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Windows XP Digital Music: Controlling the Sound

You can play sound from several different sources in Windows XP. Sound can come from files stored on your hard drive or external media, like CDs or DVDs. Flash memory or external drives can also contain audio data that can be played in this operating system. Finally, you can get sound from network sources, like Internet radio or remote servers.

All of these sources require some sort of control to play well together, so to speak. Without some sort of control for each source, they could blend into an audio mess. Windows XP provides a series of controls that allow you to work through the mire and get everything sounding the way you want.

Finding the volume controls

Windows XP is a menu-driven way of managing your computer. Windows XP uses a series of lists that you navigate with the mouse or keyboard to get where you want to go. To get the whole thing started, Microsoft has kindly presented you with the Start button. To find the volume controls, follow these steps:

1. Click the Start button in the lower-left corner.

2. Click the Control Panel option.

The Control Panel is where you can find the controls for most of the Windows XP functions. It's a good idea to know where this is for future reference.

3. Select the Sounds, Speech, and Audio Devices category from the Control Panel menu,.

This is where all the audio controls for Windows XP reside.

Because some manufacturers use different sound cards and some proprietary software for their sound functions, you may find some additional audio controls, depending on the equipment that your computer maker installed.

4. Select Adjust the System Volume.

This brings up the main audio controls for your computer.

The other options on this menu appear as tabs under the main audio controls. Instead of backtracking, you can use the tabs to switch views and save yourself a step or two.

5. Adjust the Device volume slider to an acceptable audio level (generally, the fourth mark from the right).

An "acceptable audio level" as one where you don't have to crank up the physical volume knob of the speakers past the eight or nine o'clock position and no distortion is coming through the speakers when audio is played.

To avoid going through these steps again, select the Add a Volume Icon in the Taskbar checkbox. This places a small icon in the lower-right corner that looks like a speaker. By clicking the icon, you are returned to the Windows XP Audio Mixer immediately, and you skip the previous process.

You can take care of the overall system volume using this slider, but part of the usefulness of a computer is that it can regulate the volume of several sources individually. That is, you can make one type of audio louder than the other, depending on what sounds best to you.

Regulating volume by device

In the Device volume section, click the Advanced button, and a separate window containing the Windows XP Audio Mixer appears. This window enables you to individually raise or lower the volume of different types of devices that are hooked to your computer.

Each device has the following basic controls:

  • Balance: The Balance control slides from left to right and determines the amount of signal present in each side of the stereo field. If you move the control to the right, that source is in the right speaker. If you move it to the left, the source goes to the left. Leave the control in the center, and the source comes equally from both speakers.
  • Volume: The Volume control is on a fader, that is, moving the control fades the volume up and down. This controls the volume of that sound source in the overall "mix" for your computer. The fader on the left controls the overall volume for the computer's mix, and the rest of the faders determine what goes into that mix.
  • Mute: The Mute control works exactly like it sounds. Select the control, and that source is silenced — no signal is sent to the computer's mix. The Mute switch for the fader on the left silences the entire computer, and the other Mute switches control the individual sound sources.

Each of the individual sources has its own label. The following is a brief explanation of what each of the sources does:

  • Wave: This is the control for sound from things like audio or video files stored on your hard drive. This also controls the volume for sound sources coming across your Internet connection.
  • SW Synth: This is the control for the synthesizer that's stored on current sound cards. This synthesizer receives instructions from MIDI data and reproduces them as sounds.
  • CD Player: This is pretty self-explanatory. This control makes the CD player louder or softer.
  • Line In: Most sound cards have a jack to accept signal from an outside device, like an analog cassette or record player. This control raises and lowers the volume coming in from that source.

Keep the volume controls as high as possible without getting any distortion for the best signal, or lower the controls to reduce their presence in the mix.

By clicking the Advanced button in the Volume Control window, you can add or remove controls from the Windows XP Audio Mixer. For example, if you have a microphone that you've connected to your computer, you can add it to the mixer and control its volume from here.

Locate the Speaker Volume button in the Speaker Settings section. Click this button, and you can adjust the volume for each speaker. How useful is this? Well, if you have some speakers that have inconsistent volume between the pair, you could adjust the volume here. Otherwise, this control may not be that useful during normal play.

The previous steps have assumed that you're using a normal set of speakers, like the kinds that are shipped with any newly purchased computer. If you have another type of setup, click the Advanced button in the Speaker Settings section. A ton of other options are available to help configure your system.

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