Windows Vista and in the Start => Search programs and files box in Windows 7. Realtek also make device drivers for network adapters, etc., so, if there is more than one driver made by Realtek appears in the list of programs, you must only remove the audio driver.

The sound itself is delivered by the speakers that are plugged into the sound card, a set of which can vary from being a small pair of desktop speakers costing £5 to being a 7.1 configuration that delivers surround sound from a multiple-speaker system costing up to £300 or more. Note that some LCD monitors have a basic set of inbuilt stereo speakers that are plugged into the computer's sound card, or, if it is integrated sound, into the sound output port on the PC's motherboard.

Click here! to go to the information on speakers on this page. Use your browser's Back button to return to this point on the page.

Note that the beeping sounds that a desktop computer can make at start-up during the Power-On Self Test (POST), or to produce BIOS beep codes that signal a start-up failure, are produced by the very basic speaker that is built into the computer's case. This simple speaker is powered from an attachment to the computer's motherboard. Laptop computers don't have this speaker. They use their built-in speakers.

The plugged cables that come from the front of the case and are plugged into the motherboard

The top cable labelled SPEAKER in the image above with the two wires (red and black) is attached to the speaker in the case and is plugged into one of the plug-in points on the motherboard where all of the other cables that are provided by the computer's case are plugged in. The image below shows the cables connected to a motherboard. Go to this Build Your Own PC page on this site for more information on this topic.

Another view of the above installation

It is used to produce these sounds because a sound card cannot produce sounds until Windows (or some other equivalent operating system such as Linux) has installed itself, because the sound card's device drivers have to be loaded, and the operating system (that controls the way in which everything in a computer works) has to be working before it can produce any sound.

Sound cards are available in two current motherboard standards - PCI and PCI Express . The ISA standard has become obsolete, but you can still purchase ISA sound cards that fit into the ISA slots on old motherboards, which provide an ISA slot for the use of what is known as legacy (obsolete) hardware. All new sound cards fit into a PCI or a PCI Express x1 slot on the motherboard. See the next annotated image on this page below showing the arrangement of ISA, PCI, and AGP slots on a motherboard. You can now purchase PCI Express (x1) sound cards. Note that the shorter PCI Express cards can be installed in the longer slots.

A PCI Express card, such as the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio sound card, uses a x1 PCI Express slot on a motherboard that provides one or more of them.

The Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio sound card can turn downloaded music into a personal concert, allows you to watch DVDs or downloaded videos with full cinematic surround sound, and provides 3D audio and EAX effects in PC games.

You must fit an expansion card in its correct slot. Installing an expansion card in the wrong slot could make the expansion card or even the computer itself unusable unless the card or motherboard is replaced.

The image below shows the slot arrangement on a typical motherboard.

The slot arrangement on a typical motherboard

Remember that motherboards have not had ISA slots for many years. Also note that motherboards are coming out now that use their own colour schemes for the slots instead of white (PCI), and brown (AGP and PCI Express) colours. The slots can be any colour. Note that the AGP slot has been replaced by one or more PCI Express x16 slots. PCI Express is the current latest standard used by graphics and sound cards. Internal sound cards use a PCI or a PCI Express x1 slot.

Note that some motherboards have a PCI-X slot. PCI-X is the extended PCI standard, both of which have been replaced by the PCI Express standard. The 64-bit PCI-X bus slot has double the maximum throughput of PCI, at a maximum speed of 3Gbps. Most PCI-X cards are backwards compatible with PCI bus slots, which means that you can install a PCI-X card in a PCI slot provided that it has the correct voltage keying for the slot and that the area directly behind a PCI slot must have available space to accommodate the additional length of PCI-X cards.

A motherboard would have either an AGP slot or a x16 PCI Express slot, not both for a graphics card. The AGP graphics standard is no longer used on most new motherboards, having been replaced by the PCI Express and PCI Express 2 standards. Some motherboards can have four PCI Express slots for graphics cards (x16 and x8 slots). The MSI X48 Platinum motherboard has four PCI Express x16 slots that can accommodate four graphics cards. PCI Express x1 slots are used for devices, such as some graphics cards, sound cards, and Ethernet network cards.

The following diagram shows the PCI Express x16 and x1 slots, and the two standard PCI slots on a Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard.

The PCI Express x16 and x1 slots and  the standard PCI slots on a  Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard

Click here! to go directly to information on the latest standard - PCI Express, which is replacing the PCI and the AGP standards.

Visit this page on the Creative Sound Blaster site for information on the latest internal and external sound cards:

http://uk.store.creative.com/sound-blaster.aspx

Sound in Windows Vista and Windows 7

Read this Q&A on this page: PC games and DirectX sound support in Windows Vista. Sound in Windows 7 is treated much the same as it is in Windows Vista. The sound options in the Control Panel are under the Hardware and Sound category.

When the View by: Large icons (or Small icons) option is used to view the contents of the Control Panel in Windows 7, there are two options called Sound Effect Manager and Sound.

AVForums: Audio-visual forums

AVForums - Audio-visual electronics and gadget discussion forums - the busiest in Europe. All audio-visual equipment and their connections are discussed. - http://www.avforums.com/

You can visit the forums to read what the members are discussing or register and start your own topic.

The ongoing story of copy protection (digital rights management)

March 18, 2007. - The people who buy music and movies to listen to and watch at home, find CD/DVD copy-protection confusing and grossly irritating in the same measure. Moreover, misused copy-protection in the form of digital rights management (DRM) has given one major media company, Sony, a long and intense migraine headache. The self-protective instinct of the music and movie industries to prevent users getting something for nothing, versus the equally deep need of computer geeks to overcome any kind of imposed restrictions, looks as if it will be an never-ending battle of wills and minds. This endless situation exists because of the incurable flaws in implementing copy-protection. Namely, what can be blocked by software can be unblocked by other software, and what comes out of a speaker system can always be re-recorded.

To find out what the current state of play is with regard to copy protection, you can read articles called Digital lock's rights and wrongs and Broadcasters join the DRM debate on the BBC's website.

No sound in Windows 7 - no sound driver installed - no entry in the Device Manager

The following Q&A on this website deals with the problem of no sound in Windows 7. -

Windows 7 has no sound - sound card drivers not installed - there are no entries for sound devices in the Device Manager

PC games and DirectX sound support in Windows Vista

Question

I have read that unlike Windows XP, Windows Vista only supports basic sound via DirectX. If that is the case, I play PC games written for Windows XP, so should I avoid upgrading to Vista?

Answer

April 15, 2007. - In Windows Vista, hardware acceleration is no longer available for audio effects in DirectSound3D (DS3D), which is the sound component of DirectX, because Windows Vista has done away with the hardware audio abstraction layer that Windows XP uses. In short, Windows Vista can only provide basic sound for PC games that were written to use DS3D.

Windows Vista uses the new Universal Audio Architecture (UAA), which provides the developers of games greater flexibility and stability than the hardware audio abstraction layer.

If you play games written for Windows XP and you have a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi sound card, you can download a utility for it called ALchemy that converts DS3D instructions to OpenAL, which works in Windows Vista. If you don't have that sound card, it is advisable to stick with Windows XP until this compatibility problem has been resolved. You should check the site of the manufacturer of your PC's sound card for updated device drivers or a workaround.

USB & FireWire sound cards

USB & Firewire sound cards are not cards at all. They are external devices that connect to a USB or FireWire port that can be provided by the motherboard, the computer's case, the keyboard, a self-powered external USB/FireWire hub attached to another USB/FireWire port, and even from USB/FireWire ports built into the monitor.

Professional sound engineers don't use the term "sound card" much these days because they no longer use circuit boards or PCI sound cards for sound. In fact, the PCI slot is being phased out of motherboards, so, unless manufacturers produce sound cards for the PCI Express interface, sound cards will soon no longer be used because of superior external devices and because many motherboards already have integrated sound chips.

The introduction of the AC97 standard made it possible for sound production to be handled by the motherboard's chipset, which is thereby able to produce above CD-quality multi-channel sound via a suitable speaker system. Moreover, many high-end motherboards have dedicated sound chips that produce high frequency resolutions (96 kHz) at up to 24-bit sound, with multi-channel operation, and feature additional digital audio input and output ports. When the AC97 software is installed, you can access its Sound Manager by right-clicking its icon in the System Tray. Under the Speaker Configuration tab, it has options that allow you to select the options that match the sound ports available from the motherboard that appear at the back of the computer's case. The speaker system options are: 1. Headphone. 2. Two-channel mode for stereo speaker output. 3. Four-channel mode for four speaker output. 4. Six-channel mode for 5.1 sound. - Read the rest of this article to be put in the picture with regard to any of these technical terms.

Be that as it may, for a digital audio studio what you should use is a USB or FireWire device that handles sound instead of a sound card.

Examples of such USB devices are the Terratec Aureon USB and the Creative Audigy 2 NX. Terratec's Aureon 7.1 is a FireWire device.

For more information about any of them, use the make and model as a search query in a web search engine.

****

Problem installing a USB sound card

If you have a problem installing a USB sound card, this Q&A on this site might solve it: I can't get my external Creative USB Audigy 2 ZS sound card to work on my notebook computer.

****

How to connect a computer to a television set (TV) and to a stereo hi-fi player

If you want to connect a stereo hi-fi player to a computer, it's possible to buy a USB adapter that makes it possible for around £25/$50. You can use a search query such as connect + hi-fi + computer in a search engine to find examples and vendors.

Briefly, you connect the Plug and Play adapter to a USB port on the computer and use the supplied cables to connect the adapter to a stereo system. You can then play any digital files that you have on your computer and even listen to Internet radio stations through the hi-fi.

If you only make use of a sound card to be able to hear the Windows sounds (when saving files, for warning sounds, etc.), or to be able to hear the sound from certain websites, and play audio CDs, you don't need a fancy expensive device.

Indeed, if the motherboard in your computer has a spare ISA slot, an inexpensive 16-bit ISA sound card costing from L10 to L20 will do all of the above just as well as a 32-bit PCI card costing about same amount. However, most new motherboards do not have an ISA slot. In this case, you have to choose a PCI card.

To input (via a microphone) and output sound (via speakers), you must have a sound card that supports what is called the full-duplex modes of operation.

Full-duplex is a data communication term that refers to the ability to send and receive data at the same time. It is also applied in modern switched Ethernet networks in which communications can flow in both directions to a single node (work station) on the network without the data having to go to any of the other nodes.

There is no point in installing a sound card that can only output sound if you want to, say, make use of a microphone for telephoning over the Internet, because the ability to send and receive communications is required.

PCI Express

Because sound cards that use a PCI Express (PCIe or PCI-E) slot should soon be widely available, if you buy one as an upgrade and your computer's motherboard doesn't have the required (short) PCIe slot, you won't be able to use it.

Click here! to view and image on this site of a motherboard that has PCI Express slots, and to read information about the new adapter-card standard. Use your browser's Back button to return to this point on this page.

Creative's sound products

Creative is the leading manufacturer of sound cards for desktop and laptop/notebook computers.

Creative.com's Sound Product Information -

http://uk.store.creative.com/sound-blaster.aspx

Computer hardware troubleshooting flowcharts

As you can see from looking at any of the diagnostic charts made available from the following link, there are no photo-illustrations or explanations of basic computer functions. The intended audience is the hobbyist or technician who already has some experience of repairing computers.

If you can understand a particular flowchart, it would be a good idea to print them just in case you can't boot your computer and you need the information.

Sound Card Diagnostics - http://www.fonerbooks.com/sound.htm

The warranty periods for other computer components such as video and sound cards, etc.

If you purchase computer components, such as a video card, sound card, network router, network card, power supply unit, etc., it is usually provided with a warranty that lasts only a year (twelve months).

Most video-card manufacturers provide a one-year or two-year warranty for their products, but it is worth noting that Asus, Leadtek, PNY, Gainward, and MSI provide excellent three-year warranties.

Note that if a component such as a high-end video card dies within its warranty period, the manufacturer (or the vendor if it is an OEM card supported by the vendor instead of the manufacturer) can make you prove that you have taken adequate precautions to keep the computer's case cool before it honours the warranty. That probably means having to provide photographs of the inside of the case that show the case fans that have been installed. Therefore, you should obtain the warranty's terms and conditions before you make a purchase to find out what is involved in making a claim against it.

There are also some manufacturers of video/graphics cards, such as PNY, that offer an extended warranty on their cards if the buyer registers it on their websites.

There are other exceptions, such as RAM memory modules, for which a manufacturer such as Crucial provides a lifetime warranty. That means that it is covered by the warranty as long as the purchaser uses the memory in a computer that supports it. That amounts to about five years, because new types of RAM is always being released, and the older modules won't be supported by new motherboards. However, note that generic (unbranded) memory modules are only covered by a twelve-month warranty period.

Visit the Warranties page on this site for more information on them.

There are different standards of stereo and surround sound that a sound card is capable of producing - and then only if set up with the proper number of speakers properly placed around the computer. The sound standards have been given numbers that currently range from 1.0 to 7.1 sound, and you have to have a sound card and speaker system that supports a specific standard if you want to create that level of sound production.

Most music sources are still in stereo that is supported by sound cards that support 2.0 sound - even though the availability of DVD audio - Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 - is increasing and can be played on a PC with the right sound card. But only Creative has produced one so far. So, if stereo playback is all you want, what you need is a system that will play a stereo source properly.

Can Dolby Digital Live(DDL) be used with an old Creative Lab's or other makes of sound card?

March, 2011. - Question: Can Dolby Digital Live be used with an old Creative Lab's or other makes of sound card?

Answer: Dolby Digital Live (DDL) is not a hardware feature of a sound device, it relies on the software encoding performed by the sound card's device driver. It is supported by sound-card drivers from Creative Labs and in some device drivers for audio devices made by manufacturers such as Asus, Auzentech and Realtek. Creative Lab's current licence with Dolby ensures that most of its new sound cards have suitable drivers.

The minimum system requirements are: Microsoft Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or Windows® XP x64, Service Pack 2 (SP2) or Windows XP Media Center Edition for Dolby Digital Live. Microsoft Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 for DTS Connect. Intel Pentium 4, AMD Athlon 64 or equivalent processor, 1.6GHz or faster. All of the versions of Windows 7 are supported, but Windows XP Home Edition is not.

For older sound cards made by Creative Labs dating from around 2006 or earlier, it may be possible to add DDL support by purchasing the software pack from (price: US $4.72) http://software.store.creative.com/software.aspx. A product description, the minimum system requirements and list of supported sound cards are provided there.

A sound card's driver with DDL enabled can encode the the audio output from a computer as a 5.1 Dolby Digital stream. The Creative sound card's S/PDIF output port can send surround-sound to a home cinema's amplifier.

Note that upmix is a term that means artificially creating or simulating a particular higher standard of sound production on a sound system that doesn't fully support it. For instance, stereo sound could be upmixed to make it play on a multichannel system. And a downmix would be the reverse of that: the simulation of a lower standard of sound on a higher system, such as stereo. Upmix/downmix technology refers to the software and/or hardware that can create upmixed or downmixed sound.

For stereo, the basic formula that is closest to the original recording is the playback supported by standard 2.1. But now, with Dolby Prologic II, the more recent Dolby Prologic IIx (7.1 upmix) or the Creative CMSS system, you can upmix stereo to multichannel output. It's true that the exactness of the original recording is lost, but the result is usually pleasing if the parameters are carefully chosen.

To use a multichannel system, it has to be properly hooked up to a sound card. You should have no problem with a 5.1 system, which has the standard inputs of three 3.5mm stereo jacks. But if you only have a 5.1 sound card and buy a 6.1 or 7.1 system, you'll be offered an "upmix" to use all of the channels with a 5.1, or even with a 4-channel sound card.

The problems begin with 6.1 and 7.1 sound cards, because some of them, like cards from Terratec, use stereo jack sockets, while others, such as cards from Creative, use four-pin jack sockets. Therefore, before you buy a sound card and set of speakers, remember that getting everything properly plugged in can be problematic. It's regrettable that, as yet, the sound card and speaker manufacturers haven't agreed on a universal standard for a complete sound system.

To make sure that you can create the mix that you want, you're advised to download and read the user manuals and reviews for sound cards and speaker systems before you make a purchase. There are also plenty of tutorials and guides on the web on how to set up the various kinds of sound systems that you can find by using a suitable web search query in a search engine.

A sound-card and speakers tweaking guide

For more information on setting up a sound system, try using a search query such as: computer sound system setup guide in a search engine.

Tip: An easy way to get to the Recording Control in Windows XP and Windows 98

If you record audio on your computer running Windows, you'll know that it's difficult to get to the Recording Control window. Usually you have to double-click the speaker icon in the System Tray (usually in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen) to bring up the Volume Control. After that you have to click Options => Properties and change from the selected Playback option to the Recording option and then click OK.

But there is a short method. You just have to enter sndvol32 /r in the Start => Run box. You can also create a shortcut to achieve the same result. To do that, right-click an empty spot on the Windows Desktop. A menu appears. Click on New => Shortcut and enter sndvol32 /r in the box the presents itself, and then click Next and Finish. The shortcut will appear on the Desktop. Clicking on it brings up the Recording Control.

Speech recognition in Windows XP

Windows XP has an inbuilt speech-recognition that you might like to try.

Speech Recognition with Windows XP -

http://support.microsoft.com/ph/1173#tab0kb/306537

How To Use Speech Recognition in Windows XP -

http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;306901&sd=tech

Multi-room Music on a Budget

"You've got your MP3s and they sound great on your MP3 player when you're out and on your PC when you're at your desk. How about hearing them in the front room? And in the kitchen? And in the bathroom, and everywhere else in the house? Multi-room music used to cost thousands to install. Then came Sonos and a multi-room system cost hundreds instead, but you can work on a much smaller budget if you don't need all the features of a Sonos setup. There are plenty of other ways to get your music into every room where you want to listen to it, depending on how much you want to spend. We'll walk you through how the different options work and what you need to do to set them up..." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/multi-room-music-budget,review-29588.html


Recording to CD/DVDs

Click here! to go to the section of this site that deals with CD/DVD drives and CD/DVD media formats (discs).


How to identify a sound card

If you need to identify the sound card installed in your computer in order to download driver updates from its manufacturer's site, open the Device Manager (if you don't know what the Device Manager is, look it up in the Windows Help files). Look under the heading Sound, video and game controllers (Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7). The make and model of the sound card should be provided there. If you can't identify the make and model of the sound card (or any other adapter card, such as the graphics card) from the information provided, try using the free Belarc Advisor from belarc.com. There are other free tools, such as CPU-Z that identifies the processor and also identifies the type of RAM memory. GPU-Z provides information on the graphics card or graphics chip integrated into the motherboard. Both of those tools can be obtained from cpuid.com. This might be necessary, because the information provided in the Device Manager might be inadequate. For example, the sound chip might be built into the motherboard and might not be identified, or, if it is in the form of a PCI or PCI Express adapter card, it can be difficult to identify the make and model by removing and examining it.

In Windows XP, look for the Sound Effect Manager (usually called Realtek HD Sound Effect Manager) and under Sounds and Audio Devices (the Windows sound control panel). In Windows Vista and Windows 7, look under Hardware and Sound category in the Control Panel for the sound options, which are the sound chip's control panel (Sound Effect Manager) and the Windows sound control panel (under Sound).

The Windows System Information utility in Windows XP and Windows Vista and Windows 7

Another useful source of system information is provided by the System Information utility.

In Windows XP systems, this can be accessed via System Tools under All Programs => Accessories (Programs => Accessories in Windows 9x systems), or quickly by entering msinfo32 in the Start => Run box in Windows XP and Windows 9x systems.

In Windows Vista, to use the System Information tool, follow these steps: Click Start, type msinfo32 in the Start => Start Search box, and then click System Information in the Programs list.

In Windows 7, to run the utility, just enter msinfo32 in the Start => Search programs and files box to be presented with a clickable link called msinfo32.exe.


"Audacity The Free, Cross-Platform Sound Editor"

"Audacity is a free, easy-to-use audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. You can use Audacity to: Record live audio. Convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs. Edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, and WAV sound files. Cut, copy, splice, and mix sounds together. Change the speed or pitch of a recording. And more! See the complete list of features." - http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

Wavosaur - free audio editor

"Wavosaur is a free sound editor, audio editor, wav editor software for editing, processing and recording sounds, wav and mp3 files. Wavosaur has all the features to edit audio (cut, copy, paste, etc.) produce music loops, analyze, record, batch convert. Wavosaur supports VST plugins, ASIO driver, multichannel wav files, real time effect processing. The program has no installer and doesn't write in the registry. Use it as a free mp3 editor, for mastering, sound design. The Wavosaur freeware audio editor works on Windows 98, Windows XP and Windows Vista." - http://www.wavosaur.com/

Free audio-editing software

WavePad from http://www.nch.com.au/.

"Q. Is WavePad really free? Yes. We make WavePad free in the hope you will like it and buy WavePad Masters Edition in the future."

"WavePad Sound Editor Professional Audio Editing Software This audio editing software is a full featured professional sound editor for Windows or Mac. It lets you make and edit music, voice and other audio recordings. When editing audio files you can cut, copy and paste parts of recordings and, if required, add effects like echo, amplification and noise reduction. WavePad works as a wav editor or mp3 editor but it also supports a number of other file formats including vox, gsm, real audio, au, aif, flac, ogg and more."

A free sound file format converter

Switch Sound File Conversion Software is a free utility that converts wav, mp3, ogg, flac, aac, wma, au, aiff, ogg, msv, dvf, vox, atrac, gsm, dss and other file formats into the mp3 or wav formats. A paid-for version can deal with even more formats, but the free version should meet the needs of most users. There are other sound utilities made available from the site, all of which work together to provide an impressive sound-processing suite. All versions of Windows versions are supported and the file size is only 312KB. - http://www.nch.com.au/switch/index.html

DeepRipper - Free powerful AudioCD ripping utility

"DeepRipper is freeware that can convert music files from AudioCDs into practically any format you'd like, including: MP3, WAV, OGG, and others. DeepRipper offers sophisticated encoding settings, but comes with ready made embedded sound quality presets. DeepRipper is a stand-alone application and doesn't need [the paid-for] DeepBurner to run." - http://www.deepburner.com/

The user installation manual: How to install a sound card

The Build Your Own PC page contains all of the information you need on how to build a computer from its components.

Click here! to go directly to information on the first Build Your Own PC page on this website about taking the precautions you must take against static electricity before you install a computer component.

Click here! to go directly to the Disclaimer on the same page. It contains other important information that you should be aware of before working on a computer. Use your browser's Back button to return to this page.

If you purchase a retail boxed sound card it will come with an installation manual that shows how all of the features of the card are used. If you purchased an OEM sound card that is supported by the vendor instead of the manufacturer, you will probably have to download the manual from the manufacturer's website. If the sound card is built into the motherboard, the motherboard manual will provide the necessary installation information. If you don't have a copy, identify the motherboard's manufacturer and locate its website by using the name as a search query in a search engine.

If you don't know the make and model of the motherboard installed in your computer, here is a good free utility - Belarc Advisor - that creates an analysis of the hardware and software on a personal computer. Look under FREE DOWNLOAD on belarc.com/. Another utility that also provides detailed information on the memory itself is CPU-Z.

Installing a PCI sound card (or AGP video/graphics card) is merely a matter of removing the screw or clip that screws or clips the slot's metal cover (blanking plate) over its outlet at the back of the case, and inserting the card in the kind of slot it is designed for, so that its face plate replaces the metal cover and shows at the back of the case. Some PC cases can have the blanking plate fixed to the case by a screw and a clip. You should then secure the sound card into the case in the same way as the blanking plate was.

Note that there are occasions when screwing the card in too tightly raises its end out of the slot and causes an error that can render the computer unbootable, because the edge connector on the card has to make complete contact with the slot's matching connection points.

Unless its installation manual says otherwise, you should install a PCI sound card before installing its software. Usually, you install the PCI sound card, close the case, boot into Windows, and cancel the Found new hardware wizard if it starts to run. You can then insert the CD/DVD that came with the sound card into the PC's CD/DVD drive, and follow the instructions to install its device drivers and other software.

Installing an external USB or FireWire sound card is just a matter of plugging its cable into the device itself and into a USB or FireWire port on the desktop or laptop PC, both of which are usually provided by the motherboard at the back of a desktop PC's case.

The sound card should have come with an installation manual or guide. Usually, a USB or FireWire sound card's software has to be installed before connecting it to a USB/FireWire port. After the device is plugged in, Windows will then install its drivers automatically. If you want to remove the device while the PC is switched on, click on the icon that looks like a tree on a gray rock in the System Tray/Notification Area.

If you plug an external USB or FireWire sound card into a USB or FireWire port provided by a desktop or laptop PC, you should remove any internal PCI sound card (installed in a PCI slot of a desktop PC's motherboard). Windows will then stop installing its device driver at startup.

If the sound card is integrated into the motherboard, which can be the case with desktop PCs, and is almost always the case with laptop/notebook PCs, you should disable the integrated sound setting in the PC's BIOS setup program and uninstall the sound card's device driver under Add or Remove Programs.

Click here! to go to information on the BIOS on this website.

Note that in Windows Vista, there is no option in the Control Panel called Add or Remove Programs that appears in all of the previous versions of Windows from Windows 95 to Windows XP. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the Add or Remove Programs information is found under the Programs and Features category in the Control Panel.

To be able to identify the correct device driver requires knowing the make/model of the integrated sound chip. For example, in Windows XP/Vista/7, you might find a device-driver entry called Realtek High Definition Audio Driver under Add or Remove Programs/Programs. If so, you would find a matching device called Realtek High Definition Audio in the Device Manager (under Sound, video and game controllers), which can be opened by entering devmgmt.msc in the Start => Run box in Windows XP, in the Start => Start Search... box in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Realtek also make device drivers for network adapters, etc., so, if more than one driver made by Realtek appears in the list of programs, you must only remove the audio driver.

How to connect a sound card to other devices and configure Windows

The analog audio ports are the series of round green, pink, blue, orange, and black ports on a sound card. If you have integrated sound on a PC's motherboard or in a laptop PC, you'll probably only have the analog audio ports coloured green, pink, and blue.

General-purpose sound cards have 3.5mm analog sockets for mic/line inputs and headphone/speaker outputs. Sound cards that support surround-sound systems have up to four output sockets, and often also an optical mini-S/PDIF port for digital output.

If you have stereo 2.1 speakers, connect them to the green audio port, labelled line-out, on the sound card. That port is also used for the front left and right speakers in a 5.1 surround-sound setup. You usually connect the rear speakers to the black port labelled Line-out 2, and the centre/subwoofer speaker is usually connected to the orange port labelled Line-out 3.

Note that the manufacturers of sound cards use different ports to connect the remaining speakers in 6.1- and 7.1-channel sound systems. You should refer to your sound card's installation manual for specific instructions.

You should be able to find user manuals by using a search query such as: sound card user manual in a search engine.

In Windows XP, you configure Windows and your PC's sound software from Sounds and Audio Devices in the Control Panel. Open it and click on the Advanced button of Speaker settings under the Volume tab. You should check that the correct speaker configuration is selected from the drop-down menu there.

In Windows Vista, click on the Start button in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, and enter the word sound in the Search box. Then double-click the Sound applet that appears under Programs, select the device you want to configure and click on the configure button. The Sound applet can also be used to test speaker positions and connections.

You may also need to adjust the audio setup within your DVD playback software and PC games.

Upgrading: How to upgrade a sound card in Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7

If you are upgrading or replacing the sound card, you'll have to remove the old card and then install the new one. But before you do that you should uninstall the device drivers that the old sound card uses. You can remove the drivers in Windows XP and Windows Vista by entering devmgmt.msc in the Start => Run box in Windows XP (Start => Start Search box in Windows Vista) and then opening Sound, video and game controllers in the Device Manager that presents itself. In Windows 7, to open the Device Manager, just enter those words in the Start => Search programs and files box to be presented with a clickable link that opens it.

In Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, right-click on the device and click Uninstall in the menu that presents itself. Then close down, switch the computer off at the mains, remove the old card, and install the new card. When you start the computer up, it will detect new hardware and install the device drivers itself, or ask you to point it to the source of the drivers, which could be on a CD/DVD, or in a folder that contains the downloaded driver file.

Disabling an onboard sound/video chip in order to install a sound or video card

If you want to install a sound card or video card on to a motherboard that is presently using a sound chip or video chip that is built into the motherboard, you have to disable the onboard sound/video first. This can be done via a setting in the BIOS setup program (the most common way), or by setting a jumper on the motherboard itself. The information on what to do is contained in the motherboard's manual, which you can download from its manufacturer's site if you don't have a copy. Go to the first Motherboard page on this site on how to identify a motherboard if you can't identify the one installed in your computer. If the integrated sound chip is listed in the Device Manager (e.g., Realtek AC'97 Audio), it can be disabled from there by right-clicking on the entry with the mouse pointer over it and then clicking on Disable on the menu that presents itself.


Codecs

When you play video or sound files on your PC, Windows, or an alternative operating system, such as Linux, uses a media player, such as the Windows Media Player, the Quick Time Player, the Real Player, etc.

Raw movies and video would take up enormous amounts of hard disk space, so they are compressed to make the files smaller. This is essential if they are downloaded or streamed in real time to a computer. Mathematical algorithms called codecs, a word made up of the first two letters of the word compressor and the first three letters of the word decompress or, compress the files and decompress them when they are played.

Introduction To Finding A Codec For Windows Media Player 10 -

"This article should give most readers a basic understanding of what a codec is and exactly which codecs are available for Windows Media Player 10." -

http://www.updatexp.com/codec-for-windows-media-player-10.html

You can find links to other articles on codecs by using a suitable search query. I found the link above by using this search query: codecs windows media player.


PC speakers

PC speaker systems usually consist of the speakers and an amplifier that powers them. A set of speakers can cost between L5/$10 and L300/$600. An ordinary multimedia PC system always comes with a set of stereo speakers that may be separate from the PC or built into the monitor. If you are building your own PC, you would purchase the kind of sound card and set of speakers that are required to deliver the quality of sound that you want of your PC.

A recent development is called a soundbar, which is a miniature set of 2.1 stereo speakers arranged in a bar. The Orbitsound T9 soundbar (website, orbitsound.com), not cheap at £299, is a good example. It is very small and comes with a separate subwoofer that deals with the bass sound and an iPhone/iPod dock. The device provides stunning audio that has eliminated the sweet spot where optimal sound can be heard, making it possible to have the same quality of sound all around a room.

If you want to edit or transfer sounds from your PC to other equipment, such as a MiniDisc or MP3 player, you'll need a fairly expensive sound system that provides the connection to do that.

Note that the specifications of speaker systems don't usually provide much in the way of useful information about them, and the price of a set of speakers doesn't have to bear any relation to the performance that they deliver.

That said, the first feature you should look for is a subwoofer, which handles the bass frequencies. The speakers themselves output the mid- and high-frequency sounds. A subwoofer produces omni-directional sounds (spreading all around), so it can be placed almost anywhere in a room except in a corner where the resonation creates an undesirable boom effect. The low bass frequencies produced by subwoofers carry plenty of energy and, as such, can be heard through couches and other furniture, so they can't be placed anywhere in a room for the best audio effects. But some placing are better than others depanding on the shape and size of the room. Probably the worst placing is in the middle of a room. Better to have it near a wall or in a corner if being there doesn't create a boom effect. I find that the best position for a sub in my sitting room, which has the lounge suite in the middle with plenty of space all around, is to have it in corner at the back of the main couch, which faces the TV. You have to experiment with your own room where best to situate it for the best audio.

The stereo speakers that most laptops, netbooks and tablets provide are adequate for most users' needs, but if you want high quality audio, you should buy a set of external speakers or headphones. The speakers can be a large self-powered set or a small portable set. Some laptops are now provided with what is called a subwoofer to improve the bass sound. A genuine subwoofer has to be placed in the best position in a room in order to produce the best bass sound, which cannot be achieved from a laptop with a third speaker that attempts to behave in the same way as a genuine subwoofer.

For acceptable audio quality when playing PC games or DVDs, you should have a surround-sound system, delivered by a standard 5.1 setup, which consists of five speakers and one subwoofer.

However, for the best sound quality, you should use a set of the latest 6.1 or 7.1 speakers, plus a compatible sound card that supports the extended Dolby Digital EX format.

To obtain the best surround-sound reproduction for movies and games, the speakers have to be positioned optimally. Reading an illustrated article on positioning the speakers is always better than reading an unillustrated description. Fortunately, there are many such articles on the web that can be found by using a search query such as best positions for surround sound speakers in a web search engine.

The power of a set of speakers can provide you with an idea of the maximum volume it can deliver. You should ignore the PMPO or Peak Power ratings, which can be up to 40 times higher than the RMS rating, which you can use. A 50W RMS sound system should provide more than enough volume for a desktop PC. However, if the sound system is for use with a home cinema, look for 100W RMS, or more.

2.1 stereo speakers use a single analog stereo input connection to the sound card, but a 5.1 system requires three connections to the sound card. Surround-sound systems that incorporate Dolby Digital decoders have to be fed through an S/PDIF digital audio connection, which comes in coaxial and optical versions, which are incompatible with each other.

However, note that Dolby Digital decoding can be done by software instead of the hardware (the sound card), so you can use surround- sound speakers with analog inputs, which is cheaper than using a digital solution.

The speakers are usually connected via the audio ports of a sound card, or via audio ports built into the motherboard that connect to its sound chip. The sound features provided from a motherboard sound system are usually basic. However, a sound card can provide a PC with everything its user may require with regard to connecting the PC to external sound equipment, but the more that is required of a sound card, the more expensive it has to be.

A basic set of stereo speakers and their packaging

The image above shows a basic set of stereo speakers, and the image below shows three 5.1 surround-sound systems, which have five speakers. Some of them can be controlled by a remote control that is provided in the package.

Three 5.1 surround sound systems

Very few music CDs offer multi-channel sound, but some sound cards can convert a stereo signal into a 5.1 surround-sound signal. Virtual Dolby Surround is an example of audio technology that is supposed to enable two speakers to sound like five, but in practice it doesn't deliver anything like the same quality of sound as the real thing. While music DVDs offer multi-channel sound, they're still difficult to find. However, most DVD films and many games use 5.1 surround sound, and for those 5.1 system is necessary to achieve the full sound experience. Indeed, the surround-sound experience requires speakers to be located in front, behind, and on the side of the listener, which necessitates at least 5.1 speakers. Remember that the higher, more expensive 6.1 and 7.1 sound systems are available.

For a basic sound card that is connected to two speakers, they are usually plugged into the sound card's Line Out or Speaker Output sockets via a single connector, as shown in the sound card's manual for a boxed retail ISA or PCI card, or as shown in the motherboard's manual if the sound chip is built into the motherboard.

Note that OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) cards that are supported by the vendor, deemed the OEM) instead of the manufacturer, will probably only be packaged with a driver CD (no manual). In this case, you should be able to download a manual from the manufacturer's website.

The diagram below, from an MSI motherboard manual, shows the port face of a motherboard that has an integrated sound card with only three ports - Line Out, Line In, and Mic. (for a microphone). An ISA or PCI basic sound card usually has these three ports plus a Speaker Output port. On the motherboard with this ports panel, the Line Out port is used for the speakers and headphones, the Line In port is used for an external CD player. A more advanced sound card would have ports for front and back surround-sound speakers.

Showing the sound ports on a motherboard with integrated sound

You can download the manuals for the latest MSI motherboards free of charge from msi.com.

A Videologic Sonic Fury sound card is capable of being connected to many speakers to produce a surround-sound effect, you will have to read its manual to find out how to connect the different speakers to obtain the best sound effects.

Some high-end, relatively expensive sound cards can not only decode surround sound, they also have optical digital input and output ports that make use of fibre-optical cables for digital data transfers. Fibre-optical cables carry signals in the form of light waves much in the same way that a laser beam of light transfers data to and from CD and CD recordable disks.

Digital data transfer means that the digital peripherals (sound card and speakers) are able to take output or input data directly in binary form from or to the computer instead of having to convert the input/output into analogue (non-digital) forms. Digital binary input/output consists of software coding that is made up of only ones and zeros. The data transfers within a computer are all in digital form, but before the advent of digital peripheral devices , most of a computer's devices had to convert the computers digital signal into analogue signals and convert their analogue output into digital form before sending it to a computer. For instance, digital monitors (CRT and LCD) communicate directly with the computer's video card, but an analogue cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor has to have an electronic analogue-to-digital converter (DAC) in order to receive or send signals to a computer, but a digital liquid crystal display (LCD) screen communicates directly with the computer.

Sound cards that are more expensive than the basic ones with three or four ports - Speaker Output, Line Out, Line In, and Mic In - have extra audio input ports for TV tuner cards, internal modems, CD drives, and other external sound devices. Even a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port has started appearing on some sound cards for attaching a digital camcorder or external disk drive.

A 5.1 sound system uses three inputs just to be able to produce that level of sound. 7.1 surround sound systems, which have Dolby Digital decoders, are fed via an S/PDIF digital input, the cables for which are available in coaxial and optical versions.

The following article provides information on the various ways in which a stereo system can be connected to a PC, including using a S/PDIF connection on a sound card or motherboard:

At the time of writing (December, 2008), only a few laptop/notebook PCs provide an S/PDIF port for connecting such devices as a surround-sound amplifier. However, you can use the audio output of your computer - the "line" output of the computer's sound card.

"You use a 3.5mm mini phone plug to RCA jack adapter with a RCA jack stereo cable which goes to the audio input of your sound system, such as the "aux" input, or if you want to use your computer to record audio from your sound system as well, you should use the "tape in" and "tape out" jacks. Most audio systems have two tape ins and outs so you can use your computer as a tape recorder as well as a regular cassette deck." - From How to connect your computer to your stereo -

http://www.ramelectronics.net/howto-pc-audio.aspx

You can also buy a USB adapter that provides S/PDIF digital stereo output. S/PDIF optical digital audio output connects a PC or laptop computer to the latest home entertainment equipment to provide a digital, distortion-free signal. Enter s/pdif + usb + adapter (UK: use adaptor) to locate information and vendors.

S/PDIF coaxial input/output (i/o) is provided by most high-end desktop PC sound cards. The popular Sound Blaster sound cards can be connected to a Digital I/O Module to add optical and coaxial digital i/o to it.

Some motherboards provide either a connection on the ports panel or a special bracket containing coaxial and/or optical S/PDIF ports that fits into an opening at the back of a computer's case. The bracket allows its own internal cables to be attached to the motherboard and external cables to be attached to the speakers. Below is an image of the ports panel of an MSI RS-480-M2-IL Socket 939 motherboard, showing its S/PDIF-Out port.

You can also buy a USB adapter that provides S/PDIF digital stereo output. S/PDIF optical digital audio output connects a PC or laptop computer to the latest home entertainment equipment to provide a digital, distortion-free signal. Enter s/pdif + usb + adapter (UK: use adaptor) to locate information and vendors.

Some graphics cards provide S/PDIF input so that the card can be connected to the optical S/PDIF output port on a sound card in order to deliver sound from a graphics card over an HDMI high-definition connector, which already has the capacity to deliver audio output along with graphic output.

Asus readies HDMI-enabled graphics cards -

http://www.reghardware.com/2006/06/06/asus_hdmi_enabled_graphics_cards/

Note that because it is possible for Dolby Digital decoding to be done by software, surround-sound speakers that use analog inputs provide a much cheaper alternative to S/PDIF digital input.

Most sound cards install their software device drivers in a control panel that is within the Windows Control Panel.

The Multimedia icon in the Control Panel has a tab called Audio. There is an option on this tab that says Show volume control on taskbar. If you enable that option, Windows places a volume-control icon in the System Tray on the bottom left-hand side of the screen. Most sound cards' drivers also install an icon for easy access to their control panels in the System Tray (Notification Area).

In a Windows XP system with, say, a SonicFury sound card installed, you would click on Start => Control Panel and open the Santa Cruz/SonicFury applet.

You don't have to use all of the speaker ports. If you have purchased a set of two speakers, you can plug them in using the Front Speakers or Back Speakers port. But if you only want to use two speakers, you should purchase a basic sound card that has only a Line Out port for them - or purchase a motherboard with an integrated sound card. There are many such motherboards available, because the technology has been borrowed from servers that have motherboards with integrated sound cards.

Most speakers will have their own power supply unit, but they should produce sound at a low volume if they are left to draw power via the sound card attachment. Most speaker systems require their own power supply unit to be plugged into a wall socket for optimal performance, and most of them have to be turned on by pushing a switch somewhere on one of the speakers.

The volume of speakers

A speaker manufacturer's specifications for a particular set of speakers can be confusing. When comparing power ratings, the Root Mean Square (RMS) figure provides a good indication of the volume that can be delivered, because it provides a measure of the sustained power that a set of speakers or an amplifier can generate. You should not compare speaker systems by the Peak Music Power Output (PMPO) figure, which can be very much higher.

David Bridgen sent me the following information:

"r.m.s. is a mathematical operation which we apply to alternating voltage or current, and while a great many people and companies use the term when describing power it is incorrect. You probably know that power is the product of voltage and current. The product of r.m.s. voltage and its accompanying figure for r.m.s. current is average power... To achieve a perceived doubling in volume, the power must be increased, not by a factor of two, but by a factor of ten."


Sound-card and speakers' tweaking guides

For more information on setting up a sound system, try using a search query such as: computer "sound system" setup guide (as is) in a web search engine.


Headphones and microphones

You connect headphone and microphones to the appropriate input/output port (headphone, Line in or Mic respectively) of the sound card.

Note that if a pair of headphones are connected to the 3.5mm headphone output port of a sound card or a laptop, a faint hissing sound might be heard. The cause is usually mismatched headphone impedance when connecting low-impedance headphones, such a those designed for MP3 players, which usually have an impedance of 32 ohms, to an output port intended to be powerful enough to power high-impedance headphones.

Studio headphones have a standard impedance of 600 ohms and gaming headsets have an impedance of between 150 and 300 ohms.

When the impedance of the audio output port is too low for the headphones, the sound output will be too quiet and if it is too high for the headphones, a hissing sound is produced.

Better sound can be produced by using the green Line-Out port than by using the headphone output port. Alternatively, purchase a set of headphones with the correct impedance for the output port or make use of a level attenuator (e.g., Shure EA650), which is a dongle that is designed to reduce the amplitude of the signal, which makes it quieter or eliminates the hissing sound.

On The Bench: Corsair's HS1 USB Gaming Headset -

"You probably know Corsair best for its memory products, power supplies, and SSDs. But now the company is jumping into the crowded headset market with an unassuming entry that's both affordable and capable of offering great sound quality." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/corsair-hs1-headset,review-31998.html

10 Earphones Under £50 / €80 - Affordable Good Listening -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/10-earphones-under-100-dollars-uk,review-2113.html

Headphone reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/headphones

PC Speaker reviews - http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/pc-speakers

The Phillips SHE2550 headphones that plug into the ears only cost under £5.00. They are excellent and seem to last forever, even surviving going through a washing machine.

Philips SHE2550 Extra Bass [Five-star] review -

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/headphones/154593/philips-she2550-extra-bass


About using a sound card or special phone or adapter to make free Internet telephone calls, and the VoIP protocol

A two-way audio link can be created by using two computers, each of which is equipped with sounds cards that have a bi-directional full duplex capability. If one of the sound cards doesn't have full duplex capability the two communicators have to take it in turns to speak, because bi-directional sound won't be supported. If a sound card has a Mic port for a microphone then it has full duplex capability.

The other equipment required is a set of speakers or headphones, a broadband (cable or ADSL) Internet connection, and the VoIP software, such as Skype, that both computers must be running to make the connection possible. It's possible to use different VoIP software packages at each end, but, to avoid compatibility issues, it's best that both ends employ the same software.

The software uses the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Using headphones that have a microphone is the best option because the use of speakers creates an annoying echo because the microphones pick up the received sound.

It's possible to use the free software that comes with Windows 98 and Windows XP called NetMeeting, but if any of the communicators is using a router, it might not be possible to use it. If Skype or NetMeeting doesn't work, you can use a search engine to locate plenty of other free VoIP software. If you want to find out how much free software is available now, enter the following search query in a web search engine.

Note that it's possible to make calls to standard telephone numbers if the VoIP software being used supports it. The calls are charged at the local call rate.

Fixed IP addresses at both ends of the connection or the employment of instant messenger addresses is also a requirement for ease of use. The dynamic IP addressing system used by many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and website domain-name hosts that use IP addresses drawn from a pool of available addresses cannot easily be used because the connection has to be set up between two known IP addresses in the same way as a normal telephone call requires two telephone numbers.

But if each of the communicators were connected to the Internet and entered winipcfg in the Start => Run box for Windows 95/98/Me, or in Windows XP clicked on the Start => Programs => Accessories => Command Prompt and entered ipconfig, they could discover what their IP addresses were and could then configure the VoIP software with their own IP addresses before making the VoIP connection. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the click path is Start => All Programs => Accessories => Command Prompt.

A dial-up connection can be used, but the quality is likely to be poor because it isn't fast enough - even with compression and buffering of the voice data.

Enter ip addresses as a search query in a web search engine if you want to know more about fixed and dynamic IP addresses.

At present, this way of making free telephone calls can suffer from jitter, latency, and echoes. The quality is not as high as that obtained over a conventional telephone line, but it's good enough to have an uninterrupted conversation.

One of the newest developments in this field of communications is VoIP over a wireless connection.

If you have a broadband router, you can plug a special phone or VoIP adapter into it and then sign up with a service that connects your calls via a telephone network. This service is taking off in a big way in the US, where the leading provider is Vonage - expected to start operating in the UK by the end of 2004. But you don't have to wait for Vonage to start offering the service in the UK, because there are already service providers available.

BT itself plans to convert all UK landlines to VoIP at the telephone exchange level over the next few years.

The following three VoIP-related sites are UK-specific:

The first European Internet telephone company now offers free Internet accounts to the UK. You have three options - buy a special telephone that replaces your existing telephone, add an adapter to your existing telephone, or use software from a computer equipped with headphones, microphone, and a full-duplex sound card. - http://www.sipgate.co.uk/user/index.php

General information on VoIP worldwide can be found here: http://www.iptel.org/

Information on the communication protocols used in VoIP and other technologies can be found here: http://www.protocols.com/pbook/voip.htm

The most popular free VoIP software is Skype: http://www.skype.com/.

VoIP Explained - http://www.voipexplained.co.uk/

You can also use voip as the search query in a web search engine to find out which links are provided on the subject.

VoIP Tests

Many websites offer VOIP testing, which measures the suitability of your connection for a VOIP connection. Here is one I found: http://myspeed.visualware.com/indexvoip.php

You can find many more by using the search query voip testing in a web search engine.


How to edit sound files - How to remove the vocals from music files

Question

I have some music files that I'd like to remove the vocals from so I can have karaoke versions to sing along to with my friends. Can it be done?

Answer

It is possible but the results can be very variable, because the condition of the file has to be ideal, and even then, the process could be problematic.

Http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=editing&i=remove-vocals - the FAQ on the Audacity site provides instructions on how to remove vocals with their software.

Audacity The Free, Cross-Platform Sound Editor -

"About Audacity Audacity is a free, easy-to-use audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. You can use Audacity to: Record live audio. Convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs. Edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, and WAV sound files. Cut, copy, splice, and mix sounds together. Change the speed or pitch of a recording. And more! See the complete list of features." -

http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

Alternatively, download the AnalogX Vocal Remover. It comes as a DirectX version for audio-editing applications, and a Winamp version for that popular music player.


Web searches

To locate more information about any of the hardware or software named or the technical terms used on this page, you can enter them as search queries in a web search engine.

This article consists of two pages. Click here! to go to Page 2

To the top of the page
Next page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pin It