Speakers and Sound

The Hardware Guide

Speakers and Sound

Sound is one of the favorite options on today's PCs. In fact, sound is a standard feature of most new PCs.

Everyone has their own uses for sound. You may just want to play a few music CDs with your CD-ROM drive while you are working, or you may use multimedia applications for presentations or educational programs. You may just like the sound of your jet engines roaring as you punch the throttle in a flight simulator. This chapter explains the basics of sound in Windows and shows you how to get the most sound out of your PC.

Components for Sound on Your PC

To produce sound on your PC, you need a sound card and speakers. The sound card is an expansion card that plugs into one of the slots on your motherboard. This card processes all of the instructions that have to do with sound, and then sends the sounds to the speakers to be played. The speakers plug into the sound card and usually have a power plug as well.

TIP: Many motherboard manufacturers include sound chip(s) on the motherboard itself. If you have a new PC, check the specifications of its make and model to see if it uses this technology.

Sound Cards

Sound cards plug into an expansion slot in your PC. The card has a set of connectors that are exposed on the back of the PC; you can plug a microphone and speakers into the connectors. Some cards include an optional connector for a line input, which is used to connect another input source such as the output from a tape player or portable CD player. Other optional connectors can include a joystick connector and a MIDI connector (for connecting a MIDI keyboard). The card may include a volume control, which controls the volume of the speakers and/or headphones.



The built-in speakers in most PC cases are used just for making system sounds, such as warning beeps and action indicators. To play more sophisticated sounds on your PC, you need a set of external speakers. Usually speakers come in pairs, and there is a plug that connects them to your sound card. Arrange the speakers with one on the left and one on the right of your desk or work area to get a stereo effect.

Optionally, some speakers come with a subwoofer. This improves the bass (low notes) sound. If you have a subwoofer with your speakers, it should go on the floor under your desk.

CAUTION: Be sure your speakers are shielded. Otherwise, if they get too close to the monitor, they will distort the display. Even with shielded speakers, take care not to get floppy disks too close to them as the magnets in the speakers can damage data on the disks.


Playing Sounds for Windows Events

By default, Windows 95 plays a sound when it starts and when it closes. You can change the sounds that are played for these events, and you can assign sounds to be played for other events. To do this, follow these steps:

1. Click the Start menu, choose Settings, and then choose Control Panel.

2. Double-click the Sounds icon in the Control Panel. This opens the Sounds Properties dialog box
3. To assign a sound to an event, scroll the list at the top of the dialog box to find the event.

NOTE: Some programs add additional events that you can assign sounds to. These will appear at the bottom of the list.

4. Click the Name box and choose a sound from the list. If you don't see a sound you want to use, click the Browse button and find any sound file in the WAV format.

5. To test the sound (to be sure it is the right one), click the Play button next to the Preview box.

6. Assign as many sounds as you want to different events, then click OK when you are finished.


Playing WAV Sound Files on Your PC

You're not limited to the built-in event sounds that came with your operating system; you can play other types of sound files as well. WAV files are the most common type of PC sound file. Windows has a built-in player, called Sound Recorder, for playing WAV files. To play a WAV file, use Explorer or My Computer to find the file you want to play, and double-click it to start it. Sound Recorder starts, and the WAV file begins playing immediately . When the file is finished playing, Sound Recorder closes automatically.

If you want to stop the playback, rewind it, and play it again, click the Stop button before it finishes playing. Once you click stop, you can play and rewind it as much as you want and the player won't close when the sound is finished playing.

You'll see how to use this same application to record your own sounds later in the section "Recording Sounds in Windows 95."

Getting New Sounds

If you are really into sounds and want more on your PC, there are several ways to get more sound files. The Windows CD-ROM installation includes many additional sound schemes, which you can add by using the Add/Remove Programs option in the Control Panel.

You can also buy any of a number of CD-ROMs that contain whole collections of additional sounds in the WAV format. And, you can find thousands of sound clips on the Internet.

ON THE WEB:Use your Web browser to go to the following site for a good starting list of sites with WAV sounds:

Playing Music on Your PC

With a CD-ROM, sound card, and speakers, you can use your $2,000 PC like a $100 CD player. The sound probably won't be as good as your home stereo, but it is more convenient than setting up a stereo with your PC.

To use your computer to play audio CDs, put a CD into the CD-ROM drive. If your computer has AutoPlay features (as do all Windows 95 systems), it will automatically detect the CD and start the Windows CD player.

NOTE: If you installed Windows from floppy disks, you won't have the Windows CD player installed. If you installed Windows from a CD but didn't install the CD player, you need to use the Add/Remove Programs option in the Control Panel to add the CD Player.

Adjusting the Speaker Volume and Tone in Windows 95

There are three ways to adjust the volume to your speakers. First, you can just adjust the volume control on the speakers themselves. See the instruction manual that accompanied your speakers to find the specific location of and adjustment instructions for the volume controls on your speakers.

Within Windows, you can also adjust the speaker volume by clicking the speaker icon in the taskbar to bring up the volume control Drag the slider up or down to adjust the volume, or click the Mute box to turn the speakers off all together. This Mute option is what you want to use if you are listening to a CD on headphones and don't want it to play on the speakers.

If you want more control over the speaker output, click the speaker icon in the taskbar with the right mouse button and select Volume Controls from the menu. This opens the Volume Control dialog box

The control at the far left is the master volume control. It controls the overall volume going to the speakers. Above it, you can adjust the balance to the left and right speakers.

Because the sound in your PC can come from several different sources, the Volume Control dialog box also provides controls for adjusting the relative volume of each of those sources. These sources are:

Wave. Used to control the volume of files in the WAV format.

MIDI. Used to control the volume of synthetic MIDI sounds, often used in games.

CD. This is a separate control for the audio CD's volume or volume of audio CD sounds in games.

Line In. If you have another external audio device plugged into the line in jack on your sound card, this controls its volume.

From the Volume Control dialog box, you can also control the bass and treble settings for your speakers. This adjustment is made for all sound, though, and doesn't differentiate between different sound sources. To adjust bass and treble settings, follow these steps:

1. Select the O_ptions menu in the Volume Control dialog box and select the Advanced Controls item in the menu.

2. This adds an Advanced button to the Volume Control dialog box. Click it.

3. This opens the dialog box Adjust the Bass and Treble settings using the sliders, then click OK.

Listening to Your CDs on Headphones

Most CD-ROM drives have a headphone built-in jack and a volume control on the drive itself. To listen to a CD on the headphones instead of playing it over the speakers, follow these steps:

1. Put a CD into the CD-ROM drive.

2. Plug in the headphones.

3. Click the speaker icon in the taskbar and select the Mute check box to mute the speakers (otherwise, sound will issue from both the PC's speakers and the headphones).

4. Click the Play button in Windows' CD Player application to start the CD.

5. Adjust the volume using the control on the CD-ROM drive, and put on the headphones.

If your CD player doesn't have a volume control dial on it, you can use Windows to control the volume to the headphones. Follow these steps:

1. Click the speaker icon in the Windows taskbar; a Volume control box with slider pops up.

2. Click with the left mouse button on the slider, and drag the slider up to raise the sound level, or down to lower the sound level.

3. Click anywhere outside the control box to close it.

TIP: You can also plug a set of headphones into the Speaker jack on the sound card and listen to all of your sounds from CDs, games, and Windows on headphones instead of speakers. If you do that, all of the Windows speaker volume controls discussed in this chapter will control the volume for the headphones. In that case, be sure not to mute the speaker volume, or you won't hear anything on the headphones.


Your computer may have come with a microphone. The microphone plugs into the sound card and is used to record your voice or other sounds. Another new use of a microphone is to make telephone-like conference calls over the Internet. Like any conference call, when you speak into the mic, the person you call hears you on his speakers.

Recording Sounds in Windows 95

The most common way to record a sound in Windows is by using a microphone. To do this, be sure the microphone is plugged into the microphone input jack on your sound card. If your mic has an on/off switch, be sure it is on. Then follow these steps:

1. Click the Start menu, and choose Programs, Accessories, Multimedia, Sound Recorder.

2. This opens the Sound Recorder. Click the Record button and begin speaking, singing, or making noise into the mic. When you are finished, click the Stop button. You can click Record again to record more at the end of the file.
3. When you are finished recording, select the File menu and choose Save. Find a directory to save the file in, then give it a name and click Save.

4. To hear how the recorded sound sounds, click the Play button.

You can also easily record a sound clip from a CD. To do this, follow these steps:

1. Click the Start menu, and choose Programs, Accessories, Multimedia, Sound Recorder to start the Sound Recorder.

2. Insert an audio CD into the CD to start the CD Player as discussed in the section "Playing Music on Your PC" earlier in this chapter.

3. Find the right song and the right point in the CD that you want to record. Then click Pause in the CD Player.

4. Click the Record button in the Audio Recorder.

5. Click Pause again in the CD Player to start the playback. You should see the sound meter showing the recording in the Audio Recorder
6. When you're finished, click Stop in both the recorder and the player and save the file in the recorder.

NOTE: Recording sounds from CDs on your PC is a legal gray area. If you are just using a few clips for your own enjoyment on your PC, you won't get arrested or fined. But sharing these clips with others by trying to sell or distribute them, or by putting them on a Web site is a definite copyright infringement.

Adjusting Microphone and Input Levels in Windows 95

To control the level of incoming sounds from the microphone and other devices for recording, follow these steps:

1. Click the speaker icon in the taskbar with the right mouse button and select Volume Controls from the menu.

2. Select the Options menu in the Volume Control dialog box and choose Properties from the menu.

3. This opens a Properties dialog box . Be sure the Microphone option is selected at the bottom of the dialog box.
4. Select the Recording option in the Adjust Volume For section and click OK.

5. Now the controls that you see are for devices you can record from. Adjust the volumes for any of these. Close the Recording Control dialog box when you are finished.

TIP: If you leave the Recording Control open while you are recording, you can continue to adjust the controls as needed while you record.

Troubleshooting Sound Problems in Windows 95

Sound problems are common in Windows 95 and here are some common problems and solutions.

No Sound from the Speakers

Check to be sure that the speakers are plugged into the correct speaker output jack on the sound card and that the speakers are plugged into the power source or have live batteries.

If there are volume controls and an on/off switch on the speakers, be sure the controls are turned up and the speakers are turned on.

Does the sound card have a volume control dial where the speakers plug into it? If so, are these volume controls turned up?

Check the volume control  to be sure that the Windows volume to the speakers isn't turned down too low and that the speakers aren't muted.

Check the volume controls as shown to be sure the volume isn't turned down or off there.

No Sound from Speakers When an Audio CD Is Playing

Check the volume controls as shown to be sure the CD volume isn't turned down or off.

There is a cable inside your PC that connects the CD-ROM audio to the sound card. If your PC wasn't assembled professionally or you added the CD-ROM or sound card yourself, check to be sure that this cable is there and connected properly.

Can't Record with the Microphone

Check to be sure that the microphone is connected to the mic input jack on the sound card. It should not be connected to line in.

If there is an on/off switch on the mic, check that it is in the On position.

Check the recording level controls in  to be sure your microphone recording level is on.

Background Music in Games and Multimedia Doesn't Play

If all of your other sounds play okay, the problem may be with your MIDI volume. MIDI is a type of synthesized (rather than recorded) music used in a lot of games and multimedia. Check the settings  to be sure the MIDI volume isn't down or off. Raise the volume for that if needed.

Many games and multimedia programs also use CD audio mixed in with the other sounds. If these seem to be missing, run through the checklist of solutions for the previous problem, "No Sound from Speakers When an Audio CD Is Playing."

Background Music in Games and Multimedia Sounds More Like a Kazoo than a Symphony

There are two different kinds of sound technologies for playing synthetic MIDI sounds. One is called FM synthesis and is used in older and less expensive sound cards. It tends to make all of the instruments sound the same. The better technology is called wavetable synthesis. If you are really particular about the quality of your sound in games and multimedia, you may want to upgrade to a wavetable sound card or see if a wavetable add-on is available for your current card.

Is your $200 sound card connected to $5 speakers? A better set of speakers may be the answer.