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Sound Card/Speakers Tweak Guide

Updated: July 7, 1999
Written by: tapped
(Originally by Dan "Tweak Monkey" Kennedy

Improving Sound Quality

Don't put a great sound system to waste by setting it up for poor sound quality!

First Step: Volume Control

If you don't even have Volume Control installed, do so ASAP:
  • Enter your control panel
  • Choose Add/Remove programs, Windows Setup, Multimedia
  • Click details
  • Check the box that says Volume Control
While you're there, make sure you have Audio Compression installed. You will be prompted to insert the Windows CD-Rom.

Note: If your "mixer" is different from the standard Windows mixer, follow as many steps listed here as you can in order to install it. (There may be a setup program on your sound card's drivers CD that will allow you to install "Utilities," or something to that effect.)

First, load an MP3 or MIDI or some sort of sound so you can hear what you're doing as you're adjusting the settings.

Now, open the Volume Control panel (double click the speaker symbol in your system tray):
  • Set Volume Control Balance low
  • Set the others to your preferences
I recommend setting bass about 1/3 higher than treble, and setting the others high. Set your speakers' volume low. The sound should be very quiet now.

Slowly increase the main volume control on the speakers themselves until the volume is loud enough. Make sure that in the future you use the volume control on the speakers, NOT the Volume Control Balance. Leave the software-volume low at all times for the best quality and least amount of static.

If you followed the steps above, the sound should already be very crisp and clear. If not:

Try setting the Volume Control in you "mixer" about 3/4 of the way UP - perhaps a tad higher, even. (Be sure to turn the volume on the speakers themselves down first!) Use the volume control on your speakers to adjust the volume to an acceptable level, This is in direct opposition to the aforementioned tweak, but you may want to try it anyway, Why? Well...

Most decent-quality sound cards these days utilize pre-amps of some sort. The pre-amp powers the speakers, which, sometimes, are powered themselves. This can cause potential trouble if the speakers aren't receiving enough signal from the source. The Volume Control (in Windows) controls the pre-amp of your sound card. If your card isn't driving your speakers hard enough, you have to compensate by turning up your speakers. This can cause unnecessary "hiss." Try finding a balance between your sound card's pre-amp output and your speakers' threathold.

One last thing about setting performance:

Go to the Control Panel and open the Multimedia applet. Under Playback, click the Advanced Properties button, and select the Performance tab. Find the Sample Rate Conversion Quality. Some cards' drivers may set this to the lowest available setting. Try upping it to Best. If any problems arise, take it down a notch. Repeat the step for Recording.

Extra little hints:

Some people might not know about these; here are a few tips.
  • If you have a chance to pick up a sound card with 4 speaker output, go for it. You won't be disappointed.
  • If you're using 3D sound with your card, make sure your Codec Rate is 44K or 22K and NOT 48K+ or 3D sound will not be used. [If your manual says otherwise, try using 48K+]
  • If you use a "3D" button on your speakers, make sure it does NOT disable stereo. (As a marketing gimmick, some "3D" buttons only increase the volume.)

Winamp / MP3

Here are a few tweak tips for the popular MP3 player, Winamp.
(Make sure you've downloaded the latest version prior to tweaking it).

If you listen to MP3s and use plug-ins, make sure you have done the following:
  • Right click Winamp (in the system tray) to bring up the menu
  • Choose Options
  • Choose Preferences
  • Click the Plug-in tree on the left
  • Set Visualization plug-in priority to the notch between high and normal (or just set it to high if you have a fast enough CPU)
  • Configure the plug-in to your preferences
Everyone should do the following (especially if performance is not good):
  • Right click Winamp to bring up the menu
  • Choose Options
  • Choose Preferences
  • Click the Input tree
  • Choose NullSoft MPEG Audio Decoder...
  • Click Configure below
  • Click the Decorder tab at the top
  • If you have been having choppy playback Disable Stereo Output, or uncheck 16 Bit Output (or both)
  • If you have a Pentium 100 or faster, choose Full Quality
  • If you have a low-end Pentium (P 60 MHz to P 75 MHz) set Quality to Half unless MP3s play without problems
  • If you have a 486 or lower, set Quality to Half (or Quarter if you experience poor performance)
  • Choose the Decoder Mode that is optimized for your CPU.
Adjust the equalizer for your personal needs:
  • Click the EQ button on the main Winamp window
  • Adjust the Preamp until the sound is clear and loud enough
  • One by one, move your way from left to right, tweaking the settings
  • Don't set 60 Hz or 16 KHz too high or the sound clarity may be slightly degraded
  • Tweak the settings repeatedly, and save changes and compare, until you've decided on a "perfect" setting
  • Save settings one last time, and exit the EQ
Make sure to download any updates from the Winamp homepage.

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